From here to
Alternity and Beyond
"The explanatory principle will save you from the
fear of the unknown. I prefer the unknown..."
with John C. Lilly
How does one briefly describe a man as complex as John Lilly? Whole books barely
provide an overview of this man's extraordinary existence, amazing accomplishments, and
contributions to the world. His list of scientific achievements covers a full page In Who's
Who in America. John C. Lilly, M.D. is perhaps best known as the man behind the
fictional scientists dramatized in the films Altered states and
The Day of the Dolphin. He pioneered the original neuroscientific work In
electrical brain stimulation, mapping out the pleasure and pain pathways in the brain. He
frontiered work in inter-species communication research with dolphins and whales. He
invented the isolation tank and did significant research in the area of sensory
Educated at CalTech, Dartmouth Medical School, and the University of Pennsylvania,
he did a large part of his scientific research at the National Institute of Mental Health
and built his own dolphin-communication research lab in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
After experimenting with LSD in
the sensory deprivation flotation tank, he left the academic world in pursuit of ever
higher states of consciousness. From the Esalen Institute to Chile to ketamine-induced
extraterrestrial contacts in other realities, this man's life is more far-out than any
science fiction. Always following the scientific tradition that carved his name into
history, John Lilly systematically and courageously explored the states of consciousness
produced by LSD and ketamine while in the isolation tank. His autobiographies The
Center of the Cyclone, The Dyadic Cyclone (with Toni Lilly), and The Scientist,
provide mind-boggling overviews of his amazing adventure of a life. His philosophy on how
to reprogram one's own brain is best summarized in Programming and Metaprogramming the
Human Biocomputer, and Simulations of God.
Rebecca McClen and I interviewed John at his house in Malibu on the night of
February 16, 1991. It was a magically enchanting evening. John was like a Zen master, with
sparkling extraterrestrial eyes, in top form, more brilliant than ever at 76, laughing,
creating and bursting realities like soap bubbles. John is very direct and ruthlessly
compassionate, more knowledgeable than a library of encyclopedias yet as innocent and
curious as a small child. The interview lasted over four hours. John spoke
enthusiastically to us about how his early scientific research influenced his latter
explorations in consciousness, from dolphins to extraterrestrials. He spoke to us about
the distinction between insanity and outsanity, and about ECCO-- the Earth Coincidence Control
Office. We discussed and shared our ketamine experiences together. He discussed his ideas
about how ketamine makes
the brain sensitive to micro-waves, so that it can directly pick up television and radio
signals. From electrical brain stimulation to interspecies communication to sensory
deprivation to psychedelic exploration, John Lilly is a pure delight to be around.
DJB: John, what was it that originally inspired your interest in neuroscience
and the nature of reality?
JOHN: At age sixteen, in my prep school, I wrote an article for the school paper
called "Reality," and that laid out the trip for the rest of my life--thought
versus brain activity and brain structure. I went to CalTech to study the biological
sciences, and there I took my first course in neuroanatomy. Later I went on to Dartmouth
Medical School where I took another course in neuroanatomy, and at the University of
Pennsylvania I studied the brain even further. So I learned more about the brain than I
can tell you.
RMN: In what ways do you think your Catholic background influenced your mystical
JOHN: At Catholic school I learned about tough boys and beautiful girls. I fell
in love with Margaret Vance, never told her, though, and it was incredible. I didn't
understand about sex so I visualized exchanging urine with her. My father had one of these
exercise machines with a belt worn around your belly or rump and a powerful electric motor
to make the belt vibrate. I was on this machine and all the vibration stimulated my
erogenous zones. Suddenly my body fell apart and my whole being was enraptured. It was
I went to confession the following morning and the priest said, "Do you jack
off!." I didn't know what he meant, then suddenly I did and I said, "No."
He called it a mortal sin. I left the church thinking, "If they're going to call a
gift from God a mortal sin, then to hell with them. That isn't my God, they're just trying
to control people."
RMN: What is your personal understanding of God?
