Solaris and the philosophy of consciousness

Stanislaw_Lem.jpgStanislaw Lem was a reknowned science fiction writer. It is less known that his books are repleat with carefully thought out philosophy about the nature of consciousness and knowledge acquisition.

ABC Radio National’s The Philosopher’s Zone recently had a special examining Lem’s view on consciousness as demonstrated in his richly descriptive sci-fi works.

The novel Solaris has as a central plot, something not unfamiliar to readers of science fiction, and is replicated in many novels, and that is the notion of first contact with a completely alien intelligence. We have a central protagonist, Chris Kelvin, who goes to a space station that is orbiting a planet, Solaris, and has been orbiting this planet for hundreds of years. So by the time the novel begins the planet has been well known and it’s been the subject of scientific inquiry for over 100 years, and hundreds of volumes have been written about this planet, because it has a peculiar being inhabiting it, which is the ocean that covers most of the planet seems to be sentient, seems to be a rational being, but something completely different from anything else that human beings have encountered.

As the novel progresses, we realise that the inhabitants of the space station have all gone crazy or have died because of their continued proximity with this alien being. And our hero of course, Kelvin, and listeners who have seen either the Tarkowski film or the more recent film, will know that one of the peculiarities of this plasmatic ocean, as Lem calls it, is that it produces replica human beings, that it seems to have sourced from the deepest submerged memories of the scientists on board the space station.

mp3 or realaudio of programme.
Link to transcript.

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