Ok, here’s one for all you strictly “Whatever Happened Happened” fans and all you “They will change everything” fans.
Let’s call a temporary truce and say that we all have great minds and well thought out theories, but maybe the answer goes beyond all our theories. Maybe (Hopefully) the answer will be something new and totally surprising to us all, no matter what side of the aisle we’re on.
So what should we do in our truce time? Certainly not stop theorizing on this most excellent topic of time travel and can you change the past/future/present. Let’s see if we can look more closely at a few parts of the more grandiose theories about whatever might have happened.
Setting the Scene - What we know about the Incident/Swan
First let’s look at what we know about the incident that happened, as of 2005. The first direct physical encounter we have with the Hatch is when John discovers the hatch door in the jungle. He develops an obsession with opening it and finding out what’s inside. He spends days digging up the area around it and trying to get it open, having only some vague idea that it is something of importance. This is one of the earliest signs of John‘s growing connection with the island. It is also one of the earliest clear Jack vs. John debates. John wants to use the hatch to hide their people from the Others, while Jack wants to take their people to the caves.
When they finally do get inside and meet the (perhaps not yet) uniquely and miraculously special Desmond, we are immediately introduced to the button – because they accidentally damage the computer that controls the energy dissipation. But of course Sayid comes to the rescue and they get the button working again. Now another big Jack vs. John debate ensues. Should they keep pressing the button and risk becoming enslaved to this protocol with no explanation or should they risk the unknown and possibly catastrophic consequences of not pressing the button? Jack is loath to press the button when he has no proof of its importance while John is inexplicably convinced that they have to do it.
The Swan Orientation Video - evidence that the past has been changed?
We learn a bit about the history of the button and its purpose is from the Swan Orientation Video. In this Dr. Chang, aka Marvin Candle, (who’s already lost/damaged his left arm) states that the swan station “was originally constructed as a laboratory where scientists could work to understand the unique electromagnetic fluctuations emanating from this sector of the island. Not long after the experiments began, however, there was an incident. And since that time the following protocol has been observed: every 108 minutes the button must be pushed.”
This video suggests that the Swan was constructed and in operation on before the incident. However, when we left off last week in 1977, with apparently just a few hours left before the incident was supposed to happen, the swan was not yet built, nor were the experiments underway. Radzinsky and Chang’s conversation makes it clear that they haven’t even started digging:
- Radzinsky: Aren't you supposed to be at the Swan right now, Chang? We're supposed to break ground in less than 20 hours.
- Chang: We're under imminent threat. If we start drilling, there's a high probability of a cataclysmic accident.
- Radzinsky: We are drilling and on schedule.
So here we have our first piece of evidence that something is not the same. If Dan is right that the incident is about to happen, then something has changed, because according to the Swan video the incident won’t happen while the swan is being built, but after the experiments begin.
But Whatever Happened Happened
Now the WHH response to this would be, that whatever they think they are changing is only going to end up being what caused the incident in the first place. So if they detonate a hydrogen bomb then that ends up being precisely the incident that they were trying to prevent. Evidence – nothing they’ve tried to change has caused any change in the past, but instead has brought about the events that they were trying to prevent – case in point: Sayid shooting little Ben led directly to his becoming an Other.
Right now we don’t yet know if they will even be successful in detonating Jughead. We know that Jack and Sayid and Eloise are about to try, but will they even be able to? Richard certainly doesn’t like the idea. Neither does Kate. But let’s assume for a minute that they do. If they are successful in bringing the thermonuclear core to the swan and in a couple of hours use it to blow up the swan, then what? The logical guess would be that the island is flattened. Everything and everyone alive on it dies. It becomes a barren wasteland. Now I know the island has healing properties, but can the island possibly heal itself within a mere 27 years to the state that the Losties found it in, in 2005? Furthermore, if the bomb goes off, how is it that Dr. Chang, Horace, the rest of the Dharma people, and all their houses are left virtually untouched and totally intact (minus Chang’s left arm)? That’s not how hydrogen bombs work. Not even on magic islands… Unless, of course Whatever Happened maybe didn’t quite happen the way it was supposed to have happened. Or, in other words, unless it actually works, everything disappears, and the past resets itself, incident- and bomb-free.
But on the other hand, considering that the season 5 double episode finale that will air in about 2 days is entitled “The Incident” it is virtually certain that the incident will indeed happen, and imminently. So clearly, whatever happens, the incident cannot be prevented.
Why didn't everyone die?
So then is it possible that nuclear warheads on the Island are not like nuclear warheads elsewhere? Hmm… Maybe the better question to ask is, are electromagnetic energy pockets on the island unlike e.e.p.’s elsewhere? We know that the answer to that is a resounding YES. Evidence? (beyond the weird purple light and the loud noise) The three people who were in the hatch during the implosion – Desmond, John, and Mr. Ecko– (and a possible fourth – Charlie) were all somehow miraculously unharmed by the implosion. Locke was temporarily mute and Desmond lost his clothes but Ecko’s only damage came from his dynamite just before the implosion, and the polar bear just after the implosion. How is it that these three were ‘ejected’ gently from the hatch while everything else was mangled in the implosion?
