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May 4, 2010

Geek Out!: The real Dharma Initiative?

Posted: 02:40 PM ET
The Dharma Initiative booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2008
The Dharma Initiative booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2008

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi 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.

The Dharma Initiative. Red herring or consequential? Once one of the biggest mysteries of "Lost," much of what it was about was revealed in season five.

A short refresher course: Dharma (Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications) was founded in the 1970s by a couple of scientists named the DeGroots, who were greatly influenced by the work of psychologist and inventor B.F. Skinner. They were given funding by one Alvar Hanso, which allowed them to send a large team to the island to conduct research in meteorology, psychology, parapsychology, zoology, electromagnetism and Utopian social engineering.

A major reason why we know all of this is thanks to the orientation films hosted by Dr. Pierre Chang, a.k.a. Marvin Candle, a.k.a. Mark Wickmund, a.k.a. Edgar Halliwax. So what did Francois Chau, the actor who played Chang, think of all of this? "This stuff is way over my head. Astrophysics is not something I would read about," he said. "But what they were researching is pretty interesting. I never would have known any of this stuff if I hadn’t gotten involved."

Much of their research does exist in the real world, leading one to another question: Are there organizations from history that may have inspired the idea of the Dharma Initiative?

Ask many who have pondered that question, and one answer you often hear (aside from Skinner, obviously) is DARPA. DARPA - the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - is often credited with creating the internet and has researched and developed some pretty advanced stuff, especially in the area of robotics. DARPA even sounds like "Dharma," but as tempting as it is to draw conclusions about the two, the similarities start and end there (for one thing, Dharma is a private organization).

One person who has thought about this quite a bit is blogger Klint "Klintron" Finley, who has written about the concept of "real-life Dharma initiatives" extensively at "I think it stems from various trends and movements from the '60s and '70s," he said. "More specifically, anywhere that two or more of the following intersected: Eastern spirituality, fringe science, defense spending, disturbing psychological research, experiments in utopian/communal living and experiments social control."

He points to many possible influences for the Dharma concept but thinks there is one in particular that shares a lot with Dharma: the Esalen Institute. Made famous in a 1967 New York Times article, the institute began as a place where one could, as its website says, have "the intellectual freedom to consider systems of thought and feeling that lie beyond the current constraints of mainstream academia."

It still serves as a retreat center at the beautiful Big Sur mountains to this day and, according to the website, has been devoted to the exploration of human potential since the 1960s. It's here that the "Physics Consciousness Research Group" was allegedly co-founded in 1975 by theoretical physicist Jack Sarfatti. Sarfatti is the author of such works as "Progress in Post-Quantum Physics and Unified Field Theory" and "Super Cosmos: Through Studies Through the Stars."

And what about Dharma's benefactor, Hanso? Aside from maybe Richard Alpert and Charles Widmore, no one character has fascinated and mystified fans more. ... In fact, much of the online "Lost Experience" a few years ago revolved around him. (According to Finley, Hanso may have been modeled after people like inventor Charles F. Kettering, who died in 1958.) In ABC's game "The Lost Experience," players found out that a main reason for his interest in the Dharma Initiative was the "Valenzetti Equation." In "Lost" lore, this is a calculation of the exact date on which humankind would wipe itself out, consisting of the familiar "numbers" from the hatch, Hurley's lottery ticket and, we now know, Jacob's candidates. Dharma was trying to change these numbers in order to save the world.

The closest thing to such an equation in the real world would appear to be the doomsday argument, which theoretically would calculate the probability that a certain number of humans could still be born in the future. Similarly, there is the Doomsday Clock, which symbolizes how close we supposedly are to the end of the world, whether due to nuclear war or, more recently, global warming or possibly harmful technological factors.

Leaving aside the reasons behind Dharma and their areas of study, it turns out that Dharma's method of having a closed-off area for research is quite common, according to Georgia Tech associate professor of electromagnetics Gregory Durgin: "There is a longstanding tradition of placing research groups in secluded places together, providing the members resources, privacy and freedom to develop important technologies. One of the earliest and most famous examples of this is the Manhattan Project, where an entire community of scientists was established in the New Mexico desert for developing the atom bomb."

Durgin says that such arrangements are necessary in certain cases. "Any researcher will tell you that, when a new frontier of knowledge opens up, some degree of seclusion and freedom are required to study the emerging field," he said. "Without some 'hedge of protection,' technical people get roped increasingly into the mundane maintenance of an organization. ... Thus, today's corporate research labs foster an 'island culture' of freedom (complete with the same hippie themes of the Dharma Initiative) without having to ship out their technical personnel to the South Pacific."

A modern example of an "island culture" that comes to mind for him is that mysterious, shadowy organization known as ... Google. "They have game rooms, pools, cafeterias with exotic foods and eclectic décor, all in the hopes of providing a unique culture of innovation for their personnel" at the "Googleplex" near San Jose, California. "It’s the 'do no evil' approach to managing researchers."

