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!


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.



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.




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!