I've been reading, kids. The latest round is the longest yet, and strange, let me tell you. But strange in a way I think works.
I'd rather not rehash the other parts of this evolving theory. You can read part I here and part II here. Just keep in mind there are portions of those which no longer apply to the overarching ideas. Not every thought passes muster, and after consideration, you'll notice some elements completely fall away. Still, I thought this latest version would be more focused than the past couple. Turns out it's quite a lot to digest, but we have to do that before we can see how it all ties together; and, unfortunately, it won't be completed with this post. So I guess there'll be a part four...
First, credit where it's due. U2hmtmkmkm got me on the right track with the "split timelines" idea, so I've got to say big thanks there. And my thinking on Imaginary Time was not as broad as it could have been; but that was remedied by reading the thoughts of a person who posts under the name treesong at losttv-forum. I have a slightly different take than either U2hmtmkmkm or treesong, but my thoughts would not have moved in these directions without reading their ideas. So, once again, huge appreciation to U2hmtmkmkm, and credit to treesong (if he/she reads Lostpedia).
Ok, so first I said the Island was a force of nature, which I called the "unconscious judge of time". But that was wrong. So I expanded it, calling it the "unconscious ruler of time and space". As I'm sure you can guess, I've found that falls short, too. I came closer when I said the Island exists in all four dimensions - which are, to reiterate: Real Time, Real Space, Imaginary Time and Imaginary Space.
Have you ever heard of the "Sum Over Histories"? It's like this (boiled down and oversimplified, but it works with the Lost universe for our purposes): in a given system, a particle has a probability of paths it can take. When not observed, the particle follows all these paths. Once observed, the particle takes a specific path. In this theory, counter-intuitive though it sounds, the particle does both. How?
Back to Imaginary Time! Remember when I said Imaginary Time is actually a dimension of space, rather than time? So all moments exist at once, rather than moving in a direction as Real Time does. As I said, if you wanted to move from the past to the future, or the present to the past, you'd just walk around the room. But, since this is a static, spacial dimension, couldn't there be more? What if, in the dimension of Imaginary Time, ALL probable timelines exist? In fact, not only all probable timelines, but all timelines: probable, possible and impossible. All histories, to infinity. Every system, and every path every particle could take within those systems.
This is the "Sum Over Histories" then: each path exists in Imaginary Time, which is a true dimension of reality described by Quantum Mechanics, but there is only one path which exists in Real Time. Every second, the Histories are scanned through, and that which contains no paradoxes is selected from Imaginary Time to be Real Time. This is no problem when time is linear, which it usually is, so we never notice anything off. All paths move the same way, and time goes smoothly. But if one or more paths become non-linear, the possibility of paradox goes up. It gets worse the more non-linear paths arise. Course correction is required to make sure the system remains paradox-free. So all Histories are scanned, and another is selected which most closely resembles the original but contains no paradoxes; though it may not seem to be close to our linear mind.
Time-travel is one way of creating a non-linear path. Another way is gaining knowledge of the future through a time-traveler or the writings of a time-traveler. These things make the possibility of paradox exponential, and the universe can't exist if there's a paradox; so a mechanism must exist to scan the possible histories and make sure - you guessed it - what happened, happened.
The Island is the mechanism.
Right. I realize everyone is sick to death of the debate between WHH and a timeline reboot. I think the "Sum Over Histories" idea coupled with the theory of Imaginary Time and Space nearly rules out the possibility of multiple Real timelines. The reason we've seen the effects of time travel is because we've been witnessing Real Time, and there's only one Real Time. So, The Incident was "always" what we saw: Jack et al shooting up the Swan site, and Juliet detonating Jughead. But remember when I talked about the "split timeline" idea mentioned by U2hmtmkmkm? Well, that's gonna happen, too - in Imaginary Time. And I think I can predict a few things, because I think we've already seen someone go to Imaginary Time in Lost.
