Stanislaw Lem: Solaristics – The Scientific Religion of the Space Age

solaris-06

Solaristics, wrote Muntius, is a substitute for religion in the space age. It is faith wrapped in the cloak of science; contact, the goal for which we are striving, is as vague and obscure as communion with the saints or the coming of the Messiah. Exploration is a liturgy couched in methodological formulas; the humble work of researchers is the expectation of consummation, of Annunciation, for there are not nor can there be any bridges between Solaris and Earth. This obvious fact, like many others—the absence of shared experiences, the absence of conveyable concepts—was rejected by solaricists, the same way the faithful reject arguments that would subvert the underpinnings of their faith. Besides, what do people expect, what can they want from “informational communication” with thinking seas? A recording of experiences of a being that endures through time, and is so old it probably cannot remember its own beginning? A description of the desires, passions, hopes and sufferings, that are released in the instantaneous birth of living mountains, the transformation of mathematics into existence, of loneliness and resignation into plenitude? Yet all this constitutes uncommunicable knowledge, and if one attempts to translate it into any terrestrial language, all those sought-after values and significations are lost, they remain on the far side. Besides, it isn’t these sorts of revelations, more worthy of poetry than science, that are hoped for by the “believers,” oh no; though they themselves are unaware of it, what they are waiting for is a Revelation that would explain to them the meaning of humankind itself! Solaristics, then, is the posthumous child of long-dead myths, the final flower of mystical yearnings that people no longer have the courage to utter aloud; while the cornerstone hidden deep in the foundations of this edifice is the hope of Redemption…1

Lem’s parable of an unknowable alien intelligence the size of a planet, one that generations of humans have devoted their lives and intellects in hopes of making contact with only to discover that no communication is forthcoming till the blank life of self-generated objects that incarnate the memories of three of the last scientists on Solaris suddenly awakens in these men strange dreams. Here, just here, we follow them as they seek the last vestiges of communicative truth from an alien planetoid.  Kelvin himself is caught up in this inhuman drama in which his ex lover who committed suicide is incarnated out of his own mind. A creature without a past who is as fragile and perplexed as Kelvin. Yet, this creature cannot die. Impervious to any form of destruction it is bound to him like a silent reminder of his own dark heritage. I want spoil the story but Lem seems bent on uncovering the motives of science and scientists in this satiric work on humanities inability to deal with the unknown.

Solaris becomes the ultimate project confronting human kind. Also one that is finally almost abandoned as hopeless. As if this great planetoid being might confirm our lives, our meaning; give us once and for all an answer to the question Why? Why are we here? What is our purpose? All the usual religious needs of a needy species. Lem hits the nail on the head about our metaphysical neediness and hope for Redemption. And his apt portrayal of science itself as a religious project that carries on where religion left off. Yet, what is striking in Solaris is the fact that no meaning is forthcoming, no grand deliverance or message of salvation, no communication at all… just the inexplicable memories that awaken from the unconscious hopes and fears of the scientists themselves as 3D models of their own psyche’s half-life and mistakes. Isn’t this what you seek, Lem says, an answer to the meaning of life and the universe, when in truth there is none? No god in the burning bush, no philosopher, no mathematical equation, nothing… no message out of the great silence of the stars… just a vast and lonely void without end. A universe that is slowly running down, in which every star sooner or later will turn its lights off and the only thing that will reign is endless night – an oblivion without recourse or denial.


  1. Lem, Stanislaw (2014-11-22). Solaris (Kindle Locations 2854-2867). Pro Auctore Wojciech Zemek. Kindle Edition.

Cybertime: The Tyranny of the Cognitariat

large_prisoner_blu-ray2

Franc “Bifo” Berardi in Precarious Rhapsody will reiterate one of his favorite themes which is the incorporation of General Intellect into the machinic phylum that is taking place as part of a program to enslave and exclude at the same time the human as part of late capitalisms (financial or technocapitalism) systematic enclosure of the commons: both virtual and actual. If one reads his several works the basic thematic is iterated over and over in various forms and examples, yet it is in this specific book that his notion of cybertime as distinct from cyberspace is first conceptualized. As he tells it the “colonization of time has been a fundamental objective of the development of capitalism during the modern era…” (p. 69).1 Yet, in our moment time is taking on a rather accelerated form as we enter into machinic-interfacial relations through the massive oceanic system of the Internet and cyberspace that capital is slowly expanding and encompassing in its systems of capture. According to him time is now becoming a “battlefield, as it is the space of the mind: mind-time, cybertime” that is introducing new subjectifications and forms of subjectivity that up till now were based on the liberal capitalist Subject. As he states it: “The potenza of this new figure of intellectuality of the ‘cognitariat’ is being reterritorialized by way of the tyrannical operation of capitalist cybertime.” (p. 69)

Continue reading

The Living Ocean: General Intellect, AI, and Information

water_drop

Reading Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris after so many years has been a pleasant surprise. I came across this passage:

After all, on that planet anything is possible. Far-fetched descriptions of configurations formed by the plasma are in all likelihood true, though usually unconfirmable, since the ocean rarely repeats its evolutions. Those observing them for the first time are staggered above all by their outlandishness and their vast scope. If they’d taken place on a small scale, in some swamp, they’d probably be written off as a freak of nature, a manifestation of randomness and the blind play of forces. The fact that geniuses and mediocre minds are equally at a loss when faced with the inexhaustible variety of forms of Solaris is an additional hindrance in dealing with the marvels of the living ocean.1

Yesterday I happened on a passage from Berardi who was deeply influenced by both Marixst, Baudrillardian, and Guattarian notions of General Intellect:

“The general intellect takes the form of an ocean, an infinite sprawl of depersonalized fragments of bio-time: capital picks up and recombines the digitalized fragments of work-time.

…from e-flux journal interview Running Along the Disaster: A Conversation with Franco “Bifo” Berardi 

My obvious astonishment was this reduction by both authors of an almost poetic display of metaphor which tries to grasp an unknown and even unknowable material system that is both real and yet cannot be reduced to scientific conceptuality or description, but is rather equated in analogous terms by the use of the metaphor ‘ocean’. Both thinkers, one a polymathic encyclopedist, a child prodigy who read the encyclopedia Britannica end to end as a child and had most of it memorized. The other, Franco “Bifo” Berardi as member of the Autonomy movement of Italy who became a friend of Felix Guattari, and would integrate much of the latter’s a-signifying semiotics or graph based non-representationalism into his own philosophical projects.

Continue reading