Monday, May 24, 2010


Everyone's talking about what exactly the alternate reality also known as the flash-sideways  timeline in Season 6 of Lost actually constitutes. What is this reality, where apparently as a result of  the H-bomb being exploded by Juliet back in 1977, Flight 815 never crashed at all, there were never any Losties, nor Others nor is there even any island left for them to crash on and have all those adventures even if F815 still happened to fail? What is this timeline where everyone's lives turned out totally ordinarily and totally differently? Is it all just dream? Is it purgatory? This is my take on it.

First of all, they are not flashes-sideways at all. Both what happens on the island in 2007 and also what happens in LA in 2004  are actually journeys into two parallel universes created when Juliet exploded the H-Bomb in 1977, at which point the universe split into two separate and thence totally unconnected realities. Just like in real life, we, the viewers are the observant gods bringing a quantum wave function into existence, but here we bring them into two separate existences: one set in LA in 2004 where there is no island, no Jacob and nothing else and where F815 never crashed and the other (what most people consider the main one) set in 2007, where there is still an island, and so still a Jacob and all the rest. When Juliet detonated the H-Bomb, an infinite number of probable outcomes could have resulted. In the real world, I mean the really real one in which we live only one of those infinitely probable outcomes can become reality - the one in which we live, but on a TV show like Lost, we get to follow two realities at once. Cool huh?

The first alternate timeline flashback we see is where Flight 815 hits turbulence but then lands safely at LAX. This ALT event is actually, as far as dates/times are concerned simultaneous with the time of Season 1, Episode 1 where Flight 815 also hits turbulence and crashes on the island in the original timeline. Except they now happen in two different universes or realities.

Juliet detonating the H-Bomb and the island getting blown up is actually not even the first parallel universe to have been created in Lost.

The original split was created long before that, when Ben moved the island and the remaining Losties started travelling randomly through time {actually no, it was even before that, when that fatal button was not pushed, the hatch imploded, and Desmond started travelling through time - remember we were warned the world would end if it didn't? Seems like most of us forgot though] and in fact a number of parallel universes would have been created, at least one for every instance during which they shifted through time - but the bomb exploding was the pivotal moment as far as the narrative goes and it has led to two separate outcomes which are both followed in Season 6.

There are not two timelines in Season 6 though. There is just one. The alternative timeline created when the Losties got stranded with the Dharma collective in 1974. The original pre-season 6 timeline is now totally gone. It does appear though that there have been two outcomes in two separate realities created by Juliet detonating the bomb. In one, set in 2004 the island has sunk, Flight 815 hits some turbulence and safely lands at LAX. In the second it is 2007 and the remaining Losties have been thrown forward from 1977 back onto the island in the present which has not sunk even though the bomb has exploded. Both exist side by by side if you like, without any connection to each other, a condition peculiarly permitted by Quantum physics (the more prosaic versions of it anyway).

The thing is, these two divergences couldn't last. Eventually the universe had to re-stabilize itself and the alternate one had to go. This theme is supported by Eloise Hawking telling Desmond, way back in S3/E8, that the universe always has a way of "course-correcting", a theme which is expanded on when Desmond unsuccessfully tries to save Charlie from death by variously altering future outcomes.

As for the outcome set in 2004 in LA, once all the Losties have been re-united in the church in the finale episode, the timeline where Flight 815 never crashed was completed and therefore collapsed back into the quantum aether from where it came so to speak. This is just totally my idea though really. The only solid proof we have for that is a bright white light enveloping the re-united Losties before they fade out. It could be that a big truck just drove by at that moment and shone its headlights through the windows and after they all hugged and cried and kissed they went home and lived happily ever after. We may never know. 

In any case, as Christian Shephard explains to Jack , they were "moving on".  In fact the whole purpose of the 2004 flashbacks in Season 6 was to have the universe successfully complete the necessary process of "course-correction" after Jack and Juliet created the major disruption of blowing up the island meaning in the alternative reality which that event created, Flight 815 never crashed and so on and forth.

So why am I hooked on this quantum physics parallel universes theory? Because it would seem to make the most sense within the overall context of Lost. To support the instances of time-travel in the narrative the show invokes exotic electro-magnetic radiation and ideas borrowed from Einstein's Theory Of Relativity to make the idea of time-travel plausible. In other words, it's certainly not magic or anything essentially spiritual.

For example, one of the props used in relation to the physicist Daniel Faraday who knows most about how the time-travelling is occuring is the Minkowski Diagram which describes the properties of space-time in Special Relativity and also plots objects which can travel backwards in time.

