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 Hatch23.com. "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."