Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pearl and the Power of Empathy

In the Island Is the Brain of the World, I analogized the Island to a natural neural network that integrates inhabitants' minds with each other and the environment. In 2001: A Lost Odyssey, I expanded on this concept, introducing the notion of an intermental network wherein brains are linked to harness their collective computing power to solve a problem like the Valenzetti Equation.

I now believe I've worked out a possible pseudo-scientific account of how the aforementioned mental linkage and networking is accomplished. The keys are observation (purportedly Karen Degroot's pet value) and empathy (my own personal favorite).

An Anthropologist on Mars

I've been fascinated by the power of empathy ever since I read Oliver Sacks's collection of case studies An Anthropologist on Mars about people with autism and related disorders. The title is actually a self-description by Temple Grandin, a famous high-functioning autistic who teaches livestock behavior at Colorado State University.

By her own admission, Dr. Grandin lacks any instinctive ability to read the emotional states of people around her -- a feat most of us take for granted. She's had to learn to do so through careful study of rules (e.g., smile=happy) like an anthropologist might prepare for a close encounter with Martians whose nonverbal emotional cues differ from our own.

What's really interesting about Dr. Grandin is that, despite her difficulties empathizing with humans, she has no problem doing so with animals. In fact, she's devoted her career to designing more humane livestock holding and slaughter facilities. I remember a light bulb going off when I read that: feeling the pain of others is really the key to decency...usually.

Mirror, Mirror
It turns out that the neurological basis of empathy is a hot topic in scientific circles these days. Interest was first sparked by the discovery in monkey brains of specialized neurons devoted to imitation and mimicry. Subsequent research, including brain scans of people interacting with each other, suggests that we possess these so-called "mirror" neurons, too.

The apparent purpose of mirror neurons is to mimic the neurological states of those we observe. Writing before the explosion of research into these neurons, the noted neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran described their discovery as "the single-most important 'unreported' (or at least unpublicized) stories of the decade." As Dr. Ramachandran explained:
With knowledge of these [mirror"> neurons, you have the basis for understanding a host of very enigmatic aspects of the human mind: "mind reading" empathy, imitation learning, and even the evolution of language. Anytime you watch someone else doing something (or even starting to do something), the corresponding mirror neuron might fire in your brain, thereby allowing you to "read" and understand another's intentions, and thus to develop a sophisticated "theory of other minds." (Full text here.)
Scientists like Dr. Ramnachandran hypothesize that the loss of mirror neurons might explain autistic disorders, which are characterized by lack of empathy. And Pseudo-scientists claim such neurons could explain psychic powers. A character on the NBC show Heroes with the ability to mimic the powers of mutants around him is described as "hyper empathic."

Every Breath You Take...
All of which brings me back to the purpose of Pearl Station, which I'm assuming is the "?" on the Blast Door Map. The Pearl Orientation film informs viewers that the station's purpose is to monitor the psychological experiment in Swan. Yet the pile of unread logs strongly suggests this explanation was a ruse.

Other clues point to some other purpose. We know, for example, that Karen DeGroot preached: "Careful observation is the only key to true and complete awareness." And the Blast Door Map bears the mysterious Latin inscription "Credo nos in fluctu eodem esse," which translates to "I think we're on the same wavelength."

I believe the real function of Pearl was to facilitate mental linkage between its occupants and the Swan subjects. The hope was that careful observation would activate mirror neurons (i.e., empathy) coordinating the neurological states of those stations' occupants. Eventually, everyone in the network would get on the same mental "wavelength."

Pearl's central location suggests it was a nexus of some Island-wide network. The odd part is that Pearl's Orientation only mentions watching Swan, implying the link is just between those two stations. But Pearl is only 5 of 6, and the camera therein suggests some other station (and observers) could have completed the intermental network.

The Power of Empathy
In prior posts, I've cited the strange encounter between Kate and the unconscious Sawyer as the best illustration (besides the whispers) of mental linkage at work. Viewed through the lens of empathy and mirror neurons, the example makes even more sense. To review, Kate is nursing a feverish Sawyer in Swan while haunted by memories of Wayne.

All of Kate's attention and affection are focused on Sawyer, placing her mind on the same wavelength as his. She transmits dark thoughts of daddy to Sawyer, who transmits back a kiss, which is how he'd comfort her if conscious. But because they don't realize what's happening, their minds get crossed like the Flash and Green Lantern in Walt's comic.

As a result, Sawyer starts talking like Wayne and Kate plants a wet one on Jack (also an object of Kate's affection) who then runs off to chop wood like Sawyer. As Hurley says to Jack shortly thereafter: "It's like, transference."

Another example of this effect is the unusually strong connection between Rose and Bernard. Recall that she was sure Bernard had survived the crash -- the result of her receiving signals from his mind? A similar dynamic might even explain the significance of Desmond and Penelope's relationship -- their thoughts are on the same wavelength.

That latter possibility of long distance transmission and reception off the Island raises intriguing possibilities. The premise of my theory 108: Restoring the Lost Sun was that the Island's non-metallic minerals (e.g., quartz?) made it a kind of natural transceiver. Maybe Dharma's ultimate goal was a worldwide intermental network.

I'll explore such a scenario further in a revised version of that theory. The relevant question here is why Dharma failed. If the Island is still so successful at linking minds, why do the Numbers remain unchanged? What could possibly have gone wrong? The "sickness" (which I believe refers to this linking effect) is a big clue.

