Eternal Recurrence or "See Ya In Another Life, Brotha"
Since the "DHARMA Initiative" name and symbol recur often throughout the series, an investigation of dharma suggests a path toward an explanation of events within the story. Dharma is an essential tenet of Buddism, and while it has many shades of meaning, this one seems the most appropriate for now: The essential nature of a thing. In Buddism the essential nature of the universe rests on the concept of eternal recurrence which proposes that existence is an infinite cycle of lives or realities from which the individual must strive to liberate themselves. Attaining liberation is described as "Enlightenment" or "Awakening". This model of eternal recurrence will confine itself to the previously stated definition to keep things simple, flexible, extensible, and free from incompatible preconceived ideas.
The show introduces recurrence metaphorically with Swan station occupant Desmond Hume - an apparent obsessive repeatedly entering a code into a computer. It's a strange situation because the computer could be programmed to enter the code and "press the button", leading to the thought that it has an ulterior purpose. The computer's presence suggests the concept of an infinite loop because it's both a programming error and it describes Desmond's behavior. Clearly he wants to leave the loop, as he desperately asks Locke, "Are you him?" (his replacement). In the ensuing events, a fix arrives in the form of a bullet directed into the heart (power transformer) of the computer, breaking the loop and liberating Desmond.
While construing events within a multiple reality model, another interpretation arises when viewed from a scientific or Western point of view. Some of the events in the show have been interpreted as demonstrations of precognition and time travel. These ideas come easily to a culture viewing the show through the lens of modern Western philosophy, one steeped in math and science. Math is essentially a tool of prediction. In equation form, knowing X, one can solve for - or predict - Y. Science has also suggested time travel may be possible. However, these ideas fall apart when using the recurrence model of many Eastern philosophies. This isn't an accident of the storyline.
Desmond Is No Soothsayer
In Flashes Before Your Eyes.", Desmond apparently time travels to the past and meets Eloise. While in conversation with her, a man wearing red shoes dies in an accident near them. She admits knowing he would die. In fact, it's suggested she had intervened many times to prevent his death. It seems Eloise has changed the past, but this contradicts an important recurring theme that whatever happened, happened (the past can't be changed), which casts doubt on this proprosal. Shortly Desmond returns to the present. In the ensuing events he appears to see the future preventing Charlie's death. These events inconsistently follow because we were just exploring Desmond's power to travel the past, not divine the future. Instead, if he's actually using his power to see the past - the past of another reality - then the storyline has greater consistency and it lends evidence that this interpretation is the correct one. All this interpretation requires is Desmond recalling the incident from a prior reality to intervene in the present reality thus saving Charlie. In likewise fashion, Eloise used her memory of prior realities to intervene in the case of the man with red shoes. So Desmond can't foretell the future, and Eloise can't change the past, and presumably that goes for everyone.
More evidence. In, "Flashes Before Your Eyes," Charlie says,
- "I don't buy this precognitive insanity rubbish. Look, if the baited(?) wonder could predict the future he wouldn't have ended up there would he."
The phrase, "he wouldn't have ended up there" can't be speaking of Desmond specifically because he's not "there" yet. It's an abstraction or more general principle of the idea that no one can predict the future to change it. Therefore it's a much more powerful statement that it's impossible. Also the phrase, "baited(?) wonder" leads to the suspicion that Desmond represents the bait in this precognition long con.
Time Travel Doesn't Exist
When the characters return to the island aboard the Ajira jet in 2007, they seemingly disappear into the past of 1977. The same event can be explained alternatively as a jump into a subsequent cycle of reality. The characters don't travel into the past, because that would violate the rule that whatever happened, happened. When they cross from the present of the current reality, they step into the present of the subsequent reality. To an observer outside both realities, his/her clock indicates the same absolute time in both realities for the cross-over point. Time hasn't changed, events have. In the subsequent reality it took 30 years longer for the events that occurred in 1977 in the prior reality to occur here. This really isn't so surprising because small time changes along the chain of events throughout history could easily add up to a large time displacement of events further down the chain. The evidence for this:
- In "Flashes Before Your Eyes", in the pub scene, Desmond recalls events of a soccer goal on TV and a club wielding man entering the bar, but here the events occur a day later than he remembers them taking place. Evidence of an event displaced further down the chain.
