I. By Way of Introduction
in which a few preliminary points are laid out.
In 1996, Daniel Faraday had a very important meeting with Desmond Hume. In that meeting, Desmond gave Faraday the correct settings to make his machine work and flash the consciousness of Eloise into the future and back.
Eight years later, Faraday doesn't remember that meeting?Why?
Whatever the answer is, it may be a number, and that number may be 8 (no, not 42, and not even 23... maybe).
In the third season's eighth episode, “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” Desmond experienced a flash unlike anything we had so far seen. This wasn't a flashback for the audience; Desmond was actually back. An explanation for his extended, lucid flashback was left up in the air until now. We always knew there was a causal relationship between his flashing back and being back, and his tripping the failsafe in the Swan Station; we just weren't sure of the why's, how's, and whatsit's. “The Constant” answers this question, and then some.
Here's what we now know:
- Perception of time is different on the island than it is off the island. Faraday lets Jack in on this secret, and tells him if Lapidus didn't keep the helicopter on the specific trajectory that Faraday gave him, there might be “side effects.”
- Side effects of island entry and exit include the strange flashes across time, confusion, nosebleeds, looking narcoleptic, and eventually brain aneurysm.
- Exposure to large doses of radiation or electromagnetism unsettle something in a person that make said person more prone to the side effects of island entry and exit.
- Des tripped the failsafe in “Live Together, Die Alone,” and caught a megadose of an electromagnetic pulse
- Presumably both Eko and Locke caught a dose, since they were also at ground zero. Locke has since tweaked his psychic link with the island, and Eko was whomped by Smokey.
- Faraday performed an experiment that gave off radiation twenty times a day. He wore a protective apron, but had no protection for his head.
- On the freighter, Minkowski ran the ship's radio equipment until he became unstuck. Being around that equipment all the time would expose Minkowski to higher levels of radiation than normal. According to the Communication Workers of America website, radio equipment emits low levels of non-ionizing radiation that can possibly lead to what they call “thermal effect.” Would the radio equipment alone emit enough radiation to make Minkowski more susceptible to side effects, or is there something more to that equipment?
- And what was Brandon's story, the man who went out to towards the island with Minkowski and ended up in a body bag?
- The flashes transport the subject's consciousness to different locations in time. The key here is that it's the consciousness that is shifted, and not the physical subject himself.
- Which suggests that consciousness is either a part of or is effected by physical forces, kind of like iron filings being dragged around by a magnet.
- Dr. Ray uses some kind of vaccine on Minkowski; this is either to sedate him—and possibly keep his mind from jumping ship—or its meant to actually counteract the flashes. It doesn't work. (This isn't the first time we've seen a vaccine.)
II. Getting Unstuck
in which the Slaughterhouse-Five references are recouped
This all helps explain why Desmond has flashes to begin with, and why he had such a long-lasting lucid flash; after absorbing the brunt of the pulse, his head was just in a different place for a while. When Faraday zaps the rat Eloise with his light-emitting machine, he tells Des that he's going to “unstick Eloise in time, just like you.” That statement probably sounds familiar to many people, because it's how Kurt Vonnegut describes his protagonist in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five:
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
It ends like this:
Billy, like Desmond, can't control when, where, or how he flashes to different periods of time, and is forced to relive parts of his life again and again, including his time as a soldier in WWII, and his own death. An alien race called Tralfamadorians also figure into this; they transcendentally exist in four dimensions, and experience all time at once: “All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance.”
For them, the future is already history, and it gives the Tralfamadorians a deep sense of fatalism—their mantra: So it goes. (This is much like Dr. Manhattan in Alan Moore's Watchmen, another text referenced here and as an influence on Lost). The Tralfamadorians kidnap Billy Pilgrim and put him in a zoo on their planet. Being unstuck in time, Billy finds their fatalism oddly comforting, and he accepts that “Among the things [he] could not change were the past, the present, and the future.” When Desmond asks if Faraday uses his machine to change the future, Faraday's reply is in a similar vein: “You can't change the future.”
III. Calling Out a Rat
in which the name Eloise gets the rundown
The name of Faraday's rat, Eloise, is also evocative and deserves a sidetrack. Eloise is an Anglicization of the name Heloïse, who was the 12th century abbess of the Oratory of the Paraclete in France. Heloïse was a great scholar and famous for her love affair with the philosopher Peter Abélard. In the film Being John Malkovich, a story all about consciousness becoming unstuck, Craig the puppeteer performs scenes of Heloïse and Abélard with his puppets. Of note, though, is that in 1761 Heloïse and Abélard's story was fictionalized into a philosophical novel by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Julie, or the New Heloïse. It was a popular epistolary novel (a novel comprised of letters), and it sold well. But Rousseau used the novel to couch a philosophical discussion about how social organization structured emotional development, and how people then managed their emotions in the social sphere.
