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Physics In Film

Movies and TV shows, when done right, are great ways to entertain and tell stories. They can be fascinating avenues for experiencing some phenomena we may never actually witness in real life. They can also be ridiculous or laughably awful when scientific liberties are taken a bit too far. Join the CR4 team here in the Physics in Film blog as we explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of the science and engineering we see on the screen.

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Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

Posted May 24, 2010 12:00 AM by moorec74

Although I don't watch much television, a friend got me interested in "Lost" and I became an avid follower. The show had a well-balanced mix of action, drama, romance, and mystery. It also left the audience wanting more at the end of each episode. Despite any critique of the show that may ensue with these entries, I would describe myself as a fan of the series.

As an engineer, however, there were some things about this show that drove me crazy. Time travel and a black smoke monster? Magnetic fields and people that don't age? In this 3-part series, I'll explore some of the scientific anomalies that aired in the show and discuss whether any of them could really happen.

The Crash of Oceanic Flight 815

Plane crashes occur for many reasons, and these reasons have plausible explanations. The Oceanic flight that crashes in the pilot episode of "Lost" is not normal, however, nor is it realistic. As depicted in the illustration and described in the show, the tail section of the plane literally rips off. Aerodynamically speaking, this is basically impossible. A rough estimate of the forces acting on the aircraft concludes that there would have to be significant defects in the vehicle for this to occur, issues that would have been detected in a pre-flight check.

Hypothetically, if the tail section did fall off and the plane split in two, the pieces that would crash down would hit with such force that those individuals inside the airplane would be fatally injured. Maybe a lucky few would survive with only life-threatening injuries, but what about 48 survivors from the front half of the plane alone? That seems excessive. Passengers in a tail section with no wings to help glide the plane down from the sky, with gravity accelerating their fall, would certainly be killed. Amazingly on "Lost", a group from each section survived (unbeknown to each other) in order to add drama to the plot of the series.

The Healing Power of the Island

Throughout the six seasons of the show, many of the characters on "Lost" are miraculously healed while residing on the island. I do not wish to argue to the potential of miracles; that being said, it is statistically unlikely that so many fantastic events could be managed under the given circumstances.

John Locke, paralyzed four years before the plane crash due to a fall out of a second story window, boards the plane with the necessity of a wheelchair. Not only does he survive the plane crash itself, but walks away (literally) with only a scratch. Not only does the potential for such a tragic event to cause this medical marvel seem unrealistic, but it begs further questioning. If Locke did regain function of his legs after such a long time of being unable to use them, he would need to re-learn to walk and re-gain the muscles necessary for mobility. Somehow, though, Locke gets up from the rubble and barely falters. He does not even show a significant limp while meandering from the crash site.

Another survivor of Oceanic Flight 815 was Rose, who was previously diagnosed with terminal cancer. After reaching the island and accepting that it was her new home, her cancer seemed to disappear. Whether this was a psychological shift caused by living differently or another medical phenomenon, the possibility of such an event occurring seems doubtful from a scientific perspective.

Throughout the series, Locke appeared again with one injury after another. For example, he became trapped underneath a large metal door in the hatch and a peg penetrated his leg. He was also shot and left for dead by Benjamin Linus, a recurring member of the Others. In both cases, Locke healed not only very rapidly but incredibly well, especially considering the damage done to his body. He was even told by Richard (the man who doesn't age and will be discussed later in this series) to keep his wound clean and "the island will take care of the rest." It would be quite something if one day an island was discovered where infirm individuals could go on vacation to heal.

Stay tuned for the next part of this series, where I'll touch on the black smoke monster, sonar fence, and the unusual use of duct tape. What do you think of some of these crazy ideas?

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#1

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/24/2010 1:49 AM

They might be harmless fantasies, but many people seem to latch onto unconfirmed and even crazy ideas. In that respect, such shows as this could be doing a disservice. To the extent that eyeball rolling is a good exercise, plus a few laughs, I'll play along.

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#2

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/24/2010 7:00 AM

When it comes to Hollywood entertainment, reality is the first casualty.

That same loss of reality often extends into the daily non-working hours and days of the producers and stars.

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#3

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/24/2010 8:35 AM

If you found all these unconsistencies, and still like the series, then you must LOVE soap operas (good for your wife !).

You should be happy, that "style" is invading virtually all TV series, from hospitals to law enforcement...

Yahlasit

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#4

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/25/2010 6:13 AM

You missed one! The very first episode after the crash someone is unlucky enough to get sucked into an engine.

That just happens to still be running after the crash and there are people just starting to walk about. What are the chances of one of these engines surviving well enough to still run let alone have a fuel supply and electrical system still working after the plane comes apart. And even if there where a chance of the engine still running. Why does it have the power to suck the stupid person who walks in front of it but not any of the other debris laying around.

