Pluralitas non est ponend sine necessitat.
Plurality should not be posited without necessity.
(Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.)
For a fairly straight-forward episode with a curious twist at the end, "The Economist" did some other subtle narrative work, particularly through the visual metaphor of the room behind the room. The narrative of this episode sneaky, slyly bringing in material planted in previous episodes, but never quite foregrounding it. This all seems part of the basic shift of the game with the audience this season.
A quick overture of what discussions will be attempted in the following paragraphs:
These themes will occur in no real specific order, as many coincide with other themes, but let's see what happens.
Sayid's target, Elsa, seemingly works for an economist. An economist is someone who practices or studies economy. Economy, from the Greek oikonomiā, simply means household management. It refers to the management of resources and the rules that govern a person's mode of living. The term is also used in a theological sense, referring to God's government and activity within the world. It really didn't come into play in English until the 15th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and then it was used as a term for managing a monastery. But there's another use of the term that is pretty significant — the law of economy, also known as Ockham's Razor. This principle has already been brought up by the Losterati, but in short, it claims that amongst a set of competing explanations for an entity or problem, the simplest one is better. Ockham didn't originate the principle, but it's tagged with his name because he used it so rigorously. The law of economy was first used by Ockham's contemporary, a French Dominican bishop named Durandus. He stood in opposition to the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas and held that reason and faith were mutually exclusive. For Durandus, one could be a man of reason or a man of faith, and should prefer one's own conclusions over that of any authority, except when it came to truths of faith; however, he held that those faith truths did not rest upon reason. This was all a bit problematic and progressive for the church, and his positions got him censured. But the principle persists today, and is one that the Lost audience has to keep in mind when trying to hash out the many competing theories of what's happening in the narrative. Oh — and the captain of the Christiane I from the Find 815 game is named Mr. Ockham...
A common version of Ockham's Razor, often attributed to Einstein (but it's not known if he actually said it), is that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. In other words, if a simpler explanation leaves some holes, it actually introduces more complexity, because those holes have to be accounted for. For our purposes, this means trying to determine the most effective explanations for what's going on without over-complicating things, or writing anything off to some over-arching authoritarian theory (like the purgatory idea). The Find 815 game coincided with the beginning of the fourth season; the past game, The Lost Experience, took place outside of the Lost narrative time proper. If the audience is playing the game, and the game becomes part of the actual narrative, then the narrative itself becomes a game for the audience to parse. For instance, in "Confirmed Dead," when Miles goes up Mrs. Gardner's stairs, all the picture frames are wooden; when he descends the stairs, all the picture frames are metal. Other such examples have already been discussed, and those changes started taking place after Desmond began saving Charlie from some very ugly futures. We've also seen that the flashes aren't quite in chronological order; the steadily-progressing flashbacks of past seasons are giving way to flashforwards where we see events that that actually occur after future events we see later on (like Jack being a wreck in "Through the Looking Glass," but just approaching wreckage in "The Beginning of the End"). Did you notice anything weird about the first Sayid flash on the golf course? When he tells Mr. Avellino that he is one of the Oceanic Six, Avellino is visibly disturbed, and tries to leave. He doesn't make it. Avellino obviously knew about Sayid. How's that?
Jump ahead to the end of the episode, when Sayid is having his gunshot wound treated by Ben. We find that Sayid is being blackmailed by Ben to hunt down a list of people; if Sayid doesn't play along, his friends (the rest of the Oceanic Six?) will come to some bad end: "Do you want to protect your friends or not, Sayid?" The people Sayid is hunting are possibly members of the Maxwell Group, since Sayid's mark, Elsa, is wearing the same bracelet as Naomi. After the incident when Elsa shoots Sayid and contacts her boss (getting two in the chest in return), Sayid tells Ben that the people on the list will now know who he is; Ben is just fine with that. Indeed, Avellino's flash of recognition on the golf course suggests this is the case, and if so, it also suggests that the episode on the golf course took place after the rest of the flashes in the episode; the narrative time of the episode twists back on itself, giving "The Economist" a kind of circular feel. Avellino may even have been Elsa's boss.
But there's more: Daniel Faraday conducts an experiment where he has Regina on the freighter fire a rocket with a clock in it onto the island. The rocket doesn't land when it should. When Faraday opens the rocket and checks the clock against his clocks on the island, he finds that the island is about 31 minutes behind time on the freighter. That's a significant 31 minutes; if you start at the very beginning of the episode and skip ahead 31 minutes (sans commercials), you'll be at the beginning of the pivotal scene where Sayid and Elsa are in bed. If you take the scene where Sayid tells Elsa he's in Germany to kill her boss and go back 31 minutes, you're at the beginning of the golf course scene where he shoots Avellino. This may be just a simple coincidence and an intriguing play on spacetime, but coincidence may be too simple an explanation (andif it's just a coincidence, it's damn cool and damn convenient).
Speaking of Faraday, the British physicist Michael Faraday was the face embossing the cash Sayid finds in the room behind the room. Britain issued a £20 note with Faraday's likeness on it from 1991-2001. The room behind the room is suggestive; it's a double-room, so the room is mirroring itself, and it's located behind the bookshelf (where Sayid spots a copy of the Quran — what to make of that?). It's literally a secret that lies behind information, which may be a symbol to keep in mind.
