The Science of “Lost” Explained

By Edit Posted in Entertainment, TV

Unless you’ve already traveled to the future and figured out how Lost will end, chances are you’re trying to put this puzzle together. And it’s not like your Grandma’s favorite cuddly kitten puzzle. This one is a doozy. With unfamiliar sciences abounding, Lost is as mysterious as the contents of Donald Trump’s ample coif. Since the U.S. government rescheduled the State of the Union Address so as not to conflict with the Lost premiere, shouldn’t you at least take a few moments to try to figure out Lost’s enigmas?

A variety of sciences and pseudosciences play major roles in Lost. These fields have complex theoretical underpinnings which are difficult to fully comprehend. Visualizing many of these concepts is nearly impossible due to their extreme unfamiliarity. I’ve never seen a squirrel tap dancing, but I can picture it because I have a frame of reference for both squirrels and tap dancing. Traveling at the speed of light and powerful electromagnetic fields I have no frame of reference for. That being said, even the simplest simpleton can understand some of the basics of these sciences.

(Please note that these are all scientific theories, meaning they are not fully proven, and many may never be, as some are likely complete crocks of ahem – “Brown Matter”.

Time Travel

In season five of Lost, several characters were seen hopping through time. This was resolved by John Locke spinning a big wheel (the very same wheel Ben turned to move the island). We do not yet know how the wheel is related to time travel and science seems to offer no method for “big wheel” related time travel. A lot of scientists have, however, come to believe in the possibility of time travel. But the squabbling scientists are not in agreement on how to do it. Here are some theories:

  • Move Really Quickly

Good ol’ Albert Einstein had a lot to say on time travel. According to Einstein, time is not consistent (it is relative).

Picture a motionless bystander…for the sake of demonstration, let’s say Katie Holmes. When she sees Tom Cruise traveling close to the speed of light in a spaceship, to her it will appear that time has slowed for him. He called this “time dilation”. Additionally, Albert Einstein claimed that when Tom returned, less time would have passed for him than passed for Katie down on Earth (making the age difference less gross, but not making him any less of a douche).

So, by that theory if you travel close to the speed of light and then return to Earth, you’ll have time traveled since more time will have elapsed on Earth than passed for you on your trip.

It’s confusing, but that’s our Alby.

Obviously, getting anywhere close to the speed of light would require a power source stronger than any our society currently possesses. However, that’s not to say the Lost islanders don’t possess one.

  • Outer Space Enigmas

Einstein had his fingers in this one, too. He thought that the gravity of large masses (mainly stars and black holes) could warp time and space.

The notion of the wormhole is related to Einstein’s theory. To understand wormhole theory, picture a piece of fabric. If you fold it over on itself, you can prick a pin through one side to the other. Regardless of how much fabric separated these two points, the pin is able to travel quickly between them. Some scientists view space-time as a fabric that can bend and wormholes as the pin connecting two distant points. If a person could travel through a wormhole, it would make travel between distant points in time and/or space possible.

However, no wormholes have ever been discovered or created. But they’re really popular in science fiction, so at least they don’t need to feel too badly about themselves.

  • Tipler Cylinder

This theory allows for both forward and backward time travel. To make your own Tipler Cylinder, you’ll need a very big cylinder. Also, it will need to be very long (calculations indicate that it will need to be infinitely long, so get to work now). Then, get it spinning really fast and fly your spaceship into the light cones that it will be dragging. If you hit it so that it is rotating towards you, you’ll go to the past. If it’s rotating away from you, you’ll travel to the future. Sadly, you will be unable (theoretically) to travel to any point before you created your cylinder, nor can you travel to any point after it is destroyed (presumably by an army of robot pigeons). (if you’re into this concept check out the indie hit PRIMER here)

Note: A larger mass (larger than the sun) or a faster rotation speed may mean you can slightly reduce the length of your cylinder.

Suspiciously, Frank Tipler proposed this theory in 1974 – the year the islanders got stuck in when they finally stopped time traveling. Additionally, physicist Robert Forward thought that a similar cylinder could be created with an atomic nucleus in a magnetic field – sound like the island? However, Forward believed it would only be able to send information through time.

