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April 20, 2010

'Geek Out!:' Technology and the supernatural on 'Lost' island

Posted: 02:17 PM ET
Miles can hear dead people
Miles can hear dead people

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

When "Lost" began, Charlie, after encountering just a few of the many strange things about the island where the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 crash-landed, asked one of the series' central questions: "Where are we?"

Now, with just a few episodes to go, we're a lot closer to figuring out the answer and getting explanations for some of the bizarre occurrences on the island.

So let's talk bizarre occurrences. "Lost" characters experience walking, talking dead people in a few different ways - they can see them, feel their presence, hear them in a flurry of whispers and sometimes have long conversations with them.

At this point, we know that a lot of that can be attributed to the Smoke Monster, or the Man in Black... but not all of it.

One character often visited by friends who are no longer living is Hurley. Whether on or off the island, deceased people from his past visit and usually have very strong opinions on what he should do next.

Then there's Miles, who in a flashback from Season Four, was seen working as a medium for hire, exorcising spirits or getting them in touch with dead loved ones. He even uses a strange vacuum-like device at one point, though his abilities have more to do with getting information from dead bodies.

How do these portrayals of ghosts compare to the beliefs of those with interest in the supernatural - and who are using high-tech means to try to prove (or disprove) its existence?

"Lost" fan Dan Bernstein of Roswell, Georgia Paranormal Investigations (a "family member" of The Atlantic Paranormal Society or TAPS, made famous by the TV series "Ghost Hunters"), said the two are different kinds of mediums: "Hurley has what would be described as having a 'clairvoyance' ability – which allows him to see and communicate directly with the spirit as if they were there with him."

As for Miles, he has a "clairsentience" ability, according to Bernstein, meaning he can sense them, instead of communicate with them directly.

"You often see him touching something belonging to or close to the body of the deceased and he then senses their last thoughts before death."

Their cases would certainly be seen as out of the ordinary to the real-world paranormal investigations community. Bernstein says that most people don't have such abilities.

He does maintain, though, that ghosts can be observed as sounds, disembodied voices or, on rare occasions, as full-body apparitions or "shadow people."

Paranormal investigators often use electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors to look for evidence of ghosts.

"With EMFs, the thought is that in order for paranormal activity to occur, the entity needs to draw energy in order to manifest itself," said Bernstein.

He said sensors are normalized in an area and that their readings spike when there's paranormal activity.

Skeptics say there is no evidence that such instruments can be used to detect supernatural phenomena.

Bernstein's response: "Our team never relies solely on EMF readings as evidence of the paranormal," instead taking other occurences into account as well.

Electromagnetic phenomena should be very familiar to fans of “Lost.” The island’s special electromagnetic qualities are the main reason for the Dharma Initiative that Charles Widmore and others are so interested in it.

In the scientific community, however, real studies of electromagnetism are not fraught with peril, danger and mystery as portrayed on the show.

Gregory Durgin, an associate professor at the School of Electrical Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, researches electromagnetism, often using an electromagnetic spectrum analyzer to chart activity.

"It has a lot of interesting applications: is the area safe for people to be in? Every company that has an electronic device has to look at that," he said.

"Lost's" island has extremely high levels of electromagnetism, which must be contained - the Dharma Initiative worked tirelessly to do so when they were there performing experiments.

When it was unleashed, the magnetism was so strong it caused a plane to crash.

How dangerous can electromagnetism actually be?

“The government regulations are pretty conservative... some frequencies are more dangerous than others," said Durgin. "You would be a lot more concerned about a watt of ultraviolet light coming down on you than a watt of radio frequency… once you surpass those exposure limits you still need some pretty prolonged exposure to get into a danger zone."

What about when unusually high levels are found somewhere? Is this seen as something unexplained - supernatural or otherwise?

“Usually when you see a lot of electromagnetic strength, you’ve gotta find out what piece of equipment is causing it and fix what is causing it. If it’s more of a mysterious source, you have to grab your equipment and drive around and ferret out that source," he said.