Does this mean that hydrogen bombs might not detonate in quite a normal way on the Island? And does this mean that if and when they are detonated, people may be miraculously unharmed by them? It’s starting to seem as if anything is possible. More importantly it questions, in my mind, whether Desmond turning that key was a moment of change. It’s almost as if, the past reset itself, and indeed, at least on the surface, this seems to be the case, as Desmond resets to his 1996 pre-island self, and starts reliving his life. He even enacts some real change: Despite Mrs. Hawking’s insistence that he doesn’t buy the ring, he does. And he successfully predicts and changes the event at the bar, taking the bat himself instead of the bartender, when Jimmy barges in.
But of course, it isn’t enough to prevent his ending up on the island. And so he finds himself back in the jungle, sans clothes, yet somehow still holding his photograph of Penny.
But what if the incident wasn't what needed to be changed?
So what then? What if they do in fact detonate Jughead, and it turns out to be big enough to actually change things? Well, how big of a stone you have to drop to change the course of a stream depends on how big the stream is. Assuming the incident was a significantly catastrophic event (that was caused by something other than the bomb), it’s quite possible that the bomb itself is not a large enough stone to change it.
But what if the incident is not the event that needs to be changed at all, but rather the universe’s way of course correcting an event that was never supposed to have happened. The event I’m thinking of is Dharma’s initiation. The Dharma initiative was supposedly set up to try to find a way to change the numbers of the Valenzetti equation, so the world wouldn’t end. The WHH fans are quick to point out of course that the numbers haven’t changed, so therefore the Losties haven’t changed anything. But what if the thing that needed changing was not the incident, but rather the Dharma work that led up to the incident and that the incident messed up? The incident nearly caused the end of the world. But the button pushing kept the effects of the incident at bay.
All this leads me to wonder whether the Dharma initiative’s efforts to change the numbers, to prevent apocalyptic catastrophe, are in fact what determined the numbers and set the world on course for apocalyptic catastrophe. If so, then that may be why the Losties have been sent back to the 70’s – to fix the change that Dharma was successful in implementing which is what set in motion the chain of events that led up to the Incident, which will lead eventually to the end of the world? In other words, what if the “change” the Losties are trying to implement is not a change at all, but rather the Universe’s way of course correcting, on a grand scale, what Dharma has changed by their experiments with electromagnetic energy and space-time. What if the “whatever happened” that really matters is not the incident, but something that the incident changed. Daniel Faraday’s theory that an event big enough can actually change the course of the future could apply to the incident itself. It was presumably a catastrophe on a grand scale. If detonating a hydrogen bomb might actually change the course of history, then the incident itself, if not caused by the hydrogen bomb, might also change the course of history. If it did, then the Losties’ purpose may not be to change the incident so much as to course-correct, by causing the incident, for a change that Dharma was in the process of implementing.
The Lostie-Dharma connection
The Dharma Initiative is very much like the Losties in purpose and intent. Their whole purpose for being on the Island was to change the future and prevent terrible things from happening. But it is possible that their efforts were precisely what ensured that those terrible things would happen. It is a classic case of a self-fulfilling prophecy, though this one would seem to be the grandfather of all self-fulfilling prophecies. The Losties are also now on a mission to change things, only they don’t really know what they might be changing. They think they are changing their own past and they (some of them) intend to prevent 815 from ever having crashed. But they may instead be changing the Dharma mistake and resetting the past on a much larger scale. Even if they cannot change anything that has happened so far, their plane crash included, I think they are there to prevent Dharma from doing something that would end up destroying everything. Perhaps they are there to tell the DI to install the button after the incident. Perhaps they are there to prevent the swan experiments from being implemented. Whatever they are there for, I’m beginning to think it is something we have overlooked as being incidental or as being just “whatever happened”, but which in fact plays a very important role in the grand scheme of things.
In my last blog, I analyze variables and develop a theory on who might be able to change things without causing a paradox. My conclusion is that John is the strongest variable, because he acts on faith, not on empirical knowledge of what is going to happen. Because of this, he can potentially change an event without negating the reason he set out to change it in the first place. If you try to change the past intentionally, it will cause a paradox since once the past has been changed you would negate your reason to go back and change it. And if you never went back you could not change the past, so it would not be changed. Which would indicate that you could only go back and do something if it was what had been done all along. Except if you didn’t change things for the purpose of changing them. If John went back and changed something, on faith alone, then even after the change, his future self would still go back and do it since he based his action not on knowledge of the past event that he was trying to change, but on faith.
Who's the variable in the Valenzetti Equation
So it would be consistent that the Dharma people, who were intentionally trying to change the course of events based on knowledge of the future, would never be able to enact this change, since if they were successful, their knowledge of the future would be negated and they could not have set out to change things without this knowledge. But if the Losties are trying to change their own past, and instead do something that negates the Dharma knowledge and thereby prevents the end of the world, but doesn’t change their own past, then in the future, they will still go back to try to change their past and no paradox will be created.
Of course I haven’t solved the puzzle, nor have I ended the big debate about whatever happened. But maybe I’ve inspired some new ways of thinking about it that go beyond whether Jack will cause or prevent the incident by detonating the hydrogen bomb. Please comment with any other ideas or new theories that might broaden the scope of the debate and maybe reach a little bit into season 6.