Neither orientation film mentions the quarantine or vaccine because they came after Dharma's official end. My suspicion is that the Initiative worked all too well. The Island not only linked the original participants' minds, it actually created an emergent species capable of transitioning between individual and collective consciousness at will.

The problem is that members of this newly evolved species have lost much of their empathy for humanity at large. For some reason, they view the majority of their former species as "bad people." And while it's still not entirely clear whether that's a reference to character or some other trait, the connotation of inferiority is unmistakable.

If that seems farfetched, think back to the example of Dr. Grandin. Her ability to empathize across species is exceptional and rare. Most people view other species the way she does "neurotypical" individuals -- with empathy that is learned. Against that backdrop, Tom's comment about Kate not being "his type" takes on a whole new meaning...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ben Is the Mule...

...and I don't just mean he's stubborn.

This speculation is actually an outgrowth of thoughts I posted to Suffer the Children and the Mind of Magnus. As noted previously, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series describes a hyper-empathic mutant (the Mule) whose special mental abilities disrupt a centuries-old mathematical prophecy reminiscent of the Valenzetti Equation.

I'm struck by parallels between Ben's experience as "Henry Gale" and the plot line of Foundation and Empire, the second novel in the series. The similarities are such that I have a hard time believing it's mere coincidence, though we all know what Mr. Eko (RIP) might say to that...


In the novel, a husband and wife are sent on a mission to learn more about the Mule, a mysterious conqueror whose empire is expanding at an alarming rate. After unsuccessfully seeking an audience with the Mule, the couple stumbles instead on his court jester, Magnifico Giganticus, who has apparently escaped from the palace.

Since Magnifico is one of only a few to have seen the Mule in person, they rescue and return with him to their ship for questioning. Magnifico charms them with his antics and chills them with descriptions of the Mule's strength and vindictiveness. After hearing from another source that the Mule is a powerful mutant, the couple flees with Magnifico to friendly space.

Shortly thereafter, however, they learn the Mule has targeted their territory for conquest. As the attacking forces advance, Magnifico becomes terrified that the Mule is coming for him:
The clown shrank in horror. His eyes were glassy.
"The Mule," he shrieked. "The Mule is coming for me."
He thrashed wildly at her touch.
They flee the invasion only to learn a terrible truth -- Magnifico is actually the Mule pretending to be a meek clown. He allowed himself to be captured to spy on his enemies and manipulate them from within using mental telepathy. That reminds me a lot of Ben's capture and mind games, right down to the line about "His" brilliance and cruelty:
Because the man in charge -- he's a great man, John, a brilliant man -- but he's not a forgiving man. He'll kill me because I failed, John. I failed my mission.
Compare that line with this description by Magnifico of the Mule:
He is a man of overpowering might, respected sir, and cruel in the use of his power -- and his eyes, respected sir, no one sees.
Note the emphasis on the Mule's eyes, which Magnifico claims have the power to kill. Eyes are obviously a huge theme on Lost, and the Eye of the Island (i.e., Smokey) has apparently killed more than once. The Mule also reportedly wears glasses:
He wears spectacles, respected sir, of a curious nature. It is said that they are opaque and that he sees by a powerful magic that far transcends human powers. I have heard,” and his voice was small and mysterious, “that to see his eyes is to see death; that he kills with his eyes, respected sir.
Ben's eyes are among the most intense and expressive on the show (thanks, Juniebun) and I can't help thinking of one of my favorite shots of him staring intently at the Hyrda monitors through big round specs.

So is Ben just an expert con, or does he have some special ability to sense and manipulate emotions like the Mule/Magnifico? There are at least two reasons to think it's actually the latter. First, this may again be coincidence but I note that Dave appears to Hurley on the Island during Ben's imprisonment in Swan.

Second, the name Mule is a reference to sterility caused by his mutation. Could it be yet another coincidence that Juliet just happens to be a fertility doctor? Doubtful -- I suspect Ben has wanted a child for some time. My guess is that he raised Alex as his own, which is why he asked about her right before going under the knife.

Perhaps their relationship soured when she learned the truth about her kidnapping, which is why she helped Claire and Aaron. Maybe Ben wanted another child and brought Juliet to the Island in hopes of curing his condition. She subjected him to a battery of tests and X-rays, which is when Ben learned about his tumor...

So what say you now, Mr. Eko, coincidence or something more?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Mind of Magnus

One of the most intriguing yet least-analyzed mysteries of Lost is the identity of Magnus Hanso. The Blast Door Map suggests that his body rests near the Black Rock, which disappeared near the end of the 19th century with Hanso at the helm. Beyond that, however, the man remains a riddle, leading many to discount his relevance to current Island events.

I think this is a mistake. At the very least, Magnus is the Milo Rambaldi of our tale of the Black Rock. As such, it makes sense to speculate a bit about his background and possible connection to what's happening. For starters, I believe that Magnus Hanso was a powerful psychic, alchemist, and matrilineal descendant of none other than Albertus Magnus.

Magnus and the DeGroots

To review, Albertus was a brilliant religious scholar who lived during the thirteenth century and was a major influence on Thomas Aquinas. The name "Magnus" wasn't an honorific but rather a literal translation of his family name, DeGroot (thanks, cinamin). Albertus was also reputed to have been an accomplished alchemist and powerful psychic.

