Previously on Lost...
"The Island is a force of nature! Blah blah consciousness blah blah electromagnetism!"
"Imaginary Time! Whispers from Casimir wormholes and more blah blah blah!"
"Something about split timelines! Seriously confused, etc.! I'll write more!"
"Son of a bitch."
Now I understand what is meant by writing oneself into a corner. Reading over the initial posts in this series (which may be found here, here and here), I'm struck by one thing: each becomes more confused than the last! In a final effort to explain what I've been trying to say over these previous posts, this will be a summation first and, secondly, an exposition of some new points, with a tiny bit of speculation thrown in just for fun. Which means this one will be the longest yet; but something tells me anyone reading it is used to my verbosity by now!
What is the Island? That's the question. Of course we're pretty far from the answer, even though we've only got a season to go; but I think we can make some fairly educated guesses. I've called the Island the unconscious judge of Time, then the ruler, and finally the ruler of all Time and Space. These were attempts to put a huge idea into terms we could grasp. Unfortunately, every one of these analogies falls apart. I reached for increasingly grand descriptions though they were unnecessary. So let's start over with an easier model: The Island is simply a pilot with his/her hand on a wheel (not to be confused with the Frozen Donkey Wheel). The wheel is space/time. Imaginary Space/Time (which could be described as "alternate timelines", though not exactly) inhabits the spokes of the wheel, while Real Space/Time happens at the hub, where it intersects Imaginary Space/Time. Think of the spokes as Possibility and the hub as Actuality. The Island has at its disposal all the Possible paths and can use any of them to steer; but the path it actually takes is the only path which is Real (though this is not to say the other paths don't exist).
It's important to remind here the Island is not conscious. It chooses which path to take based on natural laws, like other natural processes. The sun does not choose to shine, yet it shines. The wind doesn't choose to blow. These are the workings of nature. The Island is the Nexus of Space/Time, the function of which is to hold four dimensional space/time together. To do so it must insure universe-ending paradoxes are avoided, which happens, as I said, through entirely natural processes. Why the emphasis? It's necessary to bring this up because Lost is not about magic. There are things going on which cannot be subverted, but which can be explained and, hopefully, understood.
In order to accomplish its task the Island must exist in all four dimensions of Space/Time simultaneously, as well as each dimension separately. This is totally counter-intuitive, but not magical, and must be accepted for our purposes. Just keep it in the back of your mind as we continue.
Many of the topics included here fall under quantum mechanics (QM), a branch of physics. A major difficulty concerning this is QM deals with particles, of which we are made, sure, but which we are not. We are aggregates of the small, but we don't behave the way particles do. This is the central problem (as I understand it) which concerns modern physics: to discover how one might unite the theories which describe the small - atoms, molecules, quarks - and the large - which, for our purposes, we will simply call "us"(of course this is oversimplification, as the large includes everything from insects to galaxies, and, perhaps, even the whole universe). This problem has not been solved; but one way Lost accomplishes a solution which fits its design is through the Imaginary/Real model. See, the Island isn't actually concerned with anything Real as far as people or events. It simply cares about particle paths and avoiding the aforementioned cataclysmic paradox.
This is where I should go back to The Possible. The Island can "aim" the timeline, in a sense, by turning the wheel to put time on another path. Usually these turns are minor, and move Real Time off to a path very near the one it followed previously, which is basically unnoticeable. It's not even as significant as a car changing lanes, but more an imperceptible swerve due to a tiny rut in the road. Michael chooses to fight for Walt, then immediately steps into the street, struck down by oncoming traffic. Michael doesn't get Walt back - paradox averted.
Now, as I've said before, when paths become nonlinear the possibility of paradox rises exponentially. So the Island must choose another path along which to send the particles which make up reality. But choices in general would affect this, too. Every action by every individual moves the path a little, and the Island doesn't control these. The Island only exerts perceptible control when an occurrence will cause an immediate paradox. How can this happen, though, if the Island is all-powerful where the timeline is concerned? I mean, if Michael wanted to shoot himself, why couldn't he simply choose to do that? If all possible paths exist, why was he kept from following the path he wanted to choose? Couldn't the Island have shuffled the timelines and found one where Michael died when he wished to die and the universe didn't end? Did he even have a choice?
