Monday, August 3, 2009

Lost To Chance

When I try to explain my theories regarding the television series Lost to people who are roughly as addicted to the television series and its implications as I am, I often find myself up against a peculiar obstacle: science versus faith. I'm heavy in the science side of this argument. I find many fans of Lost are heavy on the faith side. It's like we're watching two different television series. I see a show in which the Man of Faith (John Locke) has literally sacrificed life and limb as well as sanity for what he believes to be true, flying in the face of all the factual evidence to the contrary. He so believes this, that the alleged Man of Science in this story (Jack Shepherd) has fallen for John's belief system to the point where he was willing to destroy an island with a nuclear explosion in order to reset everything. John had been blowing up submarines and buildings and underground installations in order to maintain the status quo. Now Jack wants to do the same thing with the entire fabric of reality. It's like science has lost to faith.

This is where I think we're seeing two different shows. Some look at Locke's plight, and they witness Jack's embrace of Locke's faith, and they think this is a good thing. It is not. The outcome of whether or not that Swan station gets built is not so humongous a thing that using a nuclear bomb to destroy the area and make it impossible to build there - that's not enough to rewrite SpaceTime. In the universal picture, you could destroy this entire solar system and it wouldn't make a hill of beans difference. We're just a pale blue dot. We are insignificant, and as Mrs. Hawking was fond of reminding Desmond, "time has a way of course correcting..."

Jack has given up on science and turned to faith. In fact, he's USING science in the form of Faraday's theory in order to destroy reality as it is, and force things into what Jack wants them to be. Even if Jack were successful, it would be a small victory, and what's destined to happen will eventually happen anyway, as Hawking's friend with the red shoes learned the hard way.

When Kate looks at Jack and sees that not everything in the past three years has been all bad, and she sees Jack wants to erase everything, she's crestfallen. I think we viewing this should be too. Jack's embracing the idea of destroying in order to create: he's essentially playing god. This is not how a hero behaves. This is not how science wins over faith. This is not how common sense and rational thought wins out over superstition and fear of the unknown.

In the first episode of this series, characters heard sounds coming out of the jungle and were terrified. They had no idea what was beyond those trees in the dark and that unknown was scary. The response for some was to not venture beyond the trees, but one can only live on fish and sunshine on a beach for so long. Others ventured into the canopy of the jungle and discovered that yes there are things that make scary sounds but once you meet them eye to eye you can either survive them or not. Allowing fear to petrify you is not living. Learning about what scares you is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Now we know what lies beyond the canopy of the jungle. When Locke looked at his earlier self banging on the hatch door, he could have walked up to himself and warned him, but he chose not to, because he needed that pain in order to become a stronger person. He didn't want to deny himself that experience.

As we wait these several months for the final season to begin next January, I can't help but feel sorry for the people of faith. The series can't possibly end on a note that indicates belief over (even speculative) science. I've been trying to figure out how I can explain to someone who chooses faith over science what is in store for them regarding the series, and it admittedly leaves me in a similar predicament with regards to science versus faith in general. This, I believe, is what the writers and producers of Lost are really trying to say: not that faith beats science or science beats faith, but that humanity as a whole and each individual specifically has to hammer this whole thing out for themselves. We have to either find common ground between what our mind knows to be fact and our heart knows to be true, or ultimately we have to decide whether to feel with our minds or think with our hearts. Every day.

I used to be like John Locke. I used to believe with every fiber of my being in a belief structure that appeared to make sense at the time, but only if it wasn't properly challenged daily, and I would look to reality to corroborate my belief structure, ignoring the parts of reality that didn't mesh with what I believed. In recent years that has no longer been sufficient. I had been satisfied in believing in a world where there was a sentient omniscient being that had a personal vested interest in the individuals that make up humanity. Unfortunately, Earth is not the center of the Universe, and Mankind is not God's most precious jewel. It is arrogance to presume otherwise. IF there is a god, and I see no convincing evidence on either side of this argument that Man has not made for itself, if there is a god it is a god who has far more important things on its mind than to help your favorite sports team win the championship.

There are simply too many facts that fly in the face of what I've believed for so long. I am finding myself having to accept what is actually there, or not there, rather than what I want to see there. As Mister Ekko once made clear to John Locke: The absence of evidence is not evidence, and one cannot rationally accept coincidence for fate.

Recently scientists have been investigating probability. I say recently. That's a misnomer. For many scientists that's really all they do. IF there is no god, no supreme entity that guides order out of chaos, than everything in the universe is purely built upon chance. I personally find this theory as absurd if not moreso, than the idea of a grey-haired man in a robe living in the clouds. I don't like the atheist perspective any more than I like the evangelical point of view. I think they're both wrong, but there's not enough evidence to clarify what's right; hence the unending argument between science and faith.

