Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lost: Time Travel Explained

“We really do not have time for me to try to explain. You have no idea how difficult that would be, for me to try to explain this…this phenomenon to a quantum physicist.”- Daniel Faraday on Time Travel


Before I even start, MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEASON 5 AND 6

                Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I can begin. Lost is one of the craziest, most compelling and thought provoking television shows of all time. As the show went on it began to introduce more fantasy and science fiction elements which allowed it to address many of its philosophical themes in a unique way. One of these science fiction elements was of course time travel. Like any fiction that introduces time travel it has to have rules. Most sci-fi operates under the rules that time can be tampered with, that the traveler needs to be careful “Not to corrupt the timeline,” or “Avoid ripples,” or something along those lines. Lost however does the opposite. A time traveler cannot change the past because he has always traveled back and done what he did. Think of time like a book. Most people read a book from start to finish, but say you skipped forward, or went back and read the beginning. The book will still have the same words on the page no matter what order the person reading it experiences it in. More on that later. There are several ways one can move through time on Lost, these all seem to be connected to the fact that time on the island is not the same as the rest of the world. The first way we see is being “unstuck in time.” This is where someone’s consciousness jumps back and forth between two times. Another form of time travel seems to occur when someone comes to or leaves the island. Finally the biggest form of time travel, one that’s reasons are never explicitly explained on the show, is the “Time jumps” that several characters experience when Ben turns the wheel.
                So what did anything I just said there mean? Well let’s return to the rules of time travel.  As the show is so fond of saying, “Whatever happened happened.”  This means that if you somehow travel back to the 70s and try to change something it won’t work because it already happened in the 70s. Anyone who was around both in the 70s and the present day could tell you that. In fact that is exactly what happened to our favorite castaways. They tried to make it so that they never came to the island by preventing an incident, but in the process created the incident. The simplest way to think of things is actually chronologically. First in 1974; Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, Jin, and Faraday arrived from the future. Three years later in 1977 Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid also arrived from the future. These people proceeded to attempt to ignite a nuclear weapon, but only managed to set off the EMP, they then disappeared, causing many including Richard Alpert to believe they died in what came to be known as “The incident”. In 2004 Oceanic 815 crashed and the castaways learned of the incident, not knowing they were the ones who caused it. One hundred days later Ben turned the wheel while many left the island and some stayed behind. Some of the ones who stayed behind jumped through time and seemingly disappeared. Three years later many of those that left returned to the island and some of them also disappeared to the past. After a few days everyone who disappeared reappeared. If none of that was clear here is a discussion Hurley and Miles had about time travel on the show, which may help….or just confuse you more.
                Now that the rules are clear (I hope) let me tell you about the man who can break them. Desmond Hume is “Special” so the rules of time don’t apply to him, he can change his past. There is something unique about Desmond, the electromagnetic energy which would have killed a normal man gave him a glimpse of both past and future once, then later let his conciseness cross over to the afterlife. For Desmond the book analogy is more like one of those “Create your own adventure” stories. He doesn’t have to follow the rules of the universe, however even that has its limits. Desmond’s ability to change time can alter some things like everyone getting off the island, which apparently was never supposed to happen, but he can’t save someone who is meant to die, if he does the universe will just try to kill them again..and again...and again. He saves Charlie over and over again in season 3, but every time he does he has another fragmented vision of his friend dying in a new way. It was as Desmond described, “Having the pieces of the puzzle but not knowing what the picture is.”
