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Time Travel and Free Will

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In an earlier blog, I offered the theory that if the current OT Losties (for example, Jack) could intercept the time-traveling versions of the Losties just prior to the outrigger chase and kill Locke, then this would prevent Locke from turning the Frozen Donkey Wheel and would effectively mean that none of the events of S1-5 would subsequently take place. Almost everyone objected to this, mainly on the grounds of "Whatever Happened, Happened", and I backed into a corner. I do not propose to re-open this argument, but I do want to look at the arguments given to me that such an event simply could not happen.


Typical of the arguments given was that Time-Travelling Sawyer was in the boat who was fired on; if he did not get to go back to Dharma times via Locke's turning of the FDW, he would not have ended up on the island in 2007 when the outrigger chase happens (will happen). However, there is an interesting paradox here. For Sawyer, the event happened in his past. For Jack, who I proposed might stop or even kill Locke, the event is still in his future.


Part of the problem is that in conventional time traveling stories, and almost certainly in Lost, the writers ignore relativity. Relativity basically says that everyone carries their own subjective version of time with them; there is no such thing as "universal" time. If it is 4pm in New York, it is not 4pm for a Martian Colonist, nor is it 4pm for an alien life form in a spaceship travelling between two distant Galaxies. Time is dependent upon speed and distance. Relativity also tells us that the notion of simultaneity of events must also be discarded, and we must recognise that observers will sometimes disagree on the order in which events occur.


This 'relativistic' notion of time is absolutely consistent with what we would expect in a time-travelling scenario: each time traveller would necessarily carry their own internal 'subjective' time with them, which could just be measured on on a wristwatch; events for them which occurred at 4pm on their wristwatch would not necessarily occur at 4pm on someone else's wristwatch, and just because one time traveller witnessed events occurring in a particular order, does not mean that another time traveller would necessarily have witnessed the events in the same order.


Many people have argued that an event which has yet to happen for someone (e.g. TT Sawyer and TT Locke being chased in the outrigger) in the timeline we are observing cannot be altered, if someone who is co-existing in that timeline (e.g. the 'current' version of Sawyer) has already experienced those events via a previous time travelling episode, and consequently, such events are in their past. The basis of the argument is that this would be altering "whatever happened, happened". However, if we follow through this argument, we can see that, in principle, if anyone travels into the future, and then returns to the past, then the flow of events in the time period between this 'past' event and the 'future' event is now fixed, and "Whatever Happened, Happened". However, for those who never time travelled, and whose 'present' is the point to which the time traveler returned after visiting the future, none of the events has happened yet, but, as a consequence of someone else's time travelling, their futures are now mapped out, and so their future is effectively fixed.

If the future is fixed, what does this mean for free will?


Clearly there is something amiss here, and a moment's thought means that the three ideas, "time-travelling", "whatever happened, happened", and "free will" are mutually inconsistent, and one of these must give.

In Lost, we have been shown time travelling scenarios all the way through Season 5. The notion that characters have free will (as opposed to their futures being pre-determined) is an important principle on which the show is built. If this is discarded, then the show effectively negates the premise and impact of some of the major events (such as Linus killing Jacob). The only consequence that we can be left with, is that WHH, as a principle is not actually a valid and legitimate concept within the confines of the show. In other words, just because one of the observers in an encounter has already witnessed an event, does not mean that the event must happen in precisely the same way when another observer experiences it for the first time. We should also note that WHH is simply a mantra spoken by characters rather than an actual premise of the show, and I believe that we will, and must, see this mantra overturned in the final episodes.

"Whatever Happened, Happened" may therefore be one of the huge red herrings the writers have thrown at us, and maybe we should have seen this earlier. If, on the other hand, the show sticks to WHH as a principle, then it will be effectively denying that any character has free will.

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