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Lost And The Infinite Improbability Drive


Anyone who knows me will eventually get the question, “Do you watch Lost?” Sadly it has become my barometer for coolness. If you are still watching, you clearly have a penchant for the strange. That is, you are cool.

I, like others still tuned in week after week, are searching disparately for something to make sense of the show, and I have finally found a theory (or possibly a pair of complementary theories) that make sense of the show.

Oddly, the theory starts with my former barometer of cool – whether you have read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (which despite the term trilogy now runs to five novels now with a sixth reportedly due later this year.)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide featured a spaceship called the Heart of Gold. The Heart of Gold operated on the Infinite Improbability Drive. The second book in the series, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, describes it this way:

The Heart of Gold’s Improbability Drive made it the most powerful and unpredictable ship in existence. There was nothing it couldn’t do, provided you knew exactly how improbable it was that the thing you wanted it to do would ever happen.

When the improbability drive is operating, the spaceship passes through space based on the odds against something happening. As two of the books characters are drifting unprotected through open space, at the last moment before they die, the spaceship Heart of Gold picks them up. The odds against them being saved and the improbability field around the ship pass the same point of improbability and the two are rescued.

So what does this have to do with Lost? Well, the idea of the island as some sort of improbability field occurred to me as I was reading Doc Jensen’s theory of Lost and zero point energy.

There’s a whole bunch of Men of Faith ‚Äî fringe thinkers, mostly ‚Äî who believe that zero point energy is like magic. It can be mentally directed to make stuff happen (a.k.a. mind over matter), or even grant a kind of omniscience that could allow a person to experience past, present, and future all at once…

Remember the scene in this season’s second episode in which Neil (a.k.a. Frogurt) died? Now, I am convinced that this scene is actually a coded message pointing toward zero point theory. The scene begins with Miles Straume hauling in a dead boar. Then, Neil starts yelling at Sawyer for calling him Frogurt, emphatically reminding us that his name is Neil. Now, earlier in the episode, Neil carried on about the utter pointlessness of their survival struggle. Why work so hard to build a new camp or start a fire if the time flashes will basically take it all away? His cynical consternation reaches a crescendo in his death scene, when Neil rants about their inability to produce simple, conventional energy (”We have no fire!”) before getting killed by a flaming arrow of irony.

I actually saw that differently. I don’t see that as a flaming arrow of irony, I see it as a flaming arrow of improbability. As Neil is ranting about the absence of fire, the combination of zero point energy and improbability come together to provide fire, but not in the way Neil would like.

For other examples, you don’t need to look very far. In last week’s episode, Locke and the crew arrive at the Orchid station. Juliette says, ‘What are the odds this thing would be here at this time?’ A time shift immediately erases the station.

In season one, Walt is reading a comic book featuring attacking polar bears, and the crew walking to the radio tower the next day is attacked by a rampaging polar bear.

How about the odds the heroine addicted Charlie would stumble upon a heroine laden plane?

And don’t even get me started on the long odds against winning the lottery and Hurley’s connection to the numbers.

Could zero point energy and improbability create a field where whatever you thought, no matter how improbable, could blink into existence?

The theory isn’t without precedence in science fiction.

In his 1936 story Evolution, John Campbell described the Probability Time Wave:

“Their PTW tube caught and displayed every possibility that was ever to exist. And somewhere in that vast sweep of probability, every possible thing existed. Somewhere, the wildest dream of the wildest optimist was, and became fact.”

So what if the island is essentially a focal point for energy and improbability? It would certainly explain a lot of the oddities surrounding the island.

Jack’s unresolved feelings for dad? Bing! Christian Shepherd starts walking around the island. Michael wants to get his boy off the island? Done! He just needs to screw his friends first. The island is providing everything people want, but doing it with strings. You want fire? Ok! But it’s going to kill you.

Now this theory may cover the “funtional” aspects of the island, but it does not even begin to address questions about the storyline of Lost. However, I expect improbability to play an important part in the answer.



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Written by Michael Turk