Apophenia is the perception of patterns or connections where none exist. Most psychologists agree that this condition exists in everyone to some degree; it is a bias of the human mind.
Lost lends itself to apophenic theories more than most television shows, and fans get carried away in their analysis of details based on this phenomenon. Though many connections between characters exist, it's easy to mistakenly assume connections link every pair of characters. Similarly, though many minor details bear fruit as clues and Easter Eggs, some are not meant to be analyzed. Some elements are just coincidences, prop, or continuity errors or simply instances that demand Occam's razor. As Sigmund Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar."
- 1 Examples in Lost
- 2 Other examples outside of Lost
- 3 See also
- 4 External links
Examples in Lost
- Example taken from Jacob: In the Bible, Jacob had two sons with his wife Rachel: Joseph (his 11th child) and Benjamin (his 12th) 11+12=23 ("The Numbers")
- Example from 305: 305 = 108+108+108-15-4 ("The Numbers").
Likewise, any random string or set of numbers (e.g. 491239744276467345) will likely to contain one or more of the Numbers, especially considering two are single digits, unless the producers deliberately avoid including them.
Searching the transcripts for any common phrase (such as "I've got it", "Let's go" or "Oh my God"), will produce many potential hits. Few merit a place on the list of commonly spoken phrases, which catalogs unusual phrases the writers repeat for emphasis.
Similar faces, different characters
Fans often mistakenly combine different characters, even those clearly played by different actors, especially when they share a race.
- Following the initial airing of "Orientation", many fans incorrectly assumed Dr. Marvin Candle, played by Cambodian-American François Chau, to be the same character as Dr. Curtis, played by Japanese-Hawaiian actor Dann Seki).
- Following the initial airing of "Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1", many fans insisted that Mathias (played by Len Cordova) was Jack (played by Matthew Fox).
- Various blonde women have been claimed to be the same character by fans, such as Sarah Shephard (played by Julie Bowen), the blonde Other who blew up the raft in "Exodus, Part 2", and Juliet (played by Elizabeth Mitchell). Ben actually remarked on the similarity between Jack's ex-wife and Juliet in "The Cost of Living".
- Following the initial airing of "The Glass Ballerina", some fans believed a background Other (played by Terren Zorne) to be Michael.
- Following the initial airing of "Further Instructions", some fans believed Mike (played by Chris Mulkey) to be the same character as Tom (played by M.C. Gainey).
Some fans insist that even though different actors portray the characters, the producers purposely selected them for their similar looks.
Details often disprove connections between superficially similar events. Fans often note the similarities and ignore the contrary evidence as mere "continuity errors" detracting from what the producers "obviously had in mind".
- Many believe that Hurley saw Locke's fall from "The Man from Tallahassee" in "Numbers". Neither the timeline nor any of the details match up aside from the recurring theme of a "man falling off a building".
- One fan theory suggested that Hurley's time as a patient at the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute was due to his parents sending him there for believing that The Numbers were cursed. This doesn't make sense with the established timeline (it was during his time at SRMHI that Hurley got the Numbers from Lenny in the first place), nor does it match up with the details about the cause of Hurley's mental issues given in "Dave".
- Following "Greatest Hits", some fans suggested that the two groupies Charlie was seen in bed with were the same girls he confessed having had a threesome with to a priest in "The Moth", even though the scene with the two groupies was taking place at the peak of Drive Shaft's popularity during their second Finland tour, whereas the scene with the priest took place before Drive Shaft's breakthrough. When pointed out, those inconsistencies were even shrugged off as a "continuity error", since those were "obviously" meant to be the same two girls, since it's unlikely that Charlie had more than one threesome in his life.
- Many fans linked Locke's limping at the Beechcraft site in "Deus Ex Machina" with his gunshot there in "Because You Left", imagining a "phantom pain" that transcended time. This theory ignores the specifics of Locke's problems in "Deus Ex Machina". A piece of shrapnel hit the leg Ethan would shoot, causing him to realize he was losing his feeling in both legs. On the way to the Beechcraft, Locke's legs - both of them - eventually failed altogether. None of this bears significant resemblance Locke's experience following his gunshot.
Due to budget and location restraints (Lost for the most part filmed on the island of Oahu), the show reused props, locations and occasionally even actors in different contexts, suggesting false connections.
