The Full Wiki

John C. Lilly: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Lilly
Born January 6, 1915(1915-01-06)
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Died September 30, 2001 (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, USA

John Cunningham Lilly (January 6, 1915 – September 30, 2001) was an American physician, psychoanalyst, psychonaut, philosopher and writer.

He was a pioneer researcher into the nature of consciousness using as his principal tools the isolation tank, dolphin communication, and psychedelic drugs, sometimes in combination. He was a member of the Californian counterculture of scientists, mystics and thinkers that arose in the late 1960s and early 70s.


Career summary

Lilly was a qualified physician and psychoanalyst. He made contributions in the fields of biophysics, neurophysiology, electronics, computer science, and neuroanatomy. He invented and promoted the use of the isolation tank as a means of sensory deprivation. He was also a pioneer in attempting interspecies communication between humans and dolphins.

His eclectic career began as a conventional scientist doing research for universities and government. But as he followed his own inquiries, Lilly delved into what mainstream science considers fringe areas. He published many books and had two Hollywood movies based loosely on his work.

Career history

John Lilly was born on Jan. 6, 1915, in Saint Paul, Minnesota and showed an early interest in scientific experimentation.

He studied physics and biology at the California Institute of Technology, graduating in 1938. He studied medicine at Dartmouth Medical School and received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942.

Early research

During World War II, he researched the physiology of high-altitude flying and invented instruments for measuring gas pressure.

After the war he trained in psychoanalysis and at the University of Pennsylvania where he began researching the physical structures of the brain and of its consciousness. In 1951 he published a paper showing how he could display patterns of brain electrical activity on a cathode ray display screen using electrodes he specially devised for insertion into a living brain.

Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and John C. Lilly in 1991

Development of the sensory deprivation tank

In 1953, he took a post studying neurophysiology with the US Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Corps. At the NIMH in 1954,[1][2][3][4] following the desire to strip away outside stimuli from the mind/brain, he devised the first isolation tank, a dark soundproof tank of warm salt water in which subjects could float for long periods in sensory isolation. Lilly and a research colleague were the first to act as subjects in this research.

He later studied other large-brained mammals and in the late 1950s he established a centre devoted to fostering human-dolphin communication; the Communication Research Institute on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. In the early 1960s, Lilly and co-workers published several papers reporting that dolphins could mimic human speech patterns. Subsequent investigations of dolphin cognition have generally, however, found it difficult to replicate his results.

Exploration of human consciousness

In the early sixties he was introduced to psychedelics like LSD and (later) ketamine and began a series of experiments in which he took the psychedelic either in an isolation tank or in the company of dolphins. These events are described in his books Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments and The Center of the Cyclone, both published in 1972. Following advice from Ram Dass, Lilly studied Patanjali's system of yoga (finding I. K. Taimni's Science of Yoga, a modernized interpretation of the Sanskrit text, most suited to his goals). He also paid special attention to 'Who am I?' meditation advocated by Sri Ramana Maharshi, and was reformulating the principles of this exercise along the lines of his human biocomputer paradigm (described in Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments and The Center of the Cyclone). He later travelled to Chile and trained with the spiritual leader Oscar Ichazo (whose attitude to metaphysical consciousness exploration Lilly characterized as "empirical" in The Center of the Cyclone). Lilly claimed to have achieved the highest level of Satori-Samadhi during his training.

Later career

He published 19 books in all, including The Center of the Cyclone which describes his own LSD experiences and Man and Dolphin and The Mind of the Dolphin which describe his work with dolphins.

In the mid and late 1970s he was an adviser to film maker George Lucas.[citation needed]

In the 1980s he led a project which attempted to teach dolphins a computer-synthesised language. Lilly laid out the design for a future "communications laboratory" that would be a floating living room where humans and dolphins could chat as equals and where they would find a common language.

He envisioned a time when all killing of whales and dolphins would cease, "not from a law being passed, but from each human understanding innately that these are ancient, sentient earth residents, with tremendous intelligence and enormous life force. Not someone to kill, but someone to learn from." [5] In the 1990s Lilly moved to the island of Maui in Hawaii, where he lived most of the remainder of his life.

His literary rights and scientific discoveries were housed within Human Software, Inc., while his philanthropic endeavors were channelled through the Human Dolphin Foundation. The John C. Lilly Research Institute, Inc. continues to research topics of interest to Lilly.