Then there were the passports in the room; the one from Switzerland with Ben's picture bears the name 'Dean Moriarty,' Jack Kerouac's literary reconstruction of his friend Neal Cassady from the book On the Road (1957). Ben doesn't seem too much like a dharma bum, but there is a significant echo; both Ben and Dean had alcoholic fathers who were hardly available, and both search out father-figures (Ben's is Jacob, Dean's is his actual father). Ken Kesey also knew Neal Cassady, and fictionalized him in "The Day After Superman Died," a short story in his collection Demon Box (1986) — keep that name in mind for a moment.
The name Moriarty also conjures up Sherlock Holmes' adversary, Professor Moriarty. The creator of Holmes and Moriarty, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is also the author of an archetypal book that structures some of the Lost mythos, The Lost World (1912). The writer Alan Moore, whose Watchmen is yet another influence on Lost, made Dean Moriarty the great-grandson of Professor Moriarty in his comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (2006-07). Very convenient. Such references sometimes feel like the room of secrets behind the stack of information.
All this name play raises the question of identity, and "The Economist" shows that once-stable identities are starting to shift. In the first season, Sawyer was conning people to get onto Michael's raft and off the island. Now he's ready to settle down and accept his fate on the island. And as Hurley noted, the Sawyer of old seems to be displaced into Miles Straume (both being versions of Han Solo). Locke's grasp on the situation with his faction of Lostaways is becoming increasingly tenuous; compare the Locke of "The Cost of Living," where he declares it's a free island and invites people to go with him to the Pearl Station, to the Locke of "The Economist," where he tells Hurley, "We're beyond compromise, and right now Hugo I'm making the decisions. Is that going to be a problem for you?" Even Hurley's identity seems to be on some shifting ground. He's still asserting himself more so than in the past, trying to be a mediator, but also positioning himself as a possible challenge to Locke's authority. It's no wonder Locke uses Hurley for hostage bait; Locke is playing economist, trying to manage what resources he has available to him.
The implicit nod to Kesey's Demon Box is interesting because Kesey used Maxwell's demon as the underlying premise to his collection of stories, one of which is about Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty). Maxwell's demon has been mentioned before; it was a thought experiment conjured up by James Clerk Maxwell, the 19th century Scottish physicist who built upon Michael Faraday's work. The organization funding the Christiane I's search for the Black Rock, The Maxwell Group, is also named for him. But briefly: The demon box would contain fast-moving hot molecules and slower, cool molecules, and there would be a partition in the middle with a door in the partition The demon guards the door.
Thermodynamic entropy states that the molecules in the box will go from an ordered state (hot and cool) to a disordered state, and the hot will eventually lose energy and come into some sort of equilibrium with the cool molecules. After all, in our world, ice cubes melt outside of the freezer, they don't get colder, and if you put a warm object next to a hot object, heat doesn't transfer from the warm object to the hot object and make it hotter. But that's just what the demon does; it only lets the hot molecules move to one side of the partition, and only cool to the other; one side of the box gets increasingly warm while the other gets cooler. In a sense, Maxwell's demon is an economist; managing and ordering resources in order to maximize return. As has already been kicked around on the interwebs, the factioning of the Lostaways resembles something like Maxwell's demon at work; in this case, the demon might be the Freighties. Jacob may also play such a role, and the theological sense of economist — God's government and activity within the world — also fits the bill. (God as demon?) But more than that, the unseen narrator of Lost, the camera, is a kind of Maxwell's demon/economist, re-ordering scenes, changing backdrops and character features, and planting visual and aural devices that guide the audience through certain doors and towards specific directions. Just look at all the literary references. Disclosure: Ever since I learned of Maxwell's demon years ago, I always pictured it as the 10,000 Volt Ghost:
So we should ask that demon narrator where Desmond has been. He was nowhere to be seen in "Confirmed Dead," and comes strolling out of the jungle with Juliet in "The Economist." Has he been time-tripping again, and is that the reason we're seeing some swiftly-tilting identities? Or perhaps Desmond's already done enough, and spacetime is just generally more slippery now and in need of repair.
Charlotte's father may think so, or at least his namesake. In "Confirmed Dead," Ben announces Charlotte's background, saying that her parents are David and Jeanette. David Lewis is a significant name; David Kellogg Lewis was a renowned analytic philosopher at Princeton whose work on modal realism, counterfactual conditionals, and possible worlds was game-changing. And with that we're back to philosophers. Lewis uses some technical language that isn't too difficult to parse, and it turns out his ideas have a direct bearing on the narrative of Lost in a number of ways. First of all, Lewis caught a strong case of influence from both Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and David Hume.
From Leibniz, Lewis caught the possible worlds wave. In his Theodicy (1710), Leibniz starts with the position that God is a perfect and good being with the ability to create an infinite number of worlds. Because God is all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-good, God must have chosen the best of all possible worlds for ours.
