Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thoughts on The Constant...

Cue the Dr. Who theme music because The Constant should shatter any lingering doubts about whether Desmond actually time travels. As we discussed after Flashes Before Your Eyes, the obvious analogy is to Billy Pilgrim, the time-traveling protagonist of Slaughterhouse Five. Like Billy, Des has become unstuck in time -- his consciousness can jump through the fourth dimension to any point along his timeline. Also like Billy, Desmond can't change the future, which presumably course corrects to stop him if he tries. He can, however, influence the past to effectuate the present, creating what's called a predestination paradox.

That's where effects precede their causes in time, necessitating time travel or some other form of reverse causality to complete the chain of events. The Constant actually featured two of these predestination paradoxes. One was Eloise the rat knowing her way around the maze before being taught the correct route -- her apparent foreknowledge was actually the result of time travel. Another such paradox was Penny's decision to keep the same phone number for eight years before Desmond called her to be his Constant. If Des hadn't made contact with Penny in the past through time travel, she wouldn't have waited around for his call.

The examples of Eloise and Penny are important because they highlight two larger predestination paradoxes, both stemming from activation of the Fail-Safe, that are at the very heart of the show. The first is the characters' strange attraction to various Island elements (e.g., the Numbers) in their flashbacks. I argue in Cause and Effect that this attraction results from the Fail-Safe blasting their thoughts and memories back in time. Just as Eloise "remembers" the correct route through the maze because she will learn it in the near future, our Losties are drawn to the Island and its symbols by their subconscious "recollection" of future events.

The second big predestination paradox explains our Losties' rescue. I've suggested before (e.g., in The Cancer Man's Con) that Desmond's conversation with his physicist friend Donovan set in motion events culminating in the Freighter expedition. Charles Widmore somehow learned of Desmond's time travel rant, recognized his description of the Swan button, and waited for the discharge to find the Island. As with Penny's constant phone number, the effect paradoxically precedes its cause in time. If Des had never traveled into the past via the Fail-Safe, the Freighter would not have known to look for the electromagnetic anomaly.

Still with me? Good, because I'd like to raise one more related but distinct paradox clearly depicted in The Constant. An ontological paradox involves the spontaneous creation of objects and information through time travel. The classic illustration is actually pretty close to what we saw in the episode. A scientist is visited by his future self, who provides him with plans for a time machine he will later invent. The scientist builds the machine and travels back in time, closing the loop by providing the plans to himself in the past. The ontological paradox results because it's unclear where the plans for the time machine came from in the first place.

Ask yourself: how did Daniel know to set his machine to 2.342 and 11 Hz? Future Dan got those numbers from his notebook, then gave them to Desmond, who traveled back in time. While in the past, Des gave the figures back to Dan, who wrote them down in his notebook, apparently completing the loop. But that really doesn't explain anything -- we're still left with the ontological puzzle of how the information originally came into being. It's unclear what the significance of this twist will be, but at least one grim possibility occurs to me. What if the course correction for such ontological paradoxes is the total elimination of everyone affected?

Here are some other thoughts and questions I had about The Constant:

* As the foregoing analysis suggests, I absolutely adored this episode! I am, however, a little concerned that they've depicted time travel in a way that complicates things unnecessarily. Apparently, when your consciousness jumps through time, your physical body collapses in the time you've left like some kind of narcoleptic. But what happens to the consciousness you replace when jumping to a new time? Where do those displaced thoughts and memories go? A more logical solution would be for your past and present selves simply to switch places, avoiding these thorny questions...

* Well, now we know why Daniel has memory loss issues. At first, I figured the amnesia was just so Dan would have an excuse for not remembering Des despite meeting him in the past. The clear implication, however, is that Daniel exposed himself to his machine and is now unstuck in time. This presumably explains why Dan needs a caretaker and perhaps why he cried upon seeing the wreckage of Oceanic 815 -- he subconsciously remembered the future.

