Saturday, October 4, 2008

LT133: Pushing the Button

Today’s blog is at the end of a long, long day, so I’m going to do my best to layout a theory about LOST that is a work in progress. Let’s call it the “Stopwatch Theory”.


LOST is always on the forefront of my mind. So, I’m watching football this weekend and something makes me think of those NFL combines. A combine is the try-out for college athletes who have a good chance at being drafted. The college graduates show up at one of the combines and execute a series of speed, strength, and skill tests. Most the NFL teams send a scout to conduct their own tests on each future draftee and report their findings back to the people in each organization who is responsible for making their draft day decisions.

LOST comes in because I think of two NFL scouts – one from the Chicago Bears and one from the Miami Dolphins – standing at the finish line of a 40-yard dash. They are timing a well-regarded wide receiver from Iowa. On the signal, the player takes off and runs as fast as he can. As the player crosses the finish line, the scouts will PUSH THE BUTTON to stop their stopwatches.

The scout from the Dolphins records a time of 4.3 and the Bears’ scout records a slower time of 4.4 (which makes sense when you consider the Bears are always a little slower than the Dolphins as any NFL fan knows!).

Which time is correct?


Consider with me the various arguments that could be made for either time being the correct time.

What does “correct” mean? We have a philosophical debate on our hands. Without belaboring the finer points, let’s just appreciate who two guys with very large brains could argue what “correct” means until the cows come home. We can picture that scene in our heads. We understand the debate even if it might more us. If you are thinking two politicians at a debate, then you are getting the same idea of how of endless arguments almost designed to purposefully NOT reach a consensus. But, I’m jaded, so let’s get back to point…

This stopwatch scenario is the origin of the Stopwatch Theory.


Supporters of the Dolphins stopwatch reading of 4.3 seconds to run the 40-yard dash could argue that it must be the correct time because you can’t get a faster time than the shortest time.

This point requires many assumptions such as the scouts started the stopwatches at the same time and the proper time (when the wide receiver began to run). We then assume that neither scout stopped their stopwatch prematurely (before the runner completed the distance). If those two assumptions are accurate, then the faster time has to be correct because you can’t get any slower time than the fastest recorded (gain, assuming the assumptions are accurate).

What this argument also proves is that the Bear scout pushed the button slower or later than the more accurate Dolphin scout.


The proponents of the Bear’s time must argue for margin of error. This then makes the 4.4 seconds the correct time. Humans always struggle with numbers even in simple tasks. Whenever we need to deal with a one-time chore, we tend to desire accuracy more. For example, you want to carpet a room. You measure the width and length and reach your number. But everyone with experience will tell you to estimate higher square feet.

In other words, it is better to plan for a guy to run a pass route at 4.4 speed and have him be able to execute at 4.3 speed, then it is to expect 4.3 and then be disappointed with the slower speed. To error of the safe side, fans of the Bears time will argue, “Both sides agree that he is able to run at 4.4, so that is a fact. Only half of us believe he can run that distance in 4.3, so the correct time is the time universally accepted and builds in a margin of error on the safe side.”


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the same is true of time. Imagine the two scouts do to competitiveness nature of evaluating NFL talent, do not share their times so they are unaware there even was a discrepancy? Then each believes they have the correct time on their stopwatches.

Time, therefore, is established by the observer. The Miami scout observed 4.3 and the Bears observed 4.4 for the same event. Both are correct since the correct answer is different for each. Or something like that.

Consider our own experiences with time. The word day literally drags on and on and time just seems to crawl. Yet our weekends fly by. Our brains realize the second hand is not spinning any faster or slower, it is merely the perception of the observer. A wife who thinks the time flies during the opera can’t experience a faster moving time while the spouse thinks this night will never end. Not if they are at the same opera anyway. No, time moves the same “speed” for everyone, but it is perceived differently.

So, both NFL scouts times are correct. Correct to the scout. We, as third party observer, then have a different perspective in that we observe both times. Which one then is right for us? This is what was answered in the two sections above – well, not answered, but presented.


Picture you are holding two stopwatches. You PUSH THE BUTTON to start them at exactly the same time. We will label the stopwatches Left and Right to help us identify them. Most stopwatches have three buttons: Start, Stop and Reset.

If you are like me, then you are picking out some key LOST words: stop, watch, time, button, and reset. Just thought I’d point that out.

We observe the time increasing on each stopwatch at the same rate. Then after about 108 minutes, we push the Reset button on the Left Stopwatch only. Then we push the Start button to start accumulating its time measurement.

Which stopwatch is has the accurate time? Both are correct, of course, but for their own reason they are different times explained by the fact the Left one was reset. From this point on, every 108 minutes you will reset the Left Stopwatch and start back up again.


My intention for this blog was to set the stage for the Stopwatch Theory. In Wednesday’s blog I hope to explain how the two stopwatches explain LOST.


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