There's no place like home, but you can't go home again. That was already laid out in the monomyth structuring much of Lost's subtext, Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. The quickest way to show this might be:
- A person leaves home to take care of some business. The person eventually crosses a threshold that divides the homeland from some other land.
- There's a whole bunch of trials, temptations and dangers to be faced. If the person can successfully navigate those trials, the person's consciousness is changed. If the person doesn't successfully navigate the trials, well... (see Ben not being allowed back on the island)
- After finally taking care of said business, the person eventually gets back home, but the person really isn't the same person as before because of the change in consciousness — the person is more like person2; same memories, same general identity, but a changed outlook that makes persona experience home in a different way. Person2 may even have a hard time relating to the homefolk because person2 can't express what it is she or he experienced out beyond the threshold.
If this sounds vaguely like Dorothy's journey in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, that's no coincidence. According to Campbell, this model was the basic DNA for all mythic narratives; Dorothy, Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Yossarian, a person's basic experience from birth through old age, a spiritual seeker's exploration of consciousness, going away to school or the military, you name it.
But stories are more interesting when they can manipulate the mode, break into new territory and redefine previously understood ideas. The Oceanic 6 have certainly returned home, but they're not quite the O6. They're more like the O62, and they couldn't tell the homefolk what they've been through even if they wanted to. (Who would believe them, and how would they explain the lack of an island?) In most monomythic stories, the person returns somewhat more than she or he was before leaving; the O62 are both more and less, in some ways exaggerations of their strengths and weaknesses. What's more, those strengths and weaknesses seem to be the reverse of what they were on the island: Sayid, the man who walked away from torture, is now Ben's hired assassin. Jack, the social leader and healer, is verging on a heavy case of delirium tremens and can barely manage himself, let alone a scalpel. Hurley (with the help of Libby) went from finding an inner strength and confidence in his own mental stability to playing chess with dead Nigerian warlords in the Santa Rosa mental hospital. Sun has gone from a near-shrinking violet who was looking for a back door out of her marriage to a corporate titan living for the memory of her husband. Kate, always on the run and making just the wrong choice at the right time, has become a pillar of stability in her role as surrogate mother. Ben has gone from a kind of island shaman-king to a permanent state of exile, stuck in a cycle of vengeance and samsara out in his own private Land of Nod. We don't yet know about Desmond or Lapidus, but we do know something about another islander, Locke. The news isn't good.
Locke ended up being the one in the coffin (although he was one of three options; if any leaks escaped, two other endings were ready in the wings, one with Sawyer in the coffin, and one with Desmond). Locke is now confirmed to be Jeremy Bentham, another in the Lost list of Enlightenment philosophers. And he's an interesting choice: When forging his ideas of utilitarianism and legal positivism, Bentham forcefully broke from the theories natural rights and social contracts put forth by the philosopher John Locke. Island Locke's name change introduces a narrative and metaphysical break that gives rise to all kinds of fun new complications, particularly when it comes to island Locke's uncertainty between faith and reason.
Rewind: One thing the islanders seem to be living in is a state of nature (especially the Others). Many Enlightenment thinkers had strongly-held opinions about the state of nature: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) thought that life in a state of nature was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." John Locke (1632-1704) differed from Hobbes, believing that the law of nature was reason itself, so in a state of nature people naturally and reasonably acknowledged each other's rights to life and property. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) looked upon the state of nature more kindly than Hobbes, but didn't agree with Locke that reason emerged fully-fledged in the state of nature; reason, Rousseau thought, needed some sort of structure to help it mature.
All three believed that people were born into a state of nature with certain natural rights that were unconditional and not granted by some sovereign. Locke expresses his position in Two Treatises of Government (1690): "reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions." But there are some problems with Locke's position: it puts a lot of faith in humanity's natural inclination toward reason, and it claims that because something is (reason is the law of nature), then something ought to be (no one ought to harm another). Bentham, going off David Hume, would have a real problem with this logic.
