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Up to date as of February 07, 2010

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The mysterious occurrences around the Numbers have created a flurry of attempts to mathematically explain the various happenings on the Island.

Apophenia is the perception of patterns, or connections, where in fact none exist. Most psychologists agree that this condition exists in everyone, to some degree; it is a bias of the human mind.

Contents

Relevance

The Golden Pontiac was a stunt car used in multiple flashback scenes, spawning many theories as to the driver of the vehicle.

The Show

Lost is a television show that lends itself to the creation of apophenic theories, more than most. The fact that it features a large number of central characters (and many other recurring secondary characters) is a major factor in this; if you increase the number of protagonists, it follows that the number of connections between characters can increase at an exponential rate in comparison. One of the themes acknowledged by the writers, in fact, is about the serendipitous nature of improbable meetings, i.e., the "6 degrees effect".

Fansites

Some would argue that LOST fans get carried away in their analysis of details based on this phenomenon. Whilst many connections between characters do exist, it's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that there are connections between every pair of characters. Similarly, while many minor details can bear fruit as clues and Easter Eggs for the plot, some are not meant to be analyzed; some discrepancies are just coincidences, prop or continuity errors, or simply instances where applying Occam's razor is the best attitude to adopt. To quote a popular phrase: Sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar.

Examples in Lost

Numbers Game

Adding or subtracting any two of the the Numbers will produce another number which attaches some significance to the plot. There are only rare examples where such arithmetic will be beyond coincidence (due to minuscule probability), such as 7418880. Likewise, any random string or set of numbers (e.g. 491239744276467345) is likely to contain one or more of the Numbers unless the producers deliberately try to avoid having them show up altogether, especially considering that two of them are single-digit numbers.

  • Example taken from Jacob: In the Bible, Jacob had two sons with his wife Rachael: Joseph (his 11th child) and Benjamin (his 12th) 11+12=23 ("The Numbers")
  • Example from 305: 305 = 108+108+108-15-4 ("The Numbers").

Don't Quote Me On It

Searching the transcripts for any common phrase (such as "I've got it", "Let's go" or "Oh my God") will produce many potential hits, not all of which are suitable for the List of commonly spoken phrases (reserved for unusual repeated phrases which likely recur due to writer's intent/emphasis).

Forced Connections

Not the same actor. Not the same character.

Believing two people of the same race or hair color to be the same person despite the fact that they are clearly portrayed by different actors.

Some of these claims still tend to pop up from time to time, even as late as post-season 4.

As a variant of this, some fans insist that even though they are different actors and thus different characters, the producers must obviously have selected the actors on purpose, since the similarities between them can be no coincidence, and must therefore mean something.

Unintentional Similarities

Due to budget and location restraints (Lost is still, for the most part, filmed on the island of Oahu), certain props, locations and occasionally even actors get reused in different contexts over the course of the show, causing fans to believe the item, place or character to be the same.

  • St. Andrew's Priory, for example, represented no less than four entirely different locations during the first four seasons, such as Eddington Monastery in "Catch-22" and Oxford University in "The Constant". Following the airing of "The Constant", this caused fans to wrongly attribute a photo from "Catch-22" depicting Mrs. Hawking and Brother Campbell as having been taken in Oxford.
  • The infamous Golden Pontiac is another example which has explicitly been confirmed to be just a coincidence.
  • Some extras have reappeared in radically different contexts, causing some fans to suspect a connection... even though it's rather unlikely that the writing team's attention to detail would go so far as to request specific extras from three seasons ago in an entirely different, unrelated context. A more likely explanation is that the island of Oahu doesn't have an unlimited supply of people to play extras, and the casting department doesn't necessarily keep track of every extra who ever appeared on Lost to avoid a reappearance.
  • Mary Ann Taheny played Jenna, an Oceanic Airlines ticket agent, in "Exodus, Part 2" and Moira, a desk clerk at Oxford University, in "Jughead". A Honolulu Advertiser article from January 18, 2009 explicitly addressed the fact that Moira and Jenna were not supposed to be the same character and efforts were made to change Taheny's appearance to avoid fans drawing unwanted conclusions about a connection between the two characters. Not only did fans still draw conclusions - some of them even dismissed the article as deliberate "misinformation".

The Rorschach Test

There have been fans who have been convinced that they saw certain unusual patterns in some screencaptures ("Execute symbol"-shaped clouds, letters in the sea after Dave jumped, Swan symbol shaved into Ben's neck, a dinosaur head in the smoke monster, a face on a tree in "Whatever Happened, Happened"), who persist in their beliefs even after they are refuted by statements in the official podcasts.

Theoretical Free-For-All

Entering a set of words related to the show into Google and trying to form a theory from whatever results, despite lack of logical and parsimonious reasoning. Themisfitishere is a satirical spoof of this theorizing phenomenon.

Theory Takes Priority Over Show

Not the same person. Not the same incident.