- St. Andrew's Priory, for example, represented four entirely different locations during the first four seasons, such as Eddington Monastery in "Catch-22" and Oxford University in "The Constant". Following the airing of "The Constant", this caused fans to wrongly attribute a photo from "Catch-22" depicting Mrs. Hawking and Brother Campbell as having been taken in Oxford.
- A recurring Golden Pontiac has explicitly been confirmed to be just a coincidence.
- Some extras have reappeared in radically different contexts, causing some fans to suspect a connection. The island of Oahu, however, has a limited supply of people to play extras, and the casting department does not track every extra to prevent reappearances.
- Mary Ann Taheny played Jenna, an Oceanic Airlines ticket agent, in "Exodus, Part 2" and Moira, a desk clerk at Oxford University, in "Jughead". Taheney herself said the show altered her appearance to distinguish the unconnected characters from each other. Fans continued to see a connection and even dismissed her words as deliberate "misinformation".
The Rorschach Test
Fans have imagined unusual patterns in screen captures.
- "Execute symbol"-shaped clouds
- Letters in the sea after Dave jumped
- A Swan symbol shaved into Ben's neck
- A dinosaur head in the smoke monster
- A face on a tree in "Whatever Happened, Happened")
Such fans persist in their beliefs even after official podcasts refute the observations.
Some fans even create theories by even entering words from the series into a search engine and using the results. Themisfitishere parodies this phenomenon.
Sometimes theories are caused by fan inattentiveness.
- At the end of "Par Avion", the tattoos on Jack's inner forearm were particularly prominent due to the lighting in the scene and the position of the arm. Many fans had never noticed these tattoos before. Some fans, concluding that they were new tattoos, speculated that the Jack Shephard seen there was a clone or alternative version. In reality, the tattoos are Matthew Fox's real tattoos and had been visible on Jack since "Pilot, Part 1", but due to their location, they are not normally prominently displayed.
- Much speculation has spun from fans misremembering Kate as being the only survivor of Flight 815 who remembers the actual crash, leading to wild conspiracy theories. However, all that had been confirmed in "Pilot, Part 1" was that Jack had blacked out during the crash, whereas Kate, in her own words, "saw the whole thing". There has never been any confirmation whether any of the other survivors remember the crash itself or not.
- After the airing of "This Place Is Death", several fans speculated that Robert's inability to shoot Danielle might be related to Michael's inability to kill himself, as shown in "Meet Kevin Johnson". However, back in "Solitary", Danielle had already told Sayid that she had removed the firing pin from Robert's weapon, thus providing a much more mundane explanation for her "miraculous" survival.
Because of intense scrutiny by fans, random errors in production can sometimes be taken as hidden clues. ThEmIsFiTiShErE also frequently spoofs this type of analysis.
- One example is the slightly different set dressing in the Swan between the Season 2 premiere episode "Man of Science, Man of Faith" and the episode that followed, "Adrift". This led some fans to believe that there were two different timelines, or even two different Swan stations. In reality the producers had simply chosen to dress the set differently.
- In "Confirmed Dead", the photographs on Mrs. Gardner's wall change between shots. While this is most probably a set dressing error, some fans have taken it to be intentional and indicative of alternate realities or some similar theory.
"The latest concept explains everything"
Episodes occasionally introduce new concepts that played no subsequent role. Some fans will nonetheless try to retroactively apply these concepts to previous events.
- As soon as "Hearts and Minds" introduced character connections via flashbacks fans tried to find connections everywhere, even with incidental characters that were intended as one-off appearances.
- The lines "What if everything that happened here, happened for a reason?" (spoken by Locke in "White Rabbit") and "Do not mistake coincidence for fate" (first spoken by Mr. Eko in "What Kate Did") are often cited as evidence that nothing happening on Lost is a coincidence. Everything is predestined, even down to the most minor details. For some fans, this isn't even limited to an "in-universe" perspective, but can also include a meta-level where every detail has been carefully decided upon by the production team, even those that have been confirmed to be production errors.
- Mrs. Hawking's line "The universe, unfortunately, has a way of course correcting" from "Flashes Before Your Eyes" led some fans to speculate that everything that ever happened on Lost is related to universal "course corrections". The crash of Oceanic Flight 815? A course-correction, because all of the survivors had evaded death before. All the deaths since then? Another course-correction. The Others? Servants of the universe bringing forth course-corrections.