- Shortly following the Jughead_(bomb) detonation, subsequent flash, and Kate saying, "We're back," Jack remarks to Kate that, "it seems like it just happened." Kate responds, "Or it happened 30 years ago". A clue that what we thought happened 30 years ago, really did just happen, but in another reality.
- Three years have passed for the group that left the island in 2004 until they return aboard the Ajira flight. The same three years have passed for those who appeared to travel back to 1974 to join the Dharma Initiative before they reunite with those on the flight. If the group on the plane could time travel, why not undo the three years they callously let slip by to help their friends? Presumably Jack and his group could jump back in time to the same point that Sawyer and his group arrived at the Initiative, thereby rendering immediate assistance. It makes more sense, for a time travel model. However, if your universe is based on a multiple reality model, where time travel doesn't exist, then the equal passage of time for both groups makes more sense.
- In "Flashes Before Your Eyes", Desmond apparently time travels to a pub in the past. He asks his physicist friend about the possibility of time travel, to which his friend responds with laughter - a hint that Desmond is mistaken.
- In "Man of Science, Man of Faith, speaking of his Tour de Stade, Jack and his patient Sarah have a conversation: JACK: When you run all the steps in every section of a stadium up and down. SARAH: Why would you do that? JACK: I'm intense. "Intense" is a clue that this apparent flashback scene is really "in tense" or "in time" with the island scene. If that's the case, then it can be reasonably assumed that all the flashbacks, flash-forwards and flash-sideways are happening "in time" with the island events. Furthermore, "intense" is used in connection with the stadium which represents the world with each set of stairs respresenting a different reality. Evidence:
- Jack and Desmond run up two adjacent stairs but Desmond travels faster which fits the idea that events in one reality may happen more quickly. Additionally, Jack says, "I wasn't trying to catch up.". Desmond replies, "Aye, of course you weren't". In other words, the speed of events in one reality don't depend upon the speed of events in another reality. It explains why similar events are out of sync across the realities.
- Desmond crosses over to Jack's staircase to help him which mimics his later reality crossovers.
More apparent evidence of time travel occurs near the end of "Namaste". The scene takes place in 2007. Here, Christian (really MIB since we hear his characteristic clicking sound and tree rustling shortly before) presents Sun with a photograph taken in 1977, depicting Jack, Kate, and Hurley as recruits of the DHARMA Initiative. The next scene occurs in 1977. In this scene, the audience has a chance to look through the camera's lens as someone snaps the afore mentioned photograph. This is clear because the audience's screen image appears very similar to the photograph. The subjects are still, framed by our TV screen, and looking directly at us. In addition, we hear the camera click to indicate the point of view resides within the camera. The click also tells us the precise moment the film was exposed, so we can compare this photo with the photo in the prior scene. Now, the evidence that the foregoing events do not support a time travel interpretation:
- The photograph and screen image are not exactly the same. In the photograph, background tree limbs can be seen to the left of Jack's head. In the image they are to the right of his head. Also, in the photo, a baldheaded man can be seen toward the right side of the group. In the image he's hidden by someone in front of him. Since the photo and image are not the same, the events are not the same.If the photo and image were from the same reality, they must be the same, because whatever happened in the past of Sun's 2007 reality would carry forward through time until she observes it. It can't change. If somehow Jack, Kate, and Hurley went back and changed the photo event, then Sun would see the changed photo because that version would carry forward through time until she sees it. Again both photo and image would be the same.
- Since MIB - a known liar and deceiver - offers the photo, suspect the obvious interpretation.
The Island Takes a Dive
Once in the subsequent reality, they reunite with Sawyer and his group, hatch the plan to change everything and detonate the island submerging bomb. In the original reality, the bomb wasn't detonated in 1977, so the island is afloat and the characters erroneously assume that it didn't work. But it did work, the event that changed everything.