Close to reality or not, some of the most hardcore fans focused in on the Dharma Initiative over the years as a major part of unraveling the mysteries of "Lost." Clearly, the "incident" (or lack thereof, depending on how you look at it) caused a lot of what we're seeing take place in this final season. But what further role, if any, does it play in the war between Widmore and the Man in Black? That remains to be seen.

How do you think the show's last few episodes will play out? Share your theory (keep it brief!) on CNN iReport. In the meantime, share your thoughts on Dharma, or anything else "Lost"-related below, and look for another "Geek Out!" post on one of our favorite shows next Tuesday.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • television

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Shetland8   May 4th, 2010 3:06 pm ET

Is the "bomb" active?

Alex   May 4th, 2010 3:06 pm ET

The Manhattan Project gathered scientists in Chicago, not New Mexico.

Bob   May 4th, 2010 3:51 pm ET

Futile search for a plot where none exists.

Let it go.

Brandon   May 4th, 2010 4:23 pm ET

@Alex: Not really true in the context of the article. The Manhattan project certainly gathered researchers FROM Chicago, and some of the research was performed there, but the majority of the work was centered at four different sites: Los Alamos (New Mexico), Oak Ridge (Tennessee), Richland (Washington), Chalk River (Ontario). Even among these four, Los Alamos is most widely regarded as the home of the Manhattan project. They literally built an entire city from ground up to house the researchers and support staff.

Maryanne   May 4th, 2010 5:48 pm ET

Well it is clear that it is a good verses evil. But which which is which.So I think that when Jack stays, The side that has all his friends has to get him back and that is the reason they have them at gun point, Because jack and Des are not with them. So they load up and all go back to the island.
There will be a battle between Lock and these people and it turns out that lock really is the bad guy and, Jacob isn't dead. And they have their fight to the death. Of corse Jacob wins and He restores every lost person even the bad ones, because now that the evil is destroyed they will not be bad anymore. And the island can be seen, they don't need to hide anymore. and they can all leave, and start their lives over. Or something like that. But I haven't been right yet... from the start.

Maryanne   May 4th, 2010 5:54 pm ET

Oh and one thing, I think when it is over they should take the cast of friends and have a lost remake, The only ones on the plan are the cast of friend, Whom I love, but wouldn't it be a funny thing to see Chandler being chased through a jungle by black smoke??

S.R.   May 4th, 2010 6:52 pm ET

Come to find out in the end that everything was all just a dream in each character's head; which would really suck, but it has been done before. ("Newhart" and "St. Elsewhere" for i.e.)

Klint on talking about Real Life DHARMA Initiatives | Technoccult   May 4th, 2010 7:11 pm ET

[...] did an article on real life DHARMA initiatives and they interviewed me for it: One person who has thought about this quite a bit is blogger Klint [...]

Dave   May 4th, 2010 7:26 pm ET

The Smoke Monster is a Djinn, or genie. Jacob was his Master, and the Candidate chosen will be whichever one demonstrates a willingness to selflessly act for the good of all, in both time lines, without giving in to the temptations offered up by the Djinn. The chosen one will be the new Master, and in the final scene, he and the Djinn will be sitting on the beach, at the foot of the statue.

meme   May 4th, 2010 8:11 pm ET

I think the people left on the island should be saved by a Skipper, his first mate, a movie start, a professor and some farm girl? What do you guys think?

Jeremy   May 4th, 2010 8:19 pm ET

The show will end up at the very point it started. They all get back on a plane, there's a crash, and the camera zooms in on Jack openeing hi eyes. And I leave from watching that last show very angry and upset at the continual loop they've created.

dna   May 4th, 2010 8:21 pm ET

Science cults do really exist

Josephine   May 4th, 2010 10:56 pm ET

While the first nuclear pile was assembled in Chicago (University of Chicago), the government did assemble a huge group of individuals in New Mexico - not Chicago. Most of the work on the atomic bomb occurred in New Mexico.

Gozer   May 4th, 2010 11:30 pm ET

I'm waiting for John Locke to disappear like a fart in the wind.

Michael Doley   May 5th, 2010 12:09 am ET

DNA and all:

Science cults really do exist indeed! It's ironic that this story quoted Klint Finley since he is a known Satanic Transhumanist New World Order collaborator. He runs a seemingly satnic Technology blog called Technoccult.

You can read more about himi and his assiciates at New World Order University:

Jenn   May 5th, 2010 4:49 am ET

I'm starting to think it's going to be something along the Newhart/St. Elsewhere/Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower lines - that some person or people in the "alternate" (non-plane-crash) reality is having a dream or fantasy of the entire crash/island storyline, with a cast of people he/she/ they know playing other roles (kind of like the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy's uncle, handyman, neighbor et al become the scarecrow, witch and so on). I think this occurred to me when I saw the differences between Locke's "island" storyline and his "alternate" storyline: if the alternate storyline is real, and Locke is torn by guilt by causing the plane crash (!) that disabled his father, he can then set aside any guilt in his fantasy that his father is a bad guy who harmed Locke, and Locke can further enjoy having been in a plane crash that somehow restored his ability to walk, rather than the plane crash that took it away.

