How did Ben make the island "disappear" in last night's season finale? It's all relativity, argues a top professor who even uses Lost in his classes. Wormholes, 305-degree bearings, the Casimir effect—it all checks out with quantum mechanics, and could explain a lot for next season.
By Richard Muller
Last night on Lost, Ben moved the island—presumably thousands of miles. Could he actually do that, without huge accelerations that would obliterate all structures and kill all the people on the island? The surprising answer, in physics, is yes ... sort of. The trick is that you don't really move the island. Rather, you change its space-time connection to the rest of the Earth.
Space and time in relativity theory are quite flexible. Gravity is one manifestation of that. According to Einstein's discovery, the presence of mass-energy warps space-time; what we perceive as gravity is just the curvature of space-time. That's the Theory of General Relativity, now firmly established by experimental tests. The strange behavior of time and space (the fact that two twins traveling apart can experience different amounts of time, for example) are verified daily in our physics labs, using radioactive particles rather than twins. I've verified this myself.
Here's a simple example of how you can change distances without moving. The distance between the Sun and Alpha-Centauri is about 4.3 light years. If a small black hole passed in between, the gravitational effects on the two stars would be negligible—yet the direct line distance between the two would become infinite. The two stars haven't moved; rather, you have changed the nature of space in the in-between region. The black hole has an infinitely deep space warp surrounding it. Of course, if you want to travel between the two stars, just go around—avoid the black hole.
Perhaps you've read about wormholes, those theoretical objects in current relativity theory. We don't know of any that exist, but they do appear to be possible. Physicists love to play with the concept. They can connect two parallel universes, or two parts of a folded universe. (A folded universe has three special dimensions that are curved in a fourth special dimension.)
To make physics sense of the movement of the island in Lost, I assume that the island is actually connected to the South Pacific by a wormhole-like warp in space-time. (It doesn't have to be a simple worm hole; it could be a warren of parallel and intersecting tubes.) Then, to move the island, all you have to do is move the wormhole connection, not the island itself. That's what I think Ben did. He changed the nature of the space-time connection between the island and the rest of the world.
So the island didn't disappear. It didn't even move. Imagine that you are visiting a small town that you used to visit when you were young. You drive for miles, and never come to it. But it turns out the town has not moved. Rather, the highway now goes around it. That's what Ben did—he changed the highway.
If this is right, it explains the role of Daniel Faraday, the physicist. From the references on his blackboard, and his experiments with space-time, it's clear he understands advanced relativity and quantum mechanics. He insists on traveling to and from the island on a precise trajectory of 305 degrees—perhaps to stay in the center of the wormhole, which is sort of like the eye of the needle. Stay within the eye, and you're okay—but any deviation wreaks havoc on your space-time (especially for a complex wormhole), thus accounting for Desmond's strange excursions in space and time.
I'm guessing if you have a real wormhole, it would have a structure like a sponge, and if you wander off and get stuck in that space-time continuum, then all sorts of strange things would happen. What would happen would be unpredictable, just like scientists have a hard time predicting waves in the ocean or a candle flame in the breeze. Those things are just complicated.
The Season Four finale also makes reference to the Casimir Effect. This is a well known phenomenon in quantum mechanics, and has been measured experimentally. The Casimir effect is a consequence of the fact that the vacuum contains energy. Some people speculate that one could draw on this vacuum energy for an unlimited supply. I don't think so, but maybe I am wrong, and Ben has figured out a way to do that. I suspect that Ben, too, is a physicist—the one person who has figured out how to understand the connection between quantum theory and relativity, and to manipulate them—at least to some degree, just as he manipulates people. That's why Charles Widmore is so anxious to capture Ben alive. Only Ben really understands the physics.