Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cause and Effect (Revised)

The first iteration of this theory (available here) got bogged down by some controversial science. So, I thought it might be worthwhile to revise and refocus the discussion on some of the other topics I'd hoped to discuss.

Okay, science and philosophy fans, this one's for you. For some time, we've puzzled over the appearance of various Island elements (e.g., the Numbers, Kate's horse, the Dharma octagon, etc.) in the flashbacks of our Losties. One plausible explanation is that they're the victims of an elaborate conspiracy that brought them to the Island. I agree there's a conspiracy afoot but don't believe it explains the foregoing things. My paradoxical speculation is that the survivors of Oceanic 815 brought themselves to the Island, which is why it looms so large in their respective pasts. To understand how, let's begin with Desmond's namesake, Mr. David Hume.



Hume was an empiricist and believed that we can only know what experience tells us. One of his great philosophical contributions was the notion that causation is really nothing more than our observation of the conjunction of two events. We see A followed by B enough times and infer that there must be a necessary connection between them -- i.e., A causes B. Hume argued that this inference was faulty no matter how often A is followed by B. Constant conjunction is not synonymous with necessary connection. Hume's claim is pretty wild when you think about it. He basically argued that there's no reason beyond our own experience to think the sun will rise tomorrow.



Fast forward several centuries to Albert Einstein, whose general theory of relativity threw a further wrench in the causation works. Einstein established that mass literally warps the geometry of spacetime, giving rise to gravity. It turns out that some valid mathematical solutions of general relativity involve "closed timelike curves," allowing for at least the theoretical possibility of travel into the past. To see why, imagine yourself at the intersection of two vast cones of light. The cone behind you represents all of the past events that could have had some causal effect upon you. Ahead of you is a cone of all possible events that you could affect in the future.



Ordinarily, these past and future light cones point away from each other in spacetime, thus preserving the illusion of history. In theory, however, some strange warp or wrinkle in spacetime could cause your future cone to tip such that it loops around and intersects with the past, creating the aforementioned closed timelike curve. Princeton astrophysicist J. Richard Gott (who also claims to have calculated the time left before humanity's extinction) analogizes such loops in spacetime to Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe or an MC Escher painting. The result is that one can -- again, in theory -- have a causal effect on events in the past.



When Desmond activated the Fail-Safe he created such a closed timelike curve by briefly projecting his consciousness through time. His past and future perspectives merged momentarily, leaving him with a kind of temporal "double vision" that permits him paradoxically to remember the future. Desmond's brief flashes of future events are the product of his mind making sense of these dual perspectives a bit like how your brain processes two different images to create a 3D stereogram. The result is an enhanced perception of time that Crimson Rabbit analogizes to Dr. Manhattan's 4D perspective in Watchmen and that Zombie Soiree terms the "4D Eye."



What's more, I think everyone on the Island during activation of the Fail-Safe was affected to varying degrees by their proximity to that event. Eko and Locke were closest to ground zero and probably experienced similarly strong reverse causality. Unlike Desmond, of course, Eko and Locke didn't travel consciously through time. As Doctor Hanso notes, however, Locke experienced prophetic dream visions immediately following activation of the Fail-Safe and may have affected the past to make Anthony Cooper come out of the Box. I also wonder if the drug plane's presence can similarly be explained as Eko somehow influencing past events to effectuate the present.

All of which brings me back to my core premise that the survivors of Oceanic 815 brought themselves to the Island. Unlike Desmond, Eko, and Locke, these folks were further away from ground zero, lessening the affect of the Fail Safe upon them. None of our other Losties traveled consciously through time, and my guess is their impact on history was more limited. The principal manifestation is a subconscious attraction to each other and certain Island symbols. That's why their flashbacks contain so many improbable inter-personal connections and coincidences involving the Numbers -- future events are paradoxically causing subconscious effects in the past.



The analogy is to one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: TNG, also titled "Cause and Effect." The Enterprise gets caught in a temporal causality loop where events repeat themselves, culminating each time in a catastrophic collision that resets the loop and erases any conscious memory of what's happened. Crew members realize something is wrong when they have apparent flashes of the future (e.g., what cards will be dealt in a poker game) and hear whispers that turn out to be echoes of past iterations. In an effort to break free, they send a subconscious clue to themselves in the past using Mr. Data whose positronic brain can detect "dekyon" transmissions. Data isn't consciously aware of the message -- it's more like post-hypnotic suggestion. For example, as the dealer in the aforementioned card game, he stacks the deck without even realizing it, dealing all 3s instead of the cards the characters expect. Ultimately, this provides the clue that allows them to break out of the loop.

I'm not convinced our Losties are/were caught in such a temporal causality loop, though Danielle's automated distress would work well as a metaphor for that effect. I do, however, think that time on Lost is circular -- i.e., past, present, and future exist simultaneously ala Aboriginal Dreamtime. As a result, it's possible for characters to contact (and perhaps even meet) versions of themselves from other points along the timeline. The Fail-Safe basically blasted our characters thoughts and experiences into the past like the Dekyon transmission in Cause and Effect. As a result, they were left with a kind of post-hypnotic suggestion that draws them unconsciously to each other, various Island symbols, and ultimately the Island itself. That's why these elements recur with such frequency in their flashbacks.




