Sunday, December 06, 2009

Lost Philosophers (I can't wait for Season 6!)

*Nerd alert*

Like many Lost fans, I love the cultural references but I don't get all of them. This means that I will probably spend the rest of my life learning things that remind me of Lost. For example, last year, I stumbled across the fact that there was a 19th Century philosopher named Jeremy Bentham. "Well crap," I thought. "If I had known this before, I wouldn't have spent all of Season 4 wondering who was in the coffin under the name Jeremy Bentham." Who else is named directly after an English philospher? John Locke, that's who.

So this semester I did a reading on Utilitarianism, and it talked a lot about Jeremy Bentham. This got me thinking about Locke's transformation on the show. He starts out as John Locke, and is pretty idealistic. The philosopher JL strongly influenced the discussion about liberty during the founding of the US, and the Locke on Lost is definitely a "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" kind of guy. Also, the early flashbacks about Locke show how his experiences shaped him into the person who he is (see Locke's tabula rasa).

As I was reading the Utilitarianism stuff, I was struck by how much the Lost writers weave into the show. When John returns as Jeremy Bentham, in Season 5 he has become more utilitarian. Now, I wouldn't say he is a perfect example of a utilitarian, but he certainly becomes a "sacrifice for the good of the many" kind of guy. Of course in the case of the show, the good of the many is defined by the Island/Jacob, and Locke is utilitarian in his doing of what he is told. More significantly, Ben Linus is very utilitarian (he let his daughter die rather than surrender his people to the hostiles), and Ben ends up sacrificing Locke for the good of the people on the Island. The parallels continue.

So here's the part that really got me. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham did a really creepy thing. He donated his body to science. At his request, his body was dissected in an anatomy lecture, and then his bones and preserved head were made into basically a dummy of himself, which is on display for all to see (although his real head is actually stored somewhere else now partly because it was preserved badly and partly because of repeated student pranks in which it was stolen). Anyway, remember all of those shots of creepy John Locke's dead preserved body? I do. It was creepy, just like the real Jeremy Bentham's preserved dead body. Oh Lost writers... you're so good.