Speaking of Quantum Physics (a topic which fascinates me to no end), here is an intersting quantum physics take on the meaning of "Lost" (the TV series). If you're not a fan of this show, go ahead and skip this, because it won't make much sense.
The Great "Gedanken Experiment"
Let's go back to shortly after the turn of the Twentieth century, the days
of Einstein and other early theoretical physicists. This was the dawn of the
age of quantum mechanics, which provided new understanding and insight into
physics at the sub-atomic level. New mathematics described the behavior of
the tiny particles that make up all of matter in the universe. The math was
clearly described in terms of numbers, symbols, formulas... however the
application to nature as we know it was strange, weird, bizarre.
It was very difficult to wrap the human brain around many of the concepts of
quantum mechanics, and the math alone was inadequate to explain the
problems. Thus, physicists and mathematicians turned to "Gedanken
Experiments," German for Thought Experiments. Applying the known concepts of
quantum mechanics to situations in the "real world" allowed a conversation
to take place in a way most anybody could (sort of) understand.
Before I lose you, here is an example. In the mathematics of quantum
physics, time travel is THEORETICALLY possible. One of the most famous
Gedanken Experiments is the Grandfather Paradox. If you could travel back in
time, could you kill your grandfather? Logic tells you that no, you could
not, for if you did, you would not exist. (Pause here and consider why Locke
insists that "he can't" kill his father, he needs somebody else to do it.)
The beautiful thing about Gedanken Experiments is that they are both
scientific and philosophical, perfect fodder for a creative writer. In the
case of the Grandfather Paradox, while they logic is clear, the actual
experience of it is a mystery. Imagine actually standing there in the past,
holding a loaded gun to the head of your grandfather... what would actually
prevent you? "Something" would, some unknown mechanism of physics... and
that is where the writers of "Lost" imagine for us.
"Lost" is a grand Gedanken Experiment, a test of science and philosophy. It
asks the question, What if time travel were not only possible, but real,
with technology developed in a manner as realistic and consistent with known
theoretical physics as possible? And to make it even more dramatic, What if
you could travel back in time, AND NOT KNOW IT? The passengers of Flight 815
have done exactly that, and the writers have made the audience go along with
them, sharing the same sense of confusion and mystery.
Let's talk about what we know about time travel today. We are not talking
about cheesy movies of the past, where one can travel back to the age of
dinosaurs or the middle ages. In fact, in the "real" science of time travel,
a few things are known by the constraints of physics and quantum mechanics.
There is a conceptual model of a real time machine, and it works something
A time machine must have two parts, essentially two portals, connected by a
wormhole (or black hole or whatever you want to call it). Door #1 is built
alongside Door #2. Door #1 is allowed to continue along the "present"
timeline, while Door #2 is encapsulated in a bubble within space-time, thus
separated from the present timeline. This would require a great amount of
energy and technology obviously unknown today... but thanks to the writers
of "Lost," it has been solved by Dharma Industries. The amount of separation
would be only slight to begin with... say, 108 minutes. Since Door #1 exists
in the present timeline, it can safely be located anywhere (Dharma
headquarters?). Door #2, now operating in a different place in space-time,
in the past, must be safely located in a remote location, for any type of
interaction with it from the outside could be catastrophic.
There is a very important concept in time travel here, which is that you can
NEVER travel back further in time than the creation of your time machine;
Hence the impossibility of visiting the dinosaurs, etc. Now, if the two
doors of your time machine were separated by only 108 minutes at the initial
"event", but then allowed to just sit there, then both timelines would
progress at the same pace, forever separated by only 108 minutes. Traveling
to the past, but only by 108 minutes, would not be very interesting. Much
more exciting would be to keep Door #2 back at the original time of its
inception, while Door #1 continues to move forward in time. You could do
this by continually "resetting" the clock on Door #2. Over time, the
separation between the two doors would grow and grow, from minutes, to
hours, to days, to years.
If you actually had the technology to achieve time travel in this manner,
there are MANY profound questions you would have to test and answer in order
to be confident that you could safely operate the time machine without
catastrophically altering the future. The Grandfather Paradox is the most
obvious, but actually only one of many questions.
ANSWER #1: What is the Dharma Initiative? It is the building and testing of
a time machine, as described above. Door #1 is at the Dharma Headquarters,
Door #2 is on the Island in the remote South Pacific.
The question isn't, Where is the Island? The question is, When is the
Island? The answer to that depends on how long ago, in the present timeline,
the time machine was created... approximately 14 years ago, I believe.
ANSWER #2: Why must the button be pushed every 108 minutes? This "resets"
the clock of Door #2 of the time machine, essentially holding it at the time
of its inception in the relative past. If allowed to pass 108 minutes on the
clock, then the time machine will lose the ability to reset itself. Why,
then, must it be pressed by a person, and not just programmed to reset
itself? This is because the controllers at Door #1 do not have control over
Door #2 in the past, and should disaster strike, and nobody is left alive in
the past at Door #2, it should be allowed to pass 108 minutes and no longer
reset. ANSWER #3: What happened when the clock was allowed to pass 108
minutes? Door #2 of the time machine lost the ability to reset, and will now
continue to progress along a timeline into the future, locked at
approximately 14 years separation from Door #1.