At this point, you may be wondering whether the very paradoxical character of such a reverse-causation scenario renders it impossible by definition. Thanks to Hume, however, we can't rule out causal paradox on metaphysical grounds. Accordingly, most scientists believe that the physical universe operates somehow to prevent or otherwise correct for paradoxes in the timeline. One famous speculation in this regard is Stephen Hawking's Chronology Protection Conjecture, which holds that the laws of physics prevent backwards time travel at all but microscopic scales, thereby foreclosing any possibility of temporal paradox.

Hawking uses the metaphor of a Chronology Protection Agency, "which prevents the appearance of closed timelike curves and so makes the universe safe for historians." An alternative approach is the Novikov Self Consistency Principle, which permits backwards time travel at the macroscopic level, but posits that the universe self-corrects against any alterations to the past that would yield causal paradoxes. A third solution relies upon the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, positing that any changes to the past occur in alternate or parallel histories, thus resolving any apparent paradoxes.

Then there's the view on Lost, articulated by a character aptly named Ms. Hawking, who preaches a variation of the Self-Consistency Principle like a Chronology Protection Agent come to life. According to her, "the universe, unfortunately, has a way of course correcting." I take this to mean that Des is now part of a closed timelike curve caused by his activation of the Fail Safe. If he chooses not to go to the Island, press the button, and turn the key, the result will be major causal paradox, triggering a catastrophic course correction in which "every single one of us is dead." At least, that's what Ms. Hawking wants Desmond to think -- I'm not convinced she's being entirely truthful.



That's where the conspiracy I mentioned previously comes into play. I think the fallout from activation the Fail-Safe mirrors that from the Incident years before. Like Desmond, the Swan scientists traveled consciously through time. Unlike activation of the Fail-Safe, however, the Incident radically altered history -- apparently for the worse. Casual Mark Wickmund in a turtleneck became authoritarian Marvin Candle in a lab coat. These changes sent ripples throughout the timeline, resulting in a whole new future. Chronology Protection Agents like Ms. Hawking, who may well hail from this new future, are fighting to preserve it from disruption by the Fail-Safe.



It may even be that the Fail-Safe was supposed to be a kind of course correction for the Incident. Perhaps the Chronology Protection Agents intervened, preventing major alterations by somehow cheating fate. I wonder, for example, if the second wreck of Oceanic 815 was staged as part of the effort to incorporate the crash into history while minimizing any ripple effects on the future. Even so, the Fail-Safe remains a dangerous point of instability in the timeline that can't be erased without having further deep chronological impacts. Thus, the Agents now have strong incentive to ensure that nothing upsets this particular aspect of history, as well.

That's why, while I maintain our Losties brought themselves to the Island, I think the Chronology Protection Agents were probably watching most of the way, poised to intervene if anyone pulled a Desmond. In fact, I believe we've met at least two other Agents besides Ms. Hawking. One was Brother Campbell, who had a picture of Ms. Hawking on his desk. And the other? That would be the guy in the Hawaiian shirt who accosted Jin in the airport restroom just as the latter was considering running off with Sun instead of boarding Oceanic 815. Dude spoke creepily perfect Korean and claimed to work for Mr. Paik, but my guess is that Hawaiian-shirt guy was a Chronology Protection Agent.

13 comments:

capcom said...

Wow, great theories!

You got me thinking about the Valenzetti Equation part of the Dharma story. We have assumed that the D.I. was trying to fix the future by fixing the present, with their efforts to change the equation. But perhaps they also tried to alter the past as well, creating some kind of change that disturbed Time (the Incident?). And that would lead to what you said about the need for the course corrections and Agents and all. Maybe the Chrono Protection Agents needed to put someone (Desmond) in there to keep it all together after the D.I. messed everything up. If so, poor Desmond. Stuck on an island in a loop, forever keeping Time in check. Maybe that now makes him a new Protection Agent as well, he just doesn't know it yet. They'll just tell him later. :-)

hatchling23 said...

Bravo Bravo!

Outstanding theory, Very plausible and I agree with the agents of fortune idea.

Ms. Hawking is an enigma that has been rolling around in my brain for some time, but I have been unable to put a finger on just what she represents.

I don't remember the guy in the hawaiian shirt. what episode?

