[Stanislaw Lem] The Futurological Congress

  • Title: The Futurological Congress
  • Author: Stanislaw Lem
  • Published: 1974
  • Translated: by Michael Kandel
  • Publisher: A Harvest Book
  • ISBN: 978-0-15-634040-3

Am I or am I not hallucinating all this?
I’d hide for a time like a rat no longer safely inside the illusion, shipwrecked in reality.

from the book

I really am a man who dreamed I was a butterfly or whether I was a butterfly, now dreaming I was a man.


The terms “red pill” and “blue pill” refer to a choice between the willingness to learn a potentially unsettling or life-changing truth, by taking the red pill, or remaining in contented ignorance with the blue pill. The terms refer to a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix.


“The Futurological Congress” is quite a different style of narration compared with other Lem’s novels. Rather than realistic – scientific – progress of events, the novel consists of entangled pieces of puzzles. The tone of the narration is much lighter and more cynical -.
a little bit comical too -.

The plot is simple but complex at the same time. The protagonist, Ijon Tichy, attended the Futurological Congress and involved in a revolutionist riot. After being injured, he was frozen and revived again in the future, which seems like a Utopia. But Both Tichy and readers do not know whether each event is real or not. “Am I or am I not hallucinating all this?”

Brain in a vat (BIV) has been an intriguing topic for a long time. We are puzzled by this fundamental question of the human mind – from Descartes’ medication to the move Matrix -. Lem questions us again what the conception of reality, knowledge, and consciousness of humans means. Tichy is always not sure whether he is under hallucination or not. The “psychem” – psychological chemicals – is used to create an illusion or change the emotional state of the people. Even when Tichy is awakened in the future, the seemingly Utopian society is only maintained by the mass control by chemicals. When our mental state and emotions are controlled by chemicals, which is already happening in our current society, the question of what is real might not be important anymore. What we care about is how we currently feel and act! You just need to dial to the different modes on the mood organ in order to feel differently as the people do in the book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick.

Isn’t it a Utopia if everybody feels OK and might be happy? Tichy had a chance to look at what is really going on under the all-happy-society. They eat gruels but think they are eating good foods. They wear rugs but think they wear fine clothes. Their bodies are deformed, but they think they are healthy. Everything is a lie, but no one knows, and everyone is happy. Do we really need to know what is under the hood or behind the curtain?

“Psychems” was a weapon of totalitarian ruling or class oppression before Tichy was frozen but become the only tool for survival and religion of the mass. Our senses and mind do not process all data around us. Filtering and subjective rationalization are our tools to survive psychologically. Moreover, we need to forget or have to bury many unpleasant memories to go further. It is not true we are looking at the world objectively. Kant pointed out we are only aware of the phenomenal world and will never directly know the noumenal world. What do we need to choose? The “red pill” or the “blue pill”?

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