* Sayid mentioned that the helicopter took off at dusk and landed in the middle of the day, which is a much larger time differential than the 31 minutes reported by Dan's rocket. This actually points to the second of three scenarios that I proposed after Eggtown. The trip to and from the Island always covers the same distance from the perspective of the traveler, but may take varying lengths of time from the perspective of observers on the Island or Freighter.

* Who the heck is Tovard Hanso? Is he some relative of Alvar and Magnus that we haven't heard of previously? Or is this a sign that Desmond's trips to the past can change things more than Ms. Hawking and Prof. Faraday would have us believe?

* I'm guessing that Sayid and Desmond's friend on the Freighter, the one who unlocked the Sick Bay door for them, is Michael or Walt...

* Now we know why the Looking Glass console connected to Penny Widmore after Charlie deactivated the jamming signal. She probably had that number, like the Freighter's, on continuous auto-dial just waiting for someone to answer...

* Minkowski mentioned that he and Brandon became unstuck in time after they took the helicopter out for a flyby of the Island. What's curious about that is they're the only two we know of who became unstuck without exposure to large doses of radiation or electromagnetism. Mere continuity error or clue to something more?


Anonymous said...

Holy crap is right! I'll be searching the boards this weekend for sure. Initial thoughts:

After this episode, I’m convinced more than ever that everyone is ‘connected’ in some type of way and they where ‘chosen’ to be where they are.

I’m confused about something. Did the consciousness of the Desmonds mind switch? I mean the ‘current Desmond’ recognized that he was in his past; but, when we went back to the helicopter, that Desmond didn’t recognize Sayid, Frank, or anything else. That was the Desmond we followed around on the show. What happen to the ‘current Desmond?’

Always had a thing for nerds/geeks. I’m loving Daniel Faraday more and more.

Penny and the boat. What’s up with that? She told Charlie that she didn’t send it, yet Minkowski said that he was in contact with Penny on the ‘special’ phone.

Charles Widmore is up to something. He brought the ledger to ‘The Black Rock.’ Did he know that it was on the island? Didn’t trust him when he gave Desmond Penny’s new location. It’s as if he knew that the two of them contacting now would help him in the future. Widmore has a motive to everything he does.

Daniel wrote that Desmond Hume was his ‘constant.’ Does this mean that Daniel conscious travels too? If so, is this why he was so upset when announced that Oceanic 815 was found? Was this also the reason he was fighting Miles when pushed out of the helicopter? Was he having a ‘moment?’

Looking forward to reading all of the thoughts.

lisa (lost pezhead) said...

i cannot wait for your recap...this was THE episode! i feel like we've been waiting for these kind of answers to come! i loved it!

lil-beeyotch said... basically said everything I was thinking...infact I just gonna start off by saying holy crap is right and then go off to announce my love for Faraday =D anyway this episode was much much better then eggtown, Kate's episodes always are a bit bleak =[ but still...LOVE Daniel! And the episode...I kept feeling no Des, dont die =[
Random thought but has anyone else wondered what might have happened to the other 'others'? Like Richard and everyone else just went off when Ben was coming to look for Jack =S And since then no one has bothered with them? Not Ben, Jack or Locke? Just wondering what may have happened to them....I was reading some of BM's older posts and came across Monarch Programming, maybe the others took the children not because they were good but to program them? Just a thought, cant wait to see what everyone thinks! Once again, LOVING Daniel =D Lisa, your totally right, this is THE episode so far I think =)

Lolagrrl said...

Hahaha! As with the other comments:
1)Holy Crap is right!
2) love Love LOVE Faraday!!!
(I'm envisioning a lot of comments that start with "DITTO!"

I was sooo geeking out during this entire episode and I've decided that I spend waaaay too much time thinking about this show! =)

With that, I had commented a few posts back (at the very end of the comments) that I was getting the feeling that everything that's happened so far in season 4 was NOT "supposed" to be happening and that somewhere along our journey, everything would be "course corrected" and that it had to do w/Desmond, and that Season 4 would end where season 3 ended except Jack would not answer the phone.... and while I wont say that I'm sure of it now, I feel that it may be the case still.