Namaste,
hatchling23

Bigmouth said...

capcom: Thanks! I definitely agree that it links back to the Valenzetti and Dharma, though I'm not sure the latter were actively trying to alter the past when the Incident occurred. I get the feeling that what happened was a freak accident while the scientists were studying the Island itself. They cracked some ancient containment vessel with unforeseen effects on the future. At that point, the Chronology Protection Agents seized control of the Hanso Foundation and began working to end Dharma. I'm not sure where that leaves the Others. Are they Chronology Protection Agents like Ms. Hawking? Or are they working to undo Dharma's changes to the timeline and so working against the CP Agents? I confess I'm unsure -- see my response to hatchling for further discussion of this point.

hatching: Thanks, and I love the description of "agents of fortune"! Makes me think of the A-Team for some reason. Maybe Ms. Hawking and Co. are the C-Team on Lost? According to this theory, of course, she's not a good person, especially if she's on the same team as Hawaiian-Shirt guy, who appeared in Exodus Part II. I rather like the motif of seemingly innocent old people who turn out to be menaces. But I'd be overstating my case if I claimed to know the sides in this fight for the future. Maybe Ms. Hawking and Hawaiian-shirt guy are on opposing sides. Then there's the Others -- whom do they serve? I get the sense they're recruiting special adults and children as breakers of fate ala the beam breakers in the Dark Tower series. That's why I say they could be repairing the damage caused by Dharma...

Jason said...

Wow, great catch on the Hawaiian shirt fellow, I always thought he was fishy, but never thought of it that way.

capcom said...

For sure, I tend to agree with you Big on that point about how the Dharma people probably goofed and created the Incident. It's just that what you wrote had made me think of their manipulating the V.E. in a different way, than the straightforward way that I have always thought of it since TLE. Your blog is very thought provoking! :-)

Jay said...

Great post as always.

I love the idea of CPAs acting to protect the integrity of the timestream. Ms. Hawking is definitely one, but I'm not so sure we've seen another. I think she's been instrumental in controlling Desmond's life and simply made sure that Brother Campbell fired Desmond and made him load the truck that specific day to meet Penny.

And as far as everyone coming to the island, I do think that someone who either has knowledge of future events (like Hawking) or someone who is able to travel in time (like Desmond) did something similar to make sure everyone essential was on that plane.

Why? Because we know for certain that someone with knowledge of the future tipped off Richard Malkin to put Claire (and Aaron) on that plane, assuming Desmond really crashed the plane by accident.

It's interesting - Walt Simonson created an entity called the Time Variance Authority in Fantastic Four - a bureaucratic outfit that monitors fluctuations in the timestream. I though it was pretty clever at the time, but in retrospect he probably took it from Hawking.

Bigmouth said...

Jason: Thanks, this possibility occurred to me only recently. I've always wished they did more with that dude. Easily one of the creepiest characters ever on the show despite his short screen time. His transformation from bumbling gringo to menacing agent of Mr. Paik was just so perfectly scripted and played. It was almost like he was possessed, which raises an interesting question. Could these Chronology Protection Agents actually be ghosts?

Capcom: Thankee big big, sai! You might get a kick out of You Make Your Own Luck:

http://eyemsick.blogspot.com/2007/01/you-make-your-own-luck.html

Jay: Thanks -- your comment about other CP Agents underscores an important distinction. Not everyone working for the CP Agents actually is such an Agent. I have a feeling, for example, that Paik and Widmore (Senior) fall into this category. So, too, may the people who own Naomi's freighter. Richard Malkin may fall into this category, as well.

Here's what I think happened in the latter case: Malkin really did have a vision of the plane crash. He may be a charlatan, but I'm convinced he picked up something real during that first meeting. After sending Claire away, he was contacted by CP Agents (or their lackeys) who convinced him to mount the aggressive campaign to ensure she got on the plane.

Very interesting parallel with the Time Variance Authority! I suspect, however, that Hawking would say his CP Agency metaphor was inspired by various "Time Cop" scenarios like the one you mention in books, TV, and films. Another interesting analogy is to the Linear Men in DC Comics:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_Men_%28comics%29

Finally, a comment elsewhere by MikeNY regarding Locke's miraculous recovery from paralysis has me thinking. Maybe exposure to the Fail Safe explains Locke's deep connection to the Island from day one of the crash. Perhaps that's also why Walt is so special -- he not only was present on the Island himself during activation of the Fail-Safe, he's also the son of someone who was (i.e., Michael). The same could be said of Aaron and Baby Kwon...

Anonymous said...

As always BM, thought-provoking and nicely written! You're always sending my LOST thoughts off in new directions. Keep up the good work!

~hearingvoices

Bigmouth said...

Thanks HV! I've updated the post with an extended discussion of the Star Trek: TNG episode.

Jennifer said...

Hey there - I absolutely love this. You actually back up my theory of Jack being in the casket when you say "As a result, it's possible for characters to contact (and perhaps even meet) versions of themselves from other points along the timeline".

What do you think?

Bigmouth said...

Jennifer: That's a very provocative suggestion! I'm skeptical because I tend to think the funeral home attendant would have noticed if the same guy came to his own funeral viewing. But see my recent posts re Taller Ghost Walt and "I'm Here to Die..." I think it's entirely possible Michael and Walt will co-exist with themselves in the past. However, course correction presumably prevents them from meeting each other or otherwise changing the future.

Jennifer said...

I know what you mean about the "course correction" - but I still think it might happen. Notice how Jack has his sun glasses on and is kind of tucked away back in the corner with his head down in the funeral home? I think he "dies" all the time - that is why Kate is like "why would I go?" Like "duh, you're not really dead Jack". Also the name in the paper said the name was John and Jack is a nickname of John. I will check out those posts!

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