JOHN: When I was Seven years old I had a vision alone in a Catholic church.
Suddenly I saw God on his throne: an old man with a white beard and white hair surrounded
by angels and the saints parading around with a lot of music. I made the mistake of asking
a nun about the vision and she said, "Only saints have visions!" I assumed that
she thought I wasn't a saint.
So I kept that memory, and on my first acid trip I relived it completely to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. And
suddenly I realized that the little boy had constructed this to explain the experience he
had. I realized that one has to project onto an experience if one is going to talk about
it because the experience itself can't be said in words. But if you are going to talk
about it you choose words which you feel are most appropriate. I understood that, as a
seven year old I had done that. I saw an old man with white hair because the
pre-programming was there. It wasn't physiology; it was something inside, the inner
RMN: Has your understanding or idea of God evolved over time as a result of your
JOHN: Well, when I started going out on the universe with LSD in the tank, I'd
come to a certain group of entities and I'd say, "Are you God?" And they'd say,
"Well, we say that to some people but God is way up there somewhere with the
angels." And it turned out no matter how big they were, God is bigger. So finally I
got to the Starmaker. But as Olaf Stapledon
says in his book, it's impossible to describe the Starmaker in human terms. He was well
aware of the bullshit of language.
I call God ECCO now. The Earth Coincidence Control Office. It's much more satisfying to
call it that. A lot of people accept this and they don't know that they're just talking
about God. I finally found a God that was big enough. As the astronomer said to the
Minister, "My God's astronomical." The Minister said, "How can you relate
to something so big?" The astronomer said, "Well, that isn't the problem, your
God's too small!"
DJB: Do you think that the concept of objectivity is valuable, or do you think
that separating the experimenter from the experiment is impossible?
JOHN: Objectivity and subjectivity were traps that people fell into. I prefer
the terms "insanity" and "outsanity." Insanity is your life inside
yourself. It's very private and you don't allow anybody in there because it's so crazy.
Every so often I find somebody that I can talk to about it. When you go into the isolation
tank outsanity is gone. Now, outsanity is what we're doing now, it's exchanging thoughts
and so on. I'm not talking about my insanity and you're not talking about yours. Now, if
our insanities overlap then we can be friends.
DJB: How would you define what a hallucination is?
JOHN: That's a word I never use because it's very disconcerting, part of the
explanatory principle and hence not useful. Richard Feynmen, the physicist, went into the
tank here twelve times. He did three hours each time and when he finished he sent me one
of his physics books in which he had inscribed, "Thanks for the hallucinations."
So I called him up and I said, "Look, Dick, you're not being a scientist. What you
experience you must describe and not throw into the wastebasket called
"hallucination." That's a psychiatric misnomer; none of that is unreal that you
experienced." For instance he talks: about his nose when he was in the tank. His nose
migrated down to his buttonhole, and finally he decided that he didn't need a buttonhole
or a nose so he took off into outer space.
DJB: And he called that a hallucination because he couldn't develop a model to
JOHN: But you don't have to explain it, you see. You just describe it.
Explanations are: worthless in this area.
RMN: How do you feel about the role that discipline has to play in the process
JOHN: It's absolutely essential. I had thirty-five years of school, eight years
of psychoanalysis before even going into the tank. So I was freer than I would have been
had I not had all that. Everybody could say, "Well, that was dissonant," and I
would say, "Yes, but I learned what I don't have to know." I learned all the
bullshit that's put out in the academic world and I would bullshit too. This bullshit is
an insurance that I don't remember the bullshit that the professor says, except that which
is really worthwhile and interesting.
RMN: What guidelines do you use when traveling through innerspace?
JOHN: My major guideline when I go in the tank is, for God's sake don't
preprogram, don't have a purpose, let it happen. With ketamine and LSD I did the same
thing; I slowly let go of controlling the experience. You know some people lie in the tank
for an hour trying to experience what I experienced. Finally I wrote an introduction to The Deep
Self, and said, if you really want to experience what it is to be in the tank,
don't read any of my books, don't listen to me, just go in there and be.
