Who's Watching LOST?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | February 23, 2009 11:26 am

In lieu of blasting the Washington Post again over their recent faux pas, I’m interested in finding out whether you’re as intrigued as I am lately over LOST

During my recovery, I’ve been catching up on past episodes and this season includes a lot of ‘science‘ in the script as the island jumps through time and space. And what is the DHARMA Initiative? Presently, we’ve got a physicist wandering through the jungle, years that span days, and the occasional troublesome nosebleed. All of which has inspired wide speculation about what’s really going on.


Regular Intersection readers know this blogger appreciates good scifi from Carl Sagan to Arthur C. Clarke and back again, so let’s discuss what Benjamin Linus, Charles Widmore, and the island itself are up to and see if we can put some of the pieces together here.

I’ll get us started: Say you’re moving through time. The earth is spinning, rotating, even wobbling. Would the position of where you arrive be predictable?

Folks, you have the floor, errr, thread…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Media and Science
MORE ABOUT: LOST, Space, time travel

Comments (21)

  1. Jon

    Interesting. For all the years I’ve been dreaming of time travel, I’ve never considered where you’d end up.

  2. OneHandClapping

    I think you could predict it, if you were very smart (read:not me). But it does bring up an interesting point that rarely comes up in the scifi world, and frankly something that I had never considered myself. I suppose that was rather short sided, since we would be traveling through at least 4 dimensions. I suppose if you could NOT predict where exactly you would arrive, you may be able to affect precisely WHEN you arrive, thereby approaching the target time slowly enough to chose a suitable location, so you weren’t “landing” in open space or inside of the planet.

    Of course, my first reaction to reading this is “we ARE traveling through time!” albeit at a relatively constant and predictable pace. 🙂

  3. Chaos theory might say that the prediction is extremely difficult, if not impossible. At the very least it will be based on knowing a virtually infinite number of initial variables. Unless Fermi’s law operates. There probably could be an average answer possible.

  4. William

    What movements would need to be accounted for? Do we need to account for orbital movements? Movement of the solar system through the galaxy? Expansion of the universe? Where exactly is ‘here’ and ‘there’ when you make huge leaps through time?

  5. Quiet_Desperation

    Rule #1 of Time Travel Club: There are no rules.

    The series Seven Days addressed the “everything moving in space” problem. They needed a human pilot to keep the time machine from whizzing into space because the act of time travel pretty much made electronic circuits useless. The pilot’s job was to keep the machine from NOT moving in space as it traveled through time. It was difficult, but he usually managed to get it somewhere on the Earth’s surface, at least.

    Shame it wasn’t a better series.

  6. Evan

    If your supposition is that you are traveling through time but not traveling through space, are you also assuming that the space involved is a fixed point? Would the space not still be effected by other masses and forces in play? I would assume that the gravitational forces would maintain you remained in the same relative space as opposed to a fixed point in the universe. Unless Einsteinian physics no longer apply.

  7. Never seen Lost, but on short time scales with good initial data you can predict extremely well (to within fractions of inches) where you will be.

    On longer time scales, which for the inner solar system turn out to be about million years or more, you have “phase chaos” – you know with some precision the radial position of the Earth and other planets, but with decreasing precision where along the orbit it will be – and after a bit longer you have no idea where along the orbits you will be, even if you know the elements of the orbit with reasonable accuracy.

  8. OneHandClapping

    I suppose that since you are traveling through time, you can also travel through space, so you could certainly choose to follow the earth’s surface as it moved through the previously mentioned space. What an excellent “thinking outside the box” question.

    It all boils down to having a good pilot. I vote for that guy that put the plane down in the Hudson.

  9. Rob Jase

    That reminds me of my days in physics class many aeons ago when I questioned the instructor if it was possible to move backwards in space or if its only to move relatively backwards.

    I never got an answer. I was not one of the favorite students.

  10. kaehny@mac.com

    There is no plausible answer, or rather you can say whatever you want. So lets go.

    If you are going “forward” you must be traversing a causal path in spacetime (if you aren’t following the rules of Special Relativity, why are you asking about trivialities) so you are wherever you are, you can go far away at high speed and come back to the current reference frame at any arbitrary point in its and your (say 5000 years from now in the current reference frame, 1 year in your reference frame) future. Of course with enough energy …

    If you somehow are following a timelike curve then you can calculate out where you will end up in relation to something around you. If you can specify the curve you can specify the location in spacetime. There ought to be reference frame though that makes “whenever” you went to look like before the big bang to the observers. Don’t know what that means physically. I think black holes suddenly become different with paths from them existing … so they aren’t black any more to you as a time traveller.

    Since there is no way for any known force to put you through that timelike path without new rules for gravity or matter or spacetime with properties we don’t accept as physical reality, and neither does “momentum” work as usual, you can make up any rule you like.

