by Liam Hawkes
I haven’t read a lot of science fiction. I have only heard of a handful of authors, and probably couldn’t name many of their books. But as soon as I turned the first page of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, I was hooked. His beautiful philosophical musings – in Bill Johnston’s English translation – about the nature of consciousness, perception, and the environment struck a chord with me. Which started me thinking about how we interact with our own environment here on Earth, and how perhaps we could benefit from a revaluation of our ideals.
The story revolves around the protagonist Kris Kelvin who arrives at the Solaris Station eager to become part of the decades of research on this mysterious planet, covered almost entirely by a seemingly sentient ocean. However, in the process of attempting to study the planet, it becomes apparent that the researchers are in fact being studied by the planet, as it delves into the deepest corners of their thoughts.
I find it a very interesting concept put forward by Lem that an extra-terrestrial planet can force us to confront the demons which we push down into our memories. Even more than this, if we extend the idea to Earth I wonder how long it would take until our own planet forces us to confront the reality which many people believe is only on the horizon.
The reality is that our planet is changing exponentially. In spite of all the headlines surrounding the Paris Climate Summit (COP21) of how we are “moving towards a solution”, and “reaching agreements on carbon limits”, I find myself asking if it is even possible to find a ‘solution’? As we look around, anywhere on planet Earth, we can already see the effects of our complete disregard for the planet’s environment. It’s happening, right now.
Yet we are still spoon fed ‘temperature targets’, and ‘environmental forecasts’ as if it’s something which can be projected into the future. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aware of the future and how drastically different it will be, I’m saying that we need to identify with our environment now, in the present. We conceptually and physically are a part of nature.
When you look around, anywhere on planet Earth, we can already see the effects of our complete disregard for the planet’s environment.
Now, Solaris really tries to push the boundaries of humanity’s ability to anthropomorphise their surrounding environment. And this strikes me as something that could be a vital skill for us to adopt in our own everyday ways of thinking. Not only in terms of becoming aware of incredibly damaging environmental effects we subjecting our planet to, but also as a way of reconnecting ourselves with the environment which surrounds us. Cease to see nature as something external from us – in our gardens or beyond the boundaries of our cities – but as something which is essentially part of us. Or perhaps something that we are part of. Complex ecosystems are influenced and affected by human beings, so we should, and do, belong to them.
An interesting ecological and philosophical line of thought which encapsulates this idea comes from the Deep Ecology movement. I first heard about it whilst studying it briefly, and the whole premise of the movement really captured my attention. It asserts that the living environment should possess the right to flourish, contrarily to the simply instrumental use many human beings currently view it as. Rather than treating it as a means of production, or as a means to an end, Deep Ecology supports a holistic view of the environment, and includes humans as part of it.
I think it presents a way of breaking away from the incredibly anthropocentric view of the environment as a commodity, considered only in terms of its use or exchange value. Instead, we should be looking at our human experience in this environment and cherishing it as something important to us.
Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss first coined the term Deep Ecology, and by no means does it remain simply within the boundaries of philosophy. It is, as I said, a movement. It has inspired and encouraged scientists, philosophers, and activists alike. The Foundation for Deep Ecology presents itself in its mission statement as:
A voice for wild nature, the Foundation for Deep Ecology supports efforts to protect wilderness and wildlife, promote ecological agriculture, and oppose destructive mega-technologies that are accelerating the extinction crisis.
The movement is a way of questioning both the underlying assumptions of economics and development about the value of human beings, and our standing in the environment we are part of. Perhaps I’m being optimistic in espousing this? Or perhaps I’m being unrealistic? Or maybe I’m being too enthusiastic? Whatever the case, there is a need to identify more with the planet we inhabit. And I say this without wanting to sound like the stereotypical ‘crazy environmental activist’ that seems to always be presented whenever any of these kinds of ideas arise. I see this as a change we all have the potential to make. The opportunity is simply there, open, ready for us to take. To identify with.
Unless, of course, we wish to simply ignore it, and risk being forced into confrontation like Kelvin on the Solaris Station. Surely we can’t hide from this reality forever? As Lem powerfully writes in Solaris: “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 the doorways that he himself has sealed.” I do not, for one, wish it to be that way. Let’s not leave the doorways towards identifying with our environment sealed.
Featured image © NASA