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Fate versus free will

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"We were brought here for a purpose, for a reason, all of us. Each one of us was brought here for a reason." — John Locke
Throughout Lost, both viewers and the characters themselves are left wondering whether the events that occur are predestined by fate or if the characters have free will to change events through their actions.




Purpose

At various times in the series, characters suggested that a greater, unknown purpose guided their actions. There are many instances in which Locke in particular made this suggestion, such as the moment in "Eggtown" in which he told his group they were "meant to" travel to Jacob's cabin, or the moment in "Walkabout" when he yelled at his walkabout tour guide, "This is my destiny! I'm supposed to do this, damn it!" Characters often attributed purpose to fate, destiny, or the Island.

The Crash
Jacob Handing Jack Apollo Bar
Jacob creates an opportunity to meet with Jack pre-crash. ("The Incident, Parts 1 & 2")

Though he initially claimed to have little belief in the supernatural, Locke suggested as early as "White Rabbit" that there was a purpose behind the crash, asking Jack, "What if everything that happened here happened for a reason?" Later, in "Exodus, Part 1", he expanded on this, saying, "Each one of us was brought here for a reason... the Island chose you, too, Jack. It's destiny." It was revealed much later in the series that Jacob had in the past intervened in many of the characters' lives, suggesting that Locke may have been right. ("The Incident, Parts 1 & 2") After discovering Jacob's lighthouse, Jack came to believe that Jacob brought him to the Island for a purpose, a belief that he later revealed to Richard. ("Lighthouse")  ("Dr. Linus")

Aaron
There are several instances in which the ideas of purpose or fate were applied to situations involving Aaron. In "Raised by Another", Richard Malkin told Claire she had to raise Aaron. In "Fire + Water", Charlie came to believe that he had to baptize Aaron for the purpose of saving him. Off-island, Hurley told Jack that Kate was not supposed to be raising Aaron. ("Something Nice Back Home") Once Jack, Hurley, and Kate returned to the island, Jack agreed that they had to let Claire raise her son, but rather than saying that it was Claire's fate to do so, Jack said they had to let her exercise her free will by giving her a choice in the matter. ("The Incident, Part 2")
The Swan and Its Hatch
Contrast
Two men of faith find that their beliefs are at odds with one another. ("?")

In "Deus Ex Machina", Locke told Boone in a dream sequence that he believed they were meant to open the Hatch, and that their purpose in coming to the Island was to enter it. Once they obtained entrance into The Swan and learned about pushing the button, Locke immediately believed that they had to follow this protocol. ("Orientation") Even Jack briefly took this "leap of faith." When Eko first learned of the button, he came to believe they were destined to push it even more so than Locke did. ("?") At that time, Locke lost his faith and changed his mind, saying, "I was never meant to do anything." However, when Desmond learned of the details of Locke's first attemps to open the Hatch, he said, "You said there isn't any purpose, that there's no such thing as fate. But you saved my life, brother, so that I could save yours." ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1")

Romance
2x05 SunJinFlash
Jin and Sun meet each other in a moment that may have been destined to occur. ("...And Found")

Jin's roommate Tai Soo said in "...And Found" that Jin's astrological forecast indicated that Jin was destined to find love soon. Tai Soo's predictions actually came true when Jin met Sun soon after. In a flash sideways, Keamy told Jin that some people are not "meant" to be together. ("The Package") Similarly, in "The Incident, Part 2", Juliet was told as a child by her parents that some people aren't meant to be together. Juliet later echoed this sentiment to Sawyer during their time working for the DHARMA Initiative. After Juliet's death, Sawyer said that he'd come to believe that he was meant to be alone. ("What Kate Does")

Returning to and saving the Island
In "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham", Locke told Jack that the Oceanic 6 were not supposed to leave the island. Jack mocked this, saying, "It's our destiny? How many times are you gonna say that to me, John?" Later, however, Jack switches his views, telling Kate that they were never supposed to leave the island. ("Through the Looking Glass, Part 2") Hurley echoed this statement in "The Beginning of the End". Once they have all returned the the Island, Sayid came to believe that he was sent back for the purpose of killing young Ben. ("He's Our You") Jack instead thought their destiny was to undo the past, and he was distraught to later learn this was untrue. ("The Incident, Parts 1 & 2")  ("LA X, Parts 1 & 2"). He later concluded that he was "supposed to" volunteer to replace Jacob as protector, and that afterward, he was supposed to relight the Heart and pass the job to Hurley. ("What They Died For")  ("The End")


Serendipity

There are several times throughout the series in which particular circumstances suddenly arose and affected the characters' initial intentions. For instance, in "Raised by Another", two pens failed to produce ink when Claire attempted to sign adoption papers in Australia, convincing her to keep the baby for the time being. Flashbacks revealed a series of events that lead Sayid to take Flight 815 instead of a later flight that he had initially intended to take. ("The Greater Good") Similarly, a series of events seemed to conspire to keep Hurley and Frank off of Flight 815. ("Exodus, Part 2")  ("Dr. Linus") At the airport in Australia, Shannon and Boone tried to get seats in first class, but the airline gate attendant denied their request. Once the plane has crashed onto the Island, Shannon suggests to Boone that the gate attendant saved their lives, as all of the passengers in the front of the plane were killed. ("Pilot, Part 1")