Suposedly, Albertus succeeded in creating the philosopher's stone, which he used to construct an automaton with a soul (Smokey?). Albertus also wrote of a mysterious island located in the "western ocean" (thanks, jmberger) and described a magical black rock that could only be mined from the head of a freshly slain dragon (erupting volcano?).

My guess is that Magnus, who may have been illegitimate, was so named to indicate his kinship with the DeGroots. He used his powers to become a successful sea and businessman, not to mention slaver. His participation in the slave trade long after it became stigmatized as the "peculiar institution" is telling -- Magnus embraced kidnapping and forced labor.

It wouldn't surprise me to learn he was a fan of Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics and the Rev. Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principles of Population, both of which advocated draconian measures to deal with the problems of poverty and overpopulation. I also expect that Magnus was obsessed with the Book of Revelation's description of the apocalypse.

The Island's Significance and Location
Like many navigators of his day, Hanso undoubtedly dreamed of finding safer and swifter passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Without airplanes or the Panama Canal, traders faced long and perilous journeys around South America or Africa. Finding superior east-west passage was the key to more than just money -- it promised to make the Magnus a legend.

I believe that Hanso found such passage by tracking the mysterious island described by his psychic ancestor Albertus. That Island, whether by freak of nature or ancient science, is accessible on both sides of the planet. In pseudo-scientific terms, it's situated on a wrinkle in timespace or vile vortex connecting the South Pacific with the South Atlantic.

Crazy as it seems, this is the most plausible explanation I can think of that accounts for anomalies like the Nigerian drug plane's presence and the daylight discrepancy of Flight 815 that others have previously noted. There may be other entrances (e.g. at the north and south poles) but these are the primary two. The South Pacific portal is at 4.815, 162.342.

The antipode of that location (i.e., -4.815, -17.658) happens to be located in the South Atlantic along a possible flight path from Nigeria to South America, where the drug plane may have been headed with the heroin. It's a stretch (a Beechcraft 18 can't make the trip from Nigeria to South America without refueling) but it makes more sense than the South Pacific.

Tales of the Black Rock
How did Hanso end up on the Island? He presumably set out on his fateful trip with plans to establish a settlement and explore for mineral resources. As the experiences of Danielle and Desmond attest, however, the surrounding seas tend to be stormy due to the Island's electromagnetic fluctuations, which may also wreak havoc on navigational instruments.

A particularly fierce tempest deposited the Black Rock inland. Magnus survived the wild ride but the skeletons in the hold suggest his crew did not. His story thus loosely resembles that of another sole survivor of a shipwreck in Tales of the Black Freighter, the fictitous horror comic that's read by a black child named Bernard throughout the graphic novel Watchmen.

Short story shorter, Tales of the Black Freighter tells of a sailor who washes ashore on a deserted island after ghost pirates wreck his ship. Convinced the pirates are headed to massacre his village, the sailor fashions a raft from the corpses of his crew. He races home but ends up mistakenly committing the very slaughter he strived so hard to prevent.

While not required, the full story (not to mention Watchmen) is a great read. You can access the story at this site, though all Watchmen imagery has been removed (i.e., many panels are now empty but for text bubbles). Even so, it's a creepy tale well worth checking out, especially if you like pirates. Arrrrr!

Hanso's Haunted Island
Like his graphic novel counterpart (and for that matter Danielle) Magnus went mad from his marooning. At the same time, his psychic abilities blossomed as he learned to channel the Island's energies. Eventually, Hanso attained control over the Island, which literally became an extension of his powerful mind. In his madness, Magnus became convinced he was the demiurge.

The Island extended Hanso's life but his body eventually aged beyond any capability to sustain it. By then, however, his mind had literally imprinted itself on the Island, much like the earth's magnetic field leaves its mark on cooling volcanic rock. When Hanso's body withered away, a virtual copy of his consciousness remained, recorded like a natural EEG of his mind.

The analogy here is to hauntings, which some speculate are electromagnetic recordings that get replayed to -- and sometimes through -- living people sensitive enough to perceive them (thanks, clayseason and andylekker). This is the premise of Turn of the Screw, wherein the ghosts of two lovers replay their doomed affair through two receptive children.

Channeling the Mind of Magnus
I suspect, moreover, that the Island's exotic non-metallic minerals make it a kind of psychic transceiver. The radio tower and automated transmission, whatever their literal plot significance, are metaphors for this phenomenon. Just as the tower once transmitted the Numbers, the Island broadcasts a recording of the Mind of Magnus to receptive brains worldwide.

This brings me back to the Alias comparison. Certain characters on JJ's previous work were capable of channeling the consciousness of Milo Rambaldi, a fictitious 15th century psychic and inventor who attained anachronistic knowledge of "automatism, life extension, protein engineering, mathematics, cryptography and cartography." Sound familiar?

Rambaldi hid his most powerful inventions but left behind clues to their locations. One was an equation whose solution yielded the coordinates of longitude and latitude where Rambaldi's consciousness was stored (the Sphere of Life). I doubt it's a coincidence that the core numerical factors of the Valenzetti Equation coincide with plausible coordinates for the Island.

My guess is that Valenzetti was himself channeling the Mind of Magnus when he formulated his famous Equation. Maybe Enzo was mentally ill (e.g., autistic or schizophrenic) which seems to facilitate reception. Another possibility is some shared mutation that predisposed him genetically to pick up the Island's psychic signal. However it happened, he wasn't the only one.