RMN: So you don't ever try and go in with a mission or an idea of what you want
JOHN: Why should I? I'd only have gotten more ridiculous. Every time I took acid
in the tank in St. Thomas it was entirely different. I think that I couldn't even begin to
describe it. I only got 1/10 of 1% of it and I wrote that in books. The universe prevents
you from programming and when they take you out, they tear you wholly loose and you
realize that these are massive intellects, far greater than any human. Then you really get
humble. When you come back here you say, "Oh well, here I am, back in this damn body
again, and I'm not as intelligent as when I was out there with them."
I took an acid trip in the Carlisle Hotel in Washington, near the FBI building. I
turned on the tape recorder and I just lay down on the bed. I was a tight person but it
was an incredible trip. They look me out and showed me the luminous colossus, and then the
Big Bang that they created three times. And they said, "Man
appears here and disappears there." And I said, "That's awful. What happens to
them'!" And they said, "That's us." I went into a deep depression because I
didn't identify with that. Then, about a week later, I suddenly realized they're also
talking about me. You see all this in the introduction to The Center of
DJB: John, let me ask you, how did your earlier inter-species communication
research with marine mammals influence your later work where you experienced contact with
extra-terrestrial or inter-dimensional beings on your psychedelic travels?
JOHN: Let me say how I got to work with dolphins first. I was floating in the
tank for a year and wondering, who floats around twenty-four hours a day'? I went to Pete
Shoreliner and he says, "Dolphins. They're available. Go down to the Marine Studios
in Florida." So I did, and I immediately fell in love with them. Then we killed a
couple of dolphins to get the brains, and when we saw them we said, "Oh boy! This is
it. This is a brain bigger than ours!" And I thought, this is what I want to do.
Well, I didn't kill any more dolphins. I studied their behavior and interactions. I was
working alone at Marine Studios and I had a brain electrode in one dolphin, which I regret
immeasurably. Anyway, when I would stimulate the positive reinforcement system he would
just quietly push the lever and work like mad, and if I stopped he would vocalize
immediately. I knew monkeys wouldn't do that. And if we stimulated the negative system he
would push the lever, shut it off, and then he'd scold us. See? Then he broke the switch
and just jabbered away.
So we then took the tape of this over to a friend of mine's house and his tape machine
ran at only half the speed of what we had recorded in. It was incredible. Dolphin making
human sounds. We didn't believe it at first. What he was trying to do was to say, "I
can talk your language, let me talk to your leaders, then we can really get this
straightened out about positive and negative reinforcement."
So when I got my lab organized in Miami I turned to Ellsbrough and I said, "I'm
going in there to try this with Elvar." So I went and shouted at the dolphin we
called Elvar, "Elvar! Squirt water!" He zoomed right back immediately, "Squouraarr
rahher." And I said, "No. Squirt water." And finally after about ten
times, he had it so we could understand it. It was just an amazing experience.
DJB: Do you think that he had an understanding of what he was saying, or do you
think he was just mimicking the sounds?
JOHN: If you're experiencing a foreign language, what do you do?
DJB: Well, the first thing you do is mimic.
JOHN: That's right. And slowly but surely, your phoneme system masters the
sounds, right? And it doesn't make any difference whether it makes sense or not. Then the
next thing you have to do is hook the phonemes up and make words. And then you have to
hook the words up to make sentences. And then the meaning, the semantic system in your
brain, starts working. So we have to go through all these steps and if you're at all smart
you'll realize that you have to have intensive contact with the other language, with
someone who speaks it very well. I learned Swedish that way and that's what we did with
DJB: Right. So this work with the dolphins, how did it influence your
experiences with ketamine in the isolation tank?
JOHN: Well, I discovered that dolphins have personalities and are valuable
people. I began to wonder about whales which have much larger brains, and I wondered what
their capabilities are.