- The single most over-analyzed concept thus far is the eponymous one from "The Constant". Following this episode, fans interpreted even the most trivial events in the history of the show with "constants", or a lack thereof. Kate's toy airplane was suspected of being her constant, while Kate's oftentimes irrational behavior towards Jack and Sawyer was alternatively a result of her lacking a constant, or because she was a time-traveler "on a mission". Even the death of main cast members was blamed on constants; Boone supposedly died because his "constant" (Locke) had "betrayed" him. In fact, Boone died from injuries caused by falling down a cliff in a Beechcraft, not from a brain aneurysm like Minkowski. Other fans referred to triggers for awakenings as constants, despite no explicit connection between the unrelated concepts.
- Since the episode "Flashes Before Your Eyes" aired, an abundance of theories containing copious amounts of (speculative) time travel have arisen. This was further complicated when physical time travel was introduced in "Because You Left", and the opening scene depicted Daniel Faraday in the early days of the DHARMA Initiative. As a consequence, some theories went as far to suggest that every DHARMA personnel is actually a survivor of Oceanic Flight 815 traveled back in time -- for example, Pierre Chang is a time-traveling Miles, Walt is his own father and Danielle Rousseau is Charlotte. Innocuous incidental lines and events from as far back as season 1, such as Sawyer claiming to know girls like Kate in "Pilot, Part 2" were soon attributed to time travel.
Sometimes a scene is cut from the final episode, but the ramifications of that scene are still present in later scenes. This occasionally causes wild fan theories, even though the original explanation in the deleted scene was meant to be a lot more innocuous.
- In "A Tale of Two Cities", some fans noticed abrasions on Kate's wrists and speculated that she had been abused, or even raped, by the Others following her breakfast with Ben. The real answer was contained in a deleted scene which showed Kate trying to break free from her handcuffs by hanging from a locker door, thus causing bruising around her wrists.
Other examples outside of Lost
This is a short story by Chilean novelist and movie director Alexandro Jodorowsky, about the dangers of overanalysis. It was published in the anthology Paso de Ganso (Goose Step) Ed. Mondadori, ISBN 970-05-14352-1
Synopsis: In the futurist city of Lexgopol, imagination has been eradicated, which has led to massive suicides. As a means to counter this, the Lexgopolian Dictator reinstated ludic activities. But, as every manifestation of culture had been wiped out in the Prehistoric Wars, creativeness was impossible, until a single movie was discovered; Noches de Amor en Bombay (Bombay's Love Nights). The movie was opened with great ceremony by the science community. Lexgopolians would watch the movie times and times again, cataloguing every detail, analyzing every word said, every piece of scenery, silverware, drapery— every minutia was carefully and painstakingly recorded in the Great Encyclopedia of Noches de Amor en Bombay. Ptosis, an ambitious citizen, watched the movie ten hours a day for thirty years to discover something that remained undiscovered. One day he saw through the holes of a basket an opaque body, which he concluded was a fox-terrier. His discovery made him famous and celebrated, until a rival discovered it was simply a shadow. Ptosis was deleted from history books but lived on as a popular saying: "lest we discover another Ptosis' dog!"
Significance: The story, published in 2001 (a couple of years before the wiki boom), describes a hyper-specialized encyclopedia devoted to a single phenomenon, and criticizes the devotion to details, overshadowing the big picture. In some Spanish-speaking literary circles the expression Ptosis' Dog refers to some scholar who dedicates too much time studying a single aspect of a work while ignoring or neglecting everything else.
This story is a cautionary tale about the danger of overspecialization and overtly aggressive attention to details. Concentrating in small details provokes losing sight of important issues. The stereotypical geek or "Trekkie" is savvy in finding inconsistencies that are overlooked by casual viewers, creating the popular perception of a compulsive obsessive individual. The author chose the most inane movie possible to reveal that the object of attention is not even important.
Television and movies
- Star Trek fandom has found logic in randomly spoken stardates. 
- The movie Galaxy Quest affectionately spoofs both Star Trek and its fans by depicting an entire civilization modeled on such a show by people who believed it was real.
- The Numbers
- Plot twist
- Character Relations (for an overview of connections that are confirmed to exist).