Kris Kelvin, Snow, Gibrarian, and Sartorius are all puzzled and perplexed; as other educated and intelligent residents of Station Solaris–a sophisticated scientific laboratory–have been before them. They are stumped and bewildered by their interactions with the planet Solaris, with the ocean that covers its surface, the one that plays host to mimoids and symmetriads and asymmetriads and vertebrids extensors and fungoids and other strange and wondrous physical forms, which seems to be able to conjure up, out of its own chosen raw materials, facsimiles of the human form–like Kelvin’s former, dearly beloved, and now sadly departed love–that are good enough to induce genuine confusion about their identity on the part of those who would interact with them.
Does the ocean live, is it conscious, does it have a body or a mind? Is it intelligent? Is it communicating with human beings? Does it speak a language? Does it possess knowledge of mathematics or computation? Does the surface of the ocean on Solaris engage in computations; is that what the changes in its physical form signify?Are these human forms, the ones that look like the ones we love, are they forms of communication on the part of the planet? Has it scanned our brains, discovered our obsessions and physically realized them in an attempt to establish contact with us? Has it performed a series of vivisections on our brains and psyches, treating us flippantly like objects for experimentation–the way we have treated physical materials and other species on this planet?
The planet is, of course, Wittgenstein’s lion. It has spoken and we do not understand it. All that the scientists on Station Solaris can bring to bear on their interactions with the planet is their knowledge of themselves and other human beings–and their interactions with each other; this knowledge–of their particular ‘forms of life’–forces them into a particular interpretive stance with respect to the planet, one whose prisoners they remain, and which does not afford a unique and determinative understanding of what the nature of the planet is, and or what it might be trying to say–if it is trying to say anything in the first place. The planet has its own ‘form of life‘ that regulates and determines the form and content of its interactions with the human beings engaged with it; there is little guarantee that this communication is set up to enhance, or even make possible, understanding on the part of its human interlocutors.
Kelvin and Snow and Sartorius and Gibarian have come to realize that these concepts they trade in–life, mind, consciousness, thought, persons, intelligence, brain, language–find their meaning with respect to a particular form of life and being–they do not transcend it. They do not allow for the determination of whether the planet, a ‘being’ perhaps radically similar or dissimilar to them, traffics in similar concepts, or anything like them. If they were to ascribe a ‘life’ or a ‘mind’ to Solaris, it would be an asterisked one–‘life as we know it’–and perhaps that’s all we can or should aspire to.
2 thoughts on “Wittgenstein’s Lion And Solaris”
Did you know Zizek makes an analogy to Solaris in his book “Event”?
I am not sure that kind of reasoning really holds anymore. I mean, I can work, for sure, but I’m not sure it really gets us anywhere.
I would say that the communication is occurring and that the problem of what it is trying to communicate is a human problem, not a ‘moon’ problem.
The communication is conveying exactly what it is, but what gets in the way is the “human” as a name for a common special Being, that very concept gets in the way. But “human” as a not overdetermined category apprehended exactly the ‘moon’ in itself.
It’s like there is an inherent lag in a particular kind of subjectivity that we generalize into a metaphysical ”The Subjectivity”.
“Kelvin and Snow and Sartorius and Gibarian have come to realize that these concepts they trade in–life, mind, consciousness, thought, persons, intelligence, brain, language–find their meaning with respect to a particular form of life and being–they do not transcend it.”
And if we incorporate the layer immediately “above” or enclosing the narrative… ie, people not entirely unlike Kelvin, Snow, Sartorius et al, made a movie called “Solaris,” about the situations and conditions under discussion (in the post above)… and we agree to take this movie at face value, philosophically, to the extent that we grant within our critical efforts the possibility of ascribing a ‘life’ or a ‘mind’ to Solaris… “Solaris” (the film/ planet) has actually Solaris-ed us! The walls between Narrative Reality and Narrative Reality’s source (Reality) are bilaterally permeable on the bridge of consciousness… which may or may not be the only “unreal”(sub-real?) place in the Universe. Which must be what all this corn-popping is about…