I teach at Lehigh University in eastern Pennsylvania. I work on British colonialism, modernism, postcolonial/global literature, and the digital humanities.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Math question: 4 8 15 16 23 42
[UPDATE from October: Some of what is below is obsolete, now that we know that the numbers are the ‘reset’ code for the mysterious countdown that threatens to “destroy the world,” as Desmond put it in last week’s episode. We still don’t know what the connection might be between these numbers and Hurley’s rotten lottery luck, as well as a number of other things relating to the individual characters in the show. And there are all these new mysteries, with the 1960s social research project, the magnetic disturbances on the film clip, and so on. We also don’t know exactly what it is that would happen if the clock ever went to “0.” Anyway, I think all the math below is still legitimate and interesting.]
This one is for the mathematicians in the house.
Do the following numbers constitute a series?
4 8 15 16 23 42
They are the mystery numbers in the American TV show Lost. The numbers are marked on the hatch of a mysterious, partially buried ship that crashed on the island (pictured above; see Episode 1:18), which also explains the fate of the “French chick” and her crew — who came to the island after a distress call — and also Hurley’s rotten lottery luck, also linked to a distress call derived from the island. Clearly, the fact that the numbers are marked on the ship suggests they are not supposed to be coordinates. (Someone at one website actually interpreted them as long/lat coordinates, and found they corresponded to a site in south central Africa, which makes no sense given the location of the mystery island.)
The numbers might form some kind of series. On my own, I noticed that if you serialize the difference between the numbers, you get something sort of interesting:
4 8 15 16 23 42
–>4 7 1 7 19
The sum of the difference between numbers 1-4 is the same as the difference between 5-6. Ok, so not that exciting.
I googled the numbers, and the best speculation on how to crack the numbers is at Dodoskido. One of the commentors at that site noticed something a bit more interesting — that it might be some kind of countdown. The commentor is, like me, using the differentials between each number and repeating the operation. But he’s also canceling out the negative between positions 3 (8->15: 7) and 4 (15->15: 1), and beginning the series with 0, as “all mathematicians do.”
0 4 8 15 16 23 42
4 4 7 1 7 19
0 3 6 6 12
3 3 0 6
0 3 6
Anyone have ideas about how (0) 4 8 15 16 23 42 might be related in terms of operations other than addition? And: is there software out there that can recognize formulae for series based on strings of numbers? I realize the ways numbers can be patterned are essentially endless, so somehow I doubt it.
My current theory is that the numbers are completely arbitrary — no series whatsoever. That won’t stop people from a) speculating madly, b) selling T-shirts, or even a website called 4815162342.com, though the latter seems like an ABC plant.
Small plug for the desi actor on the show: go Naveen Andrews!Amardeep Singh I teach at Lehigh University in eastern Pennsylvania. I work on British colonialism, modernism, postcolonial/global literature, and the digital humanities. Sunday, March 20, ]]>