The wrong ‘brand’ of science

There’s been a bit of discussion on the site about the mechanics of the island, what science is behind its weird physical properties. A lot of the theories of late have been talking about quantum physics as a framework for the island’s science and I’ve never really been happy with that and after watching “The Variable” in particular, I’m convinced that it’s not the right one. I’m going to outline why I don’t think quantum physics has much to do with Lost, then talk about what I think is going on. (So please don’t get halfway through and go ‘she’s just being negative 😉 ).
1. Faraday Daniel is a physicist, so it would make sense that whatever branch of science he is working on his doctorate would be directly related to what is happening on the island (his consciousness experiments directly relate to Desmond’s experiences). Dan clearly describes what he is as a relativisitc physicist. That deals with the theories of relativity NOT quantum physics, they are quite different, possibly connected but as of yet no theory has been able to do this.
2. Dan’s Journal When you look at the contents of Dan’s journal through screen captures, most of the terminology is about relativity NOT quantum physics.
3. Damon and Carlton are writers not physicists. Yes they are really, really good at what they do, but for them to be able to understand a branch of science that even many scientists admit to being confused about, then synthesize that knowledge down to be able to base a whole sci-fi show around this unbelievably complex and primarily theoretical and unproven science seems a bit far-fetched.
4. The viewers, the people watching Lost range from everyday people just watching it because they enjoy it, to sci-fi fans, to people like us who are really active in researching and talking about the show. The basic science behind the island needs to be somewhat understandable by ALL viewers. A recent example of why I don’t think quantum physics can do that is a discussion around Achalli’s last theory. I don’t think he gets it, he and Dabs don’t think I get it and we’ve all researched and read up about quantum physics, quantum suicide and Schrodinger’s Cat. Yet we have really different understandings of just the basics. Only a quantum physicist could tell us who has it right or not. So how could this be put in a way that the average viewer could comprehend?

So now, what do I think is being used as the base physics behind the island? Daniel said it — relativity. Einstein’s theory talked about space and time being connected, not separate, he looked at the curvature of space time and how it is affected by bodies with large mass or gravity, how this also affects light. He also allows for parallel universes and wormholes. A big thing is the current application of the general theory of relativity in GPS. The curvature of space time needs to be taken into account when the satellites send back coordinates or the system isn’t accurate enough. If the island is a point of more mass, higher or fluctuating gravity (possibly caused by the electromagnetic energy), most of the things we’ve seen can be explained. If the gravitational pull of the island change,s that explains the time differences between Faraday’s rocket test and the doctor washing up, more or less gravity curves space time differently. It can also be used to explain Faraday’s comment about the light scattering differently. It also makes sense with Dan telling his Mum why he can’t go on the freighter, Widmore wants him to do complex calculations with trajectory and coordinates, sounds like the stuff they do to keep GPS accurate.
Einstein’s theory has lead to the idea that there are gravitational waves created by heavy bodies moving at light speed. The island is usually drifting slowly in space time, the turning of the FDW is a dramatic and fast movement (faster than light speed which is why is seemed to disappear). This was explained by Damon and Carlton in the podcast before ‘The Incident’. The island is usually at impulse speed, The FDW sent it into warp speed. Does the Lamp Post use the gravitational waves to track the movement of the island?

The big thing though is that everyday people can ‘get’ this. Most people know of Einstein’s theory of relativity, people have a general idea on what it is about and it’s often described as a physics theory that lay people can discuss. “Gravity, space time, parallel universes, ok, I can see how that fits.” For those of us who want to explore further, it all makes sense. We’ve been given all the science we need, the pieces of the puzzle are there, we have some idea on what the picture is beginning to look like, season 6 will finish it off. It won’t introduce new science, that just doesn’t make sense from a narrative perspective, on top of the fact that they killed off the physicist who would explain anything new. Dan’s journal didn’t mention many worlds, quantum suicide or Schrodinger’s cat, it mentions space time and the Lorentz Invarient. Look up Minkowski, not just a dude on the freighter. The science behind the island is based on the theory of relativity not quantum physics.

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17 thoughts on “The wrong ‘brand’ of science

  1. i agree and disagree. i think due to the fact that quantum physics is not fully understood, makes it a good tool for the writers to use to explain phenomenon we don’t encounter in real life.

    i agree with the fact that not enough stress has been put on relativity, and i have an old theory (from season 4 i think) dealing with einstein-minkowski spacetime.

    perhaps just as science is trying to unify relativity and quantum physics into 1 theory so to will lost combine the two to explain the mysteries of lost.

  2. Tas this is a very good point. All us quantum theorist could end up with egg on our face. I’m going to look into this and see if I can spin a theory based on relativity. Again great point well made!

  3. thanks guys, I guess I’m really coming from the perpsective that the show is first and foremost about people, their choices, relationships, actions. That is huge and so complex and interweaving and intricate with so many moral and ethical discussions to be had, that I feel that the science behind the island needs to be quite simple. I can see there are some cross overs, especially with Stephen Hawkings ideas, but again, most people out there have a knowledge of him and his work even I to just be able to say he’s the dude with the robot voice talking about black holes. A simple science means they can spend 17 episodes really tipping us on our heads with characters.