These proponents of natural rights also argued for the need of a social contract to protect those rights; individuals would give up some of their personal liberty to an authority in turn for certain guarantees and protections (which happens on the island when Jack and Locke become the custodians of the guns in the Swan Station). Sometimes these contracts were used to justify political power, and other times they were used to justify revolt against political power. Bentham would also have a problem with whole notion of social contracts protecting anything like inalienable rights.
Island Locke certainly believes in some semblance of natural rights; he tries to afford people their right to pursue whatever endeavors they wish to on the beach, as long as they don't infringe upon anyone else's inalienable rights. This is is partly why Locke is so easily bamboozled by Sawyer in the season two episode "The Long Con." After Sun was attacked (apparently by the Others, but it was Charlie working for Sawyer), Sawyer tells Locke that a mob is coming for the guns in the hatch. Locke sees this as a threat to the social order that could lead to someone getting harmed, and hides the guns. He's of course followed by Charlie, who shows Sawyer where Locke hid the guns, and Locke's faith in people is once again taken advantage of.
But island Locke doesn't rely on reason in quite the same way his namesake would; his faith repeatedly crashes into the natural law of reason. Rather than look for rational explanations for some of his extraordinary experiences on the island — his regained legs, his visions, facing the smoke monster, the meaningful coincidences — he presumes a kind of mystical core to the island (with some evidence), and acts accordingly. This is a John Locke who forgoes reason in favor of the transcendental wisdom of nature. But we also know from his flashbacks that he wasn't always like this; he has an aptitude for the kind of rationally-based thinking that is part of Jack's profession, science. Locke's ambivalence between reason and faith is counterpointed by the name shift from a proponent of natural rights and the social contract to a critic of those very positions (recall that the island the O6 were found on, Membata, means ambivalence in Indonesian, and ambivalence literally means caught between two strong positions). This internal shift may have first clearly manifested when Locke snaps at Kate during the season four episode "Eggtown": "You may think this is a democracy, Kate, because of the way Jack ran things, but this is not a democracy." When Kate asks him if that makes him a dictator (which might be the Hobbesian move), Locke just says "If I was a dictator, I would just shoot you, and go about my day. Dinner's at six if you're hungry."
Which is all to say the shift from the conflicted island-based John Locke to the coffin-based Jeremy Bentham has been prefigured, and prepares us for some things to come. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was a philosopher and economist, proponent of English liberalism, the patron of University College London, utilitarianism, animal rights, and a slew of neologisms. As an economist, many of Bentham's ideas paralleled Adam Smith's free market capitalism; perhaps the economist Sayid was supposed to assassinate in Germany was actually Bentham/Locke. Bentham is also the architect of the panopticon prison, designed in a round with back-lit cells so a lone guard could see all the prisoners and the prisoners never knew when they were being watched. It was a way of institutionalizing social control of the conscience through surveillance, which French social critic Michel Foucault saw as characteristic of modern civilization. This recalls the Pearl Station's surveillance of the Swan Station, Abaddon's visit to Hurley, the Others watching from the jungle, and other such moments that light the spark of paranoia in the Lostaways. Bentham's original prison designs never came to be, but the British Parliament did give him £23,000 for his trouble.
As a utilitarian philosopher, Bentham's basic stance is that an action is right if it maximizes the happiness of those affected by its consequences, and wrong if it does otherwise (John Rawls expanded "happiness" to "the good"). The opposite of this is egoism, where the affects of an action's consequences on others are secondary to to subject's self-interest.
This was well on display when island Locke tried to reason with Keamy down in the Orchid Station, and Ben jumped from the shadows and stabbed the mercenary in the neck, despite the dead-man's trigger Keamy had wired to the bomb on the freighter. When Locke tells Ben he just killed everybody on the boat, Ben simply says "So?" and "It's not my problem, John." Not that Ben was acting in a utilitarian mode, but his follow-up response introduces a criticism of utilitarianism; if maximizing happiness is the goal of utilitarianism, can emotions be manipulated through fear or desire to alter a rational assessment of what would maximize happiness or the good? Ben's emotions over Alex certainly affected him, and he lays it out for Locke in a line that seems as overstuffed with meaning as Hurley's mother saying Jesus Christ is not a weapon: "Sometimes good command decisions get compromised by bad emotional responses."