Sure he did. He could pick up the gun, point it at his head, pull the trigger. What he couldn't do was cause the bullet to fire, because in order to avoid that pesky paradox Michael must die when the freighter explodes. It's a pivotal choice, one which does not have an infinite number of possible outcomes. Michael's choices include trying to kill himself as much as he wants in as many ways as he wants and watching them all fail. A lot of choices, but not nearly infinite.
Remember Schrodinger's Cat? (Oh gods, not this again!) When the box remains unopened, the cat is both dead and alive, at once. How? Well, the cat is made of particles. There exist an infinity of paths these particles can take, and, while the box is closed, the particle follows every path, simultaneously. Only once the top is removed and we see into the box do we know which path is actual. So, before the box is opened we have Imaginary Space/Time (i.e., all the paths) and afterward we have Real Space/Time (one path). In other words, an observer must be introduced into the equation before the actual path is determined. Real scientists have done experiments to this end, and the observable effects of the Imaginary particles do not disappear when the observer is introduced; rather, the particle appears. While the Imaginary particles have no mass and cannot be observed directly, their imprint remains.
So, as far as Lost is concerned, what is the observer? I think it is consciousness. And for the purposes of Lost it seems consciousness is based on electromagnetism. There is a theory which describes this called the Consciousness ElectroMagnetic Information (CEMI) field theory - proposed by Johnjoe McFadden, professor of molecular genetics at Surrey University in London - and which I discussed previously. What's important to think about here is not whether this theory is actual science, but whether it helps the story sound plausible (it's very interesting reading, but not accepted by the wider academic mainstream - though McFadden does say it is testable, he has yet to do any of the tests himself, which sounds suspiciously like he thinks he's not entirely right; or, at the very least, he's afraid to see whether he's right or not). For me it meets the latter criterion, which is all we need for science fiction.
So in Lost consciousnesses are electromagnetic. It could be said this is the Lost version of a "soul"; but it must be pointed out that electromagnetism is real, an observable, scientific property. Souls, in Lost, take on a totally different connotation than in general, because in Lost a soul can actually be LOST. These are real stakes, as Lindelof and Cuse have pointed out repeatedly. The cool thing about this is souls can also be saved! Now, I don't mean this in the traditional sense. No heaven or hell here. But if a soul is understood simply as the electromagnetism of our body interacting with our brain, there are ways in which this energy might remain coherent enough to be a) reunited with its body (presupposing the body had been preserved, like, say, on an Island which has regenerative properties), or b) inserted into a body which does not have a consciousness (a newborn baby or a body "duplicated" from an Imaginary timeline, perhaps?).
This doesn't mean there are many souls for the many different versions of people who exist within Imaginary Time. Remember, the things happening in that dimension are simply particle paths, and Imaginary particles at that, which have no mass. That's where individuals come in. In other words, when Charlie dies, Charlie is dead. The possible Charlies don't disappear, but, with his consciousness gone, they also won't ever appear again in Real Time. Consciousness is the observer, and there is only one Charlie consciousness. The other Charlies - the Imaginary Charlies - are only particle paths. Possibilities.
Something interesting about electromagnetism - at least as I understand it, and I'm no scientist - is it can have mass or not. So, if one understands an individual as being a kind of antenna which picks up the signal of an electromagnetic consciousness, one could see how a "disembodied" consciousness could not only be picked up by another body, but also by the aggregate of particles which is an Imaginary version of that individual as well. All that's needed is something to remove the consciousness from one antenna. What could do this?
