The Split/Join Theory of LOST
By J.M. BergerIn Chinese, Indian and Egyptian mythology, the world emerged from a primordial egg -- a spherical shape of undifferentiated chaos. Elements of this concept are present in virtually every creation myth recorded in every religion -- from Genesis to the Tao Te Ching and almost all points between. The Egyptian account, one of the earliest known to history, contains many elements familiar to people of all backgrounds:
The world had not been shaped by a god who had existed for ever and ever -- what had existed for ever and ever was chaos. Often that chaos is described in negative terms: it cannot be explained, it is not like anything, it is the negative of the present, existing world. It is what existed 'before the sky existed, before earth existed, before men existed, before death existed.' Yet chaos was not imagined as immaterial: it was a boundless ocean, called Nun. Darkness was on the face of the deep, for there was yet no sun. But within that dark, watery abyss lay, in a latent state, the primal substance out of which the world was to be formed.
From the "undifferentiated" chaos a division then occurs -- often allegorized as an Island of order emerging from the sea of chaos.
At a certain moment -- it was known as 'the first time' or 'the first occasion' -- a tiny Island rose out of the water, the primordial hillock. ... The original chaos was an undifferentiated, unitary state, and the demiurge (creator god that emerges from the Nun) embodied the process of differentiation and definition. ... The demiurge brought light where there had been primordial darkness -- and in the light things could exist separately.
From there, things continue to branch into greater and greater differentiation. The Chinese have the most succinct view of this, with yin and yang separating and mixing into every more complex formations -- the concept is at the root of the i-Ching and also the root of the ba gua in the Dharma logo and the Taoist myth of creation is remarkably similar to that described above. Genesis, also, describes a vast abyss like a sea, and describes the first moment of creation as the entry of light into the world.
Even the theory of the Big Bang echoes this basic conceit -- prior to creation the universe exists as a black hole, in utter darkness, an undifferentiated spherical realm of superdense plasma -- an egg. The moment of creation ensues when this egg "hatches" in a burst of energy -- radiation and heat. "Let there be light."
From the very first moment of LOST, we are introduced to an image that serves to echo two crucial elements of the original state -- the egg shape and the introduction of light. Both are invoked when Jack's eye snaps open in the jungle.
We see the "cosmogonic egg" in the structure of the eye, and we see the Island first as a reflection in that eye. The story begins with the entry of light into the eye of a beholder.
I propose that LOST is a intended to be a microcosm or allegory of the universal creation story, following a story of existence from creation to collapse using the tools of this archetypical myth.
In other words, LOST is about differentiation (how a central unity becomes a universe of individual things) and about reunification (how individual things return to the source and become one in the end).
We tend to think of the Genesis story of creation as starting with the introduction of light. But that isn't the whole story. The full act of creation is one of differentiation and division.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
If the story of creation is one of separation, the countervailing story is the story of apocalypse. After separation, comes reunification. That which was divided is eventually united again. In between these two points, as best articulated in Taoism and the i-Ching, the divided elements mix in various combinations until -- at the end -- the perfect balance is restored. (In the i-Ching, this perfect balance is only prelude to a new cycle of unity and separation, but that need not concern us just yet.)
From its opening moments, LOST immediately launches into themes of branching and splitting. This manifests in two ways -- first in the interpersonal dynamics of the characters, and second in the narrative structure of the show, which may also reflect some kind of temporal distortion at the heart of the Island's mystery.
LIVE TOGETHER, DIE ALONE
The theme of division and reunification appears over and over in the show's dynamics. The easiest manifestation of this can be found in the shifting alliances and relationships among the characters, where there is a constant reiteration of "dividing and joining."
At the start of the Island experience, the survivors were working at cross-purposes and individually waiting for rescue with very little real interaction. Jack definitively brought them together when he delivered his speech in "White Rabbit," which first explicitly expressed the overarching message that the castaways must choose between two approaches to live -- "Live together, die alone" vs. "Every man for himself."
The path of implementing "live together" has been far from simple. The 815ers are loners, liars and secret-keepers. By nature, they retreat to privacy and egocentric self-absorption, but they are repeatedly forced by circumstance to unite against external dangers.
Because they are reflexively secretive and resent being forced to cooperate, they frequently split off into smaller groups rather than trying to combat danger en masse. Each season's conclusion has featured groups of four in specific situations, with one member of the group being removed (or removing themselves) at a crucial moment.
S1 Opener -- The tail and fuselage passengers are split from each other.
S1 Finale -- Sawyer, Jin, Michael and Walt on the raft. Walt is removed by force.
S2 Opener -- The three remaining are split into groups of two (Sawyer and Michael) and one (Jin). Sawyer and Michael then split from each other, leaving individuals.
S1 Finale -- Jack, Kate, Locke and Hurley open the hatch. Hurley turns against the plan at the last moment.
S2 Opener -- Kate and Locke split from Jack on the question of entering the hatch. Kate and Locke are then separated by Desmond, again leaving individuals. Locke and Jack also initiate a new and perhaps show-defining split along the lines of science and faith.
S2 Finale -- Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Hurley captured by the Others on the dock. Hurley is sent back to the camp.
S3 Opener -- The three separated 815ers encounter the Others and are further divided into groups of two (Kate and Sawyer) and one (Jack). In "Every Man For Himself" the group of two is further divided, and we end once more with individuals.
S2 Finale -- Locke, Eko, Desmond and Charlie in the hatch. Charlie separates himself from the rest, leaving three.
S2 Opener -- Another two and one break. Locke and Desmond emerge from the hatch together, Eko has been separated from them. Locke and Desmond immediately diverge leaving individuals again.
