In The Futurological Congress, the main character, Ijon Tichy in effect experiences the emergence from what was his reality to hallucinations that he calls “remarkable realism” and then to a reality many years in the future that appears to be neither a hallucination or his reality. Lem weaves the story so seamlessly that the reader is never quite sure which is reality and which is illusion.
In his first state of hallucinations, Tichy felt he would rather die than continue in the unreal. He begged to be killed because “death would in fact constitute an awakening from the illusion.” As the decision is made by doctors to submit Tichy to being frozen until medical treatment might become available, Tichy slips into an unawareness that is real and unreal at the same time. The way in which Lem portrayed this scene, with short broken stanzas reads like poetry. Tichy advances from one word sentences to longer and longer sentences as he approaches ‘reality’ again.
The vitrification process mimics the rising from Plato’s cave to find oneself in a reality that is unreal for you, “…everything he sees is in reality unreal..” The language is unfamiliar; the sights, smells, and sounds are different. The people that Tichy encounters constitute the ‘realness’ of the shadows on the back of the cave. And the reality of that new world confounds and confuses Tichy.
So, if the drugs given to the populace in this reality create the illusion, create the shadows in Plato’s terms, then what exactly is reality? Is the reality the illusion or is the illusion the reality?