Some fans who came up with a theory will cling to it no matter what, even though it's not only not backed up by the show, but in fact directly refuted by it. Often, two events have superficial similarites, but it becomes quickly apparent that a lot of details don't match up once one gives them more than a cursory glance. Still, some fans will often insist that their theory is "obviously" what the writers had in mind, and all the established information from the show contradicting it is shrugged off as mere "continuity errors". Another popular rebuttal is "We don't know for sure, so anything is possible".

  • The persistent rumor that Hurley saw Locke's fall from "The Man from Tallahassee" in "Numbers", even though neither the timeline nor any of the details in those two scenes match up aside from the recurring theme of a "man falling off a building", is a prime example.
  • One fan theory suggested that Hurley's time as a patient at the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute was due to his parents sending him there for believing that The Numbers were cursed. This doesn't make sense with the established timeline (it was during his time at SRMHI that Hurley got the Numbers from Lenny in the first place), nor does it match up with the details about the cause of Hurley's mental issues given in "Dave".
  • Following the airing of "Greatest Hits", some fans suggested that the two groupies Charlie was seen in bed with were the same girls he confessed having had a threesome with to a priest in "The Moth", even though the scene with the two groupies was taking place at the peak of Drive Shaft's popularity during their second Finland tour, whereas the scene with the priest took place before Drive Shaft's breakthrough. When pointed out, those inconsistencies were even shrugged off as a "continuity error", since those were "obviously" meant to be the same two girls, since it's unlikely that Charlie had more than one threesome in his life.
  • Following the airing of "Because You Left", many fans attributed Locke's limping when he and Boone found the Beechcraft in "Deus Ex Machina" to an assumed "phantom pain" that had somehow temporarily superimposed itself onto past/future Locke via time travel, caused by Ethan shooting a time-jumping Locke in the leg just as Locke was about to climb up to the newly crashed Beechcraft in "Because You Left". This theory ignores the specifics of Locke's problems in "Deus Ex Machina", however: There, he got hit in the leg (the same one Ethan would shoot him in) by a piece of shrapnel from a broken trebuchet, which caused him to realize that he was losing his feeling in both legs (the piece of shrapnel was not the cause, but an indicator of the problem). On the way to the Beechcraft, Locke's legs - both of them - eventually failed altogether (shortly before that, Boone specifically pointed out that Locke was limping on the other leg, which had not been hit by the shrapnel), until Boone fell to his death. None of this bears any resemblance to what Locke was going through after Ethan had shot him in the leg beyond a very cursory glance.

Unobservant Fans

Same tattoo. Same Jack.

Sometimes theories are caused by fan inattentiveness.

  • At the end of "Par Avion", the tattoos on Jack's inner forearm were particularly prominent due to the lighting in the scene and the position of the arm. Many fans had never noticed these tattoos before. Some fans, concluding that they were new tattoos, speculated that the Jack Shephard seen there was a clone or alternative version. In reality, the tattoos are Matthew Fox's real tattoos and had been visible on Jack since "Pilot, Part 1", but due to their location, they are not normally prominently displayed.
  • Much speculation has spun from fans misremembering Kate as being the only survivor of Flight 815 who remembers the actual crash, leading to wild conspiracy theories. However, all that had been confirmed in "Pilot, Part 1" was that Jack had blacked out during the crash, whereas Kate, in her own words, "saw the whole thing". There has never been any confirmation whether any of the other survivors remember the crash itself or not.
  • After the airing of "This Place Is Death", several fans speculated that Robert's inability to shoot Danielle might be related to Michael's inability to kill himself, as shown in "Meet Kevin Johnson". However, back in "Solitary", Danielle had already told Sayid that she had removed the firing pin from Robert's weapon, thus providing a much more mundane explanation for her "miraculous" survival.

Random Errors

Because of intense scrutiny by fans, random errors in production can sometimes be taken as hidden clues. Themisfitishere also frequently spoofs this type of analysis.

  • One example is the slightly different set dressing in the Swan between "Man of Science, Man of Faith" and "Adrift". This led some fans to believe that there were two different timelines, or even two different Swan stations. In reality the producers had simply chosen to dress the set differently.
  • In "Confirmed Dead", the photographs on Mrs. Gardner's wall change between shots. While this is most probably a set dressing error, some fans have taken it to be intentional and indicative of alternate realities or some similar theory.

The Latest Concept Explains Everything

Every once in a while, an episode will introduce a new concept to the show. In most cases, the concept will be in the spotlight of its introductory episode, but won't play such an important part in subsequent episodes anymore. Still, some fans will instantly try to retroactively apply this concept to events from previous episodes.