Character connections

main article: character connections

Ana christian
Ana Lucia and Christian meet for the first time ("Two for the Road")

The numerous off-island character interactions and mutual acquaintances before the crash suggest a shared destiny. Characters attributed some of their meetings to fate. Ben credited God for the arrival of a spinal surgeon on the island ("The Cost of Living"), and, in a flash sideways, Helen told Locke that meeting Jack at the airport might be destiny. ("The Substitute"). Christian suggested that fate may have brought him and Ana Lucia together. When she asked him why he thought this, he said, "Same reason fate does anything: So we could help each other out." Later in that same conversation, Christian told her "That's right. Fate's calling." When they arrived at a bar in Sydney, he said, "Look what fate has delivered up this time." ("Two for the Road")

Flash-sideways character connections convinced Jack something greater influenced them. It turns out that the characters created this afterlife specifically to meet one another.

Coincidence

main article: coincidence

Other characters attributed unusual occurrences to coincidence. Locke credited destiny for Eko's finding the Swan Orientation film's hidden section, but Eko responded to him, "Do not mistake coincidence for fate." ("What Kate Did") Locke later repeated this phrase to Desmond when their quest to find Eko took them to the Pearl. ("The Cost of Living") Also, in the flash-sideways, Jack thought Locke was mistaking coincidence for fate in regards to their encounters. ("What They Died For")


Karma

Main article: Karma

Karma is the belief that fate rewards and punishes past actions. In "Exodus, Part 1", Jin told Sun that he believed he was sent to the Island as a punishment, and Sun later asked Shannon if she believed that fate was punishing them. Claire responded that she didn't believe in fate.


Changing destiny

Controlling Luck
3x10 dad leaves
Hurley's father tells him that he must make his own luck. ("Tricia Tanaka Is Dead")

Some characters are portrayed as believing that general fortune or general misfortune are manifestations of luck. Brian, Walt's stepfather, said that Walt was the luckiest person he'd ever known. ("All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues") From early on in the series, Hurley frequently expressed the belief that he was a victim of pervasive bad luck due to playing the numbers in a lottery, and Rousseau confirmed for him that the numbers may indeed be cursed. ("Numbers"). Conversely, when playing horseshoes with Sawyer some time later, Hurley called himself lucky for consistently throwing well. ("The Other Woman"). After Jack and Hurley returned to the Island years later, Jack broke the mirrors at the Lighthouse in a fit of rage, and Hurley jokingly thanked him for "seven years of bad luck." ("Lighthouse") In his flash sideways, Hurley announced that he was the "luckiest man alive," the complete opposite of his beliefs while alive ("LA X, Part 1").

When Hurley visited Martha Toomey in "Numbers", she told him that luck doesn't exist, saying, "You make your own luck." Hurley's father David made the same statement when he and Hurley tried to start their Camaro, and Hurley later repeated it before starting the DHARMA van in "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead". Michael told Walt that building the raft was their way of taking control of their destiny. ("Special") The song "Make Your Own Kind of Music", which plays during many of Desmond's scenes, also echoes this sentiment.

According to Jack, Christian believed that people can't change bad luck, and often told him, "that's why the Red Sox will never win the Worlds Series." ("Outlaws") Jack later learned that the Red Sox did in fact defeat their destiny. ("The Glass Ballerina")

Coming to Terms With Fate
The show portrays other characters' resignation to their fates in a more positive fashion. Rose willingly accepted cancer in "S.O.S.", and her flash sideways persona claimed to do the same in "The Substitute". Later, once she and Bernard had "retired," news of possible impending death failed to worry them. ("The Incident, Part 1") Though Locke resented his paralysis before the island, he accepted his condition in his flash sideways. ("The Substitute") The show initially portrayed this positively, but Jack told him "nothing is irreversible", and Locke later opted for surgery. ("LA X, Part 2")  ("The End") Jack, in his final days, claimed that he was "done trying to fix things" and now put his trust in the Island. ("Whatever Happened, Happened")
Course correction

main article: Course-correction

Abaddon locke
Abaddon helps Locke get to where he needs to be. ("The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham")

In "Flashes Before Your Eyes", Mrs. Hawking told Desmond that attempts to avoid destiny always fail because the universe "course corrects." Mrs Hawking herself seemed to be an agent of course-correction, dissuading Desmond from proposing to Penny and telling him that his destiny was to go to the Island. Similarly, when speaking with Locke in "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham", Matthew Abaddon referred to his job as "helping people get to where they need to get to." In an attempt to change fate, Desmond saved Charlie from his fated death numerous times, yet after each of Desmond's successful saves, additional deadly circumstances presented themselves. These included being struck by lightning ("Every Man for Himself"), drowning ("Flashes Before Your Eyes"), being hit by an arrow from one of Rousseau's traps ("Catch-22"), and ultimately being trapped during the flooding of the Looking Glass station. ("Through the Looking Glass")

Changing History
5x14 ExplainingTheVariable
Daniel explains the concept of a variable. ("The Variable")

The greatest conflict between fate and free came when characters tried to change the past. Desmond prayed for the ability to change things after his first trip to the past, but as Season 5 proved, any attempt to change the past ultimately ends in failure.