What are some of the other critical questions, like the Grandfather Paradox,
that must be answered when considering time travel? Here is a great one:
What if a childless woman travels back in time and conceives a child? ANSWER
#4: A childless woman cannot travel to the past and conceive a child,
because if she did, she would not have been a childless woman. In "Lost",
both mother and child die before the birth, thus preserving the timeline and
laws of nature. Perhaps the Others do not fully understand this, and brought
in fertility doctor Juliet to see if they can overcome this obstacle.
What if a child travels back to a time before he or she was born? Perhaps
nothing... but what if the child dies in the past, before being born? Again,
impossible. ANSWER #5: The Others abduct children on the Island to protect
them at all costs, for they cannot allow the catastrophic violation of the
laws of nature of a child dying before being conceived.
And yet another:
If you travel to the past, will you be the "you" of the present timeline
when you arrive, or the younger "you" of the past, or some combination of
the two? I do not know, but I believe this offers insight into why John
Locke can walk on the Island despite being paralyzed. ANSWER #6: Locke can
walk not because the Island has powers to cure, but because he has traveled
back to a time BEFORE he was ever paralyzed. He is somehow a blend of the
Locke of the present and the Locke of the past.
Who is Ben? I believe he is the creator of the time machine. The Others are
his associates living in the time-space bubble around the Island and Door #2
of the time machine in the "past." They are managing it and testing the
effects of time travel, and strictly controlling who exits this bubble into
the outside world.
How does one arrive at the Island? There are two methods of traveling to the
site (and time) of the Island. First is the controlled method via Door #1 at
Dharma Headquarters. It is not via plane, submarine, or any other
traditional method of transportation.
The other method is in the accidental collision with the time-space bubble
that surrounds the Island, as happened with Oceanic Flight 815, the
Portuguese woman's helicopter, etc. Despite the many theories that abound in
online forums, the Others did not know that Flight 815 was coming or going
to crash at the Island. It was a chance encounter. It was a disaster that
created a paradox... what happens to a plane that crashes in the present,
while entering the past? This leads to the question of whether the
passengers are alive or dead, answered by talking about a cat.
Schrodinger's cat, to be specific. Again, quantum mechanics can be very
strange. One of the strangest behaviors in particle physics is known as
Superposition, which is the ability of a particle to occupy two different
states simultaneously (like up and down, left and right, here and there,
etc.). In the world we know, you cannot be both here and there, but in
particle physics, a world of probability, chance, and duality, you can. How
can one imagine this? Another great Gedanken Experiment was conceived, as
Place a cat in a sealed, steel box, along with a bottle of poison. In
addition, a radioactive element is placed within the steel box. The decay of
this radioactive element triggers a hammer, which breaks the bottle,
releasing the poison and killing the cat. For the observer, outside of the
box, you do not know when this radioactive decay happens. Because of the
laws of Superposition, the radioactive element can occupy both states
simultaneously, for the briefest moment. For that blink in time, the bottle
is both broken and intact... the cat is both dead and alive, at the same
time. This is a puzzle of science, but more important perhaps is the
philosophical question of what does it mean to be both dead and alive?
ANSWER #7: The passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 are dead at the bottom of
the ocean. AND they are ALIVE on the Island. They are both dead and alive. I
told you that you would love this one. Since they are alive in the "past" of
the Island's timeline, can they return to the present in which they are
dead? I guess that is the ultimate question that we will have to watch the
show to find out.
A suggestion of an answer is found in Locke's/Sawyer's father. We were led
to believe that he died in a car accident, and finds himself here on the
Island. Of course he would think he's in hell! We believe that somehow Locke
"willed" him here, but that was actually never said on the show. In fact,
Ben said to Locke, "you brought him here." Perhaps what he means is this:
ANSWER #8: Locke's father did not die in the accident. I believe that we
will find soon that Locke is going to leave the Island. The question that
nobody asked Locke's father was when did the accident happen? See, Locke is
going to return to the "present" timeline, and is going to pursue his
father. He is going to find him, perhaps he is even going to cause his
accident. He is going to drug and kidnap him, unable or unwilling to kill
him by himself. He is somehow going to get him to Door #1 of the time
machine and send him to the Island, where he already knows that Sawyer will
kill him. Locke is going to "bring him here" to the Island... he just hasn't
done it yet. When he is on the "outside" in the present, why is he going to
do this? Because he has to, because it is destiny... for on the Island, it
has already happened. You know Locke loves destiny.
I could go on and on. Why is there a zoo with polar bears? ANSWER #9: The
animals are on the Island for testing the effects of the various paradoxes
associated with time travel. Perhaps another reason is that by keeping and
preserving endangered animals, like polar bears, within this bubble in the
past, there is a resource for their recovery should they become extinct in
the future. Consider it a Noah's Ark.
How do the Others know so much about the passengers of Flight 815? ANSWER
#10: The Others have had perhaps years, with Dharma Industries in the
present timeline at Door #1, to research each of the individuals, and
transmit this information to the Island. To the audience and the survivors
of 815, it seemed like the Others instantly knew about them. However, it
likely required years of research to compile the files.
There are still mysteries that remain, and stories that we do not know how
they will play out. With this explanation, though, the behavior of the
Others is understood. They must protect the timeline AT ALL COSTS. That
makes them seem evil to the survivors of 815, but in reality their
intentions are to prevent catastrophe.
There are many other stories I haven't touched, but they are all consistent
with this basic theory. This includes Desmond's apparent "time loop" he is
experiencing, and many others.
So there it is. Or, I'm out of my mind. Time will tell.
Let's hear it again for the London Philharmonic Orchestra!