  • As soon as character connections via flashbacks were introduced in "Hearts and Minds" (Sawyer being brought to the same police station where Boone reported Bryan as abusing his sister) and "Outlaws" (Sawyer meeting Jack's father in a bar), fans tried to find connections everywhere, even with incidential characters that were intended as one-off appearances. Forced connections (mentioned above) were often the result.
  • The lines "What if everything that happened here, happened for a reason?" (spoken by Locke in"White Rabbit") and "Do not mistake coincidence for fate." (first spoken by Mr. Eko in "What Kate Did") are often cited as evidence that nothing happening on Lost is a coincidence. Everything is predestined, even down to the most minor details. For some fans, this isn't even limited to an "in-universe" perspective, but can also include a meta-level where every detail has been carefully decided upon by the production team, even those that have been confirmed to be production errors, as pointed out above.
  • Mrs. Hawking's line "The universe, unfortunately, has a way of course correcting" from "Flashes Before Your Eyes" has led some fans to speculate that everything that ever happened on Lost is related to universal "course corrections". The crash of Oceanic Flight 815? A course-correction, because all of the survivors had evaded death before. All the deaths since then? Another course-correction. The Others? Servants of the universe bringing forth course-corrections. And so on.
  • The single most over-analyzed concept thus far is the eponymous one from "The Constant". Following this episode, fans went crazy trying to interpret even the most trivial events in the history of the show with "constants" (or a lack thereof). Even Kate's toy airplane was suspected of being her constant, while Kate's oftentimes irrational behavior towards Jack and Sawyer was alternatively a result of her lacking a constant, or because she was a time-traveler "on a mission". Even the death of main cast members was blamed on constants: For example, Boone supposedly died because his "constant" (Locke) had "betrayed" him. In fact, Boone died from injuries caused by falling down a cliff in a Beechcraft, not from a brain aneurysm like Minkowski.
  • Since the episode "Flashes Before Your Eyes" aired, an abundance of theories containing copious amounts of (speculative) time travel have arisen. This was further complicated when physical time travel was introduced in "Because You Left", and the opening scene depicted Daniel Faraday in the early days of the DHARMA Initiative. As a consequence, some theories went as far to suggest that every DHARMA personnel is actually a survivor of Oceanic Flight 815 traveled back in time -- for example, Pierre Chang is a time-traveling Miles, Walt is his own father, Danielle Rousseau is Charlotte, etcetera. Innocuous incidental lines and events from as far back as season 1, such as Sawyer claiming to know girls like Kate in "Pilot, Part 2", are now attributed to time travel.

Deleted Scenes

Many people saw the result, but only few have ever seen the explanation.

Sometimes a scene is cut from the final episode, but the ramifications of that scene are still present in later scenes. This occasionally causes wild fan theories, even though the original explanation in the deleted scene was meant to be a lot more innocuous.

  • In "A Tale of Two Cities", some fans noticed abrasions on Kate's wrists and speculated that she had been abused, or even raped, by the Others following her breakfast with Ben. The real answer was contained in a deleted scene which showed Kate trying to break free from her handcuffs by hanging from a locker door, thus causing bruising around her wrists.

Other examples outside of Lost

Ptosis' Dog

This is a short story by Chilean novelist and movie director Alexandro Jodorowsky, about the dangers of overanalysis. It was published in the anthology Paso de Ganso (Goose Step) Ed. Mondadori, ISBN 970-05-14352-1

Synopsis: In the futurist city of Lexgopol, imagination has been eradicated, which has led to massive suicides. As a means to counter this, the Lexgopolian Dictator reinstated ludic activities. But, as every manifestation of culture had been wiped out in the Prehistoric Wars, creativeness was impossible, until a single movie was discovered; Noches de Amor en Bombay (Bombay's Love Nights). The movie was opened with great ceremony by the science community. Lexgopolians would watch the movie times and times again, cataloguing every detail, analyzing every word said, every piece of scenery, silverware, drapery— every minutia was carefully and painstakingly recorded in the Great Encyclopedia of Noches de Amor en Bombay. Ptosis, an ambitious citizen, watched the movie ten hours a day for thirty years to discover something that remained undiscovered. One day he saw through the holes of a basket an opaque body, which he concluded was a fox-terrier. His discovery made him famous and celebrated, until a rival discovered it was simply a shadow. Ptosis was deleted from history books but lived on as a popular saying: "lest we discover another Ptosis' dog!"

Significance: The story, published in 2001 (a couple of years before the wiki boom), describes a hyper-specialized encyclopedia devoted to a single phenomenon, and criticizes the devotion to details, overshadowing the big picture. In some Spanish-speaking literary circles the expression Ptosis' Dog refers to some scholar who dedicates too much time studying a single aspect of a work while ignoring or neglecting everything else.

This story is a cautionary tale about the danger of overspecialization and overtly aggressive attention to details. Concentrating in small details provokes losing sight of important issues. The stereotypical geek or "Trekkie" is savvy in finding inconsistencies that are overlooked by casual viewers, creating the popular perception of a compulsive obsessive individual. The author chose the most inane movie possible to reveal that the object of attention is not even important.

Television

  • Star Trek fandom has found logic in randomly spoken stardates. [1]
  • The movie Galaxy Quest affectionately spoofs both Star Trek and its fans by depicting an entire civilization modeled on such a show by people who believed it was real.

See also

External links


This article uses material from the "Apophenia" article on the Lostpedia wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.







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