By Jumping back in time again, did Desmond undo some of the things that happened with him in Season 3? It seems to me that he might have... because the Desmond that is here "now" (time is such a slippery thing) seems to have no clue about the Desmond who sailed around the world or flipped that switch... and why didn't Jack tell Faraday about the Hatch?!

Did I mention how much I love Faraday??

either way, ~something~ course corrected itself in that episode b/c Faraday seemed surprised and relieved to see Desmond's name in his journal... so that's something new... and how lucky is he to have his constant so close by?

There's more I'd like to say about this episode but the bottom line is, every time I try to think about Desmond & Faraday's meeting in the past and the crazy implications of that meeting my head threatens to explode so I'll leave that up to our resident expert. =)

BTW - I love the fact that I can subscribe to the comments! It's great having everyone's input emailed directly to me! =)

Blue Eyed Monster said...

A quick thought on the 'constant' aspect to the show. perhaps this is why so many survivors stay on the island. leaving the Island may result in Death; if they are unable to find there 'constant'. also, maybe that is why Erin(baby) was able to leave with Kate. As he was born on the Island he has no past to reconcile and no need for a constant.

hatchling23 said...

I was blown away by this episode.

Possibly the most answers given on this show. Trying to tie it in to other occurrences will be the fun part.

Wondering about other characters "constants" such as Locke, who was also exposed to high levels of electromagnetism when the hatch imploded.

Remember Locke saying "Storms gonna pass" and it stopped raining immediently? I wonder how far ahead/behind he is flashing?

I have already figured out who or what Ben Linus' constant is.

Your thoughts?

Alex said...

That episode was ridiculous, by far the best one this season. I loved how little clues popped up here and there..

...The captains log from the Black Rock was on sale by Hanzo (Hanzo Corporation), and Whitmore knows instictively to buy it. So did that storm separte the black rock and it's captain, sending the black rock to the middle of the island in the never explained dark territitory (possibly physics things that Faraday can explain).

have to agree about Richard and the rest of the others, where are they and where did they go? Hydra station? Another station we are not being told about? There is 6 on the "2" Islands - Hydra, Lookinging Glass, Swan, TV one (forget the name), Birth Station (forget name again), and one more according to the drawing that locke saw.

...Also who is Ben's "inside man" on the ship?

As many answers to constants, time travel, destined connections that this great episode provided there is plenty of questions it generates as well....

Merrylegs said...

This was my favorite episode of Lost. I still maintain that Desmond is key to this whole story, and "The Constant" reinforced that idea. He is, afterall, the only person on the island who has someone on the outside world who knows about the island and knows that he is there. Desmond rocks. Amazing episode. Did anyone else catch the easter egg of the dog one of the Oxford students had? Sure looked like the dog in the picture in Jacob's cabin.

Looking forward to BigMouth's post, as always!

Anonymous said...

hatchling 23:

do you think ben's constant is that wooden doll annie made for him? he does carry it in his bag all the time.

travis said...

I think "The Constant" could be the key to unlocking the entire show. Lost has always been exploring the concepts of faith vs. science, fate vs. free will, and much speculation has been made as to why the survivors of 815 have such interlocked pasts. Did fate bring them together, or was it a sinister conspiracy? Was it their inescapable destiny to crash on the island, or did they inadvertently choose to arrive there?

Last night, when Desmond tracked down Faraday at Oxford in 1996, Faraday asked if he had supposedly helped Desmond in 1996, wouldn't he remember this in the future? Desmond said something along the lines of "not necessarily," and the moment Desmond connected to Penny in 2004, his present consciousness snapped back into place. The time-shift was corrected, and although we didn't see it, we can assume that Past Desmond has no memory of the time displacement that he just experienced. Everything is as it was, so that all events in the past could unfold exactly as they should have to lead up to this point in the present. By connecting with his constant, Desmond fixed the time wrinkle.