There's a threshold of brain size for language as we know it, and as far as I can make
out it's about 800 grams. Anybody below that, like the chimpanzee or the gorilla can't
learn to speak a language. But above that language is: acquired very rapidly, as in a
baby. Well, this means that the dolphin's life is probably as complicated as ours. But
what about their spiritual life? Can they get out of their bodies and travel? Are they
extraterrestrials? I asked those kinds of questions. Most people wouldn't ask them.
So I took ketamine by the tank at Marine World in Redwood City. I got in to the rank
and I had a microphone near my head and an underwater speaker that went down into the
dolphin tank. My microphone hit their loudspeaker under water. So I waited. Then I began
to feel that I was in direct contact with them and as soon as I felt that one of them
whistled, a long whistle, and it went from my feet right up to my head. I went straight
out of my body. They took me to the dolphin group mind. Boy, that was scary! I shouted and
carried on. I said, "I can't even handle one dolphin, much less a group mind of
So instead of that they put me into a whale group mind and when you have an experience
like that, you realize that some of the LSD experiences may have been in those group
minds, not in outer space at all. Since then I suspect that they're all ready to talk and
carry on with us if we were not so blind. So we open up pathways to them with ketamine,
with LSD, with swimming with them, with falling in love with them and them falling in love
with us. All the non-scientific ways.
RMN: Why did you stop doing the English experiments with the dolphins?
JOHN: Because I didn't want anyone to speak to them. So I did it more
esoterically with ketamine in the tank, and so on, which these idiots in the Navy wouldn't
do. I was appalled by what they were doing.
RMN: Have you ever managed to learn enough of their language to communicate with
them on their level?
JOHN: No, because they're too fast and too high frequency. They're ten times as
fast as we are and ten times the frequency. So if you record it on tape and then slow it
down ten times you can get an idea. When they're working on human speech, at first they're
too fast for you, and then they suddenly realize it so they slow down.
DJB: Have you ever given ketamine to a dolphin?
JOHN: No. I gave them acid to see if it would knock out their respiration. It
didn't. I couldn't understand what was happening to them on LSD except for one thing they
did. They turned around along the tank at the same time, and suddenly they turned their
beaks down and turned on their sonar straight downwards. I remember on my first acid trip
that suddenly the floor disappeared and I saw the stars on the other side of the earth, so
I stamped my foot on the floor to find it. That's what they were doing.
Also, the dolphin Pam had been spear-gunned three limes by Ricco Browny in the
"Flipper" series. The first time, Pam went over to Browny and pulled the spear
from him. The second time, she took one look at him and turned away. The third time she
ran like mad and wouldn't go near him or any humans. It was just awful. So when we got her
she was staying away from us with the other dolphins. So I gave her LSD and she climbed
all over us. It was marvelous.
Boy, I've been trying to stop talking about dolphins. I was enslaved by them for twenty
years and now I'm trying to avoid them for a while. But I can't. People like you come out
and remind me of them.
RMN: That's wonderful. Okay, let's get back to people. Could you tell us, in
what ways you think the exploration and mapping of the human psyche can help to improve
the quality of people's lives and what about people with mental disorders?
JOHN: Do you know Thomas
Szasz's book, The Myth of
Mental Illness? Well that's where I'm at. I don't believe any of this mental
health stuff; it's all bullshit. Having been through psychoanalysis with a doctor of
physics, Robert Beltim from Vienna, that's what I've come to think. He used to analyze
analysts, Anna Freud and so
on. I started quoting papers: from psychoanalysis and finally he said, "Dr. Lilly,
we're not here to analyze Freud or the psychoanalytic literature; we're here to analyze
you, and you're just avoiding yourself. I learn more from you and you learn more from me
than we'll ever get in the literature." So that's the way I've looked at everything.
RMN: What do you think about people who suffer from a disruption of their
interior reality? People who experience problems in coming to terms: with their inner
process in relation to the world around them?
