Thursday, March 11, 2010

{4,8,15, 16,23,42}

I'm satisfied with the explanation of the numbers so far (after Dr. Linus). I've read others who are most definitely not. But if the numbers are people, well, the numbers are people. It may seem a little like solving a mystery by saying 'oh that? there never was a mystery'. But I can't see being more satisfied if it was revealed that the numbers are the coordinates of the island in 6-dimensional space, or the solution to Fermat's Last Theorem, or the total number of times John Locke said 'Don't tell me what I can't do!' before his untimely passing. Throughout the show they've been formal signifiers of the story's greatest, most overarching theme: the conflicting roles of fate and chance in shaping our lives.

What could more simply and succinctly embody this duality than a sequence of numbers? At first glance, numbers can seem completely inert, governed only by the self-evident (and boring) rule that one must follow another. Why must 109 follow 108? Why is Sawyer on the island? To many of us (and many of the show's characters, at one time or another) the answers are the same. Because one thing led to another. Cause and effect, nothing more to it than that. The only reason John shows up at Jack's hospital is because any injuries that happen in that district are treated at Jack's hospital. And the force that led him to crash in just that district: Chance, Randomness, whatever you want to call it. Picking Jack's district from any other district is no different than picking 16 instead of 8 from a hat full of numbers.

It's not necessarily so, though. All collections of numbers need not be there by randomness alone. If I write down the sequence {0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144} I am most definitely not writing down randomly selected numbers. The reason I included 34, for instance, rather than 35, is because I know the rule that dictates the identity of every member of that sequence. I know that the rule permits those numbers, and only those numbers, to populate that sequence. And even if I didn't know it, if I was clever enough I could determine it simply by knowing the sequence. The rule is, in a strange way, embodied in the members of the sequence, though not in the inidividual members--I can no more tell you what the rule might be if I knew only the identity of 3 than I could if I knew only 13--but in the sequence as a whole. The rule of randomness, of anything goes, can be dissolved in this and other cases to reveal a deeper, ordered reality beneath, but one must be patient enough to allow time for the revelation of the picture in all of its parts. After 5 years, the rule that orders our Lostian universe is now known, and that rule is called 'candidacy'.

We now know that the numbers signify a collection of very specific human beings. And we also (probably) know the rule that includes those particular human beings, and their corresponding numbers--rather than others. That rule is called 'candidacy'. It cannot be written in summation and limit terminology, but it is a rule all the same. Expressed in more mathy terms, suppose we know that some function takes a number and adds 1 to it, that is, f(x) = x + 1. We can go on to say that with great confidence f(3) = 4 because, and only because, we know that f signifies the function x + 1. We do not know as much about our equivalent function in Lost: the function 'candidacy'. We can guess that the input to the function is all of the names on the Lighthouse wheel. We know that the function's output is {4,8,15,16,23,42}--which could also be written as a list of people. But though we know the name of the function--'candidacy'--its inner workings remain a black box. We simply do not know why we end up with the candidates we have, because we don't know what 'candidacy' really is.

That, to me, is the true mystery of the numbers: What is it to be a candidate?
There are several numbers-specific sub-mysteries that I hope will be revealed as we learn about more about the candidates:


1. What makes a person a candidate?

2. If the numbers are associated with our heroes—in their capacity as ‘candidates’—why have they been associated with such bad luck for those close to either Hurley or Phil Toomey?

3. Who and what was the source of the numbers broadcast which both the French Team and Phil Toomey heard?


  1. Hey, abeyer! Not sure about the other questions, but we know who recorded the numbers broadcast. Per Alvar Hanso in the Sri Lanka Orientation, it was the DHARMA Initiative.

  2. Ah, the DI. Thanks, Big. I truly hope their story isn't over yet--I've got more questions! gotta get a post up soon.


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