The first episode happens to be on e of the few I've seen. There were a few others scattered about through the years but I don't generally watch the idiot tube. Only when my kids or wife have it on and I'm to tired to find anything better to do.

Its Science Fiction so anything is possible.

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#7
In reply to #4

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/25/2010 11:30 PM

After startup most jet engines do not require electrical power to keep running.

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#5

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/25/2010 7:57 AM

Not a fan of Lost, TBH, like Prison Break, Fast Forward, etc. Promise so much as a one off series, then add extra "Drama" in the last episode to leave you hanging expecting closure and not delivering, prefer the programs where it is all sorted in a simgle episode (NCIS, CSI,etc.)

That said, loving the post, Like someone else said, it's the inconsistencies (sp) which make me smile, as if they are written for viewers who know little or no science, engineering or common sense when it comes to plot lines :-)

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#6

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/25/2010 8:45 AM

I was a huge fan of Lost and didn't miss an episode during its six-year run. Luckily I didn't take an Engineering perspective and think about whether the technical aspects were realistic (I feel it would have ruined the show for me at the time). I now appreciate your pointing them out! The whole plane crash issue is interesting and does help make the choice for the ending more valid. I hated watching the last 10 minutes of the series but logically, it makes sense now.

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#8

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/26/2010 12:58 AM

"John Locke, paralyzed four years before the plane crash due to a fall out of a second story window, boards the plane with the necessity of a wheelchair. Not only does he survive the plane crash itself, but walks away (literally) with only a scratch."

Well Obviously he has to walk away; wheel chairs are rubbish in sand.

"Rose, who was previously diagnosed with terminal cancer." This relates to:

"Throughout the series, Locke..a peg penetrated his leg. He was also shot and left for dead"

And; "In both cases, Locke healed not only very rapidly but incredibly well,"

The mysterious injury and terminal sickness healing force? "actors contract renewal negotiations"

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#9

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/26/2010 5:14 AM

I dislike the fantasy's shown in such programs as CSI (yes, some of their tools are pute fantasy, at least for the moment anyway!) and similar, but does it matter with "Lost" as it is to me almost a fantasy series and the imagination of the author(s).....

If you need "real world" then go and watch something else, I do! Lost is not for me (though I am surprised at just how many fantasy's have taken place....thanks for that info....)

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#10

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/26/2010 9:21 AM

You seem to be contradicting yourself in a number of places:

"Aerodynamically speaking, this is basically impossible." and " A rough estimate of the forces acting on the aircraft concludes that there would have to be significant defects in the vehicle for this to occur" - so what you are basically saying that it would not be impossible for this to occur.

"..pieces that would crash down would hit with such force that those individuals inside the airplane would be fatally injured." and "Maybe a lucky few would survive with only life-threatening injuries" - so what you are basically saying is that it maybe possible for people to survive.

Next of all you will be trying to tell us that Gandalf the Grey, Frodo and Bob The Builder are not real .

To my great surprise I actually agree with Andy (post #9).

Regards

Mr. W.A Snow

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/26/2010 11:40 AM

Wow!

Have a great day HoleInTheSnow in spite of me......

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#12
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Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/27/2010 2:45 AM

YOU have a Great day. We actually managed to engage in a thread without throwing insults at each other - there is hope for the human race aferall.

Regards "Your best friend in the whole of the world" (Ok possibly a bit over the top)

Mr. W.A Snow

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#13
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Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/27/2010 2:54 AM

OTT but fully accepted, thanks.

A.G.

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#14
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Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/27/2010 4:40 AM

OMG - what do you get if you cross a Santa Pooch with a Cross-eyed Roger Threat?

Stand back people - you really don't want to see this!!!!

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#15
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Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/27/2010 4:48 AM

Coward!!!

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#16
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Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/27/2010 4:56 AM

Also, I try and react to posts from everyone as though I have never ever heard or seen them before, eg. totally neutral..

Its the only fair and decent way to react.

H.I.T.S. (Great initials "HoleInTheSnow"!) seems to be of the same mind. I thank him most kindly for that.

But there are many here (sadly) who cannot stay neutral after they "feel" they have been "attacked" for something stupid they they wrote.....to my mind its a character flaw......obviously they will not agree with that......that is another character flaw.....but they will never agree or realize that.....and so life goes on!!

We all have character flaws, some to a greater degree than others.....

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#17
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Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/27/2010 5:19 AM

Stop messing about and get over to Generator Issue - 22KW Motor and 1500 RPM on Steam Engine and see if I'm on the right track - or not

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#18
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Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/27/2010 6:22 AM

SIR YES SIR!!!

SIR ALREADY THERE SIR!!

Can you "fee/imaginel" that I'm standing to attention and saluting at the same time?

IF NOT WHY NOT?

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Re: Scientific Anomalies in “Lost” (Part 1)

05/27/2010 6:36 AM
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