JOHN: Do you know Candice Pert's
work? Well, she's found fifty-two peptides in the brain that control mood. As Pert said,
"Once we understand the chemistry of the brain there will be no use for
psychoanalysis." She said that the brain is a huge, diverse chemical factory. We
cannot make generalizations about any one of these yet but, for instance, if you give an
overdose of this one people get depressed, if you give an overdose of that one they get
euphoria, and so on. If you OD on cocaine your brain changes its operation, but if you're
aware of this: and you pay attention you realize that yes, it modifies some things, but it
doesn't always do it in the same way. So there's this continuous modulation of life versus
brain chemistry. So I gave up long ago trying to figure out how the brain works because
it's so immense and so complex. We don't yet know how thought is: connected to operations
in the brain!
DJB: Do you think it would be possible to create some kind of window into the
brain to see the dynamics of how thoughts arise and what their interaction is by using
some kind of highly precise combination of EEG and MRI scannings?
JOHN: No. It's impossible. The Positron Emission Topography or PET scans show
the changes in various parts of the brain and of various substances. When the observed
person is learning, a compound acts one way, and then another way. But what's that? That's
one compound that they're looking at. Imagine what else is going on.
DJB: Years back you helped to pioneer the original electrical brain stimulation
research. With the understanding that you've gained in this area, do you think that it
will eventually be possible to directly stimulate brain centers without using electrodes,
in order to create psychedelic experiences?
JOHN: Electrical stimulation of brains is very poor without brain electrodes and
with electrodes you wreck the brain when you put them in there. That's why I quit.
DJB: So you think then that it is possible to stimulate brain centers without
JOHN: Yes. A friend of mine at the University of Illinois showed me a set-up in
which he was stimulating a brain at minute spots with focused ultra-sound and electrical
RMN: Do you think that mens and women's brains operate in a very different
JOHN: You know, I've been researching that for years, and finally I admit that
you are another universe that I can't possibly be in because you're female and I'm male.
DJB: What directions do you think neuroscience should be taking' What are the
most important avenues of exploration?
JOHN: The most important things to do in science is to figure out who the human
is and how he operates biochemically. We're never going to understand how the brain works.
I always say that my brain is a big palace, and I'm just a little rodent running around
inside it. The brain owns me, I don't Own the brain. A large computer can simulate totally
a smaller computer but it cannot simulate itself, because if it did there wouldn't be
anything left except the simulation. Consciousness would stop there.
DJB: Could it not be possible for human beings to create a computer system large
and complex enough that, although it may not be able to understand itself, it would be
able to understand the human brain?
JOHN: No, because we don't know the basis for the human brain. As Von Neumann said, it
was strictly by accident that we discovered multiplication, addition and subtraction
first. If we discovered the mathematics of the brain we'd be way ahead of where we are
DJB: You mean the binary language?
JOHN: There's no way to tell what the hell language the brain uses. Sure, you
can show digital operations of the brain, you can analyze neural impulses traveling down
your axons, hut what are those? Well, as far as I can see they are just a recovery from a
system that's in the middle of the axon, and that's operating at the speed of light.
Neuronal impulses going down the axons are just clearing up the laser points so that it's
ready for the next one, continuously. It's like sleep. Sleep is a state in which the human
biocomputer integrates and analyzes what went on the previous time it was outside, throws
out all the memories that aren't going to be useful tomorrow and stores only those
memories which will be useful. So it's a process like a big computer in which you have to
empty memory and start over. We do this all the time.
DJB: Along these lines, I'm wondering, do you think memories are actually stored
in the brain or do you agree with Rupert
Sheldrake's theory that memories are stored in information fields or something
JOHN: I've read some of Sheldrakes's stuff and he's too glib. He's got all
explanation for everything. The universe is much more complicated than he's trying to make
it out to be. People tend to do this-I've tried to avoid it. I make fun of my own
theories. I say, what I believe to be true is unbelievable, so that I don't believe in
anything, you see? Temporarily I may in order to talk with somebody. Memories are stored
in the feedback with ECCO and ECCO takes care of all this. I don't know how they operate,
but Sheldrake calls stuff memory which isn't memory; it's living program.
