Sunday, January 10, 2010

Great Explanation for TV Series - LOST

Found this in: written by Steve.
to Steve: you're a genius.

UPDATE: Now that the series has ended, here is The Idiot's Guide to Lost.

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 like this: 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.

Consider another:

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 follows:

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.



sandeep said...

Great !!

Jorrit said...

I thought flight 815 crashed because desmond forgot to type the code into the computer and the magnetic field caused the plane to crash...