                So why does Desmond see the future, but only in a fragmented way, and why does it keep changing? The reason is because Desmond’s mind traveled to the future as a result of being in the hatch explosion, which hit him with a nice batch of electromagnetism. As we see in the show Desmond’s consciousness was temporarily transported back to his past, and it makes sense that the reason he knew the future was that it was also transported to the future. This is why at first Desmond knows all kind of things about what will happen, such as the speech Locke will give. Desmond doesn’t do anything to alter what he has seen until Charlie is about to die. Once Desmond intervenes everything changes. From then on the only visions of the future he sees are of Charlie dying because that is all he has changed. The visions, however, are distorted and confusing because in fact they aren’t visions; they are memories of the future he changed. The memories are so distorted because Desmond’s mind is trying to process the future which has been rearranged. Once Charlie finally dies Desmond’s mind stops having to rewrite his altered memories, and the “Visions” stop.
                Desmond’s mind being thrown back and forth between past and present was not over yet, however. As he had already become “unstuck” once his mind was more vulnerable than anyone’s to have it happen again. As I mentioned before, time on the island works somewhat differently than the outside world. This is probably because of “the source” which also produces large amounts of electromagnetism and is generally what makes the island so freakin’ special. This time differential may seem fantastical, but it is based in truth, at least kind of. In reality time does pass differently depending on things like gravity or traveling close to the speed of light. So when leaving the island, to make sure that one’s mind does not become unstuck because of the time differential, a specific bearing must be followed. When Desmond was flying on a helicopter off of the island, to a freighter docked nearby, the copter flew threw a thunderhead, which caused them to deviate from the bearing ever so slightly. This deviation was too slight to unstick anyone else on the helicopter, but because Desmond had already became unstuck his mind his mind began jumping back to 1996. Unlike the first time that Desmond’s mind had become unstuck, it was chaotic, unpredictable and dangerous. His mind jumped back and forth at random between 1996 and the freighter in 2004. Desmond needed to find a constant in both times, something he knew and cared about so that his mind could connect both times and stop jumping. If he had not been able to find this constant Desmond would have died. In fact we know that those who could not find a constant develop brain aneurisms, and die.
                There is another way to leave the island. There is a wheel deep beneath the surface of the island that, when turned, does two very important things. The first thing it does is “move” the island. It moves through space and certain people on the island began to move through time. The second thing the wheel does is transport the one who turned it off the island to the middle of the Tunisian desert. Because of the time disparity between the island and the outside world when being transported off it the wheel turner can appear months or after they left the island, but for the turner it would seem instantaneous. If the wheel was dislodged when it was turned the certain people on the island would also become dislodged. This happened when Ben turned the wheel and many of our favorite characters began to skip from one time to another. The people experiencing this had similar problems that Desmond experienced when his mind was unstuck. This however was a different situation, the person experiencing the time travel did not just have their consciousness jump around, and they were physically transported to another time, in fact multiple times. As the wheel remained dislodged the affected people continued to jump from between different points between past and future. Unlike Desmond a constant would not do them any good, they needed to put the wheel back on its axis and turn it once again. The negative effects of the time jumps were amplified by how long one had been on the island. Charlotte, who had grown up on the island actually died as a result. Once Locke turned the wheel once again the time jumps stopped, stranding the time travelers in a random time, 1974. When he turned the wheel Locke ended up in Tunisia in 2007.
                So why did some people travel through time, while others didn’t? Why did returning to the island cause some to teleport back to 1977? Why did the seemingly failed detonation of a nuke send them back to 2007? The answer, as with many questions about the island, lies with Jacob. Jacob was the ultimate protector of the island, the one who orchestrated everyone coming to the island. He did this because he was looking for a replacement, but not just anyone could be a replacement. There were certain candidates, chosen not by Jacob but by the island, who could take his position once Jacob died. Jacob had a thing for lists and he had multiple lists of the candidates. Once someone either died or “fulfilled a role” Jacob crossed their name off the list. The candidates were all flawed or broken people who were “Alone in the world”.  Sometimes Jacob chose to cross out viable candidates because they now had some purpose in life and were no longer alone. Kate was the only example of this explicitly mentioned on show, who fulfilled the role of mother. While her name had been crossed out she was still technically a candidate, and could have replaced Jacob if she wanted.  So as you might have already guessed, the candidates were the ones who traveled through time.