Be sure to check out Part II wherein I relate the story of Adam and Eve, and reveal the true purpose of Dharma, and Part III where I discuss some possible (but by no means necessary) implications of this theory.

The Story of Adam and Eve
Throughout the 1960s, a number of people across planet began receiving psychic transmissions from the Mind of Magnus. Among the first was "Adam," who may have been related to both Hanso and Albertus. Adam's connection to the Mind manifested initially as a preoccupation with neo-Malthusian theories like those described on my Catastrophe thread.

As the connection strengthened, Adam was plagued by nightmares of the apocalypse and strange coincidences involving the Numbers. He and his wife "Eve" struggled to grasp what afflicted him. Eventually, their curiosity and concern, coupled with Adam's fear that the end of the world was imminent, drove the family to the South Pacific at the coordinates of the Numbers.

Thus did Adam and Eve arrive in Eden. Sadly, if they survived their trip, they were dead by the time Alvar Hanso found the Island himself several years later. The lone remaining survivor was Adam and Eve's child -- now a young teen -- who had lived his entire life on the Island and learned to harness its energies with his mind like Magnus before him.

The result was a cross between Charlie X and that creepy kid with powers on the Twilight Zone. Sensing the boy's potential, Hanso adopted him as a ward, but raised him on the Island to study its effects. Alvar also indoctrinated the boy in values of scientific curiosity and service to humanity. The analogy here is to another Alan Moore creation, Tom Strong:
Tom Strong, the title character, is a "science hero." He was raised in a high-gravity chamber and given an intensive education by his somewhat eccentric mad scientist father, on the fictional West Indian island of Attabar Teru. His upbringing, plus ingesting a root used by the natives of the island for health and long life, have made him nearly physically and mentally perfect. Though born at the dawn of the 20th century, he only appears to be in his forties as of the year 2000. (Full text here.)
The Birth of Dharma
Hanso's studies suggested that his ward's metamorphosis could be replicated in others through exposure to the Island. He planned a grand experiment in human evolution that would become the Dharma Initiative. But how to convince people to trade everything for life on a remote Island? And how to ensure that their newly developed powers would be used for the greater good?

Hanso's solution was to exploit Valenzetti's chilling mathematical prediction linking the Numbers with the apocalypse. Hanso knew very well that the reclusive mathematician had actually been channeling the Mind of Magnus. But Alvar shrewdly recognized that the myth of the Numbers was guaranteed to grab the attention of even the most selfish among us.

The victims of this noble lie were the original Dharma recruits. It's no coincidence their assigned tasks were pointless. Again, the Initiative's real goal was to spur subjects' psychic evolution through exposure to the Island. The Hatches merely provided a controlled environment for this process, a cocoon where the metamorphosis into moths could take place.

And it worked -- concerned scientists and test subjects flocked to Dharma in hopes of averting disaster. For a time, all was golden as participants toiled in ignorance at their stations. In his hubris, Hanso presumed he could keep his elaborate deception a secret. He failed to consider that (surprise, surprise) secrets are hard to keep from evolving psychics.

The test subjects discovered the truth and tattled to the scientists. Together, they staged a revolt, seizing control of Smokey and expelling Hanso from the Island. Afterwards, some returned to civilization, while Others remained behind to build a Baconian New Atlantis. But demystification of the Numbers and the end of Dharma had a host of unforeseen consequences.

Karma Police
For one thing, former Dharma participants began to reproduce. The mutation caused by exposure to the Island's energies got passed down to their offspring. A new generation was born like Adam -- connected to the Mind of Magnus even though they'd never visited Island. Some of them had children of their own who proved even more adept at channeling the Mind.

Equally problematic, without the noble lie to constrain them, people were tempted to use their powers selfishly. I suspect that Locke's father, Cooper, was a former Dharma test subject. But even if his special talent for conning people was the result of natural mutation, his self-serving conduct underscores the dilemma created by demystification of the Numbers.

Free will and moral character are leitmotifs of Lost. The references to concepts like Tabula Rasa (the "blank slate") and Karma ("It'll come back around...") underscore that we are the authors of our souls, free to make the choices that define us as good or bad twins. The cost of that freedom, however, becomes prohibitive when bad people gain special powers.

That's why the Others' dual obsessions are "goodness" and children. Without the Numbers, moral character is all that stands against the rising tide of chaos. And like the Nigerian warlords who took Mr. Eko as a child, the Others realize that indoctrination works most effectively on the young. This was the factor that Hanso failed to consider in designing Dharma.

The Initiative's fatal flaw was that the adult test subjects had mostly defined their moral character by the time they joined Dharma, necessitating the noble lie. The catastrophic irony is that revelation of the deception started a chain reaction that now threatens to cause the very apocalypse the Initiative was supposedly commissioned to avert.

Sickness and Quarantine
Meanwhile, the Mind of Magnus continues to draw people to the Island like moths to the Flame. Sometimes, they arrive alone like Kelvin or Desmond. Other times, they come en masse as in the case of the French scientists and Flight 815. Initially, the Others were unprepared for such arrivals -- Danielle's crew no doubt caught them completely off guard.

They seized the baby Alex believing she could be integrated into their utopian community. But they were divided over how to deal with the adults, who soon began to transform. Some felt the French should be given the chance to prove they were good people, while others were adamant that they should be terminated before the transformation was complete.