The characters began to physically travel through time in "Because You Left", and Daniel told them sometime later that it's impossible to change the past - "Whatever happened happened." ("LaFleur") Sawyer accepted this and refused to intervene in his own childhood tragedy, telling Jack, "What's done is done." ("The Incident, Part 2") Miles too refused to try to repair his relationship with his father, telling Hurley, "He never cared about me and nothing I can do will ever change that."

However, after doing research with the DHARMA Initiative off-island for 3 years, Daniel revised his theory, saying that free will can change the past. "Variables" change seemingly fixed equations, the variables being the characters themselves. ("The Variable") In "The Incident, Part 2" the characters tried changing the past, but instead caused the very incident they were attempting to prevent and flashed to present day 2007. The principle of "Whatever happened, happened" holds true. ("The End")


Freedom from others' influence

Characters sometimes called freedom from others' influence "free will." Though freedom from deception and coercion differs from freedom from fate, these references recall the greater fate vs free will conflict.

The Others
Asking Jack to operate on his spine, Ben referred to creating the illusion of choice. "We'd lead you to believe that you were choosing to do whatever we asked you to do," he said, and Juliet in the same episode said, "You probably feel like you don't have a choice, but you do, Jack. Free will is all we've really got, right?" ("The Cost of Living") Ben called killing Anthony Cooper a "gesture of free will" on Locke's part and said the act would free him from his father's influence. ("The Brig")

Dogen told Jack in "Lighthouse" that "everything is a choice," but that he'd forcibly prevent him from leaving if necessary.

Jacob
Jacob referred more than once to choice and free will. He told Hurley that he had a choice about whether to return to the Island, and moments before Ben killed him, Jacob said, "Whatever he's told you, I want you to understand one thing: you have a choice." ("The Incident, Parts 1 & 2") Jacob said in "Ab Aeterno" that "it would be all meaningless" if he intervened in people's lives, but the Man in Black claimed that Jacob did intervene. "He manipulated you," he told Sawyer, "pulled your strings like you were a puppet. And as a result, choices you thought were made were never really choices at all." ("The Substitute") He said Jacob was "pushing" the survivors toward the Island, and when Jacob met Jack, he told him a trapped candy bar "just needed a little push." ("The Incident, Part 1")

According to Jacob's speech to Richard when they first met, Jacob's purpose, and the purpose of all events, is to determine whether people are fated to sin or can choose not to. ("Ab Aeterno")



Fate, life and death

Fated to live
Certain events suggest fate or another higher power may even control whether people live or die. When Michael failed to kill himself, Tom told him that the island was controlling his fate. ("Meet Kevin Johnson") Jack too failed to kill himself in "Through the Looking Glass, Part 2". Richard later explained that Jacob's touch could prevent death, and Jack tested this by igniting dynamite, which fizzled out without killing either of them. ("Sundown")
Fated to die
Desmond foresaw Charlie's death and tried repeatedly to avert this fate. ("Every Man for Himself") He later told Charlie that no way existed for Charlie to avoid his death. ("Flashes Before Your Eyes") Charlie eventually accepted this and decided to sacrifice himself, though when it briefly seemed he wouldn't have to die after all, Desmond said, "So much for fate, eh?" When Jack saved Charlie's life in the flash sideways, Charlie was displeased, telling Jack that he was "supposed to die." ("LA X, Part 1")

When Locke learned that Helen had died, Abaddon told him that she was where she was supposed to be. Locke questioned this, and initially spoke of "destiny," before switching to using the word "inevitable." Abaddon retorted by pointing out that Locke himself believed that he had to die to return the Oceanic 6 to the Island. ("The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham")

According to the Lost Experience, the Valenzetti Equation predicts the exact number of years and months until humanity extinguishes itself. This suggests that fate of mankind can actually be calculated scientifically. The DHARMA Initiative, however, supposedly aimed to change the values of the equation's factors to let humanity survive. This suggests the Initiative believed the fate of humanity can be altered by their actions.


Casual references

Charlie wrote the word "fate" on his bandages soon after the crash and later changed it to "late." ("Pilot, Part 1"). The bandages reappeared in a dream sequence, and after death. ("Fire + Water")  ("The End") When Widmore rejected Desmond, Penny flippantly said "I say we celebrate that fate has spared you a miserable existence under the employ of Widmore Industries." ("Flashes Before Your Eyes") Juliet told a member of her bookclub "Here I am thinking that free will still actually exists..." ("A Tale of Two Cities")


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