He said the "unexplained" sources often end up being unlicensed radiators used for pirate radio stations and the like. Then, the FCC gets contacted instead of, say, entering a set of numbers into a computer every 108 minutes.

As for electromagnetism behaving the way it does on "Lost?" "Magnetism in nature has a diverse and complicated physics, but there is always one universal property that we observe: it’s extremely weak," Durgin said.

He does, however, hold out the possibility of the existence of "magnetic charges," a purely hypothetical particle in physics: "If magnetic charges existed, many of the island phenomena would be plausible."

So why is electromagnetism portrayed in such a way on "Lost" and other movies and TV shows? According to Durgin, “If people can't see it in their mind it takes on a more mysterious or dangerous quality."

Whether you choose to believe or not, it certainly seems that “Lost” executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have done their homework when it comes to modern day thought about the paranormal.

As for scientific studies into electromagnetism, however, a lot of what we see on the show still exists only in the realm of theory.

Join us every Tuesday as “Geek Out!” dwells on the geekiest aspects of one of our favorite television shows. In the meantime, we invite you to sound off on ghosts and the supernatural on “Lost” in the comments below, and share your wish list for the series finale on video.

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jack merridew   April 20th, 2010 3:10 pm ET

well im glad we got the expert opinion of Dan Bernstein. i feel much more informed now that a man who pretends to investigate ghosts on a television show has told me the different types of people who can communicate with ghosts, ghosts being of course a human fantasy much like faeries angels and gods.

thank you cnn

Overly Practical   April 20th, 2010 3:21 pm ET

Agreed^^ also, there are lots of interesting phenomenon with electromagentism that this article didn't touch on. oh well...

Russell Cross   April 20th, 2010 3:21 pm ET

Considering that we've also had polar bears and dogs on "Lost Island," I'm surprised there was no interview with a pet psychic. And what if the island turns out to be floating in space and is actually a zoo created by aliens? Maybe we need some UFO experts to add their comments too. And I'm pretty sure the cryptozoologists have some valid contributions to make.

Of course, what if it turns out that "Lost" is, in fact, not real, and just a fantasy TV show! Surely not?

Gerard Golden   April 20th, 2010 3:30 pm ET

Really? You're reporting on the ficticious science behind a T.V. show?What is next? I can't wait for the report detailing how Care Bears shoot beams from the emblems on their chests. Maybe Dan Bernstein can speak to the underlying scientific principals behind that as well since he's such an expert things that don't exist.

On another note, how do I apply for a job as a CNN, expert reference? I like to make things up too.

Westley Snipes   April 20th, 2010 3:46 pm ET

Really now Jack Merridrew, they never claimed that this guy was on Television, because he isn't. His group is a sister group to the folks on "Ghost Hunters", which I believe is obtainable by sending in 10 box tops from General Mills Cereal signed in human blood by the intending member. Essentially, the interviewee is hardly an expert in electromagnetism or "spirits", and you're not really an expert on "reading comprehension."

Shame on the rest of you though, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Your smug quasi-intellectual hypocrisy in decrying the beliefs of others in the pseudoscience of "paranormal research" just makes you look like petulant children.

Basically, just because you can't rationally accept something doesn't make you right. Pretending it does make you right just makes you look stupid.

andrew e   April 20th, 2010 3:48 pm ET

I guess when you post things sent in by the public, this is what you get. I feel like I lost some I.Q. points after having read this.

skyler   April 20th, 2010 3:55 pm ET

Lost turned into a soap! I quit watching.

Carl   April 20th, 2010 4:26 pm ET

I'm with skyler. I gave up two season ago when the willing suspension of disbelief required too much energy. This has become fantasy, pure and simple, coupled with a soap-opera-like story line.

Matt   April 20th, 2010 4:26 pm ET

why is everyone complaining about this article. ITS GEEK OUT. ergo all things geek. Why so serious?

