I was, of course, interested in Lem’s emphasis on anthropomorphism. I thought “Solaris” was great. I thought it was suspenseful, intriguing, and scary as well. I am very interested in seeing a film adaptation.
Anyway, because I always have to tie sci-fi back to human-nature relationships, I thought I would write a bit about anthropomorphism. I didn’t just pick this word out of the blue to connect it to the story –Kelvin himself uses it, and surprisingly often. There is that longish passage where he is just describing the symmetriads, asymmetriads, and other oceanic formations as described before him by the previous expedition. In it, he repeatedly emphasizes the tendency of even the most objective scientist to anthropomorphize, to attribute familiar qualities to the ocean’s formations, to use know terms and analogies to describe something completely alien.
Here are some thoughts I had:
–We cannot understand anything except in terms of things we do understand. In fact, I think we understand things only because we can compare them to other things we understand. Furthermore, we can only perceive things if they are comparable to other things we have perceived. This last is a thought I am still developing–I know it sounds questionable.
–So, what happens when we come up against something that is completely different from anything we understand, and yet not so different as to be the opposite from anything we understand (if it were the opposite, then we could understand it precisely as that: the opposite). “Solaris” brings up this issue: we, humanity, are in the process of exploring and possibly colonizing space. We are rapidly acquiring and analyzing information about the further regions of our universe. So far, things make some sort of sense (not to me, necessarily, but to someone). Even a concept as ridiculous (again, to me) as the expansion of the universe can be put in terms of ‘language’ that we understand. That is maths. That’s the thing, isn’t it? So far, we haven’t come up against something that cannot be felt emotionally or described in terms of language or mathematics. But that is precisely what the ocean of Solaris is! Something outside the realm even of maths! What does that mean? Does anyone have any idea? Even after reading the story, can you really comprehend what the ocean is? With all the imagery and descriptions, can you picture it? I can’t.
How absurd, then, to send expeditions out to analyze the ocean. How absurd to attempt to understand it.
Or what do you think? Is it absurd? Is it absurd an futile to attempt to gain an understanding of something that simply cannot be understood? Or do you think that maybe it can be understood, over time perhaps? Do you think there exists something in our space (our real universe, not Kelvin’s fictional one) like the ocean, that is literally incomprehensible?