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We're the variables

Physicist Daniel Faraday is explaining to Jack and Kate how the entire chain of events that brought them to the island is beginning that very afternoon, with an explosion that will take place on the island that will eventually bring down the plane they were on in the future.

Daniel: But we can change that. I’ve studied relativistic physics my entire life, and one thing you learn over and over: you can’t change the past. Whatever happened, happened, right? Then I finally realized. I’ve been spending so much time focused on the constant, I forgot about the variables.

He holds up his notebook.

Daniel: Do you know what the variables in these equations are, Jack?

Jack: No

Daniel: Us. We’re the variables. People. We think. We reason. We make choices. We have free will. We can change our destiny.

I loved this part of “The Variable” episode in last night’s Lost because it gets at some things with which I resonate: that we have a choice on what path we walk—and those choices affect the people and world around us.

And I find interesting the image of people as “variables,” which can be defined as something “likely to change or vary” or is “subject to variation, and “something that varies or is prone to variation.” In an experiment, changing the variables will effect how the experiment turns out. Change the variable and chances are you change the outcome.

And that’s an image worth contemplating as we work out our own places in the Story, one that is already written but is still being written—and one of which we are in the middle. It is a love story, the story of God working intimately and relentlessly beside and within we broken folks infected with a cancer of death and darkness to free, heal, and restore us to Life, and bring us back into the relationships and wide open spaces we were created for. In this larger destiny we walk: the spreading and deepening of life, love and restoration in the midst of the thrashing of darkness that is in its throes of death.

But even though we know that death and darkness are doomed and “life will out,” there are endless outcomes, so to speak, to the chapters in the middle. And we have been invited to work with God in weaving and moving those outcomes towards life, love and restoration. And it is often the choices we make in the ordinary, every day moments of life that are affecting those outcomes.

I’ve written about this before, how the seemingly random, ordinary events are among the most important things that happen in the world each day. And how even seemingly minor actions make a difference in the world because they are part of this growing, deepening, radically expanding Kingdom which is setting the world right. Which is I suppose why I always seem to go back to how important it is to pay attention to those around us—to be in the room with whomever it is we are crossing paths with. How important it is that we variables love.

For Daniel, the end of “The Variable” seems to negate his own beliefs—but does it really? (Warning: spoilers ahead!) What was Eloise’s reasoning for sending her son back to the island? Is she sending him back to die (at her own hand, no less)—or is she working out a plan that will eventually ensure her son lives (as some suggest)? I’m beginning to form my own theories as to how this story will play out. I think it’s clearer than ever that Desmond is a wild card in the whole thing and has a unique role to play. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oceanic 815 land in Los Angeles as it was intended in the final episode. One of my bigger questions right now, however, has to do with what happens to all the experiences of the characters if that does happen. Many of those experiences—as painful as they have been—have made them better people. Do they remember? Or are they back to the people they were to begin with?

Lost is playing thoughtfully with the whole concept of free-will and destiny, and episodes like this continue that exploration—and that brings God-talk into these open spaces.

(Image: screenshot ABC via Lost-TV) lostctgy


Lauren W said…
I loved loved loved this episode. Adn yes, I think Eloise is bringing Daniel back to save him rather than kill him. The fact that she and Widmore both told him that the island would heal him is evidence enough for me. You should go to and read Doc Jensen's recaps.
Kimberly said…
I think this episode broke my heart, so I'm looking forward to where it goes from here. I love Daniel's character, and was even more enamored once the "we're the variables" line was uttered. Then he got shot by his mom, and I felt like they had shot the whole "free-will" concept. I'm still holding out hope that we won't end up with a completely deterministic island... I am an optimist.

Great post, by the way ~ I look forward to reading more of your blog.
Carmen Andres said…
i was surprised by how much i'd become attached to daniel. i'm always skeptical when characters are introduced mid stream, but daniel really worked his way into the story as well as our hearts. kimberly, i'm with you -- let optimism rule :)