I think you see where I'm going. The failsafe seems to have done this to Desmond. The question is, did it bump his consciousness into his Real past self, or simply into an Imaginary - or "alternate" if you wish - version? Of course we don't know; but I think the points I made in past posts about Eloise (the fact she knew where to find Desmond, knew he had been to the Island even though he'd yet to go, and knew about the man with the red shoes) are good evidence he moved to the Imaginary dimension. He also never got a nosebleed, which we've seen happen every time a consciousness jumps around in Real Time. And we've seen no repercussions of the things he did differently than he did the "first" time.
"Why does this matter?" you may find yourself asking. I think it matters because it's evidence what we saw in "The Incident" could have a similar effect on the Losties. At least on Jack, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin and Kate.
As I said in my last post, it seems logical Jacob's escapade through time might have been - at least in part - his positioning these "souls" in an Imaginary timeline. I can't say how he does this, as I don't know. I still want to think he's just a man who has somehow been on the Island so long he understands more about it than anyone else (save possibly the inimitable Man in Black) and can use it to his advantage. This remains to be seen, so rather than speculate on that, I'll give you the only bit of evidence I can think of we were actually witnessing an Imaginary timeline: Jack's "Jacob flashback".
Immediately after the season 5 finale the comments flew: "Why did they change the story Jack told Kate in the Pilot?" It certainly seemed the writers had Jack omit a very important detail, and in an uncharacteristically selfish manner. Or was this just a slapdash late insert, something they hadn't thought of when they wrote the Pilot, but that they felt folded in rather well? Neither option felt very good to me. If they had known from the beginning this is how it happened, why did they have Jack leave this detail out? And if they hadn't known, why did they feel the need to rewrite this little episode? Couldn't they have had Jacob touch Jack at a different time? Did they really want us to think we could see changes to the timeline as a result of Jughead detonating? None of it made sense, but I figured they'd either explain it, or it didn't matter much. Who really remembers the past in perfect detail, anyway?
Then it occurred to me: we are watching an alternate version of these events! This is the evidence I've been looking for which shows Jacob may have been doing what I'd proposed he was doing. It's slight, to be sure; but it's not without precedent. The writers have revealed things to us before without telling us until a later episode. MiB is a perfect example, since they've been revealing him since the beginning, but didn't tip their hand till the season 5 finale; but there are simpler examples, such as Locke's coffin being revealed a full season before we were shown he was in it, or the infamous flashforward in season 3's finale. Even the early stuff was this way, such as Kate being a criminal or Locke's paralysis. They always give us just enough to be confusing, to make us doubt them, question them - then they flip it on us.
But wait. Why did Jacob touch Locke? In the present, he's dead. And why didn't he touch Juliet? What was the significance of those he visited prior to flight 815 and those afterward? I can't say for sure, but I can speculate. The last question is answered most easily by asking another: who was close to the Jughead blast and who was not? Obviously Jack, Kate, Jin, Sawyer and Juliet were near the blast, but Hurley and Sayid stayed away. Something tells me this is where they will become separated, and I'm willing to say Sayid and Hurley will have to make a choice between running into the jungle (which would mean certain death for Sayid, if not Hurley), surrendering to Dharma, or trying to appeal to the Others. I believe they will do the latter, not only because it is the only way to save Sayid, but because it will be the only way to save Jack, Kate, Jin and Sawyer (we'll come back to this). Juliet, unfortunately, may be done for, as Jacob didn't touch her. The only thing tells me she may have a chance is Desmond having survived turning the failsafe; but we still don't know why he lived, so we can't really say what will happen to Juliet. I have my ideas, but they don't really fit here. All I will say is she may turn out to be a more important character than we'd ever imagined.
So why did Jacob touch Locke? Of course we can't say. It seems to me this signifies our only hope the real John Locke has a chance of returning to the story. The problem is I don't think consciousness can survive the death of its antenna anywhere but on the Island. So this is a hole in my theory, and I'd welcome any thoughts anyone has to fill it. The only thing I can think of would be that Locke's consciousness might still be attached to his dead body, which is now back on the Island; but my feeble evidence for this is Miles' saying he "hears" what's left after a person dies. What if the electromagnetic soul stays with the body until the body decays enough for the energy to dissipate? No way to know whether this is true.