Desmond. In "Flashes Before Your Eyes" we see his consciousness travel to the "past", where he talks with Ms. Hawking, makes some incidental changes to the timeline, then ultimately decides to do what he always did. With a cricket bat to the head, and his consciousness already so destabilized by his turning the failsafe and being exposed to the EM radiation, he becomes "restuck" in his present time. The only difference is his ability to "see the future". But he can't see the Real future; rather, he gets glimpses of many possible futures, and he can do a little course correcting to change the "immediate future" (which Lindelof and Cuse talked about in an episode commentary), which only means he is selecting through the possibilities. But the Island is more powerful than that, and exists simultaneously in all possibilities, so Desmond cannot make changes which result in a paradox.
Now, unfortunately for Desmond, his consciousness is probably destabilized for good (could this be why the rules don't apply to him?); and when he travels through the EM bubble of space/time surrounding the Island, it begins to flash back and forth between the past and present. The only difference this time is we see physical ramifications: the nosebleeds. This is the indication he is unstuck in Real Time. Since his nose never bled at all during his first travel, we can assume he was not in Real Time but Imaginary Time. So no need for a constant, no need for course correction to affect Real Time, etc.
The question now is: was this random? I think it was, which is why Ms. Hawking showed up. She used this moment to teach Desmond about course correction and knowledge of the future. Why? We still don't know. And how was she able to move through Imaginary Time? We don't know that, either. But we have good evidence she'd been doing it a lot, since she knew about the man with the red shoes. Of course, her knowledge of the future doesn't come from moving around in time necessarily, but more probably from Faraday's journal.
But, wait. She can move through Imaginary Time - in essence, she's seen all possibilities - yet doesn't know the outcome? Well, here's the Schrodinger's Cat corollary: Imaginary Time is the cat in the box before said box is opened. All probabilities, possibilities, even impossibilities exist. But Eloise is not the observer here. She is seeing all the paths, not the actual path. She can't open the box, because Desmond has to do that. It's his destiny to BE the "particle" and "choose a path".
Of course, he's not free to make a choice which will cause a paradox. We've seen him try to do that when he tried to save Charlie, and we know the outcome. Charlie died. That simply means there was no possible future in which Charlie survived which did not contain a paradox. So, at some point, Charlie HAD to die. And that was Real Charlie. He's really dead.
Why? Well, I don't know for sure, but I think, while there are an infinite number of possible Charlies, there's only one ACTUAL Charlie, and that's where his consciousness is. Each Real Person's consciousness is attached to the Real Body, and usually remains that way if it's not exposed to high levels of EM radiation. Since Charlie wasn't exposed to any EM energy, his consciousness couldn't get unstuck. So when his real body died, his consciousness died, too.
But what does that mean for the Losties in '77? Did they split the timeline off when they detonated Jughead? Yes and no. And I mean that literally. Remember, there's only one Real Time. But we've seen something like what happened at the end of The Incident before, when Desmond turned the failsafe. What's going to happen to them? They're going to go into Imaginary Time, and get the chance to do things "over again". But they didn't split the timeline exactly. As I suggested already, the electromagnetism shifted their consciousnesses into the spacial dimension of Imaginary Time.
So let's talk speculation. I think when we saw Jacob touching the Losties in the season 5 finale, he was actually moving through Imaginary Time. He was positioning the Losties at key points in these timelines, places he wanted them to be. For Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Jin and Locke, this was all prior to Oceanic 815. When they get back to these points, they will carry with them the memories of their "first lives". Especially for Kate and Sawyer, this is going to be a problem, because they're really young. They'll have a long "time" to live through before they can do anything with their memories.
But the closer they get to 815, the more they'll be drawn to it. Jack will remember Kate, Kate will remember Jack. Sawyer will remember Juliet is on the Island. Jin will go back for Sun. Locke...well, we all know why he would be drawn to the Island. They may try to stop themselves, but they will go on that flight. They will take off from Australia...and land in LA. And it will make no sense to them at all. But in this timeline they blew up the Swan, so there's nothing to make them crash on the Island. They'll all get off the flight confused, and go their separate ways.