Bentham's problems with natural rights and social contracts stem from a position known as legal positivism, a stringent empirical stance that claims for a law to be valid, one should be able to find an objectively verifiable source for the law. This is the Dragnet-like rigor of the scientific method — just the facts, verify the facts are accurate, and go from there. From this position, Bentham argued that the concept of natural rights were meaningless in any legal sense, "nonsense upon stilts," because they could not be objectively verified (try describing the contours and weight of 'liberty' or 'happiness').
Beyond their questionable legal nature, Bentham also argues that natural rights could not actually exist prior to any kind of social life. Rights are a function of law, and law is simply the command of a sovereign governing body — so scratch the 18th century ideas of a social contract protecting anything like natural rights, because for a contract to exist in the first place, some sort of sovereign body had to first enforce it (meaning a government existed prior the the enforcement of natural rights, which for Bentham were already meaningless). Besides, from families to tribes to nations, people have always been born into social situations; no state of nature ever existed where individuals granted themselves a right to 'freedom' or 'happiness' or 'property' outside of any social group; it's the sovereign of the social group that grants rights.
But just because some people are free, it doesn't follow that all people ought to be free and social contracts are required to protect that freedom (as Locke argues). For Bentham, this is putting the cart before the horse, a child giving birth to its own parent; first a law-defining sovereign body is construed, and legal rights follow. In his strongest argument against natural rights, Anarchical Fallacies, Bentham explains that if a people lack something like liberty, that's enough to give them a reason to want it; but having a reason for wanting liberty is not a right to liberty in itself: "a reason for wishing that a certain right were established, is not that right — want is not supply — hunger is not bread."
That is/ought problem comes from another familiar Lost brainiac, David Hume, who argues in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) that just because a state of affairs is does not mean that something ought to be (like a law). One legal theorist demonstrates the problem with the following analogy: All animals procreate (true); all humans are animals (true); therefore all humans should procreate (false). An 'is' should not be confused with an 'ought.' Just look at the way some people are healed by the island and some aren't; until we get an explanation, we're left with the basic fact that just because some people are healed by the island, its doesn't mean everyone who gets injured ought to be healed by the island.
Locke seemed to be headed in a Bentham direction all season as he ruled New Otherton and prepares to lead the Others. This echoes the way the second half of the Lost narrative seems to be reflexing back on the first three seasons (the survivors becoming the Others, etc.). The social contract experiments of the early days on the island are now being challenged and disassembled, with one of the central figures of that social pact, Locke, taking on the mantle of one of his namesake's strongest critics (talk about self-hatred).
Getting back to the core of the matter: Locke's reason/faith ambivalence is embodied in the Orchid Station. At the Orchid, the way something appears on the surface is quite different from the reality of the situation. As Jack and Locke debate "leader stuff" outside the Orchid Station, Locke, knowing he's about to move the island, lapses back into his talk of fate, predestination, and miracles: "You know, Jack, you know that you're here for a reason — you know it. And if you leave this place, that knowledge is going to eat you alive from the inside out." When Jack tells Locke that it's just an island and doesn't need protection, Locke responds "It's not an island. It's a place where miracles happen. And if you don't believe that, Jack, if you can't believe that, just wait till you see what I'm about to do."
