Thursday, February 28, 2008

'Lost': Checking the Time / Doc Jensen / Is there a wormhole on the Island? Doc Jensen's thoughts. Plus: what to know for tonight's ep

'Lost': Checking the Time
Is there a wormhole on the Island? Doc Jensen's thoughts. Plus: what to know for tonight's ep
By Jeff Jensen

Do you REALLY need one after last week's massive download of coy hints and contextual info for all of season 4 from exec producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof? Of course you do!

DOC JENSEN: Last season, you touted the Desmond-centric episode ''Flashes Before Your Eyes'' by saying that it ''uses the flashback device in a way you've never seen before — and will never see again.'' Does tonight's Desmond-centric outing, ''The Constant,'' uphold that pledge?

DAMON LINDELOF: '''The Constant' upholds that pledge, unpledges it, then repledges it. Also, there's a really cool auction in it.''

An auction scene? With the nifty numbered paddles? I'm there!

In which Doc Jensen shakes his magical Orb of Knowing at a burning question for the sake of edifying Lost theorymaking.

According to Daniel Faraday's rocket experiment, there is a 31-minute time differential between the Island and the freighter. However, we have seen the freighter folk communicate with their ship in real time via satellite phone. Many fans want to know: Is this a continuity error?

How do you explain it?
MEB: How do YOU explain it? You're going to have to work a little here, ''Doc.''

Harrumph! Well...could it be that there are certain frequencies that aren't affected by whatever forces account for the time differential?
MEB: Ding! Ding! Ding! See? These Lost mysteries aren't so mysterious! Try another one. How about the time differential? What's your theory on that?

Oh, great. We're really going to show the world just how weak-ass my physics game is. Okay: Clearly, we're dealing with Einstein/general theory of relativity here —
MEB: Oh, ''clearly.'' You don't know what you're talking about, do you?

How come you're talking like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men now?
MEB: ''Now''? Now is not a time. Sigh. Doc, have you ever tried just thinking about these mysteries more — oh, I don't know — simply? Let's start with the most interesting thing about the time differential scene, which wasn't the differential itself — it was Faraday's reaction to the differential. Remember what it was?

I remember he wasn't exactly happy.
MEB: If that's how you want to characterize it, fine. Now, what might that suggest?

That he got a result that he wasn't expecting?
MEB: Go on.

That maybe the time differential isn't ''constant,'' to use the title of tonight's episode. Like, maybe if Faraday did his rocket experiment again, the differential would be bigger, smaller, or even nonexistent.
MEB: Very good. Now, I'm not going to tell you which of those three possibilities is correct. But...all three point to one idea about the Island that all Lost theorists should keep in mind. Can you figure it out, ''Doc''?

Why are you mocking me? Don't mock me! I didn't invent you as a storytelling device just so you could make fun of me, Magic Eight Ball! We can just as easily never do this again and then you wouldn't exist anymore!
MEB: So my current status is highly...''unstable''?

Damn skippy! As unstable as Jacob's Shack! As unstable as the Hatch! As unstable the varied forms of Dr. Marvin Candle! Yeah! You're a flickering candle, Magic Eight Ball, and I'm going to snuff you out! Your wick is dwindling! Even now, the wax of your existence is pooling in the saucer of my — WAITAMINUTE! Is that what you've been trying to tell me? That the Island flickers in and out of existence like my candle analogy? That the laws of physics themselves are in constant flux on the Island?
MEB: As always, you get ahead of yourself and make everything so much more complex than it needs to be. Just keep this one word in mind: unstable. Now let's go grab a taco.


Back by popular demand:

This week, no crazy non sequiturs, dubious pop culture tangents, or flat-out lame jokes. Only helpful information. Honest! Today's cheat sheet is indebted to two books: Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions, by Lisa Randall; and The New Time Travelers, by David Toomey.

Dedicated to all you wormholes out there. You know who you are.

A bunker buried in the jungle, properly known as the Swan, and part of the Dharma Initiative, a Utopian science outfit financed by the Hanso Foundation. It was allegedly created to study the Island's unique electromagnetic fluctuations. In the finale of season 2, the Hatch either exploded or imploded; regardless, it went bye-bye, leaving nothing but a charred crater behind. Desmond, Locke, and Mr. Eko were all inside the Hatch during this destruction event. They, too, should have been blown to smithereens. Instead, Desmond woke up naked, Locke woke up mute, and Mr. Eko woke up delirious. To this day, I have been convinced that Lost has not given us a satisfying explanation for how those three survived. But yesterday, a theory came to mind. First, we must revisit:

A pivotal season 3 episode in which it was revealed that after Desmond turned the failsafe key, he experienced something like time travel; his Island-present consciousness downloaded into his flashback-past self. Even more odd, when his mind returned to the Island present, Desmond came back with ''flashes'' of the future. Did Desmond's consciousness simultaneously expand forward and backward in time, then reverse course and contract back into his head? Does super-electromagnetic Desmond have the ability to omnisciently experience the arc of his existence (or his ''worldline,'' to use a word coined by Lost-cited egghead Hermann Minkowski) all at once, but chooses not to, or at least, only in manageable ''flashes''? Perhaps tonight's episode will offer illumination. During his ''Flashes'' flashback, Desmond learned from a mysterious lady named Ms. Hawking two things about the nature of Lost time (assuming that she was being truthful, of course): Both free will and predestination are at work. Hawking warned Desmond that if he proposed to Penny, ''every single one of us will die.'' But then, after they witnessed a man's death, Ms. Hawking told Desmond that despite knowing the man's fate, she was powerless to stop it; the universe would have found a different way to kill him. This brings us to:

David Lewis is the name of Charlotte Staples Lewis' father. (We know this from when Ben ran down Charlotte's bio at the end of ''Confirmed Dead.'') David Lewis is also a famous thinker in the field of physics. During the 1970s, he gave a series of lectures about the topic of time travel. One of his most important contributions was a response to the problem known as ''The Grandfather Paradox.'' This is the idea that a time traveler can't go back in time and kill his grandpa because it would create a new timeline in which the time traveler would have never come into existence. Lewis resolved this paradox by simply suggesting that in a world where time travel would be possible, creating paradox would be impossible; the cosmos would basically work against you and execute what Desmond would call...