Except, of course, through a possible back door. Remember how Richard said he watched the Losties die? What if he only watched their consciousnesses being released from their bodies? And, since Sayid and Hurley were there, what if they grabbed the bodies and hightailed it to the Others? Way out speculation, sure; but it puts the Others' interest in Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley and Sayid in an interesting perspective (though does beg the question "Why not Jin?"). What if their bodies are somehow preserved in the Temple, awaiting the return of their consciousnesses from Imaginary Time? This could be the reason they disappeared off Ajira 316. Their bodies from that time were already on the Island. This may seem counter-intuitive, since they crashed on the Island in 2004, and their bodies would also have been there; but these would have been older bodies, waiting for older consciousnesses. Not air-tight, but not exactly a hole in the theory, either.
So is this why Jacob didn't visit Hurley or Sayid until after 815? If they survived Jughead but didn't get shunted off to Imaginary Time, he must have known this. I really think this was a literary device - much like the Sun/Jin sleight of hand in "Ji Yeon" - used to make us think every interaction Jacob had with the Losties off-Island was in Real Time. And it makes me think Jacob's working on his own loophole, or counter-loophole, if you will.
I realize I've mentioned the Temple a number of times as though we know anything about it. I think the fact we know so little (that, and the fact the Others call it the Temple) may mean this is the most important place on the Island. I think it is the place where all the "unique scientific properties" of the Island are concentrated. It is from here I believe a select group of Others - the special people like Tom, who can go to and from the Island - may be watching everything happening on the Island. They could be doing it by using the negatively charged exotic matter to stabilize a wormhole, allowing instant travel. I've said this before, but now I think it's crap. It's simpler than that, and could be one of a few things, or a combination of them all.
First, they probably have access to all Possibilities here, meaning they can walk outside the diagonal we walk when in Real Space/Time. We've seen people like Harper and Ethan seem to appear as if from nowhere, and this could be how they do it. Second, they could also be disembodying themselves intentionally and traveling without being seen. You know my example here is going to be the Whispers. There are too many similarities between electromagnetic consciousness and the Whispers for them to be ignored; but I don't think that's the whole story. It's possible the Whispers are a combination of the Others' disembodied consciousnesses arguing with "ghosts" - who, of course, would be the consciousnesses of people who died on the Island. Perhaps not everyone who died on the Island gives up their "ghost"; but I think it a distinct possibility some have. And those who have may think they can help, or change things, whereas the Others know they can't, or don't want them to. This could explain why the Whispers seem to argue with each other.
The third possibility is the most out there, and would also mean there could be no disembodied consciousnesses on the Island (with the exception of people who go through something similar to Desmond, but these have got to be a minority of cases): perhaps consciousness being the observer means that, on the Island, the consciousness would be able to manifest a new body simply by being there and, in a sense, tricking the Island into recreating its mass. Not sure how I feel about this. I like my earlier, simpler description of duplicates better: they are just particles pulled from an Imaginary timeline, and "infused" with the "soul" of that person. Still out there, but it works better, in my opinion.
So what does all this mean? I think we're going to see some interesting things in the season premiere, and they're going to be supremely confusing. We're going to flash back and forth from Real Time - where we will "watch them all die" and see Sayid and Hurley join the Others (or not, since that might be saved for a really, really big reveal) - to Imaginary time - where it will seem like Jughead did create an alternate timeline, and we'll watch some of the Losties relive their lives, thinking things are cool, only to find themselves trying to get back to the Island again. We'll also see the MiB/Richard/Ben present timeline, and become even more confused about what is Real and what isn't. Then, when the Imaginary Losties find their way to Ajira 316, they will flash off the flight again, finding themselves back in their bodies in the Temple. The Others who have been waiting at the Temple will tell them where their friends are, and they will be on their way to the Statue, just as Jacob told MiB before he died.
Then Locke will awaken, lying on the beach, in the shadow of the Statue. And he will save them all.
(And I've purchased edible paper, in case I'm wrong!)