The author's name is already familiar to the Lost audience, and so is the plot: a working class dude, Saint-Preux, falls in love with the daughter of a nobleman, Julie, and they want to get married—but her father won't have it (echoes of Desmond, Penelope and Charles Widmore). Julie decides to get pregnant in order to coerce her father into allowing the marriage, but she miscarries. Many more plot details occur that lead to SP leaving for Paris with an a English friend of Julie's father. The lovers continue to write, and SP eventually learns that Julie entered into an arranged marriage and decides to live as a virtuous wife and mother, which crushes him. He is about to top himself when the Englishman talks him out of it, and SP instead finds work aboard a ship that's traveling around the world (does Desmond's name even need to be mentioned here?). After ten years, SP returns and visits Julie and her husband at their estate, and finds her happy and with a good man. The better Julie's husband is to SP, the less infatuated he is with Julie. He eventually marries Julie's sister Claire, and they settle down at the estate, where he tutors Julie's children. It will be interesting to see if Penelope has any other suitors (like her name would suggest), or has a sister.
in which a discussion about non-localized consciousness and doubling is (sort of) developed, finishing with some geography.
But what we also learn in “The Constant” is that in the flashes, a person's consciousness isn't just transported across time; it seems to be swapping with the self-same subject from a different period of time. So the 1996 Desmond is at times walking around with 2004 Desmond's knowledge, and 2004 Desmond is at times confusedly walking around in 1996 Desmond's head. To an extent, this somewhat addresses the question of parallel universes in Lost; at least in Desmond's case, he—or his consciousness—is to different locations in spacetime, rather than an alternative universe (unless a different location in spacetime is a parallel universe from the perspective of the original location). So consciousness becomes something more fluid and unsettled.
One writer whose who has something to say about this is Robert Anton Wilson, author of Illuminatus! and Cosmic Trigger, among an immense body of other work. His influence on Lost has been consistently lurking in the background, and his take on consciousness may shed some light on what Desmond is going through. One thing that had a profound effect on RAW was when physicist John S. Bell published his theorem on nonlocality in 1964. The match showed that at the quantum level, particles can effect each other, or communicate, even at great distances. The physical particles had location in space and time, but the information communicated seemed to be everywhere and everywhen. “What Bell seemed to prove was that quantum effects are 'non-local' in [physicist David] Bohm's sense; that is, they are not just here or there, but both. What this apparently means is that space and time are only real to our mammalian sense organs; they are not really real.”
In a 1993 interview published in the book Mavericks of the Mind, RAW builds on this idea with his hunch that consciousness “is a non-local function of the universe as a whole, and our brains are only local transceivers. As a matter of fact, it's a very strong hunch, but I'm not going to dogmatize about it.” RAW later developed this non-local notion of consciousness in his book about Timothy Leary's eight-circuit model of consciousness, Prometheus Rising; he categorizes thoughts/consciousness (software ) apart from its physical housing (hardware), and the function of the two is the self. He developed : “YOUR HARDWARE IS LOCALIZED: BRAIN CELLS RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. YOUR SOFTWARE IS NON-LOCALIZED: POINT-EVENTS EVERYWHERE, EVERYWHEN.” What we consider to be the self is the conjunction of these points. More is to be made of this later, but this whole problem of being unstuck gives a new meaning to “double-consciousness,” which may not be far from the mark.
The term “double-consciousness” was first made famous by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his 1843 essay “The Transcendentalist.” For Emerson, the problem of double-consciousness was that the human intellect and human soul inhabited separate spheres that never coincided (a little like RAW's hardware and software). Emerson worked to transcend that dualistic mode of existence, which is something like what Desmond has to do with his swapped consciousness. Des has to work to understand what is happening to him generally, as well as in his various immediate situations (such as when 1996 Des finds himself on a helicopter, or 2004 Des finds himself on a bathroom floor in Southfields). To do so, he needs to find his constant, and his constant has to do with his soul—Penelope.