Example: Charlie. But two things about Charlie's death: (1) Fate technically didn't kill Charlie. Remember what happened: Desmond flashed on a new version of Charlie's death — one that offered a future that was beneficial to all castaways. Heroically, Charlie embraced this fate. Charlie exercised his free will and essentially killed himself. (2) Regardless, Fate got what it wanted. Which brings me back to the mystery of how Desmond, Locke, and Eko survived the Hatch implosion. Were they saved by ''The Grandfather Paradox''? Did Fate spare them because they just weren't supposed to die yet? Maybe. And if so, it would be awfully convenient; Lost could basically get away with any leap in narrative logic by chalking it up to ''course correction.'' Ironically, this is exactly the complaint that many physicists have to paradox theories like the one suggested by David Lewis. Which brings us to...


Igor Novikov was a physicist whose name is attached to the most famous theory addressing time-travel paradox: the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle. Similar to Lewis, Novikov advocated ''course correction.'' But many others — including Matt Visser, who coined the phrase ''Novikov Consistency Conspiracy'' — opposed Novikov's articulation because it implied the work of supernatural agencies. A religious person (like Charlotte's namesake, C.S. Lewis) might call this agency ''God.'' An open-minded scientific person might call it ''Maxwell's Demon,'' named after James Clerk Maxwell's tricky thought experiment, discussed in this space a couple weeks ago. Novikov himself called it by another name, a name connected directly to Lost: ''Jinn,'' a word from the Koran for a category of formless magical entities that defy the laws of space-time. (The Monster, for example, could be a ''Jinn.'') But I might suggest a fourth candidate, one that our old X-Files friend Dana Scully would find hard to swallow but at least puts us in a plausibly human arena: an honest-to-God conspiracy, executed by Cancer Man-ish agents like Ms. Hawking, Brother Jerome (Desmond's former monastery boss), and many others. The Lostverse is populated by people struggling to avert catastrophic paradox and perhaps battling each other over the proper form of ''course correction.'' This raises the question: How would these flesh-and-blood ''demons'' know the future? Answer:

The Orchid is the name of another Dharma Initiative station that we have not yet seen, but will, soon. (Next week, to be exact.) A version of the Orchid's orientation film was released last summer by the producers of Lost; you can see it on YouTube or at The film suggests that Dharma was trying to harness the unique energies of the Island in order to conduct experiments in time travel. It mentions something called the Casimir Effect, which points toward the kind of energy that Dharma was harnessing. What would negative energy be good for? Growing and maintaining a most volatile distortion in the fabric of reality, or ''Minkowski space-time,'' a distortion known as:

I bow before the feet of many other Lost theorists, including J. Wood at, who've brought wormholes into the Lost conversation much earlier than me. If you're a sci-fi nut, you know all about wormholes, a theoretical phenomenon in space-time that can connect one point in time to another. Novikov speculated that wormholes could mature into ''natural time machines.'' If the Island is basically ground zero for a small, localized wormhole, then it's very possible that Dharma was to create a kind of quantum switchboard, connecting calls between Island present and the future or the past. I wonder if the name ''Miles Straum'' is another clue nodding in the direction of wormhole theory. The producers say ''Miles Straum'' was meant to sound like ''maelstrom,'' which is a massive, monstrous whirlpool in the middle of an ocean. Not a bad analogy for a wormhole in the South Pacific, eh?


I know what you're thinking. You mean to tell me that I gotta know all this noodle-cooking stuff to understand Lost? My answer is this: If any of this is accurate, I'm betting it'll probably be explained just as generally, if not more so, as I did here. But here's the curious thing about all this. Science is supposed to be the process of making the unknowable knowable, right? This is essentially the argument against supernatural forces: They're just phenomena we haven't explained yet, phenomena like Lost's Monster, ghosts, and various other ''jinns.'' But the current direction of physics suggests that science has gone so far down the rabbit hole that they're coming back to where they started: to a view of reality marked by inherent unknowability. Concepts like ''braneworld cosmology'' advocate the existence of dimensions embedded in our reality that defy natural order. I wouldn't be surprised if, at the end of the day, Lost rallies around Edward Mitten's ''M theory,'' a unified theory of reality that incorporates multiple dimensions (10, to be exact) plus a bonus 11th dimension marked by supergravity. What does the ''M'' stand for? Witten never said. It could mean ''magic,'' ''membrane,'' or ''mystery.'' In fact, Lisa Randall offers the idea that the ''M'' means ''Missing theory.''

Sounds like Lost to me.


Burning Question of the Week!
''Am I the only one that wonders why no one on the island ever wears shorts?'' — John Cleckler

Damon Lindelof responds: ''Actors look silly in shorts.''


— Doc Jensen

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