Since episode one, Lost has always played with time as a story-telling device, either via flashback or flash-forward. In the entire Lost series, only two episodes have strayed from this format -- both were Desmond episodes, in which he literally flashed back or flashed forward. This could be a significant tip-off. What if the Oceanic survivors all share a similar fate as Desmond, in which they must find a constant to insure that time unfolds correctly, and their constants are other Oceanic survivors? This could explain why so many of them have "unknowingly" crossed paths in the past. Like Desmond's journey to the future & back, with insight into the future, they could have positioned themselves around the people they would need to be with and then lost awareness of the future once the connection has been made.

This would also explain why Future Jack is despondent and begging, "We have to go back!" to Kate in the season three finale. Perhaps he's trying to connect to a constant. I don't really think this is the answer. It would make pretty dull TV if from here on out we just watch the remaining survivors make their connections and fix time. I'm sure the writers have something far more involved and engaging planned.

Note: It's interesting that "The Constant" aired the day before February 29th, the extra day added to the Gregorian calendar every four years to keep it from slowly drifting out of phase with the astronomical calendar, almost the way the Island is slowly drifting out of phase with the current time as clocked on the freighter. Coincidence?

Random thought: what if the Oceanic Six are not famous for being the sole survivors of the plane crash, but something more nefarious?

DJ said...

Awwhhh man. Brilliant. The flashback in this episode was... interactive! It wasn't just your normal flashback!

And I loved the Desmond-Sayid camaraderie. It's good to see Sayid finally attaching to someone, because really the last time he had a close companion was Shannon. Yikes!

Felt sorry for George. =\

Ooh and yay Penny! She even gave props to Charlie, hah!

Desmond episodes are always so good... and revealing about the show. He's super super important.

And of course -- Daniel! Everyone's new favorite. Mine as well. He's so well-written and well-acted...

Memory loss part 2: So, why doesn't Daniel remember Desmond? Why didn't alarms go off in his head when Desmond showed up at the helicopter two episodes ago? After all, we just saw that Desmond MET Daniel in 1996! Hmm.

Well, did anyone else catch it?

Daniel: This future version of me... uh... he, he referenced this meeting, right?
Desmond nods.
Daniel: Obviously so. So I would remember you coming to Oxford, right? I would remember this, here, right now.
Desmond: Actually, um, no.
Daniel: No...?
Desmond: Maybe you just forgot.
Daniel: Yeah, right, how would that happen?

Oh noes! Da giveaway!

Not to mention...

Desmond: What's that for?
Daniel: Radiation.
Desmond: Do I get one?
Daniel: You don't need one. It's for prolonged exposure... I do this twenty times a day.
Desmond: So what do you put on your head?
Daniel: ...heh. Yeah.

Looks like Daniel rotted his brains and as a result...

Dun dun dun..............

(I feel sorry for him. =\ )

DJ said...

I'd also like to point out two things about the consciousness jumping:

1. This is probably the "sickness" to which Rousseau referred oh-so-long ago. Why she didn't get it, I can't say. But it seems to have gotten her entire crew, so she off'd 'em.

2. Did Ray's injection for George remind anyone else of the "vaccine"? Just pondering. I mean, it obviously had a different effect for George (sleepy time), but that could be because of his then-current state (as opposed to everyone else who shot up with it in relatively normal circumstances).

I'll also throw one more weirdo theory out there... What if all the flashbacks we see are the same thing Desmond's experiencing, but to a lesser degree -- in other words, maybe they don't make the connection? Desmond got blasted by the 2.342 @ 11 Hz boom in the Swan, which resulted in his first backwards-ass experience... This could be residual? Or he could just be special in general (Walt, for example, seemed to be able to do this at will)? Makes me wonder about everyone else on the Island when the Swan blew up, because they were all bathed in the waves. That could seriously screw things up!

3D said...

Minkowski mentioned that he and Brandon became unstuck in time after they took the helicopter out for a flyby of the Island. What's curious about that is they're the only two we know of who became unstuck without exposure to large doses of radiation or electromagnetism. Mere continuity error or clue to something more?

I'd assume there's something in their past that caused them to be irradiated.

3D said...