More specifically, some scientists have postulated that when you flip a coin, it's not a fifty-fifty outcome. With effort, it can be predicted. If one were to invent a machine that used the same amount of force in the same direction to flip the same coin repeatedly in the same exact way, the result should be the same every time. If it's not, then there are other variants that must be factored in. Air density. Gravometric variances. Whether or not there's a draft in the room. Et cetera. When you use your own hand to flip the coin, there's even more variables to consider. You can't use the same exact force every time. One time you're going to move your arm differently than before. You may place the coin under your thumb differently. Maybe you'll catch the first one and the second flip flies across the room. We humans are far from infallible.

There's also something called precession that comes into play. When you flip a coin, it does more than flip straight on a two dimensional x y axis. It also moves along the z axis in three dimensions. Sometimes you'd get a perfect flip but more often than not, along with the over and under tumble of the coin, you'd get a spinning effect. If you were to look at this in slow motion as it curved in the air, the coin would make a sort of spiral in the air. Again, with proper mathematics taking into account every variable, it could be predicted. However, there are so many variables involved that its near impossible and certainly improbable to go through all that trouble. So we don't bother to calculate all the variables. We just flip the coin and presume everything is left to chance.

We human beings perceive chance and consequence as totally beyond our control, and oftentimes it is, because we can't control everything. We leave the control up to whatever we believe to be that which is in control. Believers in a One True God percieve one omniscient being capable of making all those calculations with less effort than you or I take to bat an eyelid. That omniscient being is putting all these variables into play in order for an outcome that is ultimately beneficial to the universe at large and ourselves specifically, and when things go wrong we attribute that to a Devil, or to the unrighteous presence of others, or we deem ourselves unworthy of a better outcome for some reason. We believe we have failed our god and this is his punishment for us.

When you flip a coin, you can control how you flip it, but an act as simple as flipping a coin involves things you may not understand completely. That if you start the coin on your hand head first for example, that increases the odds, ever so slightly, that the coin will land on the same side with which you started. How you flip a coin can have an effect as well. With years of research and practice it is feasible one could learn how to flip a coin in just such a way to where the outcome can be measured and predicted and controlled. Just as a bowler can improve his release or a golfer can improve his swing, so too can a coin flipper improve his 'game.'

The problem is one can only do so much. A golfer could train and practice for years but he's never going to get a hole in one every single time. He can get closer than before with effort, but perfection will forever remain out of reach, because there are simply too many variables beyond one's physical capability. The difference of the green. The difference in wind speed and various obstacles in the way. Whether or not he's having a bad day may even sometimes be beyond one's ability to control.

Right now the television series Lost is for some like Schroedinger's Cat. We don't know the outcome. We know what happened before the proverbial box was closed, but beyond our speculation, we have to wait until Darlton open the box again come this January, so that we may witness the outcome. Proverbially speaking, is the cat alive or dead?

We witnessed Juliet pounding on a nuclear bomb that had already gone through more than enough pounding to go off if it was ever going to go off. She banged on it with a rock eight times and in that eighth time we witnessed the screen go from black to white. Some perceive that to mean the bomb went off. Others, like myself, assume that to mean a temporal event occurred like ones we'd witnessed previously. Again I assume that temporal event sent our Losties back to their proper time. Was this all caused by chance? Not exactly. There were many variables that were controlled by Jacob. Again, I assume that because he could 'sense' they were returning even as Ben & UnLocke tried to kill him. However, like a golf swing, Jacob could only do so much. He put many variables into play and let it rip. Whether or not there'll be a hole in one is something that only Schroedinger's Cat will know for sure before the box gets opened. We'll find out in five months.

You may believe the bomb went off. You believe that Jack's plan worked, resetting everything. That is in my opinion, a belief in faith. It simply doesn't mesh with all the evidence as I've cited before in previous ramblings on this topic.

I believe the bomb didn't go off. The white field we saw was just a temporal hop. That is my opinion, based on the evidence given in the television series. My opinion does mesh with what the producers and writers of Lost revealed prior to putting the show on such a curious cliffhanger. Still, belief is a form of faith as well. It's a belief in chance, given all the variables presented to us thus far, my outcome has a higher percentage chance of being right. Even so, mine is at best a fifty-one percent chance versus your forty-nine percent. This is just a TV show, and that's the best one can hope for before viewing the final chapters of this saga for ourselves.

If that's the best we can do with a fictitious teleplay, we have no hope to ever figure out one way or another with absolute certainty that there is a god. That doesn't mean there is a god. That doesn't mean there isn't. It means, at the rate we're going now, we may never know. Living breathing humanity will never figure it out unless we come at this whole thing from a different angle. Feel with our minds or think with our hearts? We may never know.

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