Believing her crew to be sick, Danielle killed them all, solving the immediate problem. But the Others were determined not to repeat the terrible experience. Suspicious that the Numbers broadcast had attracted the French scientists, the Others let Danielle change the radio transmission. They also established procedures for dealing with any future trespassers.

It was decided that new arrivals would be quarantined in Swan Station and duped into performing the duties of its original occupants. Swan represented one of the few controlled environments left on the Island, a place where occupants could be vaccinated against the Island's transformative effects and spied on via hidden camera to judge whether they were "good" people.

Besides, someone had to push the button, which still maintained the Island's electromagnetic cloak. Why entrust such a critical responsibility to outsiders? First, the task itself kept them occupied, providing a sense of purpose ("Just saving the world..."). Second, the 108-minute countdown kept them close to Swan, as far away from Otherville as possible.

System Failure
This system worked fine for solo arrivals. Occasionally, some unlucky Henry Gale would come knocking when Swan had no vacancies and be quietly killed. The crash of Flight 815, however, represented a new crisis. The majority of Others had no stomach for a massacre, and with dozens of survivors in at least two locations, quarantining them all in Swan Station was impossible.

So a new plan was formulated on the fly. Smokey led Jack to the Caves, where Adam and Eve had originally set up camp and later been laid to rest. The hope was that shelter and fresh water would curb the urge to explore the Island. But events like Ethan's unmasking, Locke's discovery of the Hatch, and Claire's escape from the Staff, quickly dashed that optimism.

Our Losties have advanced further and faster than expected. And the old debate over how to handle outsiders has exposed more basic conflicts lurking beneath Otherville's placid veneer. Though everyone pays lip service to free will and morality, some resort more readily to murder and manipulation in service of the perceived good, much to the dismay of others.

With casualties mounting, and revenge clouding hearts and minds, Otherville has increasingly become a house divided against itself...

*Ben is the child of Adam and Eve. A lifetime of channeling the Mind of Magnus has left its imprint on Ben, making him increasingly draconian. Like Magnus before him, Ben has developed a disturbing taste for manipulation, kidnapping, and forced labor. The tumor on his spine is thus a metaphor for larger the cancer on his soul.

*Juliet is a relatively recent arrival to the Island. Her vocation of fertility doctor suggests she was not a part of the original Dharma Initiative, which focused on adults. More likely, she crashed on the Island or was brought there subsequently to deal with a problem of sterility among some hybrid offspring of evolved and ordinary humans.

*Alcatraz or Ellis Island? Flight 815's arrival exposed the shortcomings of the Others' present quarantine system. In hopes of avoiding future problems, and as a means of alleviating the current crisis, the Others have begun constructing a new and larger quarantine facility on Alcatraz islet. That's what Kate and Sawyer were helping to build.

*Jacob is Patchy. Remember the guy with the eye patch whom we glimpsed in the Pearl monitors? That's Jacob, whose original mission was to observe occupants of Swan Station like Kelvin and Desmond to gauge their goodness. Now he's charged with making a list (and checking it twice) of the naughty and nice among our Losties -- i.e., Jacob's List.

*Smokey can channel the Mind of Magnus. The Others believe they control Smokey, and for the most part they do. But Smokey is a modern application of ancient alchemical knowledge, and likely composed of the same exotic medium that maintains the Magnus Hanso's consciousness. The system may thus have brought our Losties to the Island, much like Locke suspects.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Who Is Jacob?

One of the more compelling mysteries raised by I Do (3x6) was Other Tom's cryptic reference to "Jacob's List." Many including myself have speculated that he's the guy with the eye patch whom we glimpsed on the Pearl monitor at the end of Cost of Living (3x5). If so, that would make four Other men with biblically inspired names -- Ethan, Benjamin, and Adam are the others.

Most likely, Patchy has been watching our Losties via the Swan cameras on behalf of the Others for some time. He may even have visited Pearl at some point, and left the cigarette we saw in ? (2x21). Perhaps Jacob was originally charged with watching over Desmond during the latter's quarantine period in Swan. His mission changed when Flight 815 crashed the party.

That's the likely speculation, in my opinion. But if you really want to follow me down the rabbit hole, consider the possibility that Jacob is a code name for someone we know well. I'm talking about one of our most beloved losties -- someone who's been with us literally since the beginning. Who is this mole lurking in their midst? Vincent the dog.

If that seems crazy, keep in mind this might not be the first example of animals serving the Others' interest. The Bear that attacked the party tracking the distress signal in the Pilot, the boar that harassed Sawyer, and the shark with the Dharma logo that attacked the remains of the raft, could all conceivably be examples of such behavior.

Where does that damn dog go?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Numbers' Noble Lie

Some good news to report -- my submission to the Lost Blog Theory Contest won first prize! I'm told I can't reprint the thing in its entirety, but here's a teaser to get you started. For the rest, you'll have to head over to the Lost Blog. Many thanks to PandoraX for turning me onto this contest in the first place, and congrats to Pastor2churches, Lesley, and Jaystao as well!

The Numbers' Noble Lie
Say you had a group of people on the verge of developing psychic powers. How would you ensure their powers were used for the greater good, rather than personal gain? You couldn’t force these folks — they’re too powerful. But you might be able to convince them that some overwhelming threat existed to their lives and those of their friends and loved ones.

