In “I don’t know you…” His voice croaked. “I

In Lem’s ”novel, Solaris,
and the Strugatsky brothers’ novel Roadside
Picnic, the lack of knowledge when it comes to aliens and alien encounters;
is one of the focal points. Although the aliens in both novels are entirely
different from each other, the approach when it comes to trying to understand
the aliens remain the same. Also, both novels are set in a time where science
and technology have vastly advanced as
well as human knowledge. With all their vast scientific and technological
advances, humanity’s knowledge, it is not enough to prepare humanity for its
encounter with aliens and their intelligence.

In the first place, when Kevin lands on the planet Solaris, he meets with Snow, who at the
sight of Kevin begins to tremble in fear. 
Snow begins shouting, “I don’t know you…” His voice croaked.
“I don’t know you… What do you want?” (Lem 6).  Snow is not only confused with seeing Kevin but utterly frightened of him. Kevin, on the other hand, is shocked and
bewildered with Snow’s reaction.  For
Snow, who has been on the planet for a while now has utterly lost his mind. His
lack of recognition towards Kevin shows how far gone his mind is. In other
words, Snow is afraid of Kevin because he is a visitor and for Snow, Kevin should be familiar because Kevin is
a figment of his mind yet Kevin is not. This unfamiliarity is what brings fear
to Snow and worries him. This parallels with the lack of knowledge in the
novel. In the novel, Snow and other scientists were
sent to Solaris to study the planet along to gather information and data. Instead, all the scientists have lost their
minds and accomplished absolutely nothing.

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In addition, Kevin when begins to settle in his room,
he commences with the discovery of the planet Solaris. Kevin says, “The
discovery of Solaris dated from about hundred years before I was born. The
planet orbits two suns: a red sun and a blue sun. For forty-five years after
its discovery, no spacecraft had visited Solaris. At that time, the
Gamow-Shapley theory — that life was impossible on planets which are satellites
of two solar bodies — was firmly believed” (Lem 15). This is one of the
advanced future scientific theories that are
presented, of course, this scientific
theory along with other scientists in the
novel is completely and utterly wrong. “The orbit is constantly being modified
by variations in the gravitational pull in the course of its revolution around
the two suns” (Lem 15).
To enumerate, the Gamow-Shapley theory is proven wrong by the planet Solaris
and continues to prove any scientific findings and knowledge wrong.

As a matter of fact, the whole novel is about how
science is always wrong and whatever scientific notions that the scientists
come up about Solaris is wrong. “According to the earliest calculations, in
500,000 years’ time Solaris would be drawn on half of astronomic unit nearer its red sun, and a million years after that
would be engulfed by the incandescent star. A few decades later, however,
observations seemed to suggest that the planet’s orbit was in no way subject to
the expected variations: it was stable, as stable as the orbit of the planets
in our solar system” (Lem 16).
Under these circumstances, scientists had to scrap their earlier scientific
notions and create new ones to explain what they were observing. “The observations
and calculations were reworked with great precision; they simply confirmed the
original conclusions: Solaris’s orbit was unstable” (Lem 16). That is to say,
scientists had no clue what was happening with the planet no matter how many
calculations and observations they amended, so to save face they went with the
notion that Solaris orbit was unstable as if they knew that all along.

It is equally important the first expedition that was
sent out to Solaris because not only did it outline the planet but gathered
information and data. For the scientists,
Solaris became the most important discovery than any later discoveries and
became a priority (Lem 16). Most compelling
evidence, is “four years after this promotion, overflying the planet with the Laakon
and two auxiliary craft, the Ottenskjold expedition undertook a study of Solaris. This expedition being in the nature of a preliminary, not to
say improvised reconnaissance, the scientists were not equipped for a landing.
Ottenskjold placed a quantity of
automatic observation satellites into equatorial and polar orbit, their
principal function being to measure the
gravitational pull. In addition, a study was made of the planet’s surface,
which is covered by an ocean dotted with innumerable flat, low-lying islands
whose combined area is less than that of Europe, although the diameter of
Solaris is fifth greater than Earth’s. These expanses of barren, rocky
territory, irregularly distributed, are concentrated in the southern
hemisphere. At the same time the composition of the atmosphere — devoid of
oxygen –was analyzed, and precise measurements made of the planet’s density,
from which its albedo and other astronomical characteristics were determined.
As was foreseeable, no trace of life was discovered, either on the islands or in the ocean” (Lem 16-17).  This expedition must be remembered because
this is the spark that creates the problem of whether the information gathered
is accurate or inaccurate as well
questions the science that is used.