Supporting this concept is Juliet's message from the grave in which she relates to Miles, "that it worked." Having died and passed into the next reality she was aware of the submerged island. Also, at The Source, before Desmond is lowered into the cave, he tells Jack, he doesn't have to do this, because there is a better place where Jack is happy. Desmond has the ability to see (or remember?) the next reality, knows flight 815 didn't crash and possibly even knows of the island's submersion, so the showdown with MIB is unnecessary. More reasons to believe "it worked:"
- In, "Dr. Linus", we know from the flash-sideways conversation between Ben and his father concerning the island, that it was above water earlier in Ben's lifetime. However, later it was submerged as shown in, "LAX Part 1", so obviously something happened in the intervening period to cause it.
- In the FST Juliet explains to Sawyer how to make a stuck vending machine work - a metaphor for a soul stuck in eternal recurrence. The remedy she says is to unplug, and re-plug the machine and that "it's technically legal" - a metaphor that acknowledges whatever happened, happened in this reality, but in the next reality events can be changed because it falls within the rules. Sawyer complies, the candy bar falls, and Juliet responds, "see, it worked" - as it worked with the vending machine, so it works with the universe. The bomb fell, and it worked - change was effected.
- In, "The End", several characters say, "it worked", in unrelated dialog, but still very likely clues that "it worked".
With the submersion of the island it appears the authors are taking a decidedly unfavorable view of Western philosophy. They just hid the mysteries of the world and perhaps the universe from the human race, which not uncoincidentally results in a much better life for the characters. Related events:
- Sun and Jin's baby Gaia - meaning mother earth - is killed in the submarine explosion caused by MIB, the embodiment of human emotion.
- Radzinsky - icon of Western ideals - causes The Incident by insisting in a mad, frenzied manner that drilling must continue, whereas Chang - icon of Eastern ideals - warns that he should stop.
The Struggle Against Recurrence: Rational Mind vs. Emotional Mind
Buddism teaches that to break free of recurrence one must follow the path of enlightenment. Part of that path means understanding ones own nature, personified
as a struggle between the rational mind embodied as Jacob - the Apollo archetype character, and the emotional mind embodied as MIB - the Dionysus archetype character. Apollo represents order and reason, which Jacob demonstrates in his calm, sage manner with the other characters. Dionysus represents the opposite - disorder and raw emotion, which MIB demonstrates by killing Mother and other assorted unpleasantries.
More reasons Jacob is based on Apollo:
- In "The Incident, Part 2", Jacob hands Jack an Apollo candy bar, his business/calling card per se.
- In "The Incident, Part 1", Jacob catches, prepares, and eats a fish. A fish commonly symbolizes wisdom. When he offers his brother some, he refuses.
- Apollo and Dionysus were brothers.
More reasons MIB is based on Dionysus:
- MIB appears as Christian Shepard, John Locke and others. Dionysus possessed the power of illusion.
- In Across The Sea, young MIB can see and communicate with dead Claudia, whereas Jacob can not. Dionysus could communicate with the dead.
- Dionysus' followers went crazy, demonstrated by Claire under MIB, and the members of Rousseau's Science expedition who came into contact with the smoke monster.
- In, "Lighthouse", Sawyer asks Locke aka The Smoke Monster, "What are you?". Locke answers,"... I know what it's like to feel joy, to feel pain, anger, fear, to experience betrayal. I know what's it's like to lose someone you love.". More simply, the incarnation of emotion.
MIB Meets His End
When MIB becomes mortal in The Source cave - as evidenced by the rope bloodying his hands, he's vulnerable to injury and presumably death. One problem though, killing him now means his soul passes to the next reality through The Source - which Mother has described as a place of rebirth. Preventing this is Desmond's act of pulling the plug on The Source - MIB's escape path of last resort or failsafe. As Mother says in Across the Sea, if the light goes out here, it goes out everywhere". "Everywhere" means every reality. If mortal MIB dies when the light is out, his soul can not pass to the next reality, he's finished forever, simply annihilated.
MIB's destruction tends to discount the existence of hell in the Lost universe. For arguments sake, if we assume hell does exist, once MIB dies, presumably hell awaits him. So, pulling the plug on The Source - which Mother also described as a place of death, means MIB can't pass on to hell - the door's closed. Not a very likely scenario.
