Are Lost’s New Time-Travel Physics Junk Science?
Maybe Not, Expert Says: Hollywood Sci-Fi vs. Reality
As if smoke monsters and tropical polar bears weren’t enough to keep our heads spinning, Thursday’s episode of Lost, “The Constant,” opened up a whole new can of worms: the fourth dimension.Flying from the island toward a mysterious freighter, pilot Frank Lapidus can’t keep his helicopter on the bearing that physicist Daniel Faraday says will get Desmond and Sayid to the freighter safely—presumably through a wormhole. They encounter some turbulence, and Desmond begins, yes, traveling through time, with increasingly rapid lapses between 1996 and the present (which, on the show, is still 2004).
With new particle physics research recently taking time travel from Doc Brown fantasy to down-the-line possibility, we spoke with Dr. Michio Kaku, whose new book, “Physics of the Impossible,” makes Lost’s flip-flop between past and present look, well, not impossible.Unlike deadly black holes, traversable wormholes could make a condition such as Desmond’s feasible if the portals that skip time and space without an event horizon were ever discovered, Kaku says. When treating him remotely over Lost’s super satellite phone, Faraday asks Desmond if he had been exposed to any extreme doses of radiation or electromagnetic energy that could make him “a little confused.” And that’s where the show’s producers did their homework for the key plot twist when the helicopter sends Desmond’s conscience to become unstuck in time.
“To open the wormhole, you need large amounts of energy,” Kaku says. “In principle, if you could harness the energy of a star, you might be able to bend time into a pretzel, but we are talking about astronomical amounts of energy.” Maybe like a huge source of electromagnetic energy that needs to be discharged every 108 minutes to keep from ripping a giant, gaping hole in the time-space continuum? Like the one that Desmond got an extreme closeup with in the Season 2 finale?Maybe. When Desmond warps back to visit Faraday at Oxford University in 1996, he watches Faraday zap a mouse with a dose of radiation, thereby sending her mind into the future. Upon her return a few minutes later, the lab rat can run a complex maze without hesitation; Faraday “unstuck” her in time. And there’s no law of physics preventing this kind of time travel—just a lack of know-how.
Stephen Hawking tried to create a chronology projection conjecture forbidding time travel, but he failed. So while most physicists would say that time travel is possible, we’re not officially back to the future just yet. “It would take a very advanced civilization to really do this,” Kaku says. “We are too primitive to harness this technology.” But it’s looking increasingly like some new island inhabitants might have just figured it out in time for some post-writers’ strike competition. —Erin Scottberg