Hold everything — let's consult Bentham again. Among the many words he coined, one seems to describe what's going on here, pisteutics. Bentham described this as a willingness to believe some testimony without regard to the probability or improbability of the facts as indicated by the experience. In other words, do you believe something or not believe something despite what your own eyes tell you? Worse, do you act on those willing misbeliefs? Not only does this raise the reason/faith specter again, it recalls Bentham's argument about legal fictions — facts acknowledged as false, but then still acted upon as if they were true (like corporations being treated as persons under the law). Bentham's approach to legal fictions, it turns out, was an early foray into modal fictionalism, counterfactuals, and yes, possible worlds, the champion of which shares a name with Charlotte's father, David Lewis.
If Locke embodies the pisteutic principle, Jack is antipisteutic, unwilling to believe testimony without regard to the facts as indicated by the experience. When the island does pop out of spacetime, Jack still doesn't believe it, to which Hurley responds, "Oh really? Because one minute it was there and the next it was gone, so unless we like overlooked it, dude, that's exactly what he did. But if you've got another explanation, man, I'd love to hear it." Incidentally, we know that electromagnetism had a lot to do with the move, and the frequency of electromagnetic radiation is measured in hertz, or cycles per second. When the flash occurred, everything fades to complete white for a split second. This might have been foreshadowed by the judge's name in Kate's flashforward trial, Galzethron — an anagram for 'a hertz long.'
But when has Lost ever made distinctions between something scientific or something supernatural all that clear? How much of moving the island is actually a miracle of science? Down in the Orchid we find that the island's anomalous electromagnetic properties have created a kind of Casimir effect which the DHARMA Initiative used to play with spacetime and make time-traveling bunnies — call it electromagic. Way back in the first post of the season, it was discussed how the Casimir effect proved vacuums existed at the subatomic quantum level; Kip Thorne and Stephen Hawking theorized that if you could get your hands on something called exotic material (virtual particles) and employ the Casimir effect, you could possibly create a wormhole and, yes indeedy, screw with spacetime. Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey (he wrote the book as Kubrick made the film), wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. From that standpoint, the miraculous is just science not yet understood. Perhaps Locke's shift to Bentham will mark a shift from a pisteutic faith-based acceptance of phenomenon to reasoned analysis of what drives his mystical experiences.
So the mystical core of the island may, in fact, have a scientific explanation, but that doesn't mean its experience can't extend into something oceanic and mystical; it would be a fine way to bridge the divide between reason and faith. We saw the core of the island itself when Ben descended into its depths and turned what Cuse and Lindelof called the "frozen donkey wheel," which Ben uses to trigger some electromagic chain reaction popping the island out of spacetime.
Why is it frozen down there — is it just because it's so deep, or does it need to be cold for a purpose? What do the hieroglyphs on the wall say? And haven't we seen that wheel before?
The wheel is another example of the eight-rayed star symbol that has been appearing through Lost, and it's now become a mystical symbol used in a scientific context. It was on Mrs. Gardner's wall, engraved on a tree, on the ceiling of the Pearl Station, on a ceiling in Michael's flashback in "Special," it surrounded a porthole in the Looking Glass Station, and is branded into Juliet's back. (And since 2001: A Space Odyssey was brought up, it's worth noting that Stanley Kubrick has employed the same symbol in his work.)
This is an intriguing symbol that's not particular to any one culture or tradition, but retains some common traits wherever it ends up, particularly resurrection, rebirth and regeneration. Given the DHARMA Initiative's namesake, the go-to place is Buddhism and the dharmachakra, an eight-spoked wheel that represents the eight-fold path of Buddhism, as well as rebirth or escaping the cycle of rebirth (see: all the DHARMA Initiative material). Similarly, in Catholicism, an eight-rayed symbol known as the baptismal represents resurrection and rebirth; the number eight also has more biblical symbolic significance than can be enumerated here (see: Mr. Eko, Charlie Pace). Early Gnostic Christians used the same symbol to represent the eight fundamental Aeons of their Ogdoad, as well as resurrection. In some versions, there was a snake in the center of the symbol, which is another emblem of rebirth (see: Valis, Smokey). The Gnostics borrowed the eight-rayed symbol from ancient Egypt, where the symbol stood for the eight fundamental emanations of creation called the Egyptian Ogdoad (see: all the hieroglyphs, on the Swan Station countdown, Ben's back door to the back door of his closet, the pillar in the ice cave, Locke's Eye of Horus scar). Through some twisting moves of mythic borrowing and revising called syncretism, this symbol also ties the Egyptian goddess Isis via a back door to the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar and the star Sirius, and around again to the Gnostic wisdom principle Sophia. (The symbol takes its own hero's journey.) This all has implications for Juliet, the person with the eight-rayed symbol seared into her flesh.