Furthermore, this notion that the planet was unstable
was put into question when expeditions of Solaris began. “During the following
ten years, Solaris became the center of attraction for all observatories
concerned with the study of this region of space, for the planet had in the
meantime shown the astonishing faculty of maintaining an orbit which ought,
without any shadow of doubt, to have been
unstable” (Lem 17). Therefore, the
scientific community was divided into two
and controversies began. Also, this created a problem one that was unsolvable
no matter what scientists attempted. “The problem almost developed into a
scandal: since the results of the observations could only be inaccurate,
attempts were made (in the interests of science) to denounce and discredit
various scientists or else the computers they used” (Lem 17).  For this reason, other scientists began their
own expeditions to prove the earlier findings incorrect. The scientific
community was in an uproar and began to question everything that they have
learned so far and created their own
scientific theories. Yet, no matter what people came up with in the end it was
utterly invalid.

As a result, more expeditions were made to the planet Solaris,
with the purpose of finding results that proved or discredited the original
findings. For instance, “One of Shsnnahan’s
ships remained in orbit, while the two others, after some preliminary attempts,
landed in the southern hemisphere, in a rocky area about 600 miles square. The work
of the expedition lasted eighteen months and was carried out under favorable
conditions, apart from an unfortunate accident brought about by the malfunctions
of some apparatus. In the meantime, the scientists had split into two opposing
camps; the bone of contention was the ocean. On the basis of the analyses, it
had been accepted that the ocean was an organic formation (at the time, no one
had dared called it living). But, while the biologists considered it as a
primitive formation — a sort of gigantic entity, a fluid cell, unique and
monstrous (which they called ‘prebiological’),
surrounding the globe which a colloidal envelope several miles thick in places —
the astronomers and physicists asserted that it must be an organic structure,
extraordinarily evolved. According to them the ocean possibly exceeded terrestrial
organic structures in complexity, since it was capable of exerting an active
influence on the planet’s orbit path. Certainly, no other factor could be found
that might explain the behavior of Solaris; moreover, the planetophysicists had established a relationship
between certain processes of the plasmic ocean and the local measurements of
the gravitational pull which altered according to the ‘matter of transformations’
of the ocean” (Lem 18). In other words, the
ocean has a great impact on how the planet
orbits just like the ocean on Earth greatly impacts the planet’s orbit. This leads
scientists to question everything that they have learned so far from the planet

Moreover, as Kevin states in the novel it was the
physicists, not the biologists that believed this and found these findings. Also, it was the physicists that brought this forward
to the scientific community. “Consequently it was the physicists, rather than
the biologists, who put forward the paradoxical formulation of a ‘plasmic mechanism,’ implying by this a
structure, possibly without life as we conceive it, but capable of performing
functional activities — on an astronomic scale, it should be emphasized. It was
during this quarrel, whose reverberations soon reached the ears of the most
eminent authorities, that the Gamow-Shapley doctrine, unchallenged for eighty
years, was shaken for the first time” (Lem 18).
To put it differently, all the science that has been done in the novel is completely
inaccurate. No matter what scientists achieve it only leads to one thing and
that is science is utterly flawed and unable to explain why things are the way
they are.

Therefore, scientists, physicists, and even mathematicians
created their own theories. The science community as a whole was unable to agree with the other, so no one knew which theory was the right one. Theories were
created, discredited, created again, and discredited again and so the cycle continues without an end. Many gave up and stopped
trying to comprehend the planet Solaris. To enumerate, Kevin says in the novel,
“Gradually, in scientific circles, the ‘Solaris
Affair’ came to be regarded as a lost cause, notably among the administrators
of the Institute, where voices had recently been raised suggesting that
financial support should be withdrawn and research suspended. No one, until
then, had dared to suggest the final liquidation of the Station; such a
decision would have smacked too obviously of defeat. But in the course of
semi-official discussions, a number of
scientists recommended an ‘honorable’ withdrawal from Solaris” (Lem 23). With this in mind, what
Kevin and the other scientists that are in Solaris are there for nothing. After
all, everyone has given up on trying to understand the planet and only a select
few still believe that they will be able to accomplish what others before could

Henceforth, experiments, looking closer at things,
speculating on the planet Solaris is utterly useless. Scientists will never
come to understand or know how the planet works because,
in the end, they know absolutely nothing.
They cannot comprehend how the ocean is alive and what they are seeing real or
not. For all their scientific knowledge, information, data, and theories the
scientists were not prepared when they made contact with Solaris thus they all
lost their sanity.