1. This is probably the "sickness" to which Rousseau referred oh-so-long ago. Why she didn't get it, I can't say.

Maybe she had a "constant".

Lolagrrl said...

Bigmouth - Thank you! You just saved my brain from Exploding!! I completely grasped the concepts you just discussed but I could not form these notions into coherent thoughts... However; you did it masterfully! Whew! ... Does this make you my "constant" now? ;D

DJ - Your thought on Rousseau was verrrrry interesting! Hmmmmm... I wonder if Ben is Rousseau's constant? I'm wondering if their connection goes beyond Alex... For that matter, I wonder if she knows how to carve wooden figurines... =)

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

@bigmouth and the rest: I posted yesterday but it seemed to lost to the sands of time. One thing I believe is that Faraday finally recalled meeting Desmond in 1996 AFTER seeing his notes about Des being his Constant. I'm also think that there were other events beyond the 1996 meeting that sent Faraday to needing a caretaker and getting a haircut. This also brings to mind that Mrs. Hawking is a Constant, perhaps to Brother Donovan, or womever. Minkowski & Brandon could have felt full exposure because they were on deck, maybe the others were sleeping and the ship's tender was the only one on board. The exact opposite of THE LANGOLIERS, only those awake feel the effects. I'm a bit baffled by the Christmas Eve (really Christmas Day near the Island) thing, as Ben's b-day is 12/23. Did everything in the last, what, seven episodes, going back to last season's battle, only take a day? My assumption is the Des/Penny thing would have more impact on C. Eve because it shows her alone and unattached. That's my four cents. Oh, Ben's Constant? Annie. Doesn't he still have her creepy wooden doll?

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

My bad. M & D did take the helicopter. Of course, they didn't move the freighter closer--I was thinking the crazy effect wasn't TOO far away and that's why Widmore or whomever kept them 80 km away, no closer. Maybe Rousseau's crew had the sickness and she didn't because of being pregnant? And Travis hit it re: Science/Faith, I was thinking that ever since Faraday showed up, but never really could put it into words. Good call, Travis

ME said...


There is something that has been confusing me about this episode......Ok, Ok, so there are a lot of things that are confusing me about this episode.

The one I'll bring up is:
If only Desmond conscientiousness flashed through time, why couldn't he remember anything when he returned to the freighter? I can understand if his whole self was propelled into the past, that would leave no physical connection from the fast point to the future point, because It had not happened yet,
( in theory) it would leave a large physical gap, leave no memory because the body was not there to remember it.
On the other hand if just his conscientiousness time traveled to the past then there is still the physical connection from one point to the other in time, he was physically present along the time continuum, He aged , his hair grew ect.... so in my mind there must be memory.

TPTB said they wanted to avoid creating a time paradox but at least to me, I don't see how that can be avoided.

Capcom said...

Very nice thoughts Big!! And good comments everyone. Maybe down the road after we get more to work with, Hawking's Imaginary Time theory mentioned in Dan's notes will help with this time looping situation. The Minkowski Space/Time triangle looks like Dan's notes as well:

Thanks for posting the wiki links, they are great!

Capcom said...

P.S. FWIW I just posted a comparison between Dan's space/time notebook page, with a graphic of the real Minkowski's space/time triangle on my LOST blog (Footnotes post). There are similarities, that TPTB seem to have gone to the trouble to show us. What we are supposed to do with it, who knows?

3D said...

ME said...

If only Desmond conscientiousness flashed through time, why couldn't he remember anything when he returned to the freighter? I can understand if his whole self was propelled into the past, that would leave no physical connection from the fast point to the future point, because It had not happened yet,
( in theory) it would leave a large physical gap, leave no memory because the body was not there to remember it.
On the other hand if just his conscientiousness time traveled to the past then there is still the physical connection from one point to the other in time, he was physically present along the time continuum, He aged , his hair grew ect.... so in my mind there must be memory.

Because his past self flashed to the present. His past self has no memory of future events.

When everything gets fixed, his present self flashes back to the present somehow.