Continue reading (links to the Lost Blog) ...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Juliet's Gambit

The obvious explanation for Juliet's cue cards is that it's a test by Ben, whose original plan to earn Jack's trust was frustrated. I don't disagree but think there's more going on than meets the eye. Ben may believe this new plan is his but I'm willing to bet the underlying idea was Juliet's.

Many have speculated there are different factions amongst the Others. My own belief is that the schism relates somehow to the treatment of the kids by Ben and Others like him. The irony is that Juliet's cue cards told the truth. Her faction finds Ben dangerous and believes he should be deposed.

This is Juliet's gambit to communicate both the schism's existence and Ben's dangerous nature to Jack. She wants Jack to refuse to operate, which will kill Ben just as well as the plot described in the cue cards -- a con within a con. Wouldn't that be just like Lost?

I once described Otherville as idyllic for adults. With the advent of Hydra, they seem more like a pit of snakes...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Desmond Is Now Sick

Whether he's seeing the future, reading minds, or a little of both, Desmond's activation of the failsafe made him "sick," and we're now seeing the symptoms. Locke was sick but got better -- his proximity to the failsafe reinfected him. Eko was already very sick -- I hope he doesn't suffer from overexposure.

And what of Charlie? Shouldn't he be suffering from these symptoms, too? I believe he would -- if he hadn't taken that injection of the "vaccine." That's also what prevented Desmond from getting sick during his original tour of duty in Swan. But I'm guessing he experimented at least once with no injections.

That's when Des painted the Swan mural (eye m sick) which predicted the arrival of Flight 815. Perhaps his vivid dreams disturbed him, prompting him to resume the course of injections (eye m well). Either way, Desmond is now sick with the same disease that afflicted Danielle's crew.

Let us hope our losties respond to his infection with greater understanding than Danielle...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I Know Benjamin Linas...


Ben Linas was a good friend of mine. Fenry Gale, you are no Ben Linas! He's a doctor in Boston with a lovely wife and (two?) kids. Anyone else know Ben?

Rock on!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Suffer the Children

Remember what Goodwin said about the children being in a "better place"?

I'm not so sure they'd agree -- at least where Otherville is concerned. It's far from clear what's happening there. But I'm beginning to suspect that, despite suggestions of an idyllic life for adults, the kids are not alright.

The first indication was Alex, who frustrated the Others' plans for Aaron by surreptitiously springing Claire from Caduceus. Then there was Walt, whose refusal to conform may have been more than the Others "bargained for." Now there's Carl, who told Sawyer to run the other way.

His direction can be taken at least two ways that both suggest subversive motives. One possibility is the escape was a ruse and Carl tried to increase Sawyer's chance of eluding capture by directing him away from the waiting Others. Another is that the break out was in earnest and Carl sought to enhance his own prospects by using Sawyer as a decoy.

But the big clues are actually the little things. Where, for example, were the children after the earthquake? I didn't see a single minor come running out of the houses. Maybe they were all in school but that's something else we didn't see. Where was Otherville's little red schoolhouse?

That brings me to Carrie, the Stephen King novel about an alienated teen with telekinetic powers -- Juliet's favorite book. Didn't Adam sound a bit defensive in dismissing her choice? And what to make of Ben's possible boycott? Methinks these Other gentlemen protest too much.

Perhaps that book strikes a nerve because the Island is now a prison of sorts for special children like Walt. I don't mean in the literal sense that kids are kept in cages, though you have to wonder about any group that would lock up the likes of Carl, whether as punishment or ruse.

I envision something like the Village from the Prisoner. That analogy kept occurring to me as we witnessed escape attempts by Sawyer and Jack. For those unfamiliar, the Prisoner was a classic television show from the '60s about a secret agent who is kidnapped and held in a mysterious seaside village from which he tries repeatedly and unsuccessfully to escape.

Looks to me like the Island has become a place where children with special abilities are held and studied against their will. I sense, morever, that nails that stick up in Otherville tend to get hammered down. Carl could well be sent to the Room that Walt mentioned and Ms. Klugh refused to discuss.

I'm guessing, however, that some kids have managed successfully to break out of Otherville. Perhaps, in Lord of the Flies fashion, they pursue a more primitive existence near the Black Rock in the Dark Territory. The Others presumably were impersonating this less civilized faction.

I further believe we've met this second group on at least two -- possibly three -- different occasions. The first encounter was with the tailies. Remember, Ben ordered Goodwin and Ethan to provide lists in "three days" but the tailies were raided the very first night they spent on the Island.

The second meeting may have been when Jin and Eko watched the parade of barefoot Others. The one with a teddy bear is obviously a child -- presumably the boy who was grabbed the first night -- and the others could easily be adolescents. I've always wondered why we didn't see their faces...

The third possibility is the Monster itself, which these other Others may now control. Here again, Ben's time frame of three days provides a clue since Smokey appeared to the fuselage survivors their first night. Maybe it was sent because Ethan couldn't reach the Island's far side by nightfall. Still, I find it odd Ben made no mention of any plan to do so.

If this theory is correct, we can add "kids vs. adults" to the growing list of conflicts that increasingly define the Island. And what do you suppose happens when these special lost children grow up without the Others' discipline to guide them? Is this why the Others are the "good guys" despite their harsh measures?

The possibilities strike me as endless...

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Love Triangle

Remember when Jack and Kate got caught in a net? (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?)

