After Hours

The geekiest concepts from t.v.'s Lost

TechRepublic editors Sonja Thompson and Selena Frye will be sad to say goodbye to Lost this Sunday. Here's a little tribute to Lost and its geekiest concepts.

Now that the finale is almost upon us, I thought it only right that I should confess my Lost fandom with a post about the geekier aspects of the show. It wasn't really billed as a sci-fi show from the beginning; those aspects, along with all the mysterio-religio-fantasy elements, really evolved over time.

While I don't necessarily expect it to cohere in the end, it's been fun to chase the theories, red herrings, and easter eggs for six seasons. I applaud a show that's not afraid to plunge headlong into serious nerd territory, playing around with quantum physics, 1970s social experiments, Egyptian mythology, literary teases, and a healthy dose of Star Wars allusions.

Thankfully, I've had at least one TechRepublic Lostie to talk to over the show's run, my coworker Sonja Thompson. Many is the morning we've made our fellow editors' eyes glaze over theorizing about the meaning of hieroglyphics on a hatch door, the origins of the Smoke Monster, and why I always end up liking the villains and sneaks best (go, Ben!). Anyway, here is my list of Lost's geekiest concepts and their possible, real-world inspirations.

The numbers: 4-8-15-16-23-42

This has to be one of the biggest Lost mysteries. Why were these numbers important and were they really cursed, as Hurley suggested? They were his "winning" lottery numbers, after which his life hit the skids and the plane crashed; and then they were on the mysterious hatch door, and most intriguingly, they were the numbers that the island survivors had to punch into that 1970s-era computer every 108 minutes to prevent imminent doom.

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock

In Lostverse the numbers figured in the Valenzetti Equation, which mathematically predicted the time of human extinction through some global disaster. Keep in mind that this was never actually mentioned on the actual television show, but it is an important piece of Lost lore on the Internet, generally accepted as "canon."

A reasonable inspiration for the fictional Valenzetti Equation is, of course, the Doomsday Clock, maintained since 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago and meant to represent the likelihood of global thermonuclear war. Since 2007, other threats have been added into the mix, and the Doomsday Clock now stands at a rather nerve-wracking six minutes to midnight, although that's not the closest it's ever been.

Electromagnetism

Lost's writers have got a lot of mileage out of this one. In a nutshell, electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces of physics (along with strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, and gravity). As Wikipedia puts it, the electromagnetic force "is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life." Well, it's certainly responsible for about every theory regarding the island's bizarre happenings, most obviously, the initial plane crash that brought Jack Shepherd and company to the island in the first place. And with theoretical ties to Einstein's theory of special relativity and quantum electrodynamics, you have the makings of some very rich science-fiction storytelling.

There's even a physics professor who shows up in Season 4 by the name of Daniel Faraday, a little wink-nudge in the direction of Michael Faraday, the scientist responsible for Faraday's Law of Induction, which states that magnetic flux changing in time creates a proportional electromotive force. Personally, I think it accounts for that magnificent mane of Kate's (Evangeline Lilly photo credit: ABC, Inc.), which retains its gloss and wave no matter how many Smoke Monsters she has to outrun while plunging headlong through a humid jungle!

Spectral appearances of the dead, time travel, shadowy research initiatives, plane and ship wrecks, infertility, insanity, agelessness...yep, we've got you covered by some serious electromagnetic anomalies. One of my favorite marriages of fiction and science is the explanation of the island's "invisibility" found here in Lostpedia:

It has been suggested that the invisibility of the Island is caused by its incredibly strong magnetic field. Conventional physics suggests this is theoretically possible, but would require such a strong electromagnetic and gravitational field that it would wipe out all life on the planet....

An alternate explanation is revealed when Daniel Faraday notices that "light scatters different here." This scattering is due to the "Faraday Effect," in which a magnetic field will rotate a polarized light source. The Island's strong magnetic field has this effect on the light. This could explain why the Island is "invisible" to outsiders: light scattered through the earth's atmosphere is (partially) polarized. If the light reflected by the Island is rotated by the magnetic field, then it is possible the Island is difficult to view until you are within the magnetic field's range. This would also explain why the sky turned "purple" during the discharge event (e.g. due to light scattering effects).

Well, there you go!

Ow, my head hurts!

Credit: http://www.yourprops.com

I haven't even mentioned time travel in Lost, but that could take up more space than I should test your patience with. Characters "unstuck" in time, parallel universes, rapid time-shifting, a sojourn in the 1970s, a "donkey wheel" in the bowels of the island that seems to have the power to shift it in time/space and act as a portal for the mover...it's all in there.

The big finale is on Sunday, May 23, so if there are any closet Lost fans out there in the TechRepublic community, feel free to share your theories and comments below. Sonja and I will probably be crying in our Dharma beer on Monday.

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About Selena Frye

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

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