Friday, February 29, 2008

My LOST Theory

I never thought I'd post a theory about the show LOST online, but after tonight's episode I had to get some more input on an idea I've been kicking around. I need some input on the theory, especially from some mathematicians. Please, somebody let me know what you think! (I tried to post this on LOST-Theories.com, but they seem to be having technical problems.)

I never thought I'd add my own musings about LOST online, but after tonight's episode, I am seeking someone who can confirm or disprove a theory I've been kicking around.

After an attempt at a Charactonym Theory, in which I tried to identify meanings connected to all the names in LOST, I noticed something: Most folks out there online are assuming Jack (and, for that matter, Christian) Shephard's names are Christian references, associating Jack's role as the shepherd of the flock of castaways with Jesus' description of Himself as "The Good Shepherd". But I realized that, while many of the other names are spelled exactly like historical characters they directly relate to (Locke, Hume, Rousseau, etc.), if Jack's name is a reference to The Good Shepherd, why spell it differently? So I started looking into the name Shephard, and guess what I found? There's a mathematical problem called "Shephard's Problem." It relates to projections in a hyperplane. Now, I don;t know much about geometry, and I would love it if someone would explain this to a layman in plain English, but it seems to me this directly relates to the very nature of the island. Sure, the other names relate to writers and philosophers (almost down to a one), and that is what the bulk of the how is about: how these people interact outside of society, with each other and with nature. But maybe Jack's name relates more to the nature of the anomolous island itself.

One of the names I couldn't connect to a thinker is Benjamin Linus. But, if this theory regarding Shephard holds water, might his name refer to Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux? After all, while the other characters are part of the philosophical conflict amongst the survivors, Linus is arguably more involved in the conflict with the nature of the island itself. Also, according to rumor, he's something of an open-source character, his longevity motivated by calls from the public. If that's the case, I am curious to see how Linus eventual role (a surprisingly moral agent, perhaps?) might relate to Linus' Law, which states: "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". Might this relate to a relationship between viewers (either withing the story, or viewers at home) and the superficiality, reality, or problems of the island?

Can some mathematician explain how Shephard's Problem does or does not relate to the bending of space time evident on the island, especially in tonight's episode?

17 comments:

@bdul muHib said...

My thought tonight was that, Lost has lost it. I could make absolutely no sense of tonight. Its one thing to have a mystery that gets us intrigued. But when you pile on so many layers of mystery that the audience has no hope of following you- well, why follow the show at all then? I'm starting to be inclined to stop watching. I want to have some grasp on what's going on. And I shouldn't be expected to go back and review every previous episode before watching the current one to have a clue about what's going on. It's not Dostoyovsky, after all.

Eugenia said...

If you can't follow it, then you are not paying close attention or you are not intelligent enough. Tonight's episode was amazing.

@bdul muHib said...

Wow. Eugenia's a ... nice person.

Benjamin Gorman said...

I actually know @bdul muhib, and have to say, for the record, that the ad hominem attack on his intelligence misses the mark by a wide margin. VEry bright guy. That being said, why shouldn't we expect our T.V. to be demanding? Sure, it's not Dostoevsky (more Phillip K. Dick or Stanislav Lem), but shouldn't it be rewarded rather than criticized for not being American Gladiators or Jerry Springer?

@bdul muHib said...

I agree, Ben. TV should be demanding and stimulating. But, see, I thought West Wing was like that- something akin to Dickins. You needed to pay attention to every moment, and replay it, to really follow what was going on; it was just so rich. You walk away for a second was like skipping five pages of Great Expectations.

My deal with this last episode of Lost, was that it wasn't deep, but rather extremely confused. It felt like it was trying to confuse us, by multiple bait-and-switches so that the audience never knew what was going to happen. I could be wrong, but I'm beginning to feel like the point isn't to tell a story anymore, but to keep the audience geussing. There's the possibility, like I said, that if I had every episode of Lost on my fingertips, I could keep track and understand the last episode. But unlike a book, we can't go back a few pages to see what happened, or quickly skim over the previous book in a series if we've forgotten what happened. This is three years of episodes (so far). I think it's great that there's all kind of Easter Eggs for the discriminating viewer to go back to Episode 4 and see how it's all connected. But for most of us, we don't have the time to devote to watching only Lost. Easter Eggs are one thing. But I feel like I'm now required to memorize every episode to understand continuity in every coming episode. And that's a bad idea for good writing or keeping an audience. Its a really bad idea to not be clear when you start playing with temporal dynamics.

Benjamin Gorman said...