Not only is lack of knowledge dealt in Solaris but also in Roadside Picnic, a world that is dealing with the alien encounter
already made and the aliens are long gone.  The novel begins with an interview with Dr.
Pillman. Dr. Pillman is being interviewed about the visit, in this case, the alien encounter. Dr. Pillman tells
the interviewer asked about the alien encounter, “To be honest at first I
assumed it was a hoax. I couldn’t imagine anything like that happening in our
little town. Western Siberia, Uganda, the South Atlantic — even those seemed
possible, but Harmont! I suddenly
realized that Harmont and the other five
zones — actually pardon me, we only knew about four at the time — I noticed
that they lay on a very smooth curve. So I calculated the coordinates of the
radiant and sent it to Nature” (Strugatsky 2-3). To clarify, Dr.
Pillman when first hearing about the alien encounter is shocked and does not
believe at first that there was an alien encounter. However, once he believed
he began to study the zones of where the alien sightings occurred. In this
case, no one not even scientists were prepared to make sense of the alien encounter.

In addition, for Dr. Pillman,
this was his very first and last discovery that he ever made. When the
interviewer asks Pillman, “And what, in your opinion, is the most important
discovery of the last thirteen years?”, Pillman responds, “The fact of the Visit.
The fact of the visit is not only the most important discovery of the last
thirteen years, it’s the most important discovery in human history. It doesn’t
matter who these aliens were. Doesn’t matter where they came from, why they
came, why they left so quickly, or where they’ve vanished to since. What
matters is that we now know for sure: humanity is not alone in the universe.
I’m afraid the Institute of Extraterrestrial Cultures could never make a more
fundamental discovery” (Strugatsky 3-4). For one thing, the
fact that the Visit is the most important discovery in human history is
far-fetched and the other all the questions that should be asked or not asked
at all. Throughout this whole novel science is never at all mentioned which
leads one to think that scientists don’t even have a clue of what is happening
and if they do they cannot explain it.

Moreover, the scientists have done many studies and
have accomplished nothing, no new
discoveries that can help humanity understand the Visit. “The other day, we’re
standing in the repository; it’s evening already, nothing left to do but dump
the lab suits then I can head down to the Borscht for my daily dose of booze.
I’m relaxing, leaning on the wall. My work all done and a cigarette at the
ready, dying for a smoke — I haven’t smoked for two hours — while he keeps
fiddling with his treasures. One safe is loaded, locked, and sealed shut, and
he’s loading yet another one — taking the empties from our transporter,
inspecting each one from every angle (and they are heavy bastards, by the way,
fourteen pounds each), and, grunting slightly, carefully depositing them on the
shelf. He’s been struggling with these empties for ages, and all in my opinion,
with no benefit to humanity or himself” (Strugatsky 7). To enumerate,
Redrick is talking about Kirill, the scientist, that is studying the artifacts
that the aliens have left behind. It has been years from the Visit and they
still haven’t discovered what the artifacts are for, what do they do, and why
they were left behind.

Furthermore, after Redrick, Kirill, and tender return
from the zone, Redrick has an inexplicable need to see his girlfriend Guta.
“I’m walking along the street, trying to figure out what it could be. the sun
is shining, no one’s around. And suddenly I want to see Guta real bad. Not for
any particular reason. Just to look at her, hold her hand. That’s all about you
can manage after the Zone: hand holding.
Especially when you remember stories about the children of stalkers — how they
turn out… No, I shouldn’t even be thinking about Guta; first I need a bottle,
at least, of the strong stuff” (Strugatsky 37). It is important to
realize this key point because no one can explain why the children of stalkers
turn out the way they do. Scientists have no answer and are unable to explain
why it happens. Also when Redrick’s daughter is born he names her ‘the monkey’
due to her golden fur and the way she acts. No one can understand why she is
that way and why she is the only one that can communicate with Rederick’s dead
father, who lives with them.

In essence, Lem and the Strugatsky brothers challenge
the notion that science has all the answers. They show through their novels
that science is able to an extent explain
what something is but not why that something works the way it is. In other
words, science no matter how advanced it
gets, it will never be able to help prepare humanity
for its encounter with aliens and with the interchanging of
intelligence. The aliens will inevitably always be more advanced and
intelligent than humanity.