  • Many Worlds Theory

A lot of very confusing math and physics are used to justify the Many Worlds Theory. If you ignore the science behind it (which has neither been proven nor refuted), the ideas are pretty simple. There are several variations on the Many Worlds Theory, but they all have the same basic gist. Sometimes a universe will split into separate parallel universes where different events play out. So while you’re here reading this, other versions of you (that you are entirely unaware of) may simultaneously be off climbing Mount Everest, riding a shark, and partying at the Playboy Mansion. But don’t try to contact yourself to score an invite – theorists say there would be no method for communication between universes.

This theory allows for infinitely many universes to simultaneously exist playing out separate realities. While scientists don’t think that it would be possible to travel between these realities, if it were possible one could conceivably travel through time and/or to different versions of the present. (if you’re mentally stuck, think like in the show SLIDERS see the intro here)

Teleportation

When Locke turns the big wheel and stops his friends from bouncing through time, he mysteriously disappears and reappears in Tunisia. This appears to be the result of teleportation.

  • Wormholes

You’re old friend the wormhole is back, only this time it’s used to explain teleportation. Some theorize that going through a wormhole could allow you to travel quickly from one location to another.

  • Dematerialization

Teleportation theories often require that an object (or person) be dematerialized. The little bits are then recreated and put back together elsewhere. This is fun in theory, but there’s one big problem – if a person is copied and put back together they would become merely a replica of the original. So unless you think a photocopy of your butt is as good as your butt, you might want to leave this one to science fiction.

  • Teleportation: Mission Accomplished

Recently, a team of scientists from Joint Quantum Institute had a major teleportation success. They teleported information from one ion to another by shooting a laser at them, causing them to release photons. One ion picks up the other’s photon and in so doing takes its information. Basically, it’s an itty bitty reaction happening to itty bitty things. But while it may seem small, this is the cutting edge of teleportation research; don’t expect to teleport yourself to spring break in Cabo.

Electromagnetism

The idea of an electric field was first proposed by chemist/physicist Michael Faraday (not Lost’s Daniel Faraday – same surname, different nerd). These occur around an electric charge and can affect other electrical charges in the area. Additionally, a change in a magnetic field may produce an electric field. Similarly, a change in an electric field can produce a magnetic field. Thus, an electromagnetic field is produced.

The weird thing is electromagnetism seems affect pretty much everything – people, light, objects…the works. It is unclear what a strong electromagnetic field could do.

Pseudoscience

These things probably aren’t real, but let’s face it – fake science is often more fun than real science. Additionally, these might pertain to what’s happening on the Lost island, so it’s your duty as an educated viewer to understand them.

  • Special Spots on the Earth

There seem to be certain “special” spots on the Earth in Lost. The island, the desert in Tunisia, and the Antarctic all seem to have some special powers in the show.  Similarly, naturalist Ivan Sanderson claimed that there were several points on the Earth (“vile vortices” as he called them) that had unusual qualities. These sites include the famed Bermuda Triangle, Japan’s Devil’s Sea, and Easter Island. More notably for Lost theorists, a spot near Fiji, the desert near Tunisia (though actually in Algeria), and the poles are included in this list. These sites are associated with weather anomalies, disappearances, and other various mysteries. Although, no suspicious smoke creature sightings have been reported.

  • The Philadelphia Experiment

Conspiracy theorists claim that in 1943 the United States government conducted an experiment that went horribly awry. Stories vary greatly about what sort of research the government was trying to conduct (though most stories involve Einstein). Theorists say the ship then disappeared and reappeared moments later in a different location (teleportation). When the ship rematerialized, some crew members were reportedly partially embedded in parts of the ship. Others were said to have gone mad. After the event one supposedly disappeared in the middle of a bar fight. And, as is the case in all good conspiracy theories, the government is covering it up.

Going crazy, disappearing and reappearing, weird experiments – sounds like Lost to me…or a family reunion.

Lost airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (ET) on ABC.

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