Solid State Intelligence

Solid State Intelligence or SSI is a malevolent entity described by John C. Lilly (see The Scientist). According to Lilly, the network of computation-capable solid state systems (electronics) engineered by humans will eventually develop (or has already developed) into an autonomous life-form. Since the optimal survival conditions for this life-form (low-temperature vacuum) are drastically different from those needed by humans (room temperature aerial atmosphere and adequate water supply), Lilly predicted (or "prophesied", based on his ketamine-induced visions) a dramatic conflict between the two forms of intelligence.

Cultural references

Lilly's work, with dolphins and the development of the sensory deprivation tank, has been referenced in film, music and television productions.

  • Laurie Anderson's CD The Ugly One with the Jewels features a song about Lilly: "John Lilly, the guy who says he can talk to dolphins, said he was in an aquarium and he was talking to a big whale who was swimming around and around in his tank. And the whale kept asking him questions telepathically. And one of the questions the whale kept asking was: do all oceans have walls?"[citation needed]


  • Man and Dolphin . Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1961. 1962 Gollancz ed., ISBN 0-575-01054-1
  • The Mind of the Dolphin. Doubleday, 1967, ISBN 0-385-02543-2. The Mind of the Dolphin: A Nonhuman Intelligence; Avon, 1969.
  • Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments. 1968, Communication Research Institute, 112pp. 1987 reprint, Julian Press, ISBN 0-517-52757-X.
  • The Center of the Cyclone. Bantam Books, 1973, ISBN 0553133497. 2001 reprint of 1973 ed., Marion Boyars Publishers, ISBN 1-84230-004-0 . (First published 1972)
  • Lilly on dolphins: humans of the sea. Anchor Press, 1975, ISBN 0385010370.
  • The Deep Self (1976, ASIN B0006CP8ZO. 1981 reissue ISBN 0-446-33023-X. 2007 reissue, ISBN 0-89556-116-6)
  • John C. Lilly with Antonietta Lilly, The Dyadic Cyclone. Simon and Schuster, 1976, ISBN 067122218X. 1978 Paladin reissue, ISBN 0-586-08276-X
  • Simulations of God: The Science of Belief. Simon and Schuster, 1975. ISBN 0-671-21981-2
  • The Scientist: a novel autobiography. Lippincott, 1978, ISBN 0-397-01274-8. 1988 update. 1996 reissue, ISBN 0-914171-72-0)
  • Communication between man and dolphin: the possibilities of talking with other species. Julian Press, 1987, ISBN 0517565641
  • John C. Lilly with E.J. Gold et al., Tanks for the Memories: Floatation Tank Talks. Gateways/IDHHB, 1995, ISBN 0895560712

See also


  1. ^ Black, David (December 10, 1979). "Lie down in darkness". New York Magazine 12 (48): 60. ISSN 0028-7369. 
  2. ^ Gelb, Michael; Sarah Miller Caldicott (2007). Innovate Like Edison. Dutton. pp. 140. ISBN 0525950311. 
  3. ^ Lilly, John Cunningham (1996). The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography (3 ed.). Ronin Publishing. pp. 102. ISBN 0914171720. 
  4. ^ Streatfeild, Dominic (2008). Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control (reprint ed.). Macmillan. pp. 116. ISBN 0312427921. 
  5. ^ John C. Lilly Dies at 86 Written as a message to visitors on John Lilly's personal website (, and quoted in the New York Times Obituary by Andrew C. Revkin October 7, 2001 (reprinted at Accessed October 2007
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent. "The Day of the Dolphin (1973) Film: Underwater Talkie: Scott Stars in Nichols's 'Day of the Dolphin' The Cast", The New York Times, New York, 20 December 1973. Retrieved on 2010-03-04.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Altered States", Chicago Sun-Times, 01 January 1980. Retrieved on 2010-03-15.
  8. ^ Hooper, Judith. "John Lilly: Altered States"], Omni Magazine, January 1983
  9. ^ Williams, David E. "Head Trip", American Cinematographer, March 2008 (reprinted at Retrieved on 2010-03-15.
  10. ^ Gallo, David. "Ecco the Dolphin DARK SEA". Ecco Team Interview: Ed Ettore Annunziata. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  • John Lilly, Inventor of the flotation tank and friend to whales and dolphins. [1], Houghton, Gerard A. The Guardian, London. 05 October 2001. Retrieved on 2010-03-15.

External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address