An article in the latest New York Review of Books, a review of a book on the creation of the Royal Society of London, one of history's premiere scientific bodies, had a passage that made me sit up and whinny. Under discussion is Francis Bacon:
After [Bacon's] death in 1626, his most imaginative work was published, a story with the title New Atlantis, describing a utopian society living on an island in the South Pacific and directed by an organization called the Foundation. The Foundation is a group of philosophers dedicated to scientific research and human improvement:Permit me a brief chortle....The End of our Foundation is the knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible.
Does any of that sound, oh, you know... familiar?
Perhaps now all those characters with names of Enlightenment philosophes (Locke, Rousseau, Hume, etc.) make some more sense, eh? Or at least, the character-names point us in the direction of Bacon's New Atlantis...
Now, Bacon predates the Enlightenment by a good hundred years, but he's certainly a precursor. I certainly haven't read New Atlantis (its Wikipedia entry makes it look like a mighty rough slog -- as is the entry itself), but the parallels between it and Lost are far too clear. It's impossible the show's creators are unaware of what they're doing (taken from Wikipedia -- please don't blame me for the wooden prose):
- "There are two instances in The New Atlantis that include miracles. In both instances the miracles are simply illusions and events that could be explained by science with information not known to the people experiencing the miracles."
- [The miraculous arrival of Christianity to the island] "brings into question the legitimacy of the miracle and the Christian faith on the island. In a closer inspection of the event it appears as though the miracle is simply the product of the government and science."
- "Later in the story when you learn of the technology in Bensalem it becomes clear the potential is there for the government to concoct the miracle."
- "Bacon is making a significant statement in this miracle. By providing a scene that appears to be a miracle, but is not, he establishes the superiority of science to religion. In that, miracles do not exist, but rather are events that cannot be explained using the technology at the given time (in this instance, the technology released to the masses).... Bensalem is a society where science dominates the presence of religion; however, no matter how strong science is it needs and relies on religion in order to retain a functional society."
- "After realizing the greatness of the island the captain exclaims 'it is a kind of miracle hath brought us hither: and it must be little less that shall bring us hence.'... As discovered later in the story the House of Salomon possesses control over the weather and is responsible for this supposedly divine path taken by the sailors. In both instances an act that appears as a divine miracle is in truth the work of science."
Compare the Hanso Foundation -- the mysterious enterprise that funds the activities of the Dharma Initiative -- with Francis Bacon's Foundation: Both ostentatiously beneficent in their self-presentation, and both up to the task of the "knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things." Both using science to mystify, and Mystery to further science...
It couldn't be clearer to me.