I didn't find the last episode particularly hard to follow. I know it mucked with our previous sense of the events, but not so much that it invalidated the history we've been offered, an error lots of stories make(and not just sci-fi, but the whole "It was only a dream" bunch). My expectation is that this story will work out like a very complex mystery; we'll all have our guesses, and in the end, when things are revealed, some of us will be closer than others, but we'll all get some closure. Now, that may not turn out to be true, and then we'll have every reason to be outraged. Or, perhaps the ending will just stink, and you and I, as writers, will be disappointed, but we'll also understand that endings are always hard, and the more invested the audience is in the world, the less they want to be satisfied as it comes to a close. But before we get there, the show works because it entices us to speculate, and rewards those who have been exposed to all the various things to which it alludes. I'm hesistant to comapare it to Shakespeare, but it is like it in this way, at least: just as my students struggle with Shakespeare because they don't get biblical and classical allusions, many of us struggle because we didn't catch allusions in Lost, or pick up on tiny details which become important later on. That being said, I think we, like my students, will find that the general story arc makes sense to us in the end. At least I hope so, or I'm going to be pretty ticked. I guess what I'm saying is, you shouldn't need to go back and catch up on the minutia in order to continue watching, because it will come 'round to a coherent whole for you. Or it won't in which case it will be just as disappointing for the geeks who try to catch every detail and even go so far as to share theories on their blogs. I'm inclined to believe that a story like LOST, just like any piece of literature, rewards the reader for close attention within the experience itself, but has to be satisfying on the surface to be really great. So, we'll see if LOST ends up measuring up, but I'm still hopeful.

@bdul muHib said...

See, I think a difference between the mediums of moving pictures and the written word, is you can't easily go back and look something up in the former. Even with a fast-forward, there is not currently as easy of a way as it is for me to do a word search in an online document, or scan through one of my books. It's a lot easier for me to verify that tricky Biblical refernence in Shakes Spear then it is to remember that bit that a current episode is referring to from the 5th episode of the 1st season. For this reason, I don't think the video format should require as much of its readers as the written.

I think its especially important when you're dealing with time travel to get things straight and clear. Remember the final episode of last season? We were left thinking, what the hell is going on? They hadn't clued us in yet that they were doing flash-forwards, and, while that was certainly one possibility, you really couldn't know that's what the authors were doing there. It could have been an alternate reality. In a show that's been two years of all past and present, I think the show is more enjoyable if there's some signifier that we are now looking at the future, and that's also now an option.

This last episode, though- it played with some neat ideas, sure. It built on the great introduction from the previous episode, that there is some sort of time warp going on. But, I'd submit that, as of yet, the universe in this last episode was not internally consistent. It had alternate realities created, and will probably in the future do some quantum thing, but we don't yet know the current reality well enough to appreciate it. They laid out the groundwork for the relationship too skimpily, too long ago, for a video format, for us to really appreciate the changes, and what was going on. I'm left trying to remember what the old relationship and setup was like, between the heiress and the Scottish guy, but recognizing that that's not all in one episode, but scattered over a good number of episodes, that I don't have the time or inclination to go back and track.

Long and short- this week's intro episode with the MTV pop-ups will definitly be worth watching.

Anonymous said...

From BitterBill (who still can't remember his login ID) - I'm a week late to this and my recollection at this point as to the details of last week's episode are fuzzy), but I'll throw this out anyhow. I recall feeling more satisfied at the end of last week's episode than I have in awhile, I feel like the story is moving out from discrete and confusing pieces to a greater understanding of the whole picture. Hopefully Ben is right, and we will get some resolution at some point, but I do feel like we are moving away from background and into more explanation. Maybe just me, and I could be way off, but I feel like I understand more of what's going on now than I did last season. (Could also be that I'm one of those who spends too much time rehashing old episodes on the lostpedia). - Bill

Benjamin Gorman said...

Paige (my wife) and I were talking abut this very issue after the first episode of this season: she was recounting that her sister-in-law complains that the show is too convoluted and difficult to follow, but we feel this season has given us a mass of information. Sure, so many of the answers leave us with more questions, but I don't think anyone can make the argument that the show leaves us in the dark. We keep getting tons of info. I hope this continues and leads to some resolution, but as long as they keep feeding my curiosity (and stoking it with more interesting questions) I'm hooked. A colleague of mine finish our emails to one another on Thursdays with a countdown. Say what you will about Dostoyevsky (and I'm a huge fan) but I never did a countdown until I get back to my copy of The Brothers Karamozov. Less than 24 hours left!

Lori H. said...

I have to agree with Ben (and not just because I’m the colleague who counts down every Thursday with him) because I think that for every question that is raised, there are little nuggets of truth revealed each week—especially this year when compared to previous ones. I was frustrated at last season somewhat and more than irked about such a long wait for the return, but now that it’s back, I eagerly look forward to it all week. And when it’s on, I literally sit on the edge of my seat, and either start each commercial break with an “Oooooo!” or an “OHMYGOD!” I was/am a long-time “The X-Files” fan and have felt a void until I discovered Lost second-season. Like X-files, the questions left unanswered usually outnumber what is answered, and yet somehow it is enough to keep us tuning in each week—at least it is for me. Now, I’ll admit the detail and inter-connectedness of it all IS hard to retain each week. My husband and I last year had a Lost marathon and watched ALL of first and second season and then half of 3rd season that we had taped—all in a matter of about 3 weeks (I was on maternity leave, and he was on disability leave—it is in no way something we would typically have done or had the time to do). I was struck during that time at how many little details we saw that we had missed the first time--I had many Eureka moments throughout, and I DID keep wondering how much I would’ve missed had I only watched it once a week. The other thing I loved about watching it consecutively is you have a truer sense of time—it has been 4 years for us but only 90 or so days for those on the island. Just like “24,” viewers can’t get the FULL affect of “real” time once a week for 4 or 5 months. (I’m convinced that on DVD IS the way to really watch it, but who could wait for that really?) Anyway, I still think that the average viewer and certainly the careful, avid fan is going to catch and ponder the details and inter-connectedness. Hell, we’re all blogging about it, aren’t we? I also think last week’s was atypically upbeat at the end. I was dead-sure they were going to kill off Desmond, and I was going to be royally cheesed-off, but was pleasantly surprised—he actually finds and talks to Penny?! Didn’t see that happening for at least 2 more of our years! So . . . there are 16 minutes left until the next episode, and I’m going to go enjoy the end of last week’s.