                Lost officially confirmed six candidates; Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Hurley, Sayid, and Locke. With the exception of Locke, who was dead, all of these candidates jumped through time. Other important characters such as; Richard, Clair, Ben, and Lapidus didn’t because they were implied not to be candidates. What’s interesting to note is Lost confirmed that one of the Kwans, either Sun or Jin, was also a candidate, but it never officially answered which was. Well wouldn’t you know it, Jin traveled through time while Sun didn’t. There were also the two lists of candidates, which upon closer inspection told us hundreds of last names of more candidates, including many dead characters, which had been crossed out. The crossed out names included the all the time jumpers who died; Juliet, Faraday, and Charlotte. One problem with this seems to be that some characters, who were alive but not on the list, still jumped, namely; Miles, Rose, Bernard. Here we look to what we learned from Kate’s name being crossed out. She still could have taken over Jacob’s role as protector, and while Jacob choose to cross her name out, the island still recognized her as a candidate. Therefore we know that even if someone is not listed as a candidate the rules of “candidacy” still apply including time jumps. Going back to the list we saw the names, Straum, and Henderson. Straum was, of course, Miles’ last name, and Henderson was Rose’s maiden name. Bernard’s last name Nadler, is the only time jumper’s name not show, but of course there are roughly 240 names we don’t see. We see these three all fulfill roles. Rose and Bernard are seen as an old couple who constantly bicker and worry in the early seasons, however when we see them again in the season five finale they are quite content to live happily together in the jungle, without a care in the world. They fill the role of “Happy couple.” Similarly Miles is seen as having major father abandonment issues, however traveling back in time gives him the unique opportunity to reconnect with his father and help him understand why he did what he did.
                So that solves that. “Wait!” the insanely attentive Lost fan says. There were two crossed out names on that list of characters who did not jump, Littleton (Clair) and Linus (Ben). Ah but any Lost fans, attentive or otherwise can tell you there was more than one Littleton and Linus on the island. Ben’s father, Rodger Linus lived on the island from the 70s till his death in the 90s, and he also had a daughter, Alex who could have been a candidate. Aaron Littleton, Clair’s baby, originally never wanted by Clair or the father, was born on the island. Aaron was taken off the island and never returned, and likely had his name crossed out by Jacob at the same time as Kate’s was, who “adopted” him when they left the island. There was of course one more character that time jumped whose name wasn’t on the list, because he didn’t have a last name. Vincent, you know… the dog. Was Vincent a candidate? As insane as it sounds, yes he was; the island as it turns out isn’t too picky. He jumped around with all the other candidates, and for all we know was depressed about being taken from his former master, Brian.  While Vincent was a candidate I don’t think Jacob would really have taken him seriously as a candidate.
                So how exactly did these candidates get from 1977 back to 2007? The answer is the incident and electromagnetism. A lot of the strange powers of time travel were connected to electromagnetism, remember that’s how Desmond’s mind was unstuck in time. For those who don’t know the full story of the incident, here it is…A bunch of scientists were drilling into the island, right into a pocket of electromagnetism, which they unleashed. Our band of time traveling heroes took it upon themselves to attempt to prevent the incident to alter history so that they never arrive on the island. The do this by attempting to detonate an atom bomb at the site of the drilling. This very attempt to prevent the incident actually caused it, as the atom bomb’s detonation worked, but only halfway. Either because of the damage already done to it, or because of the electromagnetism the, explosion caused by the bomb failed. The electromagnetic pulse from the bomb succeeded however. The electromagnetic pulse being detonated while the island was releasing its natural electromagnetism caused an interesting thing to happen, time was reset. The time jumpers were placed back where they would have been if they had never jumped at all. Since it had been three years since time was originally shifted they ended up three years after they left. AKA they went from 2004 to 1974, so they were sent from 1977 to 2007.
                Did any of that make sense?
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