Competence without knowledge: a new reading of a page of Solaris

The following is from chapter “The Old Mimoid”, in Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

“But you don’t know what I was thinking about! Tell me something. Do you believe
in God?”
Snow darted an apprehensive glance in my direction:
“What? Who still believes nowadays . . .”
“It isn’t that simple. I don’t mean the traditional God of Earth religion. I’m no expert
in the history of religions, and perhaps this is nothing new — do you happen to know if
there was ever a belief in an . . . imperfect god?”
“What do you mean by imperfect?” Snow frowned. “In a way all the gods of the old
religions were imperfect, considering that their attributes were amplified human
ones. The God of the Old Testament, for instance, required humble submission and
sacrifices, and was jealous of other gods. The Greek gods had fits of sulks and family
quarrels, and they were just as imperfect as mortals . . .”
“No,” I interrupted. “I’m not thinking of a god whose imperfection arises out of the
candor of his human creators, but one whose imperfection represents his essential
characteristic: a god limited in his omniscience and power, fallible, incapable of
foreseeing the consequences of his acts, and creating things that lead to horror. He is a . .
. sick god, whose ambitions exceed his powers and who does not realize it at first. A god
who has created clocks, but not the time they measure. He has created systems or
mechanisms that served specific ends but have now overstepped and betrayed them. And
he has created eternity, which was to have measured his power, and which measures his
unending defeat.”
Snow hesitated, but his attitude no longer showed any of the wary reserve of recent
“There was Manicheanism . . .”
“Nothing at all to do with the principle of Good and Evil,” I broke in
immediately. “This god has no existence outside of matter. He would like to free himself
from matter, but he cannot . . .”
Snow pondered for a while:
“I don’t know of any religion that answers your description. That kind of religion has
never been . . . necessary. If I understand you, and I’m afraid I do, what you have in
mind is an evolving god, who develops in the course of time, grows, and keeps
increasing in power while remaining aware of his powerlessness. For your god, the
divine condition is a situation without a goal. And understanding that, he despairs. But
isn’t this despairing god of yours mankind, Kelvin? It is man you are talking about, and
that is a fallacy, not just philosophically but also mystically speaking.”
I kept on:
“No, it’s nothing to do with man. Man may correspond to my provisional definition
from some points of view, but that is because the definition has a lot of gaps. Man does
not create gods, in spite of appearances. The times, the age, impose them on him. Man
can serve his age or rebel against it, but the target of his cooperation or rebellion comes
to him from outside. If there was only a single human being in existence, he would
apparently be able to attempt the experiment of creating his own goals in complete
freedom — apparently, because a man not brought up among other human beings cannot
become a man. And the being — the being I have in mind — -cannot exist in the plural,
you see?”
“Oh, then in that case . . .” He pointed out of the window.

My interpretation of it is in one of my previous posts.

Categories: Cosmos, Episteme, Lem

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