Link It Up: 5.5.10 « Smogger   May 5th, 2010 10:05 am ET

[...] a real-life DHARMA Initiative. [via CNN] It's Cinco de Mayo everyday on Olvera Street. via [...]

Jefe   May 5th, 2010 10:29 am ET

Alex – there were parts of the research for the Manhattan Project done in Chicago, but the primary sites were the Hanford Site in Washington State, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and, of course, the most important one: Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Qraig deGroot   May 5th, 2010 10:46 am ET

My last name is deGroot! I wonder if I am related to the Dharma Initiative Founders! I hope so!

IllIlI   May 5th, 2010 11:12 am ET

Get in this capsule, baby!
We are blasting off!

Eep-opp-ork-ah-ah (whoooo)
Eep-opp-ork-ah-ah (whoooo)
Means I love you

Well now, I took my baby
for a ride in space (eep-opp-ork-ah-ah)
and met a little man
with a funny face. (eep-opp-ork-ah-ah)
He taught us both
to wail this way. (eep-opp-ork-ah-ah)
And nobody digs a word we say. (eep-opp-ork-ah-ah)

Yeah, I read my baby loud and clear (eep-opp-ork-ah-ah)
She just said, "I love you dear" (eep-opp-ork-ah-ah)
Now when i reply the way I do (eep-opp-ork-ah-ah)
I just said, "I love you too"
Come fly with me!
Up high with me!

Mei   May 5th, 2010 11:46 am ET

I have it right from the director's mouth. I heard them talking it over breakfast this morning here on the Big Island.

Each person will have to die on the Island. They will assume their life in the parallel timeline. All are intrinsically tied to one another. The series will end will all of them boarding an Oceanic flight out of Los Angeles.

Paul in ABQ   May 5th, 2010 12:38 pm ET

Alex, I hope by now that you realize the Manhattan Project was centered in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The director, J Robert Oppenheimer, had spent summers there as a young boy, and picked that site due to its extreme isolation. Let me suggest you pick up a copy of The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, a wonderful book that describes in great detail the scientific effort behind the development of The Bomb.

Brad Powers   May 5th, 2010 12:55 pm ET

The most we'll get about the DHARMA Initiative, moving forward, is discovering who Alvar Hanso is. And that's ONLY if it's someone who we already know from the show. Otherwise, Lost hasn't been focusing on that plot point anymore, it doesn't pertain specifically to any of the characters' arcs, and hasn't been reintroduced in the recent weeks' episodes.

I agree that DHARMA is an important story device, but Lost isn't in the business of tying up the plot, but in redeeming the characters. Unless a DHARMA explanation serves that directly, we won't see much more about it.

Beautiful photo, by the way.

Bubba   May 5th, 2010 1:38 pm ET

I have to agree with the majority: the only realistic thing to do would be to have the Harlem Globetrotters shipwrecked there too, and they are all rescued together. I stopped watching this turkey two seasons ago.

Rick S   May 5th, 2010 2:32 pm ET

Jacob IS Alvar Hanso. He's trying to figure it all out himself!!!

Bosco   May 5th, 2010 3:58 pm ET

it's all a big steaming heap of b.s.

Kristen   May 6th, 2010 7:47 am ET

First, I am not sure why all the people who stopped watching the show feel a need to comment. If you haven't watched in 2 seasons, you have no idea what's going on. Second, science requires proof AND validation NOT belief, therefore, a "scientific cult" is impossible. There can be cults built around misunderstanding science but not around true science. Finally, the dream thing won't work since we have seen crossovers between the Sideways world and the Island world. I think all the characters will have to come together and Jack will have to make the sacrifice to be the next Jacob and keep the MIB on the island. The other characters will go back to their Sideways lives but fully aware of their island selves and the journey they acheived. This gives James a chance to find Juliet in Sideways world and rescue her from her controlling husband.

The Real Dharma Initiative? | Disinformation   May 6th, 2010 3:28 pm ET

[...] note: Congrats to regular contributor klintron on the interview! CNN reports: Much of their research does exist in the real world, leading one to another question: Are [...]

shawn » Geek Out!: The real Dharma Initiative? – SciTechBlog – Blogs   May 6th, 2010 5:57 pm ET

[...] via Geek Out!: The real Dharma Initiative? – SciTechBlog – Blogs. [...]

The Real Dharma Initiative? «   May 7th, 2010 1:32 pm ET

[...] note: Congrats to regular contributor klintron on the interview! Henry Hanks writes on CNN's SciTech Blog: Much of their research does exist in the real world, leading one to another question: Are there [...]

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fajna praca   June 8th, 2015 3:10 pm ET

Witaj, super rozdział. Jakiś czas nie czytałem tak interesującego tekstu

Lisa   January 30th, 2016 10:24 pm ET

I am 9 and I watched lost 4 times and i am watching it now as I type

P.S. It is BS if it is not true and if you care email me my email is

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