David Kiniski   April 20th, 2010 4:30 pm ET

You all are missing the point and taking this too seriously. We all know Lost is a TV show, and this article is intended for fans – Also, no one claimed Bernstein is an expert –

quote: "How do these portrayals of ghosts compare to the beliefs of *those with interest* in the supernatural – and who are using high-tech means to try to prove (or disprove) its existence?"

So, the guy has an interest in the supernatural and works for a paranormal research team. Good enough for me....

On the subject of the show, I love where it's been going, but how are they going to wrap this up in under two months???

Mike   April 20th, 2010 4:31 pm ET

Dan Bernstein is my Hero! And is it a coincidence that his first name is Dan and Dan Aykoryd is a star in the greatest Ghost hunting movie ever made..... I think not!

Helena   April 20th, 2010 4:39 pm ET

Really. Why so serious? No one got so peeved when Abbott & Costello met the wolfman.

NCLady   April 20th, 2010 5:02 pm ET

Hmmmm...... haven't missed an episode... and won't...

joanne   April 20th, 2010 6:55 pm ET

Hi, very interresting. the magnetic forces on the island, may also cause people to see things that are not there. I am a clairvoiant, and sensitive. The lost series has still not made lots of sense to me.

Kevin Cassidy   April 20th, 2010 7:31 pm ET

good grief ... give it a rest

Frank in Pensacola, FL   April 20th, 2010 7:35 pm ET

puhlease, folks. it's whatever the writers want it to be. Five years ago people were speculating that the people on the island were in some variation of th "bad" afterlife (purgatory, limbo, or thereabouts) and of course the writers said "Noooo... It's nothing like that!" But here we are w/the smoke monster as a source of ultimate evil wanting to escape the island, people whose spirits cannot leave because of "what they did". The writers of Lost, who were scarce during the strike you might recall, are going to make it up as they go, give you a few answers at the end, but ultimately leave it all up to fan argument and conjecture. Were they on the island? Were they in the future? Were they in the alternate reality which supposedly isn't an alternate reality because the writers give it some fancy name...blah, blah, blah. At least this generation will, after all these years, be able to FINALLY appreciate some of the appeal of The Prisoner.

Frank in Pensacola, FL   April 20th, 2010 7:37 pm ET

LOL. Carl and skyler got it in one...

Brynn   April 20th, 2010 7:50 pm ET

I appreciate an attempt to understand and explain the possible phenomenon of the island's 'magical' qualities. Because, at this point in time, no one really knows for sure. So, kudos, Dan Bernstein, for taking a stab at this supernatural topic.

CrappyShow   April 20th, 2010 7:51 pm ET

Stopped watching this garbage after the first episode. Continued not watching it after I saw a gorilla or what ever the hell it was running through the jungle, knocking down trees.

Yorkiegirl   April 20th, 2010 8:29 pm ET

Nice picture of Ken Leung as Miles!

Rich   April 21st, 2010 1:27 am ET

Some jerk got paid more for slapping together this article than i got paid all last year..

BAKER   April 21st, 2010 1:37 am ET

Technically, for all the complainers, half of it is fact.

okokbye   April 21st, 2010 4:51 am ET

technology? science..? no wonder the us ranks so low in education.

Michiegirl   April 21st, 2010 6:31 am ET

Technology? science? supernatural? who cares! Lost is a man banquet... a lil something for everyone! (& I agree w/Yorkiegirl!)

keith   April 21st, 2010 8:45 am ET

Every body is lost! I like listning to people who think they got it figured. These guys do a good show and named it right!

keith   April 21st, 2010 8:49 am ET

It's a tv show people! Come on! I will like the last show then we will mabey be waiting for LOST 2!

Craig   April 21st, 2010 9:38 am ET

Sounds like the writer didn't watch this weeks episode and needed some filler.

Steve McQueen   April 21st, 2010 11:41 am ET

What a bunch of stuttering, spluttering idiots. It's an article about pseudoscience in the context of a fictional TV show designed for viewer escapism. Period. Its unfortunate in my opinion that such has increasingly become the realm of mainstream journalism, but it is what it is...

