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4 8 15 16 23 42 - every Lost fan knows this sequence.

But even after watching the ending, I am still not sure what the numbers really mean and how it's all connected.

If I recall correctly, in the last season it turns out that Jacob numbered the people stranded on the island and those 6 numbers are the ones of the people he judged as worthy to follow in his footsteps. I remember seeing him in the cave where he crossed people/numbers out that did not fulfill his somewhat unclear requirements. The man in black explained this by saying something like "He (Jacob) had a thing for numbers."

While that being one explanation for the numbers being in the show, that still leaves me with a lot of open questions.

  • Are the numbers actually cursed? Or did Hugo just have an unbelievable streak of bad luck?
  • Why did the french people send those numbers over the radio transmitter?
  • If the numbers are really just related to Jacob's list, what was up with that computer? Why was it necessary to input them every 108 minutes? Weren't they once explained as part of a formula for humanity's extinction?

I hope I missed something that answers those questions and maybe someone who rewatched the seasons after the finale can tell me what was actually going on with those numbers?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

The only other real explanation given for the numbers relates back to one of the bonus features with DHARMA showing that the numbers are actually part of an equation that predicts mankind's extinction.


The other major explanation of the numbers are, as you say, part of Jacob's numbering of the final candidates:

enter image description here

4 - Locke

8 - Reyes

15 - Ford

16 - Jarrah

23 - Shephard

42 - Kwon

Also on Lostpedia, you can find uses of the numbers strewn across the whole series as a bit of an Easter Egg for those paying attention (and not just in this series)


The reason for the numbers to be entered into the computer was to discharge the magnetic power that the Swam station contained. The first time we witness the numbers not being entered caused Oceanic 815 to crash in the first place (the plane flying over and the magnetic field becoming to strong, causing the plane to get out of control and break up and crash).

The second time we witness the numbers being missed is when Locke destroyed the computer, causing Desmond to activate the Fail-Safe, blowing up the Swan and the power it would try to contain in the first place. I can only assume they chose this sequence of numbers either because of the aforementioned equation or because it was the "serial number" of the base.

enter image description here


As far as Hugo, because the numbers have this strange relation to the extinction of man, it could be implied that using them would cause bad luck. However, this is never heavily implied and can be just a plot device/just a string of terrible events that happened in his life.


Other than these explanations, there have been no other pure explanations for the Lost numbers by any of the creators or writers that I can find.

One final note to add, an answer from Damon Lindelof, explaining why the numbers don't have a definite meaning throughout the series using the Midi-chlorians from Star Wars as an example:

There are some questions that are very engaging and interesting, and then there are other questions that we have no interest whatsoever in answering. We call it the midi-chlorian debate, because at a certain point, explaining something mystical demystifies it. To try and have a character come and say, "Here is what the numbers mean," actually makes every usage of the numbers up to that point less interesting.

You can actually watch Star Wars now, and when Obi-Wan talks about the Force to Luke for the first time, it loses its luster because the Force has been explained as, sort of, little biological agents that are in your blood stream. So you go, "Oh, I liked Obi-Wan's version a lot better." Which in the case of our show is, "The numbers are bad luck, they keep popping up in Hurley's life, they appear on the island." ... But if you're watching the show for a detailed explanation of what the numbers mean—and I'm not saying you won't see more of them—then you will be disappointed by the end of season six.

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Wasn't Jacob instrumental in bringing the candidates to the island? I thought the idea was he constructed everything to get the candidates on that plane. –  DisgruntledGoat Apr 15 '12 at 13:39
    
@DisgruntledGoat In a way, you can say Jacob is an omnipotent being in that he constructed the series of events that brought them to the island, whether it be how he got them on the plane or somehow helping shape DHARMA in a way that they would construct the Swan and tell people that the world will end if the numbers aren't put in. However, for discussions sake, I said the Swan caused the crash because in the end, it did. –  TylerShads Apr 15 '12 at 13:50
    
+1 very detailed, thanks –  atticae Apr 17 '12 at 1:15
    
This was an exceptionally excellent answer, +1 –  pandorym Apr 18 '13 at 2:16
    
I just realized looking at the picture above that the numbering does not start at 0 (as in: 4 is the fourth number), but that 4 is actually 104 on the scale, meaning that there probably have been well over 100 candidates. –  atticae Apr 29 at 17:30
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