What The DHARMA Initiative Was Really Trying To Accomplish On Lost

Namaste and welcome to the DHARMA Initiative, the scientific research project at the center of many of the biggest mysteries of the hit TV show, "Lost." As a fan, I remember when John Locke and Boone first encountered the mysterious hatch with no idea what awaited them within. But as the series progressed, we discovered the enigmatic DHARMA Initiative with its shadowy motives and weird orientation videos.

Who were they? What did they want with The Island? And could the DHARMA Initiative help the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 get home?

The DHARMA Initiative was long gone when Jack, Kate, Locke, and the rest of the gang discovered the remnants of their experiments. But their influence could be felt throughout The Island, whether it was mysterious hatches, weirdly-located polar bears, or random pallet drops in the middle of the night. But who were the DHARMA Initiative and where did they come from?

Who Were the DHARMA Initiative?

According to the orientation film found in The Swan station (otherwise known as the hatch), the DHARMA Initiative was created in 1970 by Gerald and Karen DeGroot — two doctoral candidates from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was revealed to be financially backed by Danish industrialist, Alvar Hanso through his Hanso Foundation.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"DHARMA" stands for Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications. After finding The Island, the DHARMA Initiative set up a small research community with the goal of studying The Island's unique properties. Its research was based on various scientific disciplines including meteorology, psychology, parapsychology, zoology, electromagnetism, and utopian social engineering. And while the mysterious organization comes across as a bit creepy, it turned out their goals were entirely altruistic and for "the betterment of mankind and advancement of world peace."

An alternate reality game known as "The Lost Experience" expanded on this, revealing that the DHARMA Initiative's goal was to manipulate the values of The Valenzetti Equation to extend the lifespan of humanity. But what does that mean?

The Valenzetti Equation

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis between the Soviet Union and the United States, the UN Security Council commissioned the creation of The Valenzetti Equation — a mathematical equation used to predict the extinction of humanity.

According to a 1975 orientation film in the "Sri Lanka Video" (which is part of "The Lost Experience"), the Valenzetti Equation "predicts the exact number of years and months until humanity extinguishes itself."

Created by Enzo Valenzetti, it derived a series of numerical values to represent key factors that determine humanity's fate — 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42. "The numbers" as they came to be known, appeared throughout "Lost" and were the core focus of the DHARMA Initiative's research. Most famously, the numbers appeared on the outside of the hatch and were also used by Hurley to win the lotto, netting him a cool $114 million before he concluded that the numbers were "cursed."

The DHARMA Initiative believed that by changing any of these core values, they would change the course of humanity's future, extending mankind's time on Earth. How would they do that? It's all about the stations.

Dharma Initiative Stations Explained

The DHARMA Initiative believed that The Island was the key to changing the coefficients of The Valenzetti Equation and created a range of scientific research stations across The Island to house their research.

Here's what they created:

  • The Hydra (Station 1 of 6): A zoological research outpost, The Hydra included a variety of animal cages and an underwater aquarium. It previously housed polar bears, sharks, and dolphins which were used for experimental purposes. The Hydra was situated on a small island off the coast of the main Island.
  • The Arrow (Station 2 of 6): A defensive outpost used to develop defensive strategies and gather intelligence on the Island's hostile Indigenous population. It was later used as a shelter by tail section survivors of the doomed Oceanic Flight 815.
  • The Swan (Station 3 of 6): Originally referred to as "the hatch," this station was an electromagnetic research lab before the "Incident" — caused by drilling into an unknown energy source beneath the station. After this, a protocol had to be followed where a special code (the numbers) was input into a computer every 108 minutes.
  • The Flame (Station 4 of 6): A DHARMA communication station, The Flame was used to communicate with other stations as well as the outside world. A small building with a satellite dish, it also housed a basement storage facility beneath a hidden trapdoor. It was also rigged with C-4 explosives to avoid it falling into the hands of "The Others" — referred to as The Island's natives.
  • The Pearl (Station 5 of 6): A psychological research station, The Pearl occupants were charged with observing the occupants of The Swan and were told that The Hatch was part of a psychological experiment. However, The Pearl itself was the real experiment with hidden cameras installed in the facility to observe them.
  • The Orchid (Station 6 of 6): A facility that, on the surface, supported botanical research, The Orchid was actually the site of a secret elevator that led to a space-time research facility. It was home to The Vault — a time machine used by the DHARMA Initiative to conduct space-time manipulation experiments.

There were also a number of other stations both on and off The Island, but these six are considered to be the core stations concerned with the DHARMA Initiative's research. So, what happened?

Did the DHARMA Initiative Succeed?

After investing all that time, effort, and resources, the DHARMA Initiative must have come close, right? Well ... not quite. After almost 20 years of research, the DHARMA Initiative fell to The Others, a group of Island natives who were at odds with the research group.

Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson), a former DHARMA workman, sided with The Others in order to topple the DHARMA Initiative after growing increasingly despondent. He eventually orchestrated The Purge, an event that saw the DHARMA Initiative wiped off the face of The Island in a brutal gas attack, with Linus killing his own father as revenge for years of mistreatment. The DHARMA Initiative collapsed ... and with it, its research failed.

During "The Lost Experience," the new head of the Hanso Foundation Thomas Mittelwerk confirmed it:

"We all know what happened – the DHARMA Initiative failed and in spite of every effort of the Foundation, we are gripped in the tyranny of those six numbers. We have tried to change those values by manipulating the environment in many, many ways. We have done our level best, and yet this inscrutable equation keeps bringing us back to the numbers."

As of 2006, it was assumed that the numbers had not been changed, with the DHARMA Initiative failing in its objective as the island stations fell into disrepair. Whether or not the numbers will ever change remains a mystery. But to the DHARMA Initiative and its successors, we say thank you, namaste, and good luck.