It seems like there has been some interest in this area, so I decided to give it a try. This is a tough one to take on, and what is written here is likely just the beginnings of a more sound theory that may come down the road from someone else. Perhaps ideas can be generated from this theory.
The simplest approach I could think of was to break it into questions with categorical answers, and to try to answer those questions in sequential order, thereby trying to arrive at some sort of conclusion. I probably did not choose the most ideal questions, and others should feel free to add those as they see fit.
1st question: Was the appearance of the numbers coincidence/chance or driving force?
Choice: Coincidence or driving force
My Choice: Driving force
Reason 1: mainly due to the sheer volume of appearances
Reason 2: the tie-in of the (non-canonical) Valenzetti equation
Discussion: In my opinion, the main number of appearances of the numbers is far too great to be considered a coincidence. And if it is not a coincidence, that means there must be a driving force behind it. In addition, the Valenzetti equation lends a certain criticality to the numbers by stating that they represent the solution to the equation for the end of humanity. This clue leads me to believe that the numbers are linked to a greater cause in regards to humanity.
2nd question: if driving force is chosen in question #1, what is the purpose of the numbers and did they have an impact on the characters?
– Non-impact: Informational only
– Impact: Course correction predestination-based
– Impact: Course correction time travel determinism-based
The meaning behind each of these choices is the following:
– Informational only: the appearance of the numbers is not random or coincidence, but there existence has no bearing on the characters; the numbers are there for a reason, and that reason may provoke the curiosity of the characters but it does not influence their decisions and/or actions.
– Course correction: the appearance of the numbers is not random or coincidence, and their existence has a bearing on the characters; the numbers are there for a reason, and that reason provides enlightenment, influences the characters, and/or in some way impacts their decisions and actions.
o Predestination-based: the course correction is due to the existence of Fate or Destiny — the end-game is established ahead of time, and all points must lead in that direction
o Time travel determinism based: in the theory of consistent histories or whatever happened, happened, if an individual travels back in time, he/she must perform actions that lead to results that already exist in the future (see my theory “Sundial Park” for more detail)
My choice: Course correction predestination-based
Discussion: Here’s where it really begins to get tricky for me.
(1) I disregard the first option (informational only) because in my opinion the numbers did have an impact on the characters. For example, they were the winning lottery numbers for Hurley, which played a role in his future. Also, the numbers appeared enough times to enough characters that certain individuals (such as Locke and eventually Desmond) believed that they were on the island for a reason — that the evidence was too much in favor of a design than simply chance. Because the characters took on these views, it influenced their actions and decisions.
(2) I disregard the time travel determinism because the numbers do not seem linked to the characters when they went back to Dharma. For example, the Valenzetti equation, which was discovered during the Cold War in the 60s, is pre-time travel (as far as we know based on the one time travel incident we are aware of). There is also no evidence of a link of the character traveling back in time, initiating the numbers, and then going back to the future, thereby creating a determinism factor.
(3) This leaves a predestination-based course correction. But what does that really mean? If everything is fated to occur, what would one need course correction for? That would imply free will, and then a need to course-correct free-will in a certain direction.
And this is where I am going.
Predestination-based course correction (more detail):
In order for predestination-based course correction to even exist, we have to accept the existence of a duality: that free-will and predestination can co-exist. Is this possible?
Milton’s Paradise Lost was referenced several times during Lost. It is well known for its references to The Garden of Eden (which I still believe the island is btw) and the Fall of Man. Another thing is it well known for is its discussion and outlook on free will vs. predestination.
Milton’s take on it is this: humanity has free will, but God is all-knowing at all points in time. So, from an individual’s POV, he or she has the freedom to choose his or her path in life = free will. From God’s POV, who lives outside of time, the “book” of humanity is already written. Every choice already exists, every outcome already exists. Not that God is making the choices, however — but from God’s POV, it’s said and done.
From an excerpt discussing Milton’s Paradise Lost:
Moreover, God declares that humans cannot “justly accuse / Their Maker, or their making, or their fate, / As if predestination overruled / Their will” (iii.112-115) because if predestination could overrule a human’s fate, free will would not exist. God knew that creating puppets on strings would be pointless and free will is necessary for humanity to properly operate. God reaffirms, “Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault” (iii.118), meaning that he knew Adam and Eve would fall from grace, but his knowledge did not affect their decision.
As an example, take the series of Lost. If you owned the DVDs to the entire series, you could put them and watch them at any point you wished. This can be viewed as similar (for example’s sake) to how God would watch humanity’s existence. He can see all points, all times. They don’t have to be in linear order. He can see how humanity ends, how it begins, what choices were made along the way, etc.
As the viewer of the Lost series, you can view Lost in the same fashion, but you are just that — an observer — you cannot make the characters choices for them. That is how Milton viewed God’s role as well: designer of time and space, but then observer of the free-will of man. Because God lives outside the dimension of time and is not bound by it like humanity is, he knows all points in a non-linear fashion, and therefore, at any one point (other than the end), it is pre-destined. It would be like you as a watcher tuning in to Season 4, and then the end of the Series. Everything in-between is driven by free-will of the characters, yet is also predestined from your POV because you know, as a whole, how it will end.
So how to the Numbers fit in?
If the Numbers are truly an indicator of a major milestone in humanity that is pre-destined to occur, whether it be the destruction of humanity, or the possibility of destruction, or what-have-you, then one can argue that the numbers are a natural phenomenon (like gravity so to speak) that act as course correctors to ensure that the end that is pre-destined comes to pass.
What this means to me is that the numbers appear to our Losties because they play such a significant role in humanity’s fate (based on the Valenzetti equation and several remarks regarding how the release of “evil incarnate” will bring about the end of humanity, or as Widmore puts it, “everything you care about will cease to exist”).
In other words, their decisions and actions have such a large impact on how humanity ends up, that they in fact exposed to bits and pieces of fate and determinism, they are “course corrected”, and one of these natural factors is the numbers — and, to clarify, it is not God course correcting, but the space-time system that exists as a singularity, the reality that from a certain vantage point (where time is not linear), the beginning and the end were formed at the same time, and thus, pre-destined.
To get into the weeds a little bit more: a normal individual whose day-to-day decision making will have no impact on the fate of humanity would have no reason to be course corrected towards a pre-destined ending for humanity; but an individual whose sole decision-making may cause the ending of humanity would certainly be influenced by fate if that free-will decision-making was in contrast to the pre-destined ending of humanity.
So — to attempt to summarize this in a fashion that makes at least a little bit of sense:
1. Based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, we have free will but live within a pre-determined destiny (overall to humanity. we can play however we want in the playground (free-will), but recess ends after an hour (predestination)).
2. Decisions and decision makers that can effect the end of the story directly will be course corrected in the direction of the pre-determined destiny even though they do indeed have free will; whereas an individual with no impact on the pre-destined ending will have no reason to be exposed to course correction
3. The numbers are an example of nature’s course correction device, and this is based on the Valenzetti equation which related them to the fate of humanity, and also on the many appearances where they had a direct impact on the characters, many of whom made crucial decisions leading to the continued existence of humanity
Well — I hope that made some sense. And I am sure there are plenty of holes in the theory, but worse-case perhaps it’s a starting point for some discussion. I would have liked to have added more logical examples (such as the Milton’s Paradise Lost) and less speculation; perhaps there is more out there that can be brought up.
Thanks for reading.