Pushing the Button vs. Turning the Key: What LOST is about

Pushing the Button vs. Turning the Key: What LOST is about April 30, 2009

I could be completely wrong – it is easy to be wrong about LOST, since we’re trying to put together a puzzle for which we do not have all the pieces. But I am starting to suspect that I am beginning to know what LOST is about. Not bad, after watching 100 episodes, eh?

Imagine a family of time-travellers, one of whom inadvertently kills his parent before he was born, in an event that also causes his time-travelling grandparents to meet for the first time. The result is a profoundly entangled temporal paradox, an event which, however one tampers with it, the space-time continuum may be in serious trouble.

I wonder if LOST is about a scenario of that sort – not precisely that scenario, but something that poses the same sort of conundrum. The main players in the series (who are frequently not the main characters, as we keep discovering) are trying to disentangle a temporal knot without causing a temporal impossibility that will result in some sort of cataclysm.

What can they do? One option would be to use time travel to try to make sure that the essential events still occur (the grandparents still meet, the parents aren’t killed before their child is born) while perhaps also trying in the process to save the lives of those they love.

That’s the “pushing the button” approach. Keep the problem at bay, make small changes, unleash the powerful energy a little at a time, every 108 minutes. The universe tends to course correct, but by making small changes, one can steer it slowly but surely towards a different destination.

But there’s another approach – one can blow up the hatch, the dam keeping the energy under control, and hope that it makes the whole problem go away without destroying everything. This approach to time travel would go back in time and try to do something so radical that everything resets, with the result that none of the events that caused the temporal paradox ever occurred.

I’m not sure which approach will win out. Daniel Faraday’s H-Bomb proposal seems to be aiming for the latter, while Eloise Hawking seems to be trying the former. As always, one can relate this to a broader question about two approaches to social change, to making history. Some believe real change occurs through gradual processes, while others believe it takes dramatic revolutionary intervention.

As I said, only time (lol) will show whether I’m right or wrong. In the mean time, we can only speculate, and enjoy the remarkably innovative, entertaining, and philosophically profound and complex phenomenon known as LOST!

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