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Woo In Review: Lost Time Travel Contest Finalists PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Alison Smith   

WOO IN REVIEW: Lost Time Travel Contest Finalistsdeathfromtheskies

The Lost Time Travel Contest now closed for entries, but it's not over yet! Read over these three entries and vote in the comments (with words, not with the Vote Up/Vote Down button) for your favorite explanation of time travel. The winner of the contest will be announced at 12:00pm tomorrow, and that lucky individual will receive an autographed copy of Phil Plait's Death From the Skies!

ENTRY 1:

written by jpedigo, January 23, 2009
I'm going with option two: "If you believe that time travel is possible in reality, write a comment explaining how, why, under what circumstances, and what would be possible."

First let’s define how time works.
Einstein theorized that space and time are not two separate things, but one and the same. They are inexorably linked. Therefore, as objects in the universe move through space, so do they also move through time.

For example, our planet at the moment you're reading this occupies a different physical place in the universe than it did, say, any given moment last week. As passengers on Earth, we subjectively perceive this movement through physical space as movement through time. Described objectively however, we are actually moving through what I believe Einstein called spacetime. (Although, I'm not sure Einstein actually coined the phrase.)

Now, how, why and under what circumstances would time travel be possible?
The only circumstance in which travel through spacetime could be possible is the utilization of faster-than-light speed. Explaining how one could travel from Earth’s current location in spacetime to the location it was in last week is problematic to explain without considering a simpler example first: suppose you want to travel to a star that is four light years away from the earth. First, look at the star. You’re actually looking back in time – because (by definition of a light year) the light you see coming from the star left the star four years ago. Now, head toward that star faster than light. Hell, go fast enough to get to the star at the exact moment those particles of light began their journey to Earth. Did you make it? Great! You’re there just in time to wave goodbye to those light particles you were looking at – four years ago. You moved through space and time – spacetime!


What kind of time travel would be possible?
Only travel to the past would be possible. Because the universe is expanding, the future literally isn’t here yet. It’s being created as the universe expands. So I’m afraid you’re stuck on that star. No, you can’t race back faster than light – you’ll just keep going back in time. Sorry. Loser.

Keep in mind that all of this assumes a very elegant ability to travel faster than light. You’d have to be able to stop instantaneously as opposed to slowing to a stop, because the minute you dip below the speed of light, you start moving forward through time again. Navigation would be a big problem as well. In the example above, you could at least point yourself at a desired location in spacetime. But suppose you wanted to travel back to 1996 and tell yourself not to marry your fiancé (you know, because she’s just going to betray your wedding vows and leave you in ten years). You would have to find out where the earth was in the universe at that time (because remember, the universe is expanding) and how much faster than light you would have to travel to reach it at the right moment. Then of course you’re screwed when you get there, because you can’t go back to the future. You’d either have to kill yourself in the past and assume your identity as an older man or go to all sorts of trouble creating another one. Then again, once you got set up you could get rich betting on sports or buying stocks. Of course, there’s the problem of where the future went. Did it cease to exist? Essentially, the universe shrank when you came back in time. Did you cause that? Did you murder the future? You selfish bastard. That'll weigh on your conscience. Wait, no you’re right – it must still be there somewhere because if you came back in time, someone else certainly can.

But...will they come back from a future in which you exist or don’t exist? It would have to be the former, because you…no wait, you’re still…dammit! I lost it.

Screw it, I’m switching to option three: “If you believe time travel is impossible in reality, write a comment explaining how and why it would be impossible.”

Because if it were possible, someone from the future would be here. End of story.

As for LOST, my explanation is the show takes place in a fictional universe with fictionalized laws of physics that differ from those of reality.

***

ENTRY 2:

written by Andrew McGrae, January 24, 2009
As far as I can tell, the system of time travel they are using is Larry Niven's "Law of Conservation of History", i.e. there is only one self-consistent timeline and anything you do in the past has already happened (see also the Novikov self-consistency principle, and You Already Changed The Past on TV Tropes). So when Faraday says that you can't change the past, he's not talking in the annoying soft sci-fi sense that you can't change anything important such as killing someone or doing something that would get in the history books, he literally means that you can't change the past. At All. If someone had been secretly watching the Hatch a few years back they would have seen the Losties appear and act out the "past" scene exactly as they would in this episode.

Now as Alison correctly points out, Ethan meeting Locke seems to contradict this as he should have knowledge that he apparently didn't have back then, but the fact that he was undercover when he first met Locke gave him ample reason not to say anything crazy. It's also possible that Ethan told Ben about this first meeting and that was why Locke ended up on the list of "good" people to be taken away (Ben seems to know much more about what's happening than most people).

