Now that LOST has officially ended after six seasons, the question being asked is “was this a ‘long con?'” Those of us who have been there since the beginning and stayed until the end are likely to have mixed feelings following this week’s finale, though the fact that there remain unanswered questions cannot be too much of a surprise. Lost is well known for its elaborate and suggestive use of Eastern and Western mythologies, and for characters named after philosophers from the obvious (Bentham, Hume Locke, Rousseau) to the cleverly concealed (Bakunin, Burke, Godwin, C. S. Lewis) and the downright obscure (De Groot, Baba Ram Dass). In addition, many scientific theories – including quantum mechanics, time travel, atomic energy and electromagnetism – all play an central part in the plot of the show alongside more fundamental philosophical questions about truth, identity, memory and morality.
Given the range and complexity of the ideas that make an appearance, and compounded by the temporal dislocation which serves as the show’s leitmotif, it’s no wonder that casual viewers started to feel increasingly ‘lost’ with a show which finally ran to more than 90 hours. But it is undoubtedly the complexity and openness to interpretation which is woven into the narrative structure of the show that makes it such a flexible forum for exploring philosophical themes in a pop culture context.
It may be helpful to think of the philosophical content of the show as a network of related questions organised around the epistemological and existential tension between the ‘man of science’ and the ‘man of faith’ (typified most clearly in the characters of Jack Shepherd and John Locke). But it’s also about the journey of the characters, how experience changes who they are and how they relate to themselves, and how they make sense of it. It’s tempting to draw this into an analogy for the experience of philosophy itself, which is often understood in terms of a productive discontinuity, a ‘rupture’ or ‘unveiling’… a sense of being ‘lost’.
Unfortunately, we can’t answer all of our outstanding philosophical questions by waiting for the DVD extras. But whether we’re using LOST to understand philosophy or philosophy to understand LOST, it’s clear that this is the most philosophically-inspired piece of television in years.