This will depress them. Maybe Jack becomes addicted to pills again. Kate may turn to some crime in desperation.
And then they'll remember Ajira 316. They'll think it won't work, since 815 didn't work. But, once again, the closer the flight gets, the more they're drawn to it. So they take the flight, and, as they pass through the EM field surrounding the Island, they'll flash back into Real Time. Since Imaginary Time is not time, but a dimension of space, all of this happens in NO TIME AT ALL. But to them, they've experienced two separate timelines, and carry the memories of both.
This is why Jacob apologizes to Locke: "I'm sorry this happened to you." He wasn't apologizing for Locke falling out of the window and breaking his back. He was apologizing because Locke was tricked into DYING - which he wasn't "supposed" to do - and, through course correction, his consciousness ended up in Imaginary Time at the exact moment he broke his back. Jacob's apologizing because Locke is going to have to live all the time between now and 316 AGAIN.
("How did Locke shift into imaginary time, since he wasn't involved in the Incident?" you may ask. I think it could have something to do with the FDW. That may have exposed him to EM radiation. But he was also involved in the Swan implosion, too, at the end of the second season. I'm not positive how his consciousness shifted when Ben killed him, but it may simply have been course correction, though I'm not sure how I feel about that. Not sure how I feel about his being resurrected either, though I do like the idea we could have the REAL Locke back, and not a clone or something.)
Once on 316, however, things will happen as they did, and all of them will flash off the flight - which won't crash - ending up back on the Island.
Of course, this only makes sense because of the "Sum Over Worlds" which is where Imaginary Space comes in. There are an infinity of possible places anyone can be, as well, and the Island knows these. Since the Island exists in all four dimensions, it can cull from any and all to make the Real Timeline come out like it's supposed to. It's okay if some things don't add up to US or the Losties, because we don't live in all four dimensions at once and separately. But the Island, as I've said before, doesn't have a mind. It's just making sure there are no paradoxes. Some of the results may seem counter-intuitive. Richard probably DID see the Losties die, but he couldn't have known their consciousnesses shifted out of Real Time long enough to save them. So they will return to the Island, and even though it makes no sense to us, it makes sense to the Island, and to Time and Space, which is all that matters.
See, the Island is trying to stop a catastrophic paradox, one which it won't be able to course correct for. We know the outcome of this will be the end of the universe, and that is the ultimate catastrophy. So the Island is making moves which will result in a weird Real Timeline, one which contains a number of "loops"; but one which contains no paradoxes. One loop is the Compass Locke and Richard share. Where did it come from? Another is Locke's creating his being the "leader" of the Others. Or the frequency Faraday gives to Desmond to give to Faraday. What? Well, the "Sum Over Histories" takes care of this, because, at some point in "time" - whether Real or Imaginary - the Compass actually came into being, and Faraday really discovered his frequency. It no longer happened as part of the Real Timeline, but it happened, and the Island "knows" it. No paradox.
Weird timeline or no, it's the only Real one, which is why we've seen results. So the Incident was always what we saw, and the fact the Losties will live through timelines which include the Swan never existing is either random or a function of their consciousnesses. Too bad we can't know that yet. The important point is, the Island must NEED the Losties to have knowledge of both timelines to prevent the paradox, the same way it needed Desmond to have his double memories. All to prevent the "end of the world". Which it turns out Desmond WAS helping to prevent by pushing the button. If he never did that, the Losties would never have come to the Island, time-traveled, then tried to prevent the Swan getting built, causing the Incident AND pushing themselves into an Imaginary Timeline which would result in them coming back to the Island to save the day with the knowledge they gained from living two lives.
Who wants to bet they each see Eloise along the way?
There's more, but this is too long. There's stuff involving the Whispers and the Temple. I can even touch on the idea of duplicates, too! I just didn't realize how long this post would get. Hopefully you'll have questions which will help me put the next bits in perspective, so it's not as all over the place. The simpler the explanation, the more to fit into a smaller package. Difficult doesn't begin to describe it.