@bdul muHib said...

Well, watching it this week with the MTV Pop-Ups really helped. Like how the sequence of numbers Desmond has to tell Faraday were the same numbers that were plugged in regularly into the machine in the first two seasons. I'd forgotten all about that.

@bdul muHib said...

I was just thinking it had been way too long since we'd heard the voices, and how it won't happen because they never come in the midst of rain...Now where's that darn Black Smoke?...

Lori H. said...

Well I have a theory about the black smoke--it appears as the dead of the island (Yemi, Ben's mother, Christian, and then there's Walt who as far as we know is still alive, so I guess that blows my theory slightly) anyway, I think it is the dead--and what if the dead is Jacob since the man rocking in the chair in the cabin early this season when Hugo stumbled onto it WAS Christian Shephard? (Ben--we talked about this once I think). Anyway, this peach of a therapist Harper must also be dead (Juliet refers to her as "she WAS my therapist") and how else could she get Ben's message except through Jacob? (and just where ARE Ben's "people" anyway? I know most were blown up on the beach, but there were more--where did they go?) So, my other theory is about next week's episode. My husband thought the "man on the boat" to be Sayid--since he's there and in the future works for Ben. Perhaps. But then he and I had a revelation--CHARLIE! When Desmond talks to Penny on the phone, she says his friend "Charlie"--she says HIS NAME. At that moment it serves the purpose of showing Desmond gets his memory back, but looking back, I am pretty sure when Charlie sees Penny on the screen in "the looking glass" station he never says his own name before Mikhail comes along. What do you think?

@bdul muHib said...

Interesting thoughts. I think, re: Ben's post on the meaning of names, Looking Glass Station is important, as is Christian Shepherd. I'm thinking the man on the boat is Walt's dad. Or here's a freaky idea- because of the time dialation, its old Walt.

They had to of course remove Walt from the series. Like 24, this series is bounded in time, with every episode being (roughly) one day. But the Walt actor grows up a little more quickly- or it's more obvious than it is for adult actors. But what if young Walt we now see appearing 4 years later, or with make-up, even older, because of the time dialation?

Black Smoke as the dead- I don't see it. Its too self-aware. I think its an entity in itself.

Lori H. said...

We had also figured Michael or Walt at first and now I'm going back to that--I just watched the end of that episode on-line and debanked my own theory: the first thing out of Charlie's mouth is his whole name, Oceanic survivor blah-de-blah. Damn! And I thought I had this original idea.

As for Walt--you're right about the age--it was so obvious when he talks to Locke in the pit--he grew a foot or so! I DID think it funny when Locke later talks about it and says it was Walt "only taller."

@bdul muHib said...

See. This is what I'm talking about. The whole time, I'm thinking the episode is taking place in the future. At the end, I'm thinking that he went to this other birth rather than his own. Then he says he just got married two months ago. I think, bummer, they got a divorce, and these two births happen on the same day. It's only in the last few minutes that I figure out its a flash forward and a flash back. It feels like the writer's are just playing "Gotcha" with the audience, to find ways to trick them. That's no fun, if you feel like the writers are trying to put one over on you.

Benjamin Gorman said...

Again, I loved tonight's episode, though I'm crushed to hear about Jin's demise. Certainly it's a gotcha' moment,but not in some hack-writer "it was all a dream" kind of way. At this point they've established the time games well enough that we go into each flash wondering when it is, and they provide just enough clues that we think we should know. I'm certain that if we went back we'd find a lot more and kick ourselves. Still, I don't begrudge them that. For all intents and purposes, the episode worked: it was engaging, entertaining, provided us with lots of new information, and propelled the story.Certainly we feel tricked when we get the ending, but look at it this way: We get the ending! We figured it out. Had we been new to the show, or unintelligent (as some of us have been falsely accused of here) we would be saying "Huh?" Sure, the show's writers get to lord their superior knowledge over us a bit with such a gimmick, but I'm so tired of the inverse in television that I relish a show where I'm having to keep up, rather than a show that insults my intelligence. And it's not just the medium. Lots of books and plays, even those touted as "classics", often don't demand this much engagement. I completely agree that this episode was more gimmick-y than most, and were it the final episode I'd be pissed, but within the context of the larger story I'm more than satisfied.