Start with Ishtar, a fertility and wisdom goddess who went to the underworld to recover her dead consort, the shepherd god Tammuz. (Ishtar is also where the biblical name Esther comes from, and in the bible, Esther was of the tribe of Benjamin. Tammuz became a summer month in the Jewish calendar.) With Ishtar, Tammuz made nature green and brought life to the earth. The Babylonians ritually marked the high point of summer, when the crops dried up in the heat and the world became generally more difficult, as the death of Tammuz. This ritual death of the god occurred with the heliacal rising of the Sirius, when it rose on the horizon at the same time as the sun (this period is still called the dog days of summer). It's the hottest, driest time of the summer in the northern hemisphere.
Without her counterpart, the fertility goddess Ishtar could not sustain life on earth, so when Sirius rose with the sun, she headed to the underworld after Tammuz. As the story goes, Ishtar negotiated the release of Tammuz from the underworld, but Tammuz had to return for part of each year. The myth and its ritual mirror and mark how the seasons revolve and the earth cyclically lives, dies, and is reborn each year — it looks like faith, but it smells like reason. As it turns, out, Ishtar is also represented as an eight-pointed star on ancient Babylonian clay tablets, and the heliacal rising of Sirius mark the time when she goes to the underworld to recover the dead and renew life.
In the Egyptian goddess Isis, Ishtar has a cognate that embodies the principles of fertility an wisdom, healing and rebirth. Like Tammuz, Isis' counterpart Osiris died each year and went to the underworld. (There are other versions of this myth, like the Greek tale of Aphrodite and Adonis). When Osiris died, Isis wept until the Nile flooded, and then she went after him.
In ancient Egypt, the Nile was everything; it flooded each summer, and that flood made the fields fertile and guaranteed people would have food. Egypt's major geographical features are often linked to astrological features, and the Nile was seen as the Milky Way on earth (in contemporary religious services, you'll similarly hear "on earth as it is in heaven"). Another certain astrological feature identified when the Nile would flood each year — the heliacal rising of Sirius, just as in the Mesopotamian story. Sirius was identified with the Egyptian goddess Sopdet, who eventually became an aspect of Isis. And with that we have our connection between Isis, Ishtar, the eight-rayed symbol, and the concepts of death, rebirth, resurrection, and regeneration.
In Lost, we have Egyptian references in the hieroglyphs and Locke's Eye of Horus scar, and a Mesopotamian reference when Locke fills in the Gilgamesh clue in a crossword puzzle (and Ishtar appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh). The life-death-rebirth themes also structure much of the overall Lost narrative: Why do some people heal? How is Christian Shepherd up and walking? And what's the deal with pregnancies failing on the island? Judeo-Christian references are rife throughout Lost (Yemi, Charlie, Eko, etc.), and the eight-rayed symbol is a recurring motif. That symbol was also used by early Gnostics, who adopted it from Egyptian mystery schools; the Gnostics also figure heavily into Philip K. Dick's book Valis, which Locke gives Ben to read. At this point it appears the mythic Ishtar/Isis/Sirius/eight-rayed-symbol connections are extending into the Judeo-Christian-Gnostic elements of Lost, which is where we come back around to the wisdom principle of Sophia.