DJB: Do you think that the brain acts as a transceiver:,
JOHN: Yeah, that's right. The brain, the bio-computer is a huge transmitter/
receiver and we're just beginning to see what it is. Have you ever seen anything like a TV
show on ketamine?
DJB: Yeah, with commercials even.
JOHN: Well, they're real. The first time I saw that I thought, my God, all
were doing is increasing the sensitivity of the brain to microwaves. And the problem
with microwaves is that they're influencing us below our level of awareness all the rime.
Well, this morning for instance, on ketamine, I went into this place where all these
people were interacting and I got involved. When I came back I realized that I had got
into a soap opera on TV and was taking part in it as if it were reality!
Now kids must do this all the time. Marvelous! But you got to watch out because you may
be taken in and think they're extraterrestrial or something, unless you can see something
that cues you in that this is a TV station.
DJB: Have your experiences with ketamine and your near-death encounters
influenced your perspective on what happens to human consciousness after biological death?
JOHN: I refuse to equate my experiences with death. I think it's too easy to do
that. When I was out for five days and nights on PCP, the guides took me to planets that
were being destroyed and so on. I think ECCO made me take that PCP so they could educate
me. And they kept hauling me around and I tried to get back hut they said, "Nope, you
haven't seen all the planets yet." One was being destroyed by atomic energy of war,
one was being destroyed by a big asteroid that hit the planet, another one was being
destroyed by biological warfare, and on and on and on. I realized that the universe is
effectively benign; it may kill you but it will teach you something in the process.
DJB: Do you think that there is actually some kind of learning process that's
going on as a result of ECCO's positively or negatively reinforcing certain behaviors so
that humanity's evolution is guided in certain directions?
JOHN: I had the illusion that humanity is making progress ill certain
DJB: Do you feel that when synchronicity happens, that it's actually being
arranged either by ECCO or by us?
JOHN: The only place that Jung
defined synchronicity at all well was in the introduction to the I Ching, and he talks about
controlling coincidences. He fell into the same trap I did. Synchronicity doesn't mean
anything; it's an explanatory principle.
RMN: Do you think that ECCO is concentrating on humans?
JOHN: Of course not! ECCO is the one that's running everything on the whole
RMN: So they have no particular interest in our survival, we're just a minute
part of what's going on?
JOHN: They? You're personalizing. I used to personalize. I saw angels,
extraterrestrials, then I called them guides and finally I called them ECCO and it's
totally impersonal. It's way beyond what people can understand except in a ketamine or LSD
state. Then they tell you, well we're at a low level, there are influences above us. It
would be nice to meet these entities that experience these various states. They won't take
human form, though; it's a waste of their time. And once I joined them and realized that
that's where I came from and that I had gotten bored and become human in order to have
some different experiences with a smaller intelligence. It's like becoming a cat or
something, to find out what's going on with the cat.
RMN: I feel that my dog, Safety, might have done that very thing. She's more
human than many people I know.
JOHN: Well a dog finally convinced me of this, that there are levels that these
entities choose to be, dolphins or whatever. When I experienced level +3 (refer to The
Center of The Cyclone), I was part of a huge consciousness that was creating from the
void. It was taking energy and creating a form, life and so on. It wasn't me. My ego
afterwards wanted it to be me but of course it wasn't.
DJB: Do you have a hard time bringing information back?
JOHN: Oh, of course. It isn't hard to bring it back, it just doesn't come back.
It's in you, though; ECCO put me straight on that. They said, "Well, everything
thats happened is stored and when it's important that you know it, you'll know
RMN: When you're ready for it.
DJB: Bringing information back from my ketamine experiences is a real struggle
JOHN: You've got to be more passive. If you struggle, then all you'll see is
your struggle. It's like trying to do something instead of doing it.
DJB: Let me ask you John, how do you, or do you, distinguish between mind and
body, spirit and matter'!
JOHN: Those are all explanatory principles.