FLASH FORWARD TO THE HIPPIES!
As time passes, more and more people come to the island via instructions handed down from the ancient Egyptians and eventually we end up with a group of people called the Dharma Initiative. These folks come to the island to do testing and experiments (based on external LOST information we might conclude that they have come to the island because they believe the earth is coming to an end and they might be able to use the power of the island to stop the series of events that will end the earth). We also see that in the Dharma school house the children are being taught how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics therefore there is clearly a connection between what is currently happening on the island with what had happened originally with the Egyptians.
The Dharma Initiative is somewhat sophisticated. After all, in the 1970’s we were able to successfully put a man on the moon, along with so many other important inventions. Dharma started experimenting with time on the island. They started channeling the light/time/water which manipulated time. They most likely figured out quickly that if you are not careful with how you move through time you can hemorrhage your brain and die (the worst nose bleed ever!). Therefore, they did a lot of testing, and found that it was most effective to test animals that were similar in size to humans. But even more importantly, they needed a mammal with a brain that was a similar size to a human brain. Therefore, the Dharma Initiative brought Polar Bears to the island for testing purposes. One of the side effects to time travel (at least near the Orchid Station) is when the traveler is ejected out of the time worm- hole and transported to the Tunisian desert, which clearly had happened to at least one poor Polar Bear that Charlotte found in the episode “Confirmed Dead”.
HIPPIES DON’T NEED GOD TO LIVE FOREVER!
Or so they think. Just as every person who had came before them, the Dharma folks eventually lose their interest in saving the world and find out that they themselves can benefit from the golden cave of light and time. They realize that by continually traveling back in time they can effectively live forever! They perfect the process and find that to have the least amount of adverse side effects from the time travel they will reset time about every two hours, or 108 minutes to be precise. There is one problem with their plan however, they can’t have the time resetting device too near their own living quarters because it turns out that if you travel in time backwards you can never get to the future to travel in time again (it’s a paradox). In other words… if they are pushing the button themselves their entire life is like a skipping record and they can never live normally. So, they decide to create the button pushing device far away from their living quarters in a hatch that they seclude as to separate them as far as possible from their button-pushing guinea pigs. The hatch was built near another pocket of electromagnetism (time) and these two pockets of magnetism acted like wormholes to each other, but the important part was that the button would reset time near the other wormhole which was by the orchid station and therefore the Dharma folks could live forever (theoretically).
Eventually, the “Others” kill off the Dharma folks but continue to use the time traveling scheme to their advantage as Ben knows the drill and is able to live a healthy “normal” life in Dharmaville with his fake girlfriend Juliette and his fake daughter Alex.
Another problem with the Dharma plan to continually reset time is that time is building up all around it. Imagine our water clock with a partially plugged time hole, the pressure behind it keeps increasing because time wants to happen! And when that button isn’t pushed, time gushes through like a raging river pulling everything with it as it goes. Keeping time steady is like a balancing act, you can’t allow too much to escape, but you also can’t allow too much to be held back and while Dharma had perfected the balancing act to some extent there were “incidents” that happened along the way.
Which is why each time the button isn’t pressed the island rushes through time trying to “catch up” with the ever passing moment. When Desmond fails to press the button on September 22, 2004, which brought down flight 815, it also caused Dharmaville to lose some of the time they had made for themselves and their bodies feel the wrath of time as Ben develops the cancer on his spine which he had been avoiding via time travel.
Another interesting example of this is in season 2 in the episode Maternity Leave Claire is having flashbacks when she was abducted by Ethan and the “Other’s” and is brought to what looks like a fully functioning, modern, clean hospital station underground. They are treating her with “medicine” and are preparing to “take” her baby from her. She later escapes with the help of Rousseau. In that same episode Rousseau and Kate take Claire to the Dharma medical facility in hopes of finding the “medicine” that Ethan was given Claire and the baby but this time when they find the medical station is appears to be abandoned and shows the effects of many months (possibly years) of being vacant. So how is it that a place like that can look so old and run down in such a short amount of time? The answer is found in the episode One of Them which was aired directly prior to Maternity Leave. In One of them, Sayid is in the hatch trying to get the truth from Ben, AKA Henry Gale, and he has locked himself in the armory so that he can torture Ben. Jack is mad that Locke has lied to him to allow Sayid to torture Ben so Jack and Locke start to tussle.
During this struggle, the hatch timer runs out and the red hieroglyphics appear and things start to shake (time is starting to rush to the present). After just a couple moments Jack allows Locke to enter the numbers and the clock is reset to 108. Yet in just that short amount of time that the clock was at zero I believe several months, or possibly a couple years rushed by which explains why the medical station seemed to age so dramatically in just a short amount of time.