Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Schizophrenic Theory of Lost

This is a long one, but I swear it's worth it, so bear with me...

Last summer, I speculated that the work of a psychologist who specialized in schizophrenia, as well as myths regarding an immortal race of beings called the Watchers, might both be highly relevant to the show. Some of my predictions were laughably wrong in retrospect, but two merit further discussion in light of recent events. My prediction of Hurley's schizophrenia has apparently come true, and I believe that some variation of a Watcher is a highly plausible candidate for "Him." Let’s review.

The Bicameral Mind
If you haven’t already, meet Julian Jaynes:

Jaynes believed that, until roughly 1000 BC, human beings were not conscious in the way we are now. Instead, their minds were characterized by a “bicameral” or divided state akin to modern schizophrenia. As a result of this split between right and left brains, people literally heard voices that would eventually evolve into internal dialogues (“Should I have tacos?”) in “unicameral” minds like ours.

As with modern schizophrenics, moreover, these voices were irresistible to pre-conscious humans -- quite literally the source of their will:
[E]ach person had a part of his nervous system that was divine, by which he was ordered about like any slave, a voice or voices which indeed were what we call volition and empowered what they commanded and were related to the hallucinated voices of others in a carefully established hierarchy.
Jaynes even speculates that such hallucincations were the origin of religion in the world. People heard the voice of their king after he died, and continued to worship and obey him as if he were alive. Eventually, this dynamic created full-fledged gods, whom regular people heard, worshipped, and served like slaves on a city-sized plantation:
Throughout Mesopotamia, from the earliest times of Sumer and Akkad, all lands were owned by gods and men were their slaves. Of this, the cuneiform texts leave no doubt whatever. Each city-state had its own principal god, and the king was described in the very earliest written documents that we have as 'the tenant farmer of the god"…
As further proof, he provides close readings of the Iliad and the oldest parts of the Old Testament and Epic of Gilgamesh.

The Gods' Departure
Jaynes claims that all this came to an abrupt end around 1000 BC, when religious texts from around the globe begin lamenting, in eery unison, the departure of the gods. He argues that this was when modern consciousness really started. The divine "departure" was not metaphorical -- people literally stopped hearing the voices of their "gods" as unicameral consciousness emerged.

Of particular relevance to Lost, Jaynes' theory of consciousness was explicitly influenced by John Locke and the "tabula rasa" conception of the mind. Jaynes also explicitly invokes the notion of the "mind's eye," wherein conscious human beings plan and visualize the future. Then there's the emphasis on, and analogy to, schizophrenia. Hurley seems increasingly central to the show, and we now know his backstory involves hallucinations and clonazepam (which can be used to treat schizophrenia).

While not necessarily a realistic depiction of schizophrenia, Hurley's symptoms and treatment are consistent with fictional or semi-fictional depictions of the condition like A Beautiful Mind, Fight Club, etc., etc., etc. So much for the controversial but serious science. Ready to follow me down the rabbit hole?

Let me start by clarifying that what follows is in no way what Jaynes believed. Indeed, the pseudo-scientific twist I discuss contradicts his core premise even as it’s paradoxically inspired by the same historical claims. The twist is this: What if Jaynes was wrong, and pre-conscious humans really did hear the voice of some powerful god-like being(s) in their heads?

The Lost Book of Enoch
So what do the ancient texts tell us about this hypothesis? I've long believed the Dead Sea Scrolls are relevant to this show (e.g., Aaron and Walt are messiahs). For biblical scholars, one of the more interesting finds therein was the discovery of the so-called "lost text" of the Book of Enoch, which makes reference to a race of divine beings known as the Watchers.

Enoch and other books of the apocrypha describe the Watchers as angels who fell to earth (marooned aliens?) and taught humanity all manner of divine secrets like the zodiacal cross, cutting of roots, manufacture of weapons, and use of enchantments (i.e., hypnotism). True to their name, the Watchers see everything, and in the course of their peeping, developed an eye for human women. This reportedly angered god, who proved a bit of a prude. The Watchers’ hybrid offspring were killed, and their leader was imprisoned in the bowels of the earth.

The Watcher
My pseudo-scientific Lost speculation is thus that “He” is a Watcher, possibly but not necessarily of alien origin, who has been marooned on the Island for some time. He likely exists as pure electromagnetic consciousness at this point, and like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, can manipulate matter at the subatomic level. But he may have assumed physical form at various point and fathered some hybrid children.

My suspicion is that Gerald DeGroot may be the descendant of such a coupling, as are Walt and Aaron. Notice how Thomas and Michael’s respective paintings evidence similarities with the Hatch mural. Something could well be running in their family. I even wonder if Gerald first found out about the Island via vivid dream visions from his family’s immortal patriarch.

The Watcher controls reality on the Island, and wants to do the same for the rest of the planet. He seeks, in sum, to forge a totalitarian overmind (the “Lost Sun”) that will enforce His iron will worldwide, using His lost sons like Aaron and Walt. The natural potential of the Island to serve as His psychic transmitter has been enhanced by Dharma’s relay technology, making his dream a realistic possibility.

Best of the Rest
That explains Aaron and Walt, but what about the rest of our losties? I’ve explained previously my belief that Hurley was meant to join Desmond in the Hatch. I think, however, that this bicameral theory also explains the significance of our remaining losties, at least those that are the focus of the show.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Jack has experienced a vivid hallucination like Hurley's. It is entirely possible for someone with the right mindset, under the right circumstances, to split their mind temporarily. This is what oracles and other such "channelers" do when they induce trance states -- their minds briefly become bicameral.

When Jack saw his daddy, he was exhausted, and by his own admission to Sarah, he's an intense guy by nature. Jack also seems to have endured some heavy trauma in his life, and learned to compartmentalize aspects of his personality, as evidenced by his method for dealing with fear. Jack is just the guy to slip into a bicameral state. Kate and Sawyer, themselves the victims of trauma, are much the same way.

In fact, if you think about it, the people who have responded most to the Island tend to be the most traumatized. This too is no coincidence. The reason goes back to the MKULTRA/Monarch programming. The most basic level of Monarch programming deliberately exploits psychological trauma to induce a bicameral state:
ALPHA. Regarded as “general” or regular programming within the base control personality; characterized by extremely pronounced memory retention, along with substantially increased physical strength and visual acuity. Alpha programming is accomplished through deliberately subdividing the victims personality which, in essence, causes a left brain-right brain division, allowing for a programmed union of L and R through neuron pathway stimulation.
Due to the severe trauma induced through ECT, sexual abuse and other methods, the mind splits off into alternate personalities from the core. Formerly referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder, it is presently recognized as Dissociative Identity Disorder and is the basis for MONARCH programming. Further conditioning of the victim’s mind is enhanced through hypnotism, double-bind coercion, pleasure-pain reversals, food, water, sleep and sensory deprivation, along with various drugs which alter certain cerebral functions.
This is why the show concentrates on the most traumatized among our losties. It’s more than just good storytelling -- they're the ones most susceptible to the Island's tendency to induce a bicameral state.


Anonymous said...

Cool... another Jaynes fan. Have you read the new book on Jaynes's theory - "Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness" ?

bigmouth said...

Anonymous: Very much a fan! I haven't yet read "Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness" but will definitely check it out. Have you read any of Neal Stephenson's stuff? The bicameral mind figures prominently in some of his works, e.g., Snowcrash.