The 6 Creepiest Ways Reality Imitates 'Lost'
Lost will soon be gone, but fortunately, there's something that can fill the hole it will leave in the world. Namely, the world. That's right: There's evidence all around you that reality itself is just a great big Lost flash-sideways.
Sure, you don't think you're living in a TV show. Neither does Jack Shephard. Here are six real-life plot twists that suggest, if reality isn't being written by the people behind Lost, it's at least being written by some pretty devoted fans.
Benford's Law aka The Inexplicably Repeating Number
Let's start off with an easy question. Think of a number from one to 20.
It was 17, wasn't it?
For some reason, people are three times more likely to pick 17 than chance would suggest. That's not too mind-blowing, though, because people are idiots. It's no surprise that when you ask us to pick a random number, we fall back on one or two old favorites. There's probably a 17 tattooed somewhere on the inside of our stupid ape brains.
What is freaky is that nature and reality also seem to have their favorite number: one.
The phenomena was first discovered by a physicist named Simon Newcomb in 1881. Then it was rediscovered by a guy named Benford 53 years later, and it became known as "Benford's Law." Meanwhile, the principle that no matter how cool your discovery is, "somebody is going to come along decades later and take credit for it became known as "Newcomb's Law."
From town populations to the heights of the tallest buildings in the world to the number of people who vote for a given candidate: the first digit is going to be one at least 30 percent of the time despite the fact that one is only 11 percent of the numbers that could possibly show up there.
To illustrate just how weird that is, imagine you're an architect of one of the world's tallest buildings. You check with the mayor to find out just how tall you can go, check with the engineers to ensure that you can maintain structural integrity, evaluate the skyline to make sure all other architects who have built in this city know whose got the biggest wang. You are not keeping track of what the final measurement in feet will be, but when it's done, no matter what your decision is based on, the first digit in your building's height is six times as likely to start with one than nine.
If you switch to measuring that height in meters, doesn't matter. Is your building near a river? The length of the river is more likely to start with "1" than any other digit. And so on.
This is such an unshakeable rule of the universe that people use it to detect fraud. When the Iranian election results came in, they could tell they were fraudulent because the numbers of voters in each district voting for Amadenajad didn't begin with one enough.
A set of mysterious numbers keeps turning up again and again, and nobody can explain why in an entirely satisfactory way. We realize that the numbers aren't nearly as specific as the ones from the island, but we still wouldn't suggest using Benford's Law to pick lottery numbers, unless you feel like getting cursed.
The Secret Tunnel Under the Pyramids
In 1945, Egyptian archeologist Abdel Moneim Abu Bakr took a break from endlessly spelling his name for people on the other end of the phone to discover something remarkable: a water-filled shaft underneath the causeway (basically the handicap access road of the gods) halfway between the Sphinx and one of the Great Pyramids.
The local guides had been using it as a swimming hole but Abu Bakr was able to explore the shaft enough to realize it was no ordinary swimming pool (though its location in the middle of the spookiest architectural complex probably tipped him off long before that) and that it led to multiple chambers below the ground. But that's as far as he was able to get before he decided to focus on exploring ancient ruins where he only had to worry about being cursed and crushed by rock, as opposed to cursed, crushed by rock and trapped in a haunted underground watery grave.
And that's where things stood until in 1999, when an Egyptian archeologist named Zahi Hawass (whose name means he who is bad at evaluating risk) decided he wasn't afraid of this triple threat of terror. Surrounded by the deafening roar of water-pumping machinery, he led a team more than 100 feet underground through a series of tunnels and chambers that could collapse at any moment. What did he find? Sarcophagi, skeletons, pottery and millennia-old writing.
Plus, he found a narrow, mud-filled tunnel leading out of the lowest level. A decade later, we still don't know what's at the end of that tunnel.
So to recap, we've got a big underground shaft filled with Egyptian symbols, and when you get to the bottom of it, you're left with more questions than when you started with. The only thing that's missing is a Scotsman on an exercise bike pushing a button every 108 minutes.
A Whole Bunch of DHARMA Initiatives
When you're looking for real-world versions of the Dharma Institute, you can't stop with just one. It's kind of like eating peanuts... if peanuts were shadowy organizations with vaguely creepy goals. But here are a few of the top contenders:
Originally conceived by a bunch of Stanford University trustees during a visit to The Bohemian Grove, Stanford Research Institute was founded in 1946 with the benign mission of "the application of science and technology for knowledge, commerce, prosperity, and peace." But as the years went by, the SRI got bigger and bigger until it employed 1,700 people around the world. And in the 1970s, it started doing research on the military application of "remote viewing" (that's psychic powers to you and me).
In other words, they're a massive, worldwide research institution that claims to be working to save the world, but they've gotten involved in paranormal investigations of questionable moral status. The only thing that separates SRI from DHARMA is that DHARMA has its own brand of soap. Oh, wait a minute: SRI helped invent Tide detergent...The Esalen Institute:
The Esalen Institute's website says they're "a non-profit institution that's been devoted to the exploration of human potential since the 1960's." And any time the phrase "human potential" and "1960s" appear in the same sentence, you know there's some drug-induced freakiness going on. Indeed, with lecturers like LSD-advocate Timothy Leary, Esalen was about as 1960ish as you could get. Nowadays, it's a little tamer, but it's still a bunch of buildings in a beautiful and remote location where for the exploration of things traditional science rejects. Oh, and one of the most famous thinkers to pass through Esalen? An early LSD advocate named "Richard Alpert." And what is the name of the mysteriously un-aging leader of the Others? Richard Alpert. I'm telling you, man, it all fits together. Here, smoke this and you'll understand...
It's kind of like the Esalen Institute, only instead of drug-taking long-hairs, they have talks by Hillary Clinton. So it's just a bit less hippy-dippy. Which is to say, it's like the Dharma Initiative, after the Others killed all the peaceniks and took it over.
