John C. Lilly

John Cunningham Lilly (January 6, 1915 – September 30, 2001)
John Lilly was an American physician, neuroscientist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, writer and inventor. He was a member of a generation of counterculture scientists and thinkers that included Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, and Werner Erhard, all frequent visitors to the Lilly home. He often stirred controversy, especially among mainstream scientists.

He gained renown in the 1950s after developing the isolation tank. He saw the tanks, in which users are isolated from almost all external stimuli, as a means to explore the nature of human consciousness. He later combined that work with his efforts to communicate with dolphins. He began studying how bottlenose dolphins vocalize, establishing centers in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and later San Francisco, to study dolphins. A decade later, he began experimenting with psychedelics, including LSD, often while floating in isolation.    wiki

Margaret Howe Lovatt working with the young dolphin Peter

    Around the time I first encountered Lilly’s dolphin books I’d been wondering about communication with an alien life form (as from another planet).   Then I realized we didn’t have to wait that opportunity.   We have an intelligent alien life form already living on the planet with us – dolphins and whales.
    The challenge looked as real as could be.   Here’s a large brained creature (larger than human brains) living in a three-dimensional water environment that’s totally alien (even hostile) to human life.   The physical differences were substantial and requirements for each environment were also quite different.   AND they seemed able to communicate in substantial detail with their community.   However there was nothing easy about our human/dolphin differences being crossed into understanding.

    In comes Dr. John Lilly.   Initially he uses conventional tools of study – including physical subject examination – ie. dissection.   While some understanding was revealed, clearly there was far more beyond the reach of this process, as well the question of ethics in interacting with another intelligent creature.   Lilly saw and responded, changing his engagement process.   Considerable trial & error routes were yet to be taken, and many failed or came far short of desired progress.   Lilly was a pioneer in this human to dolphin research.

    That learning grew past simple re-engagement to consideration of the dolphin life as of equal validity with our own.   John Lilly’s third book proposed the concept of an equally integrated engagement land-with-sea facility where both species were free to come and go in safety & relative comfort as they wished. This was evolutionary change in concept of relationship.   The concept was unfortunately never realized.

    Lilly was also becoming interested in the examination of human consciousness through enhancement by using sensory deprivation tanks and by using LSD chemical enhancements.   Some of this work brought question to his reputation within the scientific community, becoming a serious obstacle.

    While he never got to sit down to a dinner conversation, human with dolphin, his labor and thought produced worthwhile questions and avenues for more research some future day.    nr


(1961) Man and Dolphin: Adventures of a New Scientific Frontier
(1967) The Mind of the Dolphin: A Nonhuman Intelligence
(1968) Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer:
             Theory and Experiments
(1972) The Center of the Cyclone: An Autobiography of Inner Space
(1975) Lilly on Dolphins: Humans of the Sea. Anchor Press.
             This book is simply the first two dolphin books combined into one.
(1975) Simulations of God: The Science of Belief. Simon and Schuster.
(1977) The Deep Self: Profound Relaxation and the Tank Isolation Technique
(1978) Communication between Man and Dolphin: The Possibilities of
             Talking with Other Species.
(1978) The Scientist: A Novel Autobiography
(1996) The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography.

john c   website