The philosophical issues about how we obtain knowledge and how knowledge should inform our choices that are raised by this discussion of spoilers are also major themes that are touched on in numerous ways throughout Lost. From an epistemological standpoint, watching the show spoiler-free from the plane crash onwards is in fact quite similar to how the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 themselves experienced the island. Given the rapid pace of odd and surprising revelations, being a Lostie and a naïve viewer of the show can both be summed up pretty nicely in one word:
Even as the Losties come to know more about the island over time, their understanding of what they encounter is still almost completely empirically driven—for example their knowledge of the smoke monster is derived completely from what can be easily observed—it is cloud of smoke that does monstrous things. While this type of inductive description (and associated theory-building) is necessary for the survivors (and the naïve viewer) to simply comprehend and organize much of what takes place on the island, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they (or we) actually know or understand what is happening. Without deeper information about context, history, or the axioms governing the reality of the show, it is difficult for induction to produce knowledge that moves beyond tautologies such as “the smoke monster is a monster that is smokey”.
However, this type of sequential induction is far from the only way that characters gain knowledge in the world of Lost, and it is far from the only legitimate way to approach the show as a viewer. Desmond’s flashes through time allow him to understand his role on the island in a way that is similar to how Dr. Manhattan experiences time. In Season 5, the fact that “the rules” of space-time don’t apply to him allows him to play a unique role in linking causes and effects in the past, present, and future. Similarly, when young Eloise Hawking kills Faraday, learns that he is her son, and then reads his detailed analysis linking his theories of space-time to what is happening on the island, she not only learns about her role in the future of the island; she actively decides take actions to ensure that this course of events comes about. This reveals that her assertion to Desmond in Season 3 that the universe is “course correcting” is misleading; in reality, she appears to be is using her non-sequential knowledge to manipulate the behavior of others and ensure that a certain course of events takes place.
These different ways of knowing within the world of Lost also speak to one of the major themes that Mlawski has addressed a few times in this series: fate vs. free will. I think that the extent to which the future/past can be changed within the world of Lost will ultimately remain to be seen in Season 6, but given the events of the Season 5 finale, it certainly seems to be the case that knowledge of the future provides individuals with the choice to change it. As a viewer with access to similar types of non-linear information about the world of Lost, you face a similar choice– you can still revel in the pure disorienting discovery of watching the show with as little outside interference as possible, or you can jump headfirst into Lostpedia, blogs, and interviews the writers, and use the information contained in those resources to engage with the show in a way that is more similar to the characters like who have a nonlinear relationship between time and knowledge.
Of course, forcing people to know that Omar dies or that Juliet detonates a hydrogen bomb doesn’t allow them to make that choice, but then again, neither does rigidly and uncritically enforcing and adhering to anti-spoiler norms.
How did spoilers influence your experience of watching Lost? How much of Lost and The Wire did I just ruin for you? How psyched are you to have Mlawski back next week? Sound off in the comments! I’ve given Mlawski ample warning to avoid this post at all costs, so spoil away!