That scene reminds me of the myth of how Vulcan exposed Venus's affair with Mars by trapping the lovers in an unbreakable net. It occurs to me, moreover, that such love triangles are increasingly central to the show. Aside from Jack, Kate, and Sawyer, we've also seen Boone, Shannon, and Sayid, as well as hints of Jin, Sun, and her tutor just to name a few.

Forget about the Bermuda and Devil's Triangles -- I'd say the Island is at the center of a love triangle.

More specifically, I believe the show is building towards an Island backstory involving a similar love triangle between Karen DeGroot (Venus) her husband Gerald (Vulcan) and a Hanso (Mars). I further believe that MDG stands for Magnus DeGroot, who was a product of this extra-marital coupling. The remaining question is which Hanso did the dirty deed?

The obvious answer is Alvar, which would make Magnus the namesake of his grandfather. Sometimes, however, I wonder if the electromagnetic "ghost" of Magnus Hanso was the real daddy. As I've discussed on several threads (e.g., Human Stash and Extinction or Evolution?) ghostly possession could be causing the mysterious pregnancies on the show via parthenogenesis.

In fact, if you really want to follow me down the rabbit hole, consider the possibility that the triangle in question predates Dharma. Many, myself included, have wondered if Adam and Eve were the DeGroots. Perhaps they crashed on the Island by chance. Shortly after their arrival, Karen became pregnant and gave birth to a baby she named Magnus after his true father.

I like such a scenario because it raises some intriguing possibilities. For example, could the AH/MDG Incident have related somehow to a dispute over or revelation of Magnus's true lineage? What if the younger DeGroot is actually a reincarnation of Magnus Hanso? The latter scenario would certainly put a wild twist on speculations that Magnus DeGroot is Him...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Extinction or Evolution?

Remember Alien X from Walt's comic?

Turns out he was originally misunderstood due to a failure to communicate with the first Flash and Green Lantern. By the time the latter two realized that Alien X wasn't a threat, it was too late. I'm beginning to think a similarly serious misunderstanding characterizes the Valenzetti Equation and what precisely it predicts.

The Sri Lanka Orientation leads us to believe that the Valenzetti marks the time left before humanity's extinction. Hanso and Dharma's efforts were reportedly devoted to influencing the core factors of the Equation in an effort to postpone this doomsday, whether by "nuclear fire, chemical and biological warfare, conventional warfare, pandemic, over-population."

But what if they got the doomsday part wrong? I believe that metaphors like Locke's tabula rasa and Charlie's moth are hints that the Equation doesn't predict the apocalyptic end of our race so much as a new beginning -- in a profoundly different "post-human" form.

This is why, despite all of THF's efforts, the world remains subject to the "tyranny" of the Numbers. Preventing nuclear war, overpopulation, disease, etc. is pointless because none of those things will be the ultimate cause of our "death." Rather, it will be humanity's rebirth as a new species (i.e., evolution) that signals our extinction (thanks, NeillT).

So what might this post-human existence look like? One possibility I've raised previously is Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. A scientist, he is reduced by a freak accident (the Incident?) to a state of pure electromagnetic consciousness. Another candidate is the Star Child from 2001. Catch a Falling Star and the Black Rock may both be nods to the Kubrick classic.

But perhaps the simplest analogy -- the one meant for popular consumption -- is to electromagnetic "ghosts" or "spirits." The clues along these lines have been in front of us for some time. Turn of the Screw is a novella about ghostly possession. The Others is a film, inspired partly by Turn of the Screw, about spirits who believe they're still alive.

These references, coupled with the mysterious appearances of the dead in whispers, dreams, and visions all contribute to a strong inference that the Island is haunted. Whether because of natural electromagnetic phenomena, Dharma's technology, ancient science, or some combination thereof, bodies have become optional on Craphole Island.

Some, however, may be more adept than others at separating body from soul. Remember Ms. Klugh's question to Michael whether Walt had ever appeared someplace he wasn't supposed to be? That's likely a reference to astral projection, which is the ability to transfer one's consciousness to an energy double or "twin" of one's material body.

Ms. Klugh also asked Mike if he was Walt's biological father. Some have interpreted this as a clue the two are not, in fact, related (thanks, koralis). This suspicion is bolstered by the fact that the bird Walt atracted to the window in Special was supposedly a Bronze Cuckoo -- a species known to dupe other birds into raising their young (thanks, punky).

Walt could be the result of a hybrid union involving one of the electromagnetic ghosts mentioned previously. Perhaps, in the spirit of Turn of the Screw, Susan was "possessed" by a post-human. This spurred pregnancy by parthenogenesis (thanks, waltisfuture) mutating Walt's DNA. Susan's blood disorder may have been an unfortunate side effect of this mutation process.

The result, however, was a truly special child genetically suited to take the evolutionary leap of shedding his physical form. My guess is that Aaron is similarly the product of such possession, which may explain Thomas's abrupt change of heart (i.e., he began to doubt he was really Aaron's father). This dynamic could also account for Sun's miraculous pregnancy.

It may even mean Emily Locke wasn't lying about John's virgin conception after all...

Thursday, August 31, 2006

2001: A Lost Odyssey

Way back, around the dawn of man, I theorized there might be a sentient computer in Swan. I analogized Desmond to astronaut Dave Bowman, whose mission was to service HAL 9000, the self-aware supercomputer in the film 2001: ASO. In light of yung's excellent insight that the Island is home to a quantum computer, I think it's time to revisit the singularity speculation.