It also is the most plausible theory scientifically. If you did travel back in time and changed the past then two parallel but both equally real universes would evolve as described by quantum theory and the infamous Schroedinger's Cat thought experiment which shows that all possible realities exist simultaneously as more or less probable at all times, but only collapse into visceral, ontological reality if someone observes and measures them - an act of interaction. Us interacting with the cosmos is actually what keeps it real. The "many worlds" interpretation is still the most compelling way out of this obvious paradox and applies excellently to Lost as well, even though there are no direct references to quantum theory.

(Schroedinger's poor Cat is both dead and alive at the same time; two outcomes, two universes existing side by side, both as real and valid as each other in a state of superposition.)

In the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, when we sample a particular instance, that instance becomes the real thing to us, the observer but the wave function describing all the other possible outcomes does not collapse. They are just no longer available to us.  In Lost however, we get to see three different samples or outcomes which have been caused by the time-travel antics of the Losties.

Of course in the second post-1977 outcome the island is still there and it's 2007 presumably and there also are Jacob and the Black Smoke and the rest of them and the Others led by Dogen and the drama leads to its final conclusions.

The different timelines that we follow in Lost are actually the single universe in a state of superposition caused by the backward time-travel events in the series.

The only thing not at all very scientific is the idea of the Losties in ALT gradually "remembering' the original reality where they all crashed and lived on the island. (Which hadn't even properly happened yet in the simultaneity of the original timeline - just before the very last scenes of Lost, Claire again  gives birth to Aaron, which means the very last moments of Lost in the post-bomb timeline correspond with the time of Season 1 Episode 20 when she originally gave birth to him.) 

In any case, even so, the three parallel universes "original timeline" and "alternative timeline 2004" and "alternative timeline 2007", could have absolutely no connection or communication with each other. No matter and no information whatsoever, including memories and intuitions could pass between one and the other. Not even ghosts or spirits, if they existed could pass between parallel universes. The First Law of Thermodynamics absolutely demands this conservation, and even ghosts, apparitions, smoke monsters and memories are subject to it.

Actually, there is also no need for course-correction of the Universe and no actual possibilty of a parallel universe disappearing into white light. If a parallel universe did exist because of an instance of retarded interaction (ie a backwards time-travel event), then it would exist just as much as ours does for the rest of its history. We'd just never have any awareness at all of its existence and no way of discovering it. However, Einstein's  stern dictum about nothing travelling faster than the speed of light pretty much means we can be sure there's no parallel universes floating about in cosmic closets. Although there is the problem in quantum physics of so-called "spooky action at a distance" of course, but I digress...

However, Lost is of course full of stuff like Destiny and Fate and deja vu and uncanny coincidences, so we'll give them poetic license there; but, as far as all the purgatory theories go: I doubt the writers would appeal to anything as concretely religious and unscientific as purgatory or as cliched as dreams for that matter.

So as for the ending, all the timelines are real after all; except for the post-bomb 2004 timeline (if you follow my theory) which was only real for a while, until the  self-correction was resolved and the 2004 post-bomb timeline collapsed back into the quantum foam, and in reality there were now only three original survivors who definitely, finally, made it off the island: Kate, Sawyer and Claire in addition to Miles, Richard and Frank whom we also see flying away. Whether they made it back to safe land we'll never know. Whether Desmond ever got off the island we'll never know either.

Ultimately, what I find very ironic is how willingly and happily everyone latched on to the "religious" explanation of a spiritual limbo or purgatory to explain the sideways timeline story of Lost rather than consulting science, which can explain it just as well and much better in fact, which explanation, if Lost's writers ever choose to break their radio silence I believe they will confirm. It reflects kind of sadly on our consumerist, logo driven world when all you have to do is throw in a church and some religious symbols and everyone suddenly thinks they are looking at the "after-life".

At least there's sequel material there: The six folk who left can crash on another mysterious island with strange electro-magnetic space-time warping powers and then maybe they can all hook up somehow with Hugo, Ben, Rose and Bernard and anyone else who was left if there was, maybe by teleportation; and so the fun can start all over again, ha ha.


electric said...

It, too, happened in Donnie Darko --> when the plane crashed into the Darko residence (why it involves something blowing up or crashing down is beyond me) a TANGENT UNIVERSE appeared. Also kinda-sorta happens whenever we experience deja vu. =)

electric said...

Oh...and in the Back To The Future trilogy (specially part 2). And The Butterfly Effect. lol.

Daniel said...

Also in Gregory Benford's novel Timescape - he exploits it brilliantly.