As a side-note, Desmond's time-travel works in a different way from everyone else, as he doesn't physically move but rather appears inside his own body in the same place where he was standing at that time. My guess would be that he blacks out when first reaching periods that he will later travel back to (I hate time-travel grammar) and so when he met Faraday in season 4 he had no memory of his first meeting from this episode since that took place during one of his "jumps".

As for why some stuff travels through time but other stuff doesn't, this seems to be largely based on plot convenience but the basic rule appears to be that the time-travel affects humans and anything they are touching at the time (such as their clothes and the bullet). Things that they were touching when the island disappeared got super-charged for some reason and will continue to travel even if there is noone nearby. Yeah, it's a handwave, but I'll accept it if it means we don't have to see Locke naked.

 

***

ENTRY 3:

written by José, January 25, 2009
OK. Here's my re-write.

Scene 1: The Death of Jack - Jack dies in a horrible car accident. That might not seem like it applies, but it's my re-write, and I can't handle any more of his squinty whining. Am I the only one who hates him that much? I'm thinking of killing off Bernard too. He seems like a nice enough fellow, but I'm terrified that there might be another entire episode devoted to him. God, that was a boring episode.

Scene 2: Disappearing Island - The Island disappears, of course, because it has moved somewhere to the south Atlantic. This is important because no airplane full of drugs leaving form Nigeria would have any business flying over the Pacific, and could not then crash into the island.

Scene 3: Why was That Along for the Ride? - The Zodiac and peoples clothing traveling through time can be explained by the Second Law of Hollywood Thermodynamics: The conservation of things that might be important to the story or things might make the program inappropriate for children were they not to go along. This is also why when someone turns invisible, their clothing also disappears. Thank god they haven't worked invisibility into Lost... yet

Scene 4: Ethan Rom's Bad Memory – The clue to this can be found in Ethan's last name, which is of course just an acronym for “Read Only Memory”. This means that unless Ethan brings his flash drive along, which he did not on this occasion, he is unable to acquire new memories.

Scene 5: Locke's Bullet and Compass – see: Second Law of Hollywood Thermodynamics:.

Scene 6: Faraday's a Liar – Faraday made up that stuff about not being able to change things. He was just trying to get rid of everyone in preparation for scene 7. There is a funny exchange in this scene where Sawyer asks Faraday “Hey Pencil Head, how come you know so much about time travel.” Faraday replies with “I once owned a timeshare in Florida”. If you don't get that joke, that's about all it takes for someone to be an expert at something in Lost.

Scene 7: Faraday Tries to Score Some Pot - This scene opens with Faraday banging on the hatch.


Desmond : "Who is it?"

Faraday : "Its Faraday man! Will you open up, I want some stuff!"

Desmond : "Who?"

Faraday : "Faraday man, open up!"

Desmond : "Faraday?"

Faraday : "Yeah Faraday, come on man open up I think the “Others” saw me!"

Desmond : "Faraday's not here!"


I think it's pretty clear why Desmond had trouble remembering the encounter.

Scene 8: Why Don't the “Others” Jump - see: Second Law of Hollywood Thermodynamics:.

Scene 9: Tree Surprise! - Bernard jumps through time alone and finds himself high in a tree. Carved into the trunk of the tree are the words “Bernard is Jack's real father and Kate is half Polar Bear”. As he is reading this, Bernard turns invisible. The tree is then hit by a drug smuggling plane from Nigeria, killing Bernard instantly, but not before some new impossible to reconcile plot points have been created.

Scene 10: Bad Robot – This gripping scene begins and ends with a robot voice over saying "bad robot".


Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest! I am only sorry that we couldn't pick more than three responses, because everyone had great ideas for time travel possibilities. But, JREF staff got together and looked them over, and these were the three that really stood out. Be sure to vote on your favorite response, and remember to check back tomorrow at noon to find out the winner!

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written by weirdloser, January 27, 2009
Hey, Alison, you wrote this in the comments.

Every time one of these
Woo in Review
articles is published, at least a handful of people chime in to remind me that the works being reviewed are fiction.
Every time, I make sure to remind them that the article series contains reviews of television shows, movies, books, stage shows, and products that have paranormal or critical thinking elements. And that, in most cases, these works will be fiction.
Of course time travel in a television show isn't going to be accurate as a reality. There is no time travel in reality, so how could it be? However, one can just as easily argue that if a work of fiction creates rules for itself, it should abide by those rules for the duration.


Well "one can just as easily argue" as you have. However one would be arguing against the premise of one's own column. I took that premise to be the first words of the first WOO in Review:

From Jeff Wagg:

At the JREF, one of our roles is to examine cultural phenomena from a critical thinking standpoint. In this vein, we present a series of reviews by our research assistant Alison Smith. Each week, she'll pick a different book, movie, or TV show and give it a skeptical once over. We hope these reviews will encourage discussion about what it means to be a skeptic in a world where fiction and fact often blur.