From Hume, Lewis borrowed a notion of causality he called Humean supervenience. This is less funky than it sounds. If thing X supervenes on set-of-facts Y, X cannot change until Y has changed. One way to think of it is that everything that's in a world is first and foremost dependent on the fundamental physical properties structuring that world (things like electromagnetism, temperature, gravity, chemistry, etc.). The things in a world cannot fundamentally change unless those fundamental properties change. For instance, we can't float around the room because gravity operates at a certain level while we're on earth (unless you're David Blaine). In our world, there is no way two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule would ever bind together to make malt vinegar, or a polar bear.
Building off that foundation, Lewis identified some themes that unify his work; they are particularly brought out in his books Counterfactuals (1973) and On the Plurality of Worlds (1986), but he kept developing them until his death in 2001 from diabetic complications at age 60 (like Locke, he lost a kidney). First, he claimed possible worlds are just as real as our world, and only differ from our world in content, not kind. Possible worlds also cannot be reduced to anything more basic than just what they are; if you know of a thing in this world, there are more things of that sort in other possible worlds — mp3 players, Harry Dean Stanton, bar stools, dialysis, etc. Such possible things are also known as nonactual things. Nonactual things are not fundamentally different from actual things; they just don't exist in our actual world — and to some other world, we're the nonactual things. Yes, this means that there is a possible world where there is another you having the same brain cramp you may be having while you read this sentence. So could there be an actual Christian Shephard and a nonactual Christian Shephard? An actual Charlie and a nonactual Charlie?
Another theme of Lewis's is that a possible world is unified by the interrelation of its parts in spacetime (meaning it is pretty much integrated and mappable, like our actual world — Wisconsin isn't a blob of plasma flying out past the Pluto). Space and time, for Lewis, are analogously related; past and future events are in the same kind of spatial relationship to each other as locations in physical space. In other words, past and future events have a specific distance between them, just like the Swan Station and Hydra Station are in a specific spatial relationship to each other on the island (about a day's walk between them). If this sounds at all like Minkowski's spacetime, it should. For Lewis, there really is no distinction between "elsewhere in space" and "elsewhere in time." However, actual and nonactual things may be analogous to spatial and temporal relations (which are the same thing), but actual and nonactual things are also spatially and temporally isolated from each other — they shouldn't be occupying the same spacetime.
Finally, possible worlds are also causally isolated from each other. Say in some world (W) some event (C) causes another event (E); therefore if (C) doesn't occur in that world, (E) doesn't occur. That's logical enough. But events happening or not happening in one world do not cause events to happen or not happen in another possible world (or should not).
Counterfactual was one of Lewis's first articulations of this theory of modal realism, and he demonstrates how one can think about possible worlds through counterfactual conditional statements. A counterfactual conditional basically states: if A were/were not (or had/had not been) the case, then C would/would not be (or would/would not have been) the case. In the grammar of logic, it looks like this: A C. The idea is to test the truth value of a sentence in order to see if it would be possible in some world. So:
- If Kelvin had not made Sayid into a torturer, Sayid would not have been on Oceanic 815.
- If Desmond had listened to Charles Widmore, he would not have crashed on the island while racing a sailboat across the pacific.
- If Desmond had not crashed on the island, he would not have followed Kelvin out into the jungle and allowed the computer to count down to zero, setting off an incident.
- If Desmond did reset the computer in time, there would have been no electromagnetic incident and Oceanic 815 would not have crashed.
- If Oceanic 815 had not crashed, Ben would have died from a tumor on his spine.
- If Ben died from the tumor on his spine, he would not have blackmailed Sayid into being a hitman for him.
- If Desmond hadn't saved Charlie, Charlie would not be a swim champion (see past discussions).
- If Charlie couldn't swim, he would not have dove to the Hydra Station.
- If Charlie did not dive to the Hydra Station, he would still be alive.
- Sayid: "Forgive me, but the day I start trusting him [Ben] is the day I would have sold my soul." ("The Economist")
The grammar in Sayid's statement about trusting Ben is off; he moves from a present tense to the past conditional, positing the present into a hypothetical past. It's not even grammatically correct, so it stands out. However, it is accepted usage for forming counterfactual conditional statements in logic. If the David Lewis name-drop, the hints at different possible worlds seeming to impose themselves onto the actual world of Lost (Find 815), the actual and nonactual versions of the same people occupying the same spacetime, and the different possible worlds Desmond sees — if those didn't hint enough at some kind of David Lewis influence, Sayid's counterfactual conditional statement sure helps.It's a simple enough explanation.
Brain break. This episode didn't seem nearly as dense at first, but of course there's always something more. There are a number of things to still be discussed; the inscription on Naomi's bracelet, the use of numbers in this episode, how finding Ben's other world in the hidden closet echoes the Pevensie kids finding a hidden world through the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis's fantasy series, and yes, the fact that Sawyer finally called Kate freckles again.
Are they back? If so, is it a function of something Desmond did when he was away during "Confirmed Dead?" Here's a screencap from when Sawyer calls her freckles; they're not prominent, you can make out some shadows, and it's hard to tell if they're not just showing through some makeup.
Books mentioned in this post
J. Wood is the author of Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island