Ronald Mallett is Inventing Time Travel
When Ronald Mallett was 10-years old, his father died of a heart attack. That was tragic.
Then Mallett became obsessed with a fantasy where he traveled back in time and warned his dad to exercise more and cut out the cigarette smoking. In a geeky boy who had just lost his hero, that was understandable.
Then Mallett got a PhD in physics and a National Science Foundation Grant, and set to work making his fantasy into reality. That was freaking awesome.
The good news is, Professor Mallett has put together a bunch of equations that seem to show time travel is actually possible. He says that if you arrange high-intensity laser beams in exactly the right way, you can stir space-time "like a spoon stirring milk into coffee." The bad news is any time machine could only send you back to the date the machine was first switched on, which means Papa Mallett is out of luck. On the other hand, who's to say that when Mallett finally switches on his machine, a time traveler won't step through it with the plans for a machine that can send him back to save his father?
Professor Mallett is a genius with an obsessive personal interest in making time travel a reality. As far as we know, Ronald Mallett has never put a girlfriend into a coma while her consciousness travels through the decades, but that doesn't stop him from being our timeline's Daniel Faraday. Of course, that means that if he finally succeeds in going back to the 1950s and meeting his mom and dad, they're going to accidentally shoot him dead. Oops, sorry, we should have warned you: SPOILERS for Ronald Mallett's life.
By the way, Mallett only needs about $11 million to build a prototype of his machine, and he's set up a web page to solicit donations. So if you've got 10 bucks burning a hole in your pocket, you can use it to buy a large Pizza Hut Super Supreme pizza or you can invest it in a project that, one day, will allow your pizza to be delivered before you even order it. (CAUTION: Pizza Hut Chrononaut Supreme Pizzas are delivered by high-intensity laser beams and may be hot.)
A man is paralyzed from the waist down. No treatment helps him. Then, one day, he suddenly finds he can walk.
Sound familiar? Well, it actually happens all the time.
Sigmund Freud and his cigar-chomping early psychoanalytic buddies called it "hysterical paralysis" and blamed it on- actually, do you even need us to finish this sentence? Because pretty much any sentence that begins "Sigmund Freud blamed it on" is going to end "sexual repression."
Modern day headshrinkers prefer to call it "conversion disorder," because if they called it "hysterical paralysis," people might know what they were talking about, and the more impenetrable your mystique, the more you can charge per hour.
Anyway, specific examples of modern day hysterical paralysis are tricky to come by, because when psychiatrists write up their case studies, they always go light on the details, probably because they don't want their patients to end up getting talked about in online humor magazines. Well, sorry, modern day psychiatric profession. There's no holding us back.
One recent example involved a patient identified only as "a 10-year-old boy." We're going to call him "Shia LaBeouf." After his parents split up, young Shia suddenly found himself unable to walk. But he responded positively when his doctors decided to "systematically reinforce successive approximations to the desired response," which means he got a gold star every time he got a little closer to walking. In fact, in a few months, he was absolutely fine.
This helps too.
Nobody knows how many cases of hysterical paralysis there are worldwide, but it may happen in as many as 300 out of 100,000 people. With a worldwide population of 6,697,254,041, that means there may be as many as 20,091,762 John Lockes out there. That's great news, if you have a question that needs a frustratingly vague answer, followed by a mystical looking squint into the distance.
North Sentinel Island
All joking aside, we know we're not living in Lost because there's no island like the island. After all, if there were a mysterious island out there with a mysterious temple and a smoke monster and a glowing cave featuring the source of all life, we'd know about it.
Unless, of course, it was North Sentinel Island.
In 1867, a group of shipwrecked Indian sailors ended up on a beach on the edge of the island, and after surviving a shitstorm of arrows, they got the hell off. Then a few years later, an escaped convict made it to the island. This time, the natives didn't shoot arrows at him. Probably because they were too busy slitting his throat.
For some reason, the island's unofficial motto, "Come for the shitstorm of arrows, stay for the throat-slitting!" didn't attract any visitors until 1974, when a bunch of anthropologists decided they would "win the natives' friendship by friendly gestures and plenty of gifts," in the words of one of them. So they landed on the beach out of arrow range, left behind a pig and some toys, and then got the hell back on their boat. They were delighted when the natives approached and accepted the gifts. They were less delighted when the natives fired yet another shitstorm of arrows at them, hitting one member of their party in the leg.
Since then, a few hardy souls have kept trying to make friendly contact. One group even managed to land, get inland, and find a native village--but it was completely deserted. Wisely, they hightailed it back to their boat before the clock struck arrowing time. In 1991, some anthropologists managed to make friendly, non-arrow-related contact and it seemed like the civilized world could finally set foot on the world's last unexplored land. Then, bizarrely, the Indian government made it illegal for anybody to visit the island. Nobody knows exactly why, but the Coast Guard is now arresting people who get too close.
So, to summarize, here's everything mankind knows about North Sentinel Island:
3. Mysteriously deserted village.
4. Indian government engaged in massive cover-up of ancient mystical source of life.
5. Did we mention the arrows?
OK, so we're extrapolating a little bit on number four. We can't prove that North Sentinel Island is the home of a mysteriously four-toed foot, a smoke monster and a frozen donkey wheel. But you can't prove it's not. So we choose to believe that the North Sentinel Islanders are hiding something awesome, which will only be revealed in reality's shocking two-part series finale.
But if it turns out that reality doesn't have a cool end-game in mind and has just been making it all up as it goes along, we are going to be pissed.
Jacob Sager Weinstein is the co-author of the Government Manual for New Wizards, the Government Manual for New Pirates and The Government Manual for New Superheroes. You can buy them here.
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