Wednesday, February 3, 2010
A Theory Explaining Lost.
I think the island is a roadside picnic, and that Jacob and the Smoke Monster (my band’s name, I called it) are three-dimensional protrusions of fourth-dimensional beings. Seriously.
I watched Lost at the Bell House last night after a spectacular performance by the band Previously On Lost. (Great show -soooOo geekcore – Frank Zappa meets Rocky Horror. I’ve had their song Wherever San Go stuck in my head all morning. Watching the show with a live audience was really fun too – a lot more fun then I was prepared for.)
After the show I heard a half dozen people talking about their theories, and ended up being interviewed by some guys about my own. I’ve been mulling mine for a couple years now and everything I saw on the show last nights leads me to believe I’m right.
I came to Lost late, so by the time I started watching, the Purgatory Theory had already been floated, convinced pretty much everybody and thoroughly debunked. My impression is that the guys writing the show may have started out with purgatory in mind, but after that theory took off they made a course correction.
I think the best explanation for what is happening on the show is a story called Road Side Picnic by Arkandy and Boris Strugatsky. I ran into the story in an essay by Fredric Jameson, in his book Archaeologies of the Future – which is only to say I am a geek, but I don’t want to give the impression that I have a huge library of vintage Eastern Block scifi on my shelves.
The concept of the Strugatskys' story is very simple: An encounter with an alien species is going to be so radically strange that we will be like ants trying to decipher the evidence left over from a roadside picnic. Imagine the scene from an ant's perspective. There will be matted grass where a blanket was laid out, cigarette butts, chicken bones, apple cores, a pool of oil and a deep rut left the departed couples car.
To the ants the apple core and chicken bones are the equivalent to finding pools of water that heal people or a massive magnetic anomaly power source thingy. The sudden appearance of a deep rut is the equivalent to an island that can move. Evidently I am not the first person to make this connection (I just saw that Lost is mentioned at the bottom of the story’s Wikipedea page – I’m a little devastated), but I think the next part is still mine.
In Arthur C Clark and Stanley Kubrick’s story 2001: A Space Odyssey human astronauts on the moon are confronted by a perfect geometrical figure – a rectilinear Monolith (and magnetic anomaly) - on the eve of the third millennium. The Monolith in their story was a fourth dimensional artifact: "How obvious—how necessary—was that mathematical ratio of its sides, the quadratic sequence 1:4:9! And how naive to have imagined that the series ended at this point, in only three dimensions!"
Clark and Kubrick’s story – intentionally or not – echoes Edwin A Abbott’s 1884 book Flatland, in which a 2-dimentional figure named A Square is awaiting the new millennium in his den when he is confronted a perfect geometrical figure, in this case a 3-dimentional sphere. Because A Square is two-dimensional, he experiences the sphere as a miraculous circle that can grow and shrink and has god-like powers of movement and perception (just like the Smoke Monster and the Monolith).
Abbott explains that higher dimensional beings are able look inside lower dimensional beings – That just as a 3-dimensional sphere can look ‘inside’ the closed figure of a square by looking down on it from above (a direction A Square can’t imagine), a 4th dimensional being, like the Monolith or the Smoke Monster, can look inside 3-dimentional being, like Dave Bowman or Jack, from the perspective of the 4th-dimention.
And just as the Monolith appears mysteriously from its extra dimension of hyperspace, and the Smoke monster appears and moves in ways that are mysterious, Abbott explains that from A Square’s perspective the sphere can wink in and out of A Square’s 2-dimensional world simply by going up or down, a direction the flat square has no experience with.
That's my theory and I'm sticking to it...
But here’s what I am curious to see: how will the writers of Lost come down on the difference between God and god-like? In all three stories the higher-dimensional beings – the Sphere, the Monolith, Jacob and the Smoke Monster (totally called it, mine) - have a moral dimension. Right now it appears the Lost guys are going for a good and evil split, lets hope they have someone with a theology background writing for them. Clark and Kubrick had a lot of NASA advisors, it’s to bad they didn’t reach out to the Anglicans for technical support as well.
In Flatland the 2 dimensional A Square soon realizes that while the sphere is a higher dimensional being it has no claim to moral superiority. That although the sphere’s powers of movement and perception are god-like in comparison to 2 dimensional beings, A Square is confronted by the reality that god-like is not God, and the sphere has no moral insight to match its x-ray vision and uncanny powers of action.
Abbott was a theologian writing at a time of heightened excitement about the moral revelations that might be supplied by the 4th dimension. It was thought by some at the time that the ghosts contacted during séances might be higher dimensional beings.
Clark and Kubrick's story echoes Abbott’s, but 2001 makes the error that Abbott felt was being made by Spiritualist. Clark said he and Kubrick joked that they had made the most expensive film about God in history. And Kubrick asked, “How would a sentient ant view the foot that crushes his anthill -- as the action of another being on a higher evolutionary scale than itself? Or as the divinely terrible intercession of God?”
But while the world is filled with asymmetrical power relationships, there is no single grain of evidence to support a correlation between power for action and moral insight. After all we can imagine the British Empire as a boot and Gandhi as an ant, but even so the god-like power of the boot for action has no corollary moral infallibility.
I hope Jack and the other human characters on Lost are given a more interesting moral dilemma then the two-dimensional choice between good and evil.