The Sciences

LOST University

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollJul 24, 2009 1:55 PM

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Here at Cosmic Variance we love our teaching moments. Science is everywhere, and there's no need to be stuffy about it. One of the best ways to communicate the excitement that we feel about science to a much wider audience is to connect it to popular culture in all sorts of ways -- whether it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, NUMB3RS, or Angels & Demons.

So it's great to see the producers of ABC's hit TV show LOST jump on the bandwagon. This fall they will be releasing the DVD collection of the fifth season, and the Blu-ray edition is going to feature a special treat: mini-"lessons" on various academic subjects related to the show. (The final season of the show begins early in 2010.) One of those subjects is time travel, and you have a pretty esteemed group of professors guiding you through this fascinating subject: Nick Warner of USC (who taught me general relativity back in the day), our old friend Clifford Johnson, and myself. Suffice it to say, I've seen the rough cut, and they did a good job -- and we had quite a bit of fun. I was only included because having all the professors speak with British accents would have seemed a bit posh. And along with that, they've just launched an associated website: LOST University. You can see what the other courses in the curriculum are going to be, including Philosophy and Foreign Languages. At the moment the website is essentially promotion for the DVD's themselves, but I'm hoping more content will appear over time. LOST has a tradition of enhancing the show with quite elaborate online activities, in the form of alternate reality games. So hopefully this new site won't simply be an advertisement -- one of the lessons of new media is that giving away cool stuff for free makes it more likely that people will pay money for the even cooler stuff. To be clear: the science of time travel on LOST does not necessarily obey all the rules. None of us had anything to do with the show itself, and I have no idea what the writers did in terms of seeking science advice. But understanding how the rules are broken can serve as fodder for teaching moments just as easily as seeing them obeyed. That's life here "on the cutting edge of tomorrow."

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