William Schweiker   April 21st, 2010 12:41 pm ET

Westley you hit it right on. Most of the comments are the result of a lack of real intelligence, or a misreading and comprehension failure.

Not quite sure about the Box top comment though. Sounds as if you have issues with some areas you do not have any experience in...hmmm.

Tracy   April 21st, 2010 1:23 pm ET

I think Rich must have a terrible job.

I was sucked in because of the photo of "Miles". He's just so cute.

I still like the show. It's entertainment. If you don't like to read about Sci-fi, entertainment, tv shows, Lost, or geek-related subjects, why did you read this? If you didn't like the article... so? I don't like lots of things but I don't have to tell the world all about it. If you'd rather read about death and destruction, there's plenty of that from CNN, too. Go there.

heyimjason   April 21st, 2010 1:41 pm ET

Man, CNN is off its game today. Earlier I read an article explaining that sugar is fattening. No way. Now they bring in people talking about freaking ghosts? How scientific. Let me guess – the next article posted will be about medical technology advances, and they'll get a bunch of Scientologists to discuss them.

JoJoBee   April 21st, 2010 2:19 pm ET

Lost rocks, expert & non-expert opinions notwithstanding. Now lets all start calling the MIB SmokeyLockes.

AJ   April 21st, 2010 3:39 pm ET

Trying to discuss the science of a fictional TV show is like claiming god is real because the bible says so.

The only difference is the huge number of people who've fallen for the bible and all its nonsense.

Will Robinson   April 22nd, 2010 9:03 am ET

Desmond's flash sideways is behaving a lot like Jacob lately, guiding the players towards their destiny.. Yes, no? Why would he be so special to Widmore?

Brad   April 22nd, 2010 10:28 am ET

Joanne: No, no you're not.

Westley: That's not a good argument. If you claim that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, you basically have no way to disprove anything. Or prove anything for that matter. It is not unreasonable in any way to require testable, repeatable, and consistent evidence of anything in order to consider it to be valid.

Which is the only thing I take issue with in this article..."Skeptics say there is no evidence that such instruments can be used to detect supernatural phenomena." Well skeptics say there is no supernatural phenomena to detect. It's not surprising that instruments can't detect it. They also can't detect unicorns or pixie dust.

Oh, and by the way Mr Bernstein, clairvoyance is by definition the ability to see into places outside of your actual visual range. It is a subset of clairsentience, which means to be able to use one or more senses outside of their range.

The_Mick   April 22nd, 2010 10:29 am ET

"As for electromagnetism behaving the way it does on "Lost?" "Magnetism in nature has a diverse and complicated physics, but there is always one universal property that we observe: it’s extremely weak," Durgin said."
Please note that "electromagnetism" describes electricity and magnetism together, not "magnetism" alone – there is no such thing as electricity without magnetism, which is carried at right angles to each other. Their relationship was understood and described by Maxwell's Equations back in the mid-1800's and their interactions conveniently made simple by the Three Right Hand Rules of Electromagnetism.

Magnetism may be "weak", but I've worked with chemistry Nuclear Magnetic Resonance machines in which wearing a watch in the same room could make the watch unworkable because it's internal metal atoms partially lined up with the fairly STRONG magnetic field of the NMR's powerful permanent magnet and the watch itself became partially magnetized.

yojoe   April 22nd, 2010 10:52 am ET shiny and soft

yojoe   April 22nd, 2010 10:55 am ET


yojoe   April 22nd, 2010 10:57 am ET

monster...xp yuhmmmie

Corvus1   April 22nd, 2010 5:42 pm ET

All I want to see is Sawyer and Kate make out one more time before it all ends. And for that Zoe chick to get eaten by a polar bear.

'Geek Out!:' Technology and the supernatural on 'Lost' island — Think Geek Australia   May 13th, 2010 9:00 am ET

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