Caitlin Matthew's book Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God is a good primer for these connections; just remember that a lot of the links evolved more out one culture's useful borrowing of another's mythic tropes than any direct translation. The Egyptian foundational Ogdoad was comprised of four pairs of male-female mirror-twinned counterparts representing certain elemental principles: primordial waters, air, darkness, and endless space. This approach was another thing adapted into various Gnostic cosmogonies; the elemental forces were called Aeons, and different schools had their own versions of the eight foundational male-female counterparts (such as mind and truth, or word and life). Each pair of Aeons emanated another principle represented by two more mirror-twinned counterparts, and out of this came Sophia and Logos, divine wisdom and the word, which occupies a central place in ancient Gnostic teaching.
When Sophia was emanated, she separated from the Aeons and fell to earth, becoming like Isis and Ishtar a principle for wisdom, fertility and the life-death-rebirth of nature. Rather than lay out the litany of echoes between Isis and Sophia, suffice to say they are both significant influences on the concept of the Virgin Mary; iconography Isis holding the baby Horus is echoed in iconography of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. Sophia/wisdom is also linked with the Holy Spirit, which facilitated Mary's virgin pregnancy. So when we see that eight-rayed symbol, we're looking at something that ties together eons of various mythic traditions associating astrological and earthly cycles, the cycle of life-death-rebirth, wisdom, and the feminine. To substantiate this connection of the symbol through Egyptian mythology back to Christianity, have a look at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican; the eight-rayed symbol covers the entire ellipse in the middle of square, and in the center of that symbol stands an ancient Egyptian obelisk:
This brings us back to the bearer of the symbol, Juliet. Is she fulfilling some kind of Isis or Sophia role? She has the wisdom side down; like Jack, she's a scientist, specifically a fertility doctor — she's deeply involved with the processes of birth, and on the island, death. She helped facilitate Ji Yeon's birth by ratting out Sun's affair to Jin, which effectively helped the two reconcile and get off the island. Similar to how the Isis and Sophia figures are of two worlds, both cosmic and earthly, Juliet is both an Other and a visitor like the survivors. She is arguably the strongest female character with the clearest sense of purpose and direction, and often acts in a fairly utilitarian manner. Yet she faces one problem — she can't help pregnant mothers on the island come to full term. It's a dormant time on the island, where the living don't really age or die and new life can't emerge — rather like when Isis and Ishtar enter the underworld. The mythic mark on Juliet's back suggests her role could expand; given the way the second half of the Lost narrative seems to reflex back on the first half, she may even figure out how to help a birth come to term on the island. It would seem like a miracle, but it would be accomplished through her reason.
To punctuate the idea of some broad-scale narrative mirror-twinning, the end of "There's No Place Like Home" has a clear mirror-twin in the end of the first season's finale, "Exodus"; it's as if the narrative itself is on its own monomythic journey. If the last three seasons are mirroring the first three, season four can be understood as something akin to season one2. At the end of season one, Michael, Jin, Sawyer and Walt are out at night on the open water when they're found by the Others; that scene is mirrored at the end of season four (one2) when the O6 are found at night by Penny's boat out on the open water. But whereas the first water encounter ended up being an attack that sent them back to the island, the rescue in "There's No Place Like Home" took the survivors away to something like safety.
But were they really rescued? Hurley, Jack, and Sayid returned to a hell, not a home, and both Jack and Hurley understand they need to be back on the island. The call Kate received in her dream was a backward-masked voice saying "The island needs you; you have to go back before it's too late," so Kate may be coming around to that position as well. And if fortune tellers are to be believed, Aaron is not supposed to be raised by another like Kate. The ambivalent nature of their rescue is captured in Miles's comment to Charlotte about her leaving the island "after all that time you spent trying to get back here." When Charlotte asks what he means, Miles cryptically responds "What do I mean?" Such little details are suggestive — the Orchid video went into rewind at 3:05 — and as Lost works its way back through this narrative journey, like any good myth, it's showing the audience a lot more than what's on the surface. Soon we'll be audience2.
Did anyone see the Hurley Bird this episode?
Books mentioned in this post
J. Wood is the author of Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island