The "four minus one" dynamic is interesting if considered in terms of the numbers. In the hatch, the numbers were used to keep the magnetic anomaly from spiraling out of balance. Among the survivors, groups of four are repeatedly thrown out of balance by subtracting one. What are we to make of this? It's not yet entirely clear, but one thing is certain -- groups of four must compromise in decision-making or risk a two-two tie when it comes to a vote. When four minus one makes three, shifting power structures are more likely to emerge as each competing interest seeks that two-to-one advantage. In a two-to-one scenario, it's often easier to overrule than to compromise.
The Others stand in sharp contrast to the 815ers. Prior to the incursion of the 815ers, they seem to have operated and defined themselves as a mostly unified group. The influence of the Others on the 815ers was unifying -- the danger of the Others pressured the 815ers to define themselves as a group.
The 815ers are having the opposite effect on the Others -- their actions appear to be provoking an escalating division and an increasingly deep schism in the group's previous unity. That dynamic is likely to dominate the remainder of Season 3.
PAST AND FUTURE
The themes of differentiation and reunification are also embedded in the show's narrative structure. From the moment that Jack opens his eyes on the beach, the show separates into two narrative paths -- the Island and the Flashbacks.
The eye is the moment of "now" -- what you see before you, as it happens. From the experience of now, the most important split in our own reality emerges -- the split between past and future. This split is central to the narrative of LOST.
In "normal" human experience, we perceive the past and future as separated by an unbreachable one-way gate -- the past only ever leads to the future. LOST delves into the past, via memory, and into the future, via the passage of time on the Island.
In LOST, the barrier is even more formidable. The world is broken into two separate realms which are, at the beginning of the show, mutually and overwhelmingly exclusive -- the outside world and the Island.
From the beginning of the show, the Island was depicted as irrevocably separated from the outside world (a premise now purposefully fraying at the edges, as we shall see).
Not coincidentally, the outside world was also the realm of the past -- as seen in the flashbacks. But neither the past nor the Island are exactly what they first seemed to be.
The past is also subject to the divide-and-join dynamic seen in the Islanders' interpersonal relationships. This effect is responsible for the most mind-bending moments on LOST -- it is at the heart of what makes the show different and unique.
There are two elements to this effect -- character connections and Island manifestations.
The character connections are fairly straightforward, although they do pack an impact when they unfold. Their pasts are the "splitting" part of the occasion -- each survivor has an individual past timeline; these initially appeared to have joined into a unified story only at the moment of the plane crash.
What we have discovered since then is that the characters' split timelines are also unified in the past and in the outside world. Jack, Sawyer and Ana Lucia were linked through Christian. Shannon was linked to Jack. Hurley was linked to Libby who was linked to Desmond who was linked to Jack, and also linked to Kelvin who was linked to Sayid who was linked to Kate who was linked to Sawyer.
The past-present crossovers caused by the Island manifestations are even more shocking and puzzling than the character connections. In these, the natural -- and normally nonnegotiable -- division between past and present is bridged by a reunification that defies easy explanation and cannot be dismissed as coincidence (as one might argue regarding the character connections).
These reunifications include, most inarguably, the encounter between Kate and the black horse, and the connection between Eko and the drug plane. Other examples can be debated -- such as Sawyer hearing his past from the whisperers, or Jack hearing his father's voice over the intercom. But when taken in the broad context of everything that has happened on the show, it's hard to dismiss the more ambiguous incidents as being meaningless or simply hallucinatory.
COLLAPSE INTO SINGULARITY
All these different plot threads defy a single consistent explanation unless they are considered as part of one dynamic -- differentiation and reunification, separation and joning, fission and fusion. These are the yin and yang of LOST.
In light of all this, it would seem that LOST can only be moving toward one conclusion -- the final collapse of all separation and a return to primal unity, an apocalypse of sorts.
The first hints of this dynamic emerged in Season 2 and have continued into Season 3. We've seen hybrid fusions where different strands of the show simultaneously collapse. One of the most impressive examples came in "?" when Eko's brother Yemmi appeared in a vision experienced by Locke. There were multiple layers of joining contained in this one encounter.
* Past and present came together, as a figure from the past inexplicably appeared in the present.
* Eko and Locke came together as a figure from Eko's past mysteriously surfaced in Locke's mind.
* Present and future came together as Yemmi provided an important clue to discovering the 'Pearl' hatch.
* Outside world (represented by Yemmi) joined with Island world (represented by the hatch).
The incident was a harbinger of things to come. Desmond emerged from the hatch implosion at the beginning of Season Three with a yet-unexplained insight into the future -- either as a vision of the future or something stranger still. The present-future joining has been implicit in some of the visions experienced by various castaways, but it has now become an explicit element of the story with an outcome that has yet to be written.
With the first few episodes of Season Three, it has become clear that no aspect of the story on LOST is immune to the cycle of differentiation and reunification. It seems to me that the story can only move in one direction now -- collapse.
Collapse is the only logical outcome of the ever-increasing density of connections between the character backstories; between past, present and future; between "outside world" and "Island world."
The secret of the Island is that all the stories are one story converging on a point.
I predict that past, present and future will eventually come together in some manner of temporal disaster.
As far as the character connections, the likely outcome is that all the character backstories all trace back to single event -- some meta-event that unifies their individual stories as parts of a greater whole that has its origins outside the Island and before the crash.
And the characters themselves? Perhaps they are fated to remember their origin as a unitary self -- perhaps they do not have individual identities at all, or perhaps their individual selves will be somehow fused into a greater entity or metamind.
The question that remains is whether the collapse into singularity is the end of the story, or whether something lies beyond.
Singularities are strange by nature, whether they are black holes or seas of chaos, and they almost always create something new and strange to take the place of what went before. Will the collapse of all stories on LOST be the start of a new story?
I'm content to let that mystery be. For now. ;)