Friday, March 28, 2008

An Arbitrarily Advanced Civilization...

Lately, I've been reflecting on Daniel Faraday's chalkboard reference to the Kerr Metric, which describes what a few scientists theorize might be a safe and navigable trajectory through spacetime back into the past.

After much reflection, I've come to the conclusion that Faraday's reference isn't meant to point to any particular method of time travel. It's meant primarily to establish that time travel is theoretically possible. Same with the Penrose diagrams in Daniel's notebook -- they depict generic violations of causality rather than anything specific from the show. In all such cases (the Blast Door Map equations are another) the writers are simply delivering on their promise that everything will be explained by realistic pseudo-science.

I think it was a poster named lostmio who once suggested that time travel is a kind of MacGuffin. At first that notion annoyed me, but I've come to believe she was basically right. Ultimately, there is no deeper explanation than "electromagnetic radiation from the Swan unstuck Desmond in time," and "the Island's natural Casimir effect sustains wormholes." We can keep looking for more specific explanations forever, and they will always be true because none of them are false. Ultimately, however, all that really matters is that time travel is consistent with the theoretical limits of physics.

In that regard, Lost resembles the works of Edwin Abbott and HG Wells, which combine science fact and fiction to highlight interesting aspects of the former. The show also reminds me of the those crazy hypotheticals you read in popular science books by Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne, Michio Kaku, and Paul Davies. The show is depicting what happens when human beings encounter technology from an arbitrarily advanced civilization -- the Fourtoes -- bounded only by the theoretical limits of physics. I've got to believe some kid will watch this show and be inspired to study science.

It's certainly had that effect on me...

14 comments:

Christie said...

I just have to say I have never been so involved in dissecting a show. Kudos to the writers/creators of this show for doing such a great job that does make us want to research more about the "real world" to make sense of the show. I agree bigmouth that I'm inspired to read up on Stephen Hawking. I'm amazed at the amount of knowledge you and other posters always bring up. Keep the thoughts flowing 'til April 24 :)

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

bigmouth, i'd also add greg bear to the list of hard science-fiction writers, if one could even call h.g. wells that...pick up the forge of god as a neat example and a great read.

Capcom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Capcom said...

Good post. I agree, I don't need a specific explanation from TPTB on how the time travel might be done, to make me happy. Although I would like *some* perspective given as to how the DI, et.al., have used it, as well as some fuzzy made-up factoids thrown out about how the island could be a catalyst. :-) Even still, that little bit might be asking too much.

I thought that Dan's diagrams were more like the Minkowski triangle diagram, since they both mention imaginary space and time. I haven't seen any Penrose diagrams besides what's immediately available online, but what I have seen hasn't shown the imaginary space/time lines. :-)

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I realized that when I typed my earlier comment from work, I mentioned the wrong book, I should have said BLOOD MUSIC. The first is what I think his stand-out book, but, while neither involve time travel, Bear's writings give you science facts that grey into the areas of the fiction.

Genger said...

I'm not sure if anyone here has played the Lost: Via Domus video game, but the ending had a pretty interesting twist to it regarding time travel and alternate universes. I don't want to post the ending here in case anyone planned on playing the game (and honestly, the game is only worth playing for the ending), but if you don't want to play it, check it out on YouTube or Lostpedia.

Bigmouth said...

Christie: LOL! This is a first for me, too, at least where a television show is concerned.

Wayne: It's funny that you mention Greg Bear. I haven't read his stuff, but I did stumble across an interesting connection to one of his books when researching my post on the immuno-contraceptive effect. Are you familiar with Darwin's Radio? The basic premise is that a retrovirus emerges that attacks pregnant women spurring speciation in utero. I wonder if the Island is similarly a fountain of evolution, which is why the mothers keep miscarrying...

Capcom: One of Dan's diagrams is definitely an Minkowski spacetime triangle, as you perceptively note on your blog. I was actually referring to his diagram of events A, B, and C, and what appears to be nine wormhole mouths. I may be wrong about it being a Penrose diagram, but poster named addhawk suggests it is a map of the negative space within a black hole, with various entry and exits to parallel universes in imaginary time. It occurs to me that Dan could be depicting how one might exploit trips to and from these other universes to eventually end up back in the past of our own.

Genger: I don't want to spoil anything either, but my feeling is that the ending depicted in the video game actually makes it *less* likely we will see that particular ending on show. I have a hard time believing the writers would blow the big secret so soon. Without revealing too much, I would say an event loop like the Shining or Turn of the Screw is more likely...

Capcom said...

Wow, that's interesting Big! I like how you extrapolated on Dan's research. :-D The DI could have used Dan when they were working on the Valenzetti Equation!

The "Darwin's Radio" idea is great too, and really fits in!

Capcom said...

After reading the book summary on Wiki, I like your idea even more! And it fits in with the super-sperm, and the difference between conceiving on and off the island -- i.e., perhaps it is the super-sperm that are evolved under the island's conditions, and they create the new species at conception?

M The Alien said...

RE: via domus
Cuselof has said on many gaming sites that the game is not canonical. Something along the lines of they didn't feel it would be fair to the non gaming fans of lost to put information in the game that would be considered revealing or something like that. Hoo boy I need some more coffee....

M The Alien said...

I hope the scene from season 1 when the boar stole Sawyers roof is in the game, that was hilarious!

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

@Bigmouth: I forgot all about mentioning Darwin's Radio, I was caught up in the science fact/fiction thinking, and was going back to books Bear had written in the late 80s.

Bigmouth said...

Capcom: At one time, I actually thought the sperm might be irrelevant -- i.e., that the Island/Jacob could reproduce by spurring "virgin" births via parthenogenesis. In that case, I'd say they're a new species at conception. But it occurred to me that this isn't necessary -- the Island/Jacob can simply allow conception to take place naturally then mutate the fetus in utero. That latter scenario fits better with facts like the sperm boost you mention. In that case, the change also takes place later, which fits with the timeline of when the miscarriages occur. Good catch!

M: I think that's exactly right. The ending suggested by Via Domus has also already been executed about as brilliantly as one might hope by Stephen King, though I won't say which book...

Wayne: Went to the bookstore the other day to pick up Blood Music but they didn't have it d'oh! Another of Bear's books from the horror genre caught my eye. Are you familiar with Dead Lines? The notion of communicating with the dead strikes me as similarly Lost...

DJ said...

So I played through Via Domus last night... It was fun to walk around in the hatches and interact with some of the characters, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the whole thing was kind of an alternate-timeline fanfiction product. Can any of it be taken seriously? If so, I need an explanation for that ending! What!?