Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lost Theories: Consistent Histories and Determinism

Sundial Park: An example of Consistent Histories and why Ben can’t kill Widmore (yet)

I’d like to give my view on the consistent histories theory of time travel that is occurring in Lost, and why Ben can’t kill Widmore (and a few other similar cases).

First off, a paraphrased definition of the consistent histories theory from Stephen Hawkings’ book:

The consistent histories approach basically states that you cannot go back in time unless history shows that you have already arrived in the past and not committed any acts that would conflict with your current situation in the present.

Ok – so what that means to me is, if you go back in time and do something, the result(s) of your action(s) will be apparent in the present time you left from, even before you left on your time travel expedition.


You MUST perform these actions, because the timeline demands it.

The Sundial Park example:

So, as an example, let’s say in Sundial Park there is a small manmade pond that has been there for many years. In 1975, a girl named Joan, 10 years old, is climbing an old oak in Sundial Park and falls. She lands unharmed in the pond.

Jump to 2005. Joan learns a highly specialized field of study in genetics and botany from the foremost expert in the field, her 50 year old mentor, Dr. Green. The field of study is genetic manipulation of certain types of plants. Joan is 30.

Jump to 2006. Joan’s boss Mr. Morris buys Sundial Park and closes it to the public. In 2007, Mr. Morris sends Joan alone to a secret dig site in Sundial Park to excavate valuable minerals containing unique plant fossils. While there, Joan strikes a pocket of electromagnetism that sends her back to 1850. She is in the same physical location (Sundial Park), but it is a complete wilderness. Luckily, she has tools with her (guess they came along), including a saw and shovel.

Joan cuts down trees and digs a foundation for a log cabin to protect her from the elements. During this time, Joan spots a rare plant with potential curative properties. However, this plant is dying of a fungus disease. It is the last plant of its kind. Utilizing her skills learned from Dr. Green’s mentoring, Joan spends 2 years cultivating another strand of the plant that is immune to the fungus. She succeeds and starts a small garden of these plants.

Then, in 1852, while digging, she strikes another pocket of electromagnetism that sends her back to 2007.

Between 1852 and 1900, her cabin deteriorates and disappears altogether, but the hole remains, becoming the man-made pond in Sundial Park that will save her life when she is 10 years old.

The plant she saved is discovered in 1920 during the opening of Sundial Park and the plant’s properties are used to cure several diseases and save hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe between 1925-1930. It is utilized as a preventive treatment for 50 years more until a synthetic replaces it.

So what does this mean and how does it relate to Lost? Determinism.

Expanding on the same example.

There are several things that must occur for Joan to save the plant from the fungus and build the garden so it can be discovered and thereby save hundreds of thousands of lives

-         she must go back in time and find the plant before it dies off

-         she must have genetics training from Dr. Green

-         she must go back in time and create the hole that will eventually become the pond that saves her life from the fall from the oak

-         Mr. Morris must buy the Sundial Park and close it to the public

-         Joan must be sent to the secret excavation site by Mr. Morris

Now, with all of this in mind – the lives of those saved by Joan’s actions have already been saved. What happened, happened. There is no changing that. Those people survived because of the genetically modified plant, and their kin were born and lived and did things in the world, etc.    

So – let’s see how the “time loop” affects the “constants” in the Sundial Park example:

Dr. Green:

In 1990, Dr. Green, who is depressed, tries to shoot himself. He has the freewill to make this choice. But the gun does not go off. Even after several tries. He tried to jump off a bridge, but there is a car accident beside him that stops him from jumping.


Because Dr. Green cannot die – not until he trains Joan in 2005. What happened, happened.

Mr. Morris:

In 1995, Mr. Morris betrays his associates. In retaliation, they attempt to kill him. Every attempt fails, regardless of how perfect the plan is. Something always goes wrong. Mr. Morris seems invincible.


Because Mr. Morris must buy Sundial Park in 2006 and he must send Joan to excavate in 2007. He has to be alive for that. Until then, what happened, happened.

After 2007, all bets are off for Mr. Morris.


So to close the loop and relate this to Lost:

Think of Dr. Green as Michael.

In terms of Michael: he could not kill himself until the island was “done with him”. Using the example above, he had to fulfill his role in the time loop before he could die.

The same is for Jack (trying to jump of the bridge). Until the island is done with him (until his role in Whatever Happened, Happened is complete), he cannot die.

Think of Mr. Morris as Widmore:

In terms of Widmore – for some reason, perhaps a betrayal by Widmore – Ben probably tried to kill him on the island but could not succeed. Eventually he and Richard realized what was going on, and excommunicated him from the Others and sent him away. This is why Ben makes the statement to Widmore “I can’t kill you”. Widmore has not finished his role in Whatever Happened, Happened. Until he does, he can’t die.

I like to think of it as a rope with knots in it where the rope represents linear time and the knot the binding event for the relevant character. Each character that is a constant in the time loop is bound by certain restrictions. Michael was bound until he did whatever it was he had to do, and then it was OK for him to die. So on the rope, he reached his ‘knot’ in time, and then was released from Determinism and was free. Unfortunately for him, this meant a quick death. 

Finally – does this theory play into Jacob and Nemesis not being able to kill each other? It may, but I’m not sure how. Their relationship seems more complicated….

I realize there may be gaps in the details, but hopefully the overall holds up. And hopefully I got all the dates straight in my example, it’s a little late at night to review this in detail…

If you are interested in how I think the ALT fits into this, I wrote a recent theory on that (Duality – a few days ago)…

And the beauty of this is: once again, Lost pulls of the duality theme. They have free will and determinism in existence at the same time.

Thanks for reading.



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