Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Lem’s story is dual: It deals with the relationship between Kelvin and his visitor at the same time that it unfolds the many philosophical implications of the attempt to make contact with the mind of the ocean. Lem’s thesis is that all attempts to define reality, on earth or in space, are inevitably anthropocentric. An author of one of the books in Solarian studies maintains that all scientific achievements reveal the projection of anthropomorphic definitions on all reality. As a result, genuine contact between humans and a nonhuman intelligence or civilization is, by definition, impossible. Snow tells Kelvin that all space travel is nothing more than the attempt to define the entire cosmos in the terms of Earth: “We are only seeking Man.... We don’t know what to do with other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can’t accept it for what it is.”

This idea is repeated in a passage which relates the cosmic implications of Lem’s thesis to the relationship between Kelvin and “Rheya”: “Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.” In other words, at the same time that human beings impose human definitions on the rest of the universe, they neglect to take account of their own human nature. They thus fail to understand both the universe without and the...

(The entire section is 474 words.)