  4. Tas, i agree. Time travel and parallel universes are subjects that a wide range of people have heard of and understand. If the writers began to dabble in the murky depths of quantum and theoretical physics, a large portion of the audience will be alienated and they won’t want to watch it – which wouldn’t go down well with ABC!!!

    at the end of the day, the show needs to tailor to all tastes. the basic storyline needs to be easily understood by the masses but many smaller details and puzzles need adding for addicts like you and me to discuss and pour over.

  5. I also agree 100%, Tas. Damon and Carlton are old school, grew-up-in-the-80s guys. You can tell in the podcasts that they gravitate (pardon the pun) towards the sort of sci-fi that takes it’s cue from Einstein through to Hawking. None of this mamby pamby purely theoretical quantum stuff. The thing is, as you point out, relativistic physics is ALL THERE in front of us, whereas quantum… well, isn’t.

  6. Believe in what? It’s a sci-fi show, so there has to be a scientific base or else it is a fantasy. I don’t think we’ll have any complete exposition of exactly how everything works but I do think that there will be a quick ‘here’s what’s going on, fill in the blanks for yourselves’ (which will make sense scientifically for those who want to delve deeper). That’s why I think most of the island’s properties can be explained with relativity quickly and easily so that they can get on with the character drama, which is the main crux of the show.

  7. I was paraphrasing Mrs. Hawking. Some things will be explained in a slight way. But this is fiction and like many sci fi shows the science will be whatever the writers make the science to be. It may not be based on quantum physics or relativity physics or whatever. And these things will only be mentioned in passing.

  8. i’m sure that it was another member on his site who made reference to The Force from the Star Wars films – it was better when the Force was just some mystical power that you could harness and you didn’t know what it was. but then in episode 1, the force was kind of explained through things called midechlorians (excuse my spelling) which sort of spoilt the effect.

    It may be better if some of the mysteries of the island such as its healing power and the smoke monster remain a mystery. this way the show remains a proper sci-fi and the writers don’t have to explain the science behind the mysteries.

    personally, i would like a bit of an explaination on these things, even if the explaination is not based on any real scientific facts.

  9. I kind of want a bit of both, I’d like some of the big picture stuff answered, if only to say what theories it was based on, but yes, I’d also like some things to be left unknown. I really don’t think the ‘science’ of Lost has been made up. Their mythic, religious, scientific and philosophical references have been spot on and really well researched, I can’t see them not having a solid scientific foundation which they bounced off.
    On The Force – yes I agree, totally dodgy, mostly because it was just made up. If it’s not based on science, don’t tell us about it.

  10. Doesn’t quantum theory originate from Einsteinian physics? I thought Einstein started the whole ball rolling and other physicists just continued along the path he opened up.

    Reality is not what it seems. Time and space are more complex than the Greeks allowed for. New instruments can measure the stuff of the universe on a whole new level and all bets about the physical universe are off because matter just doesn’t operate the way you (or Einstein) would have thought.

    I see no contradiction or complication introduced in the show that cannot be explained for the average viewer with a few lines of dialogue.

  11. I’m mostly talking about the branch of quantum mechanics that has been mentioned here a bit of late where even the physicists can’t agree on how to interpret it because many or the concepts are so purely mathmatical and theoretical. Ideas like Schrodinger’s cat and quantum suicide are one interpretation of a whole pile of interpretations on mathematic ‘stuff’ for want of a better word. What I’m talking about does merge with aspects of quantum theory and I think can be easily explained with a quick chat between characters. People are familiar with Einstein and Hawking and can hang their hats on those theories because they can be simple enough for a lay person to understand. I don’t think the more pseudo science and complicated mathematical quantum mechanics is easily decipherable or explainable to all.

  12. Also, I haven’t based this on my opinion, it’s all in the show. They’ve used real science and have told us about it – in what Daniel says, what his doctorate is on, in his journal. The science is well researched and strongly founded in relatitistic physics. Why would they do all of that, spend the time filling Daniel’s journal with stuff that we can see and research and then go ‘Hey, I know we’ve said and shown other stuff but the science is all obscure quantum mechanics’ that makes absolutely no sense from a narrative perspective. Yes they’ve been a bit sneaky with how they’ve shown parts of the story to us but that would be like lying and they haven’t done that.

  13. I just started rewatching season 5. When the Losties start flashing on the island Sawyer demands an explanation from Faraday. Dan says he would have trouble telling a quantum physicist what’s going on. I guess we could take this statement two ways. Either quantum physics is involved and it’s just a hard concept to grasp or that that type of scientist wouldn’t understand because the answer is in relativistic not quantum terms.
    But Faraday DID bring up the subject of quantum physics.

  14. Quantum physics and relativistic physics are related, especially where Hawking and his theories are involved so Im not saying that there is no quantum physics at all. What I’m talking about is the more obscure, interpretations of quantum mechanics where the scientists themselves can’t even agree on how to view and understand the mathematics involved such as schrodingers cat and quantum suicide… There hasn’t been references to many worlds or infinite possiblities or the same events repeating over and over, the evidence in the show leads towards the more accepted, understood and scientifically agreed upon sciences. I think that line by Faraday is there to tell us that whatever is going on is a bit crazy, a bit outside the norm and not what most scientists would expect to happen (FDW and time skipping flashes isn’t what you get on trip to most tropic islands). It’s a way of telling us that the processes at work here are a bit out of the ordinary not that there are infinate worlds, that everyone is dead and alive at the same time.

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