  11. creeky belly

    It started off as a cool idea: Faraday performs the experiment with the rocket, shooting it from the boat onto the island, and noting the effect of time dilation. That’s exactly the type of experiment you’d want to test for such effects. Maybe there’s some anomalous gravitational sink near the island, who knows.

    This business with jumping THROUGH time has actually left me disappointed; there are weird rules for what actually can travel with people, and who can travel. At that point I just throw up my hands and say, “Ok, it’s magic.” You can make up whatever rules you want now and create a story on top of it.

  12. humorix

    Why if I jump on the spot I cannot make the world tour in 24 hours?
    Are impaled to us all on the minute hand?

  13. To be fair, I have to admit I’ve never thought time travel could be possible for our species, regardless of whether it’s theoretically possible. For if it were, it would have happened as travelers would find us from another time. Further, the human body is relatively fragile in terms of velocity.

    However, perhaps every moment happens concurrently at the same time with a fixed outcome that cannot be altered. If so, would there be a way to become unstuck in time like a Vonnegut character living through scripted moments over and over?

    Regardless, it’s certainly the kind of story I’d like to write one day…

  14. From what I have read, time travel into the future may be possible but time travel into the past seems impossible. I remember reading about it one of Leonard Susskind’s two books. Time travel through worm holes seems limited by our physical endurance limits, as you mentioned.

    I also remember reading that Kurt Gödel once proved that time does not really exist. Check out Palle Yourgrau’s very interesting “A World without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Gödel and Einstein”.

  15. Eric the Leaf

    Recommended reading: “Timescape” by Gregory Benford. The following blurb is from Amazon.com.

    “Suspense builds in this novel about scientists, physics, time travel, and saving the Earth. It’s 1998, and a physicist in Cambridge, England, attempts to send a message backward in time. Earth is falling apart, and a government faction supports the project in hopes of diverting or avoiding the environmental disasters beginning to tear at the edges of civilization. It’s 1962, and a physicist in California struggles with his new life on the West Coast, office politics, and the irregularities of data that plague his experiments. The story’s perspective toggles between time lines, physicists, and their communities. Timescape presents the subculture and world of scientists in microcosm: the lab, the loves, the grappling for grants, the pressures from university and government, the rewards and trials of relationships with spouses, the pressures of the scientific race, and the thrill of discovery.
    Timescape merits the tag “hard science fiction”; it tells the story of scientists, and readers can’t help but learn something about tachyons and physics while reading it. Yet much of the story is about humanity: the men John Renfrew and Gordon Bernstein and their relationships–between husband and wife, lover and lover, English working class and upper class, professor and student, and academician and colleagues.”

    “Winner of the Nebula Award in 1980 and the John W. Clark Award in 1981, Timescape offers readers a great yarn, in terms of both humanity and science.”

  16. MAC

    Timescape is one of the most boring novels – never mind time travel tomes – I have ever read. I was tempted to stop reading after the first few chapters, but stuck it out in hopes that something would happen eventually. Sad to say, it never did.

    If you want to read a great time travel story, try “Lightning” by Dean Koontz. He writes in a cinematic style that’s riveting, and the story is huge in scope. There’s a bit of disbelief suspension necessary, but after all, we are talking about time travel.

  17. Gerrit

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while now, but since Sheril combined two of my favourite pass-times (watching tv and time travelling), I thought this would be a good time for my first comment.

    I liked the first season of Lost, but I think it went downhill after that. They’re now at the point of finally explaining what’s happening on the island and I think it is pretty disappointing after waiting five years.
    The timetravelling is not so much based on science as on magic, as someone said earlier.

    Coming back to the first question posted (could the end point of your journey through time be predicted); I’d have to say yes.
    Ofcourse it all depends on what kind of time machine you are using. If a wormhole magically appeared in front of you, you’d have no way of knowing what lies on the other side. On the other hand, if you created the wormhole, you’d know exactly where you’d end up.
    If you’re cruising spacetime in your DeLorean, it pretty much comes down to which way you are going.

  18. I’d pondered something similar whilst watching the BBC’s Primeval – in that series past/future creatures pop up through time anomalies with things like columbian mammoth and dodo rocking up in the present UK the anomalies would obviously come from different on earth locations whcih made me wonder whether space and time was messed up or whether it was ane arth spinning and wobbling thing. I have too much time to think when I’m driving to work every day.

  19. I’ve seen LOST and I’ve been a big fan of it. I love how it all started how the lives of people seem to be connected to one another before the got to the island. It’s freaky as if everything was indeed planned, as if they were experiments. I can’t imagine being part of it in real life. Lols. XD

  20. Erasmussimo

    Folks, time travel is not just physically impossible; it’s logically impossible. If I go back in time to meet Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna before he wrote his Fifth Symphony, and I intone “dum dum dum DUMMMMM” to him, then who created the theme for the first movement of the Fifth Symphony?


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry.Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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