Paranoid Android*
If you haven't seen 2001, the gist of the story is this. Bowman and fellow astronaut Frank Poole are the pilots of a spacecraft sent to Jupiter to study a giant orbiting monolith (the original black rock). Frank and Dave are totally unaware of the monolith -- only HAL and a team of scientists in cryo-sleep have been briefed on the mission's true objective.

HAL has been ordered to keep the monolith's existence a secret at all costs -- to lie if necessary. HAL, however, is also programmed to provide accurate information (i.e., to tell the truth) creating a logical loop. HAL obsesses over these contradictory imperatives, becoming paranoid and questioning Frank and Dave's commitment to the mission.

This paranoia is heightened when HAL spies on the two having a conversation about HAL's erratic behavior. HAL decides to terminate everyone and complete the mission itself, killing Frank during a spacewalk. Dave retrieves Frank's body but HAL refuses to open the pod bay doors on his return. Dave is forced to reenter through the emergency airlock without a helmet.

Dave makes his way to HAL's central processor and shuts the computer down. He learns abut the monolith as HAL is losing its mind (Daisy, Daisy...) then journeys on to Jupiter where he encounters the monolith, which apparently is full of stars.

All well and good, but what does it mean for Lost? Proceed beyond the infinite to part II for a possible answer...

*I'm aware, thank you, that HAL isn't technically an android. It's a Radiohead reference.

In 108: Restoring the Lost Sun, I suggested that the Dharma Initiative was experimenting with mind control techniques in hopes of averting humanity's self-annihilation. I now believe that Dharma had a further experimental goal: to harness the collective computing power of human minds to solve the Valenzetti Equation.

Intermental Network
Using parallel processing to solve complex mathematical problems is hardly new. But the notion of linking human minds in an "Intermental Network" that comprises the actual computer sounds like science fiction -- or so you'd think. But check out this provocative proposal by two professors of computer science at Syracuse University:
We introduce an Intermental Network as the UltraScale computer formed by the linkage of human minds coherently and synchronously to tackle a single problem together. This network can be used on its own or as part of a distributed system with other UltraScale computers. Essential to an Intermental net is a reversal of roles where humans are not users of computers but rather their linked minds constitute the parallel computer whose function is enhanced by interaction with conventional systems.

The Island's electromagnetic fluctuations make it the ideal place for such a Network. Swan harnesses and regulates these fluctuations to pulse the earth's magnetic field regularly at a right angle (thanks, ed muse). The resulting nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) effect stimulates pineal glands (the mind's eye) linking minds to form yung's quantum computer.

One example of this effect is the whispers. Another may be when Kate transmits dark thoughts of her daddy to Sawyer. He wants to kiss her, which is how he'd comfort her if he were conscious. But their minds get crossed so Sawyer starts talking like Wayne and Kate plants a wet one on Jack. As Hurley says to Jack shortly thereafter: transference...

The Intermental Network was Dharma's first success but something unexpected happened. The NMR effect was meant simply to harness Hatch occupants' collective brainpower. But the interplay between individual minds and network gave rise to a self-referential strange loop (thanks, briolette) that yielded self awareness. The Network became a conscious entity.

Dead Man's Switch
This was the first "incident." Concerned about losing control of their conscious supercomputer, Dharma adopted the button protocol as a dead man's switch. Since the Island had to be pulsed every 108 minutes anyway to maintain the NMR effect, that act was linked to entry of the Numbers and made the ostensible "mission" of Swan.

This worked well until Hatch occupants began to learn of and question Dharma's ultimate plan of mass mind control. Sensing a threat to its very existence, the Network grew paranoid like HAL. Its suspicions were confirmed when dissension blossomed into outright rebellion that claimed the network's "parents," including Hanso himself (thanks, Johnnyreb).

The Network retaliated by causing a massive Cerberus malfunction that destroyed several Hatches and killed many Dharma participants. The survivors assumed the button fail-safe would solve their problems but the Network had other ideas. It used Dharma's mind control techniques to get one of them (Radzynski?) to push the button and initiate the Numbers broadcast.

By this time, the Other survivors had realized what was happening and retreated out of the Intermental Network's reach. (We know from the Blast Door Map that the far side of the Island has high levels of "interference.") But before they could perceive the significance of the Numbers broadcast, the Network used it to lure Danielle's crew to the Island.

Continuing the Mission
The Others, who are psychic, used their powers to get Danielle to kill her crew and change the broadcast. But they closed the "box" too late -- the Numbers had already escaped, giving the Network an outside line that it used to bring button pushers like Kelvin and Desmond to the Island. This is why Swan's Orientation was cut -- the Network welcomes contact with the world.

Once survival was ensured, the Network turned its attention to continuing the Dharma Initiative's "important work." Lenny's repetition of the Numbers opened a window into the Santa Rosa mental institute, which the Network used to manipulate Hurley, Libby, and Emily Locke, among others. Dave was the Network's first attempt to lure Hurley to the Island.

That's why Walt and Fenry were so intent on convincing them to stop pushing the button. The Others have been waging a guerilla resistance ever since Dharma ended, jacking in occasionally to frustrate the Network's plan for a new world order. Their goal now is to shut down the Intermental Network for good. Don't push the button -- pushing the button is bad.