As I stood there in the hall, waiting for the pizza delivery woman to figure out down which path lay apartment 219, I felt the overpowering urge to rip out my beard from my face. My beard was itchy and irritating, having not grown fully as it has now and I just felt like tearing it out, along with the skin just below it, leaving behind the same smooth skin that I get after every shave. I covered the hair with my hands and imagined doing just so, knowing full well the impossibility of the task. Yet I imagined it away and just imagining it made me feel better.
I’ve recently finished reading (no, listening) to the audiobook of the novel named Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem. It is a strange and lovely science fiction novel, somewhat different from other science fiction stories I have read as the latter often focus on the acts of being in space, exploring strange new worlds, meeting new civilizations and waging war against them, but the former, as with most of Lem’s writings, focuses on the idea that it is not necessary that we be able to build a communications device (or that the alien life form be smart enough) to communicate with other species. The idea is novel, in that we take it for granted that we will be able to communicate with our otherworldly counterparts when we meet them. Imagine the vastness of space and the endless possibilities that evolution presents with regards to surviving despite the nature of our planet and you can paint a picture that different environments can create different life forms that may be intelligent, but not necessarily equipped to talk to people from other planets.
But I was struck, not by the wonderful idea of Mankind’s absurd faith in being able to understand aliens but by a different idea altogether. In the story (and without revealing too much to those who still haven’t read it), the alien life form is able to extract the thoughts from a human being and use them to communicate in it’s own way. The issue is, however, that the thoughts being used are not the characters’ active thoughts, thoughts comprised of everyday relevance, but their innermost ones, those that our subconscious hides from us at all costs and those that sometimes surface when we’re high or asleep. This renders any active and intentional communication with the alien impossible and questions the entire quest of trying to communicate with a life form that is, at the same time, intelligent and elusive. This also brings out the psychosis of the characters when faced with strange phenomenon and the impossibility of the task assigned to them.
This brings me back to the incident with the beard. Our inner most thoughts are often absurd and abstract, either having not formed fully or eluding comprehension whatsoever, for the sake of linking some semi-formed idea with another (which is how most of my blog posts often begin), for the sake of helping us remember some tidbit of information that may be relevant to us in some way, or simply to help us get a gut feeling about our environment or situation. Regardless, the point is that the subconscious mind is a world of it’s own, forming it’s own paths and experiences and not really telling us what it means all along; which does indeed render our analysis of our thoughts somewhat useless when it comes to expressing them or using them to understand our behavior. But that’s just armchair psychology as an aftermath of reading an interesting novel.