The Bigger Reality
The island is a metaphor for the self. Jack personifies the learned part of the rational mind. MIB represents the learned part of the irrational mind. In the cave, when Jack says to MIB, "Locke was right all along", he's speaking metaphorically of the 18th century philospher who believed that innate knowledge or ideas don't exist in the mind. Jack thought that removing the ancient stone regulator (ancient wisdom, philosophy, religion) would have no effect. He was wrong as MIB quickly informs him. The innate irrationality (fire) overwhelmed the innate rationality (water) and the self began to crumble. However, when Jack bloodies MIB's face with a punch, it's discovered he's lost much of his power. Since the innate rationality (water) is fading fast, it explains MIB's fading power. MIB didn't think the innate rationality could effect him. That's why Jack says, "Looks like you were wrong too". The fact that MIB used innate rationality to amplify his irrationality might seem counter intuitive but consider that by using rational means to make a knife one can amplify irrationality by killing with greater effectiveness than by using hands alone. Earlier on, MIB possessed much learned irrationality, taught to him from the others he lived with, but when he was thrown into The Source by Jacob, this combined with innate rationality, turning him into a monster of irrationality. Evidence:
- The island is unbalanced which MIB himself states, “They Come, They Fight, They Destroy, They Corrupt.” The main characters are unbalanced as well: Sawyer a con man, Jack full of doubt and guilt, etc.
- Near the beginning of the "The End", Jack examines an x-ray of a human head - a metaphor for looking inside to make an analysis of the mind. A similar x-ray can be seen at the nurses station when Sawyer visits the hospital.
- In, "Across the Sea", young Jacob demonstrates unexpected superior innate irrationality when he physically beats MIB in his attempt to leave the family for the others. In similar fashion, MIB demonstrates an unexpected superior innate wisdom when he tells Jacob he just knows how to play the senet game. Both clues that innate properties play a role in one's makeup. However, as we know, both turned out much differently than their innate qualities would indicate.
- MIB tells Jacob he saw (or learned) the "bad" way of the others.
The End of Eternal Recurrence, For Some Anyway
Near the end of the series Desmond liberates Kate and Sayid from jail - a metaphor symbolizing release from the prison of eteral recurrence.
In "The End", Hurley says to Ben, "You were a really good number two". Ben responds with, "And you were a great number one". Since it's already been shown that all the realities are concurrent in time, they had only been leaders for a matter of minutes. It's a joke as should have been suspected coming from Hurley. The jaw dropping moment happens when Ben doesn't go into the church - the exit from the multi-reality universe. Since Ben stays behind he remains in the multi-verse which includes the island realities. Hurley said Ben "was" a really good number 2, so he was either demoted to 3,4, etc., or he was promoted to number 1. Since he was a "really good" number 2, demotion doesn't seem likely. Leaving promotion the most likely conclusion. Surprisingly, Ben has realized his dream, control of the island!
In the final scene of the series the camera shifts between Jack in the church and on the island. The island shots are from different realities as evidenced by the different amounts and placement of blood on his face - confirmation that Jack died in all of them. In past episodes the camera has shown a close-in shot of a characters eye opening to symbolicly indicate an opening awareness of the reality in which events are about to take place. In the final scene, his eye closes indicating he has closed the door on all the realities of the multi-verse. Freedom brotha!
Assorted Mysteries Solved
Near the end of the series Miles plucks a grey hair from Richard's head. Clearly a sign that Richard is ageing. Actually he was never ageless. As shown, all the realities that the audience have seen occur in the present. The reality of Richard in the 1800's occurs at the same time as the reality of him in 1974, at the same time as the reality of him in 2007. He's not displaced in time, rather events are not happening at quite the same rate from reality to reality, so similar events are not in sync across realities.
Seemingly at odds with the multi-verse explanation is the scene in, "Ab Aeterno" where Jacob appears to give Richard eternal life. In responding to Richard's pleas, Jacob says he can't return his wife or absolve him of his sins, but he can grant him eternal life. It's a joke because Richard already has eternal life within the loop of eternal recurrence. Jacob doesn't have to do a thing, so "he can do that". Jacob's claimed power is suspicious from the start since he can't grant the former wishes, why would he have the power over the latter?