Where fact and fiction blur isn't the same as where fiction and fiction blur. Giving popular culture "a skeptical once over" is a far cry from reviewing anything that has "critical thinking elements". I used critical thinking to improve my pizza dough (less yeast, more water).
You even think that two English majors discussing the Lost book club is appropriate content. (!)

You seem to think people "chime in" because they don't get what you're doing. I think they complain because they do get it. You're diluting the Swift brand, as we advertising people like to say. You changed your column from popular culture skepticism to Lost fan chat.
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written by moriler, January 27, 2009
VOTE: #1 -- but with everything after "But"... snipped.

#3 is lost-centric, and i don't watch lost, so I have no idea if it's better or worse.
#2 mostly uses Niven's definition and applies it to the Lost universe. Which isn't necessarily inaccurate, but I think there could be more expansion of the subject.
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written by weirdloser, January 27, 2009
You also wrote:

For instance, if, in the movie The Sixth Sense, after Bruce Willis' character had been shot and died, if other characters who were not dead besides the boy the movie was about started walking up and talking to Bruce Willis' character, then at the end, after the reveal, everyone who viewed the movie would turn to each other and say "What the crap?". If Bruce Willis' character was supposed to be dead for the vast majority of the movie, then no other character should be able to speak to him unless the writer messed up somewhere.


I am already aware, it so happens, of the phenomenon of fans picking holes in a work of sci-fi. Your 8-year-old readers might appreciate you spelling it out for them so carefully.
Is that your best example? The Sixth Sense if it were completely different? We're now examining the flaws in a fictional version of a work of fiction.
Also, nice spoiler.

I'm obviously steamed. I can't forget the criminal profiling contest, the most unskeptical and incurious thing thing I hope I'll ever see on Swift. Please respond to my comments there if you disagree.

Also you already went into the edifying nature of Lost in your November 15, 2008 column.

I vote for number 3. (Number 1 was close.)
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written by asmith, January 27, 2009
weirdloser,

Why not keep the comments for an article within the comments of that article? Or, if you want, you can even e-mail me at alison@randi.org (an address I've given on here quite a few times).

You are also free to send comments on Woo in Review's inclusion in Swift to Jeff Wagg at jeff@randi.org.

And you are, of course, free to comment in this area all you like. As I am free to refrain from responding beyond the suggestions above.

-- A
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written by Cuddy Joe, January 27, 2009
Yikes. I've been dubious on this 'Woo In Review' thing, mostly because little woo gets reviewed, it is obvious Ms. Smith is/was a big-time Lost fan, and the column writing is.. well, high school girlish and in deep need of an editor. I had hoped the criminal profiling thing was an aberration, but this 'contest' suggests it was not.

To the extent anyone gives a hoot at JREF, this is one long time JREF member who won't bother clicking on Woo In Review again.

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written by Mikie, January 28, 2009
I vote for #1

I like it! (Woo in Review). Some folks are just too critical of what I consider a fun segment.
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written by KingMerv00, January 28, 2009
I vote for #2

I'm with Mikie. Some people take Swift too seriously. I like WIR.
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written by moriler, January 28, 2009
Yeah, seriously, chill out, people. LOST is, whether you like it or not, popular culture; it's perfectly sensible to review a part of popular culture that was presented particularly junkily. CSI is a frequent offender in this regard as well -- ask any prosecuting attorney who has to select jury members.

So rather than frothing and spewing spittle all over the comments, just kick back, relax, and wait for one you _do_ like. eh?
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written by grochon, January 28, 2009
I'll have to vote for #1 because it was well-written and because it contained the following:

"Essentially, the universe shrank when you came back in time. Did you cause that? Did you murder the future? You selfish bastard."

That made me laugh, so it gets my vote.
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Vote for #3
written by huw, January 28, 2009
I vote #3, primarily because of the comments on scenes 9 and 10.
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#1
written by TenaciousMT, January 28, 2009
I vote for #1. I like an argument so convoluted it disproves itself! And it made me laugh, too.
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written by bilton06, January 29, 2009
Yep I vote #1 as well for being the easiest to understand without have to click on links. And I don't watch Lost.
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written by vparent@cox.net, January 30, 2009
Wow. There is nothing wrong with offering criticism of WIR, but since Alison's contributions began there continues to be a kind of spitefulness to many of the negative comments that remind me of the sort of seething ire shared by jealous girls and teenage boys spurned by the hot girl in school.

I actually agree with some of the content of most of those criticisms, but they lose their strength when weighed down with less than graceful prose.
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