Emerson first used the term “double-consciousness,” but W.E.B. Du Bois made the term famous in The Souls of Black Folk. In his book W.E.B. Du Bois and American Political Thought, Adolph L. Reed Jr. considers how Du Bois turned Emersonian double-consciousness inside-out to identify the historical problem of African American social exclusion, rather than an issue with the human condition. “Where Du Bois's notion pointed to a specific product of black American experience, Emerson's indicated a generic human condition, prior to and outside history,” (100). Du Bois discusses double-consciousness in terms of how black folk had to view themselves through the eyes of others, were members of the American populace but without access to all the rights of citizenship, and were at once both American and African. This isn't so much a problem for Des—although he does see himself somewhat through the disapproving gaze of Charles Widmore. However, we've certainly seen a similar double-consciousness at play with characters like Sayid, Eko, and Jin, who all inhabited worlds in which they didn't fully belong and see themselves partly through the eyes of others (Sayid as a turned torturer and then CIA informant, Eko the warlord as a priest, and Jin the fisherman's son as high-class muscle for a business tycoon).
Another recent figure struck with double-consciousness was Horselover Fat, from last week's nod to Philip K. Dick's Valis. After getting hit with the pinkish light reflecting off a delivery person's vesica piscis pendant, he claims an advanced intelligence invaded his consciousness, but that intelligence was from the early Christian era. His chief preoccupation becomes finding out just what this intelligence was (Zebra, he calls it), and what it means, which takes him into the tomes of ancient philosophy, mysticism, and the Gnostic scrolls of the Nag Hammadi library.
If PKD were alive today, we could ask him if the pink light from Faraday's machine looked similar to the pink light that hit him in the head. PKD searched for that frequency of light afterwards, and couldn't find any match.
At any rate, doubleness and consciousness are problems at play, but double-consciousness isn't the only doubling that occurs in the episode. One of the freighter crew is named Omar; this is the second Omar we've seen, as Sayid's commanding officer during the Iraq War was also named Omar. Another of the freighter crew is the doctor named Ray; Ray was also the name of the one-armed Australian farmer who gave Kate work while she was a fugitive (and eventually turned Kate in for a reward). Maybe the most engaging instance of doubling, though, is of the journals. When Des flashes back to the Southfields auction, Charles Widmore is winning the journal of the Black Rock's first mate, found in 1852 on Île Sainte-Marie, Madagascar. The second journal belongs to Faraday, and is comprised of his time-tripping notes prior to and on the island. It will be interesting to see what Tovard Hanso's first mate wrote in that journal, especially if he made any scientific observations. (Did anyone catch what exactly was on auction just after the journal? It was something once “in the possession of Charles Dickens.”)
V. From Geography to Maps to Numbers
in which the geography line is explored using funky shapes that end up being about numbers.
These other instances of doubling lead in two geographical directions. First, freighter Omar notes that the freighter's last port was Fiji. Second, the Black Rock journal was found in Madagascar. This gives us something to work with. In the book Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island, J. Wood makes mention of 20th century Scottish naturalist Ivan Sanderson and the “vile vortices.” In the 1970's, Sanderson was interested in how ancient sailors mapped the world, and in his studies kept coming across Bermuda Triangle-type accounts coming from a number of places around the globe (navigational instruments malfunction, lost time, odd lights, disappearing ships, etc.) Sanderson tracked where these incidents took place, and found they occurred in a regular frequency around the world, primarily in five equally-spaced regions around the Tropic of Capricorn, five around the Tropic of Cancer, and at each of the poles. He called them the vile vortices.
In the past, cartographers often overlaid polyhedral grids on maps in order to have a clear picture of coordinates and to orient themselves (and maybe they still do). In the Timaeus, Plato even argued that the elements were made up of five regular polyhedral solids: the tetrahedron (pyramid), hexahedron (cube), octahedron (eight-sided diamond), the twelve-sided dodecahedron, and the twenty-sided icosahedron; think of the Bucky Fuller geodesic dome inside the Swan Station. Sanderson noted that when an icosahedron was mapped onto the globe, the points where the icosahedral lines converged pinpointed those twelve vile vortices. Stranger still, of all of those five Platonic solids, only the octahedron—the eight-sided shape—can be overlain on top of the icosahedron, and have convergence points that line up with the twelve points of the icosahedron. We already know how important the number eight is to the narrative; whether the eight-sided Platonic solid matching with twelve vile vortices mapped out by Ivan Sanderson on an icosahedral grid was intentional or not, its a little intriguing, and we'll be getting back to eight shortly. But how all this relate to Fiji and Madagascar? Omar said the freighter's last port was Fiji, and the Black Rock journal was found in Madagascar; both Fiji and Madagascar are located in two of the vile vortex zones.
The octahedron has eight sides, there is an eight-year gap between Desmond's 1996 flash and his being on the island in 2004, and eight is the second number in the Valenzetti Equation (4 8 15 16 23 42). The first time Desmond experienced a flash was in the eighth episode of the third season. The odd spired symbols seen on Juliet's back, the tree, around the portholes in the Looking Glass, and on Mrs. Gardner's wall have eight points. Eight is a magic and sacred number (but really, aren't they all?). With seven days in a week, eight stands just outside of time. It's a Fibonacci number, which is used to express the Golden Spiral found throughout nature, like in sunflowers, nautilus shells, spiral galaxies, DNA, and whirlpools, hurricanes and tornadoes—maelstroms, from which we get Miles Straume. The symbolic representation of eight is the same as the symbolic representation for infinity—timelessness--turned on its side, 8 ∞. For an oxygen molecule to be oxygen, it needs eight protons in its nucleus; one fewer and its nitrogen, one more and its fluorine, and if either were the case, we wouldn't breathe so well. Could there more significance to eight and “The Constant”? Possibly:
VI. Pieces of Eight
in which the previous discussions of consciousness and the number eight are rammed through some of the recurring themes in Lost.
We already know the influence of Buddhism on Lost. The DHARMA Initiative is named after the Buddhist doctrine of essential nature, and each of their stations are labeled with a symbol comprised of an eight-sided bagua. In Buddhism, the way to enlightenment is through the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (in that order). The path itself is not so much a map to Nirvana as it is qualities found within a person who has reach Nirvana. The eighth path, right concentration, has to do with meditation. There are four stages, or jhānas, on that path, and they lead through different stages of rapture and an evenness of mind until the individual transcends the pleasure and pain of the material world—when the consciousness literally becomes unstuck.
Incidentally, the fourth jhāna is also the access point into psychic abilities; in the Anguttara Nikaya (which is all about numbers), the Buddha makes mention of the abilities one can access if they attain that state of mind, which include appearing, vanishing, moving through solid objects as easily as through space, flying, and walking on water (there's an online translation here). While Desmond's consciousness is becoming unstuck against his will, it seems some people like Walt have already accessed this fourth jhāna.
And the eights keep on coming. The Catholic element in Lost has already been marked out by Mr. Eko. When thinking of eight in the New Testament, the eight beatitudes in Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount rank right up there. The eighth beatitude states that those who are persecuted for following the path of righteousness will have the kingdom of heaven (yet another path to some transcendent place). As far as I understand it, righteousness is the key idea here, and it has to do with upholding an ethical justice according to God's will—and God's will is unchanging, constant, as is the kingdom of heaven. This means a righteous person will try to be consistent with the unchanging ethics of God, and the only one to fully achieve that consistency was executed (talk about persecution). Mr. Eko attempted to live according to God's will after he was saved by his brother Yemi, but was still judged harshly by Smokey. No character has a more spiritual stance on the island than Locke, and no character has been more persecuted for trying to do what he believes is the right thing.
But like chocolate and peanut butter, text and image, Cuse and Lindelof, Catholicism is a complement of Judaism. There have been Old Testament references all over Lost, and numbers are important in the OT; eight people made it on to Noah's boat, G_d made eight promises to Abraham in Genesis, a boy is circumcised eight days after he is born, and the eighth sefira on the Tree of Life is Hod. The Tree of Life is still another mystical path to the transcendent, and it has ten sefirot, or numbers. Hod, the eighth, means “splendor,” as well as giving thanks (from hodaah). Among other things (and I don't pretend to understand it all), hod is supposed to symbolize observation and steadfastness—constancy—on the Tree of Life. Constants aren't just mathematical.
VII. The Shape of Eight
in which Robert Anton Wilson and physics have more to say about the stuff about eight, consciousness, and dimensions.
Nor are they just psycho-religio-spiritual. Let's bring back Robert Anton Wilson: In Prometheus Rising, RAW breaks down Timothy Leary's Eight-Circuit Model of Consciousness (and remember, Leary got his start with Richard Alpert, the namesake of the ageless Other who brings Ben into the fold). Unlike the eight-fold path, the path to righteousness through the eight beatitudes, and the eighth sefira on the Tree of Life, Leary's model isn't so much a yellow brick road to transcendence or a promised land, but rather a map of what's already there, either experienced or uncharted by the individual. And as RAW points out, the eight circuits are only a convenient way of mapping consciousness—and the map is not the territory.
The eighth circuit in Leary's model is the Non-Local Quantum Circuit, which is imprinted on the consciousness “by Shock, by 'near-death' or 'clinical death' experience, by OOBEs (out-of-body-experiences), by trans-time perceptions ("precognition"), by trans-space visions (ESP), etc. It tunes the brain into the non-local quantum communication system suggested by physicists such as Bohm, Walker, Sarfatti, Bell, etc.” Recall that the non-local refers to the software, or consciousness itself. Not to discount the Buddhist, Christian or Jewish models, but of all the eights, this one seems to map onto Lost more accurately than the rest. Just take Desmond as our test rabbit: He had a near-death experience in the Swan Station; his software was shaken loose from its hardware and is free-roaming across time, creating out-of-body-type experiences; he's certainly had precognitive moments (like every time he saved Charlie); and what were his flashes in “Flashes Before Your Eyes” and “The Constant” if not trans-space (and trans-time) visions? But again, as RAW is quick to point out, the model hardly represents the whole system.
The non-local quantum circuit is the least mystical, if no less weird, of the models presented. Are there any more scientific models we can turn to? Maybe in Faraday's work?
When Faraday is paging through his journal at the end of the episode, a few things jump out, like the Lorentz Invariant (a constant in physics), and the picture he drew of large dots connected by lines. This is another one of those screengrab moments, because this looks like he's trying to map out a hypercube, or tesseract.
A good place to turn here is Harvard physicist Lisa Randall's 2005 book Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions (Charlie Rose did a good interview with her a while back, and it's available on Google Video and YouTube; she was also recently on Stephen Colbert's show).
Randall's work focuses on the possibility that there may be many more dimensions to our universe, but we are not equipped to experience with our senses. In 1884, Edwin A. Abbott wrote the book Flatland that helps Randall explain the point: Flatland is a place where everyone exists in only two dimensions. A square isn't convinced that there is only their two dimensions, but can't convince anyone of this. Then he is visited by a three-dimensional sphere from Spaceland; the square can't wrap its mind around this object (which in flatland wouldn't look like a ball, but a circle) until the sphere takes the square to Spaceland, and the square can experience three-dimensional space. From that perspective, the square understands what it was missing in Flatland. But when the square suggests to the sphere that there may be more than even three dimensions, the sphere is offended and sends it back to Flatland. The square spends the rest of its days despairing over its inability to convince anyone in the two-dimensional world that another dimension exists. (Strangely, this story maps nicely on to Joseph Campbell's archetypal hero trope from The Hero With a Thousand Faces.)
Randall makes no sweeping claims about the existence of other dimensions, but puts out what the math suggests and poses some hypotheses to be tested. One of these hypotheses is that other dimensions may exist in what parallel universes that we can't experience, called branes (short for membrane). She even suggests that experiencing these other dimensions could be impeded by parallel universes, but these are conceived of in a specific way. Here's a thought experiment: If you have a couple sheets of paper handy, hold one a few inches above the other. Call these sheets of paper branes (short for membranes; if it helps, the other sheet of paper could be a stack of newspaper, or something that physically differentiates it from the first). These different sheets/universes/branes are existing within a larger megaverse. One sheet/brane would be our universe, and our galaxy might be a small pencil dot on that sheet. That brane is capable of expressing certain dimensions, like length, width, and depth; if you're in that brane, those are the dimensions you can experience. The other sheet/brane would be another universe, and it might be capable of expressing different dimensions that we can't experience from our brane, just like in Abbott's Flatland. Physicist Brian Greene produced a three-hour special on these issues for NOVA called The Elegant Universe that dives into this material, and it can be viewed online. The third hour gets into examples of branes. There's also a discussion on why it's so difficult for us to imagine dimensions beyond our typical three (we have enough trouble wrapping our heads around time).
An example Randall uses to explain dimensions and branes is of a water droplet on window or shower curtain; that water droplet is stuck on that two-dimensional surface within a larger three-dimensional room. Likewise, it's possible that we're stuck on a three-dimensional brane, even if other dimensions exist. And if they do exist, we don't even know if we could perceive these other dimensions; they could be very tiny, or warped. One of the problems of physics is trying to figure out why gravity is so weak compared to the other forces in nature (in a tug of war between a magnet and gravity over a paper clip, the magnet always wins). One of Randall's hypotheses is that gravity actually exists on another brane, and is exerting a weak force on our brane. (There's a model in John Gribbin's book Q is for Quantum: An Encyclopedia of Particle Physics that shows how branes might look.) In 2008 CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland will go into operation, and will conduct particle physics experiments that will hopefully answer some of these questions.
One way Randall and others geometrically model multiple dimensions/universes/branes is with a hypercube. Hypercubes are multi-dimensional projections of three-dimensional cubes, which we probably couldn't perceive anyway since we're stuck with three-dimensional vision, but they work mathematically. A zero-dimensional cube (0-cube) is a dot • ; a 1-cube is a line — ; a 2-cube is a square □ ; a 3-cube is a three-dimensional cube, etc. Each added number represents another dimension that cube exists within. For Lost, the 4-cube, or tesseract, is interesting; it's also called an octachoron because it is bounded by eight cubicle cells (there's that eight again).
And with that we're back to Faraday, because it looks like Faraday is working on a model of a tesseract in his journal.
Some of the planes/dimensions he maps out are imaginary space, imaginary time, real time, and space-time. In Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (the book Sawyer read in “Deus Ex Machina”), tesseracts figure in heavily. The protagonist, Meg Murry, has two scientist parents, and her astrophysicist father is missing. A mysterious Mrs. Whatsit appears at the Murry household one stormy night, and after a sandwich, proceeds to tell Dr. Kate Murry “There is such a thing as a tesseract.” They come to learn from the strange woman that a tesseract is the fifth dimension after time, and it can bend space and time—an unknown dimension, rather like what Randall discusses with the hypercube example. By using a tesseract, a straight line no longer becomes the shortest distance between two points; why follow the line, when you can bend the two points together? It sounds almost like how the island is accessed, especially if that island doesn't exist in this dimension.
VIII. Eight-Dimension Spin Cycle
in which something is done to rein in the sprawl and make is seem like it might all make sense.
That's a lot of material revolving around the number eight, but what's tying it all together? There's one particular structural element to the episode that puts eight right at its core:
Des has eight flashes throughout the episode.
1.)On the helicopter to sleeping in the Camp Millar barracks;
2.)On the freighter yelling that he's not supposed to be there to drilling out in the rain at Camp Millar;
3.)Dr. Ray checking his eyes to walking in the rain and getting in the phone booth;
4.)On the satellite phone getting the settings from Faraday to waking up at the bottom of the phone booth in Camp Millar and going to find Faraday at Oxford;
5.)Talking to Minkowski and finding out he was seeing calls from Penelope to waking up in Faraday's Oxford lab;
6.)Leaving the freighter sick bay to waking up in a stairwell and going to the Southfields auction;
7.)Holding Minkowski when he dies to waking up on the Southfields bathroom floor;
8.)Calling Penelope from the freighter on Christmas Eve, 2004 to leaving Penelope's place in 1996.
In the final flash, something odd happens. Des comes back to the freighter right when he needs to remember the number, and he just got that number from his flash. When he calls from the freighter, we can hear the phone ringing, and we still hear it ringing when the scene flashes back to Desmond leaving Penelope's place in 1996. The scene is very subtle, because before we were back on the freighter, we were just at the point of Desmond leaving. In other episodes a scene will cut to a flashback, but no other scene in “The Constant” cuts back to a flashback like this, and it does so at the point when Desmond establishes his constant. In that moment, London 1996 and freighter 2004 are connected, as if by a tesseract (at least a narrative one), and Desmond transcends his circumstances and keys in to an unchanging element that will keep his head from imploding. The notion of multiple dimensions is raised through the flashes and Faraday's tesseract, and the way consciousness becomes unstuck echoes RAW's notion that the software of consciousness is non-local—and may very well be part of another dimension that we don't quite get. Maybe now that Faraday has discovered his constant, he'll remember that meeting from 1996. The audience has also been on this flash ride with Desmond, and with this episode we learn why and how it happens, giving us a kind of constant as well.
The theme of the number (our constant?) is reflected in the very architecture of the episode, making “The Constant” possibly the most intricately structured episode of Lost to date. This kind of thematic structuring is what classical and Renaissance artists and architects did when they took classical ratios and had them reflected at the macro and micro levels of the work to create intrinsic harmony and resonance. The eight idea resonates throughout the episode in theme, structure, symbolism. This is not to say that the episode was designed as carefully as suggested above, but at this point many of the themes have already been established and are now being recuperated while questions are answered. If all the thematic pieces were designed to fit together, the writers may not need to over-plan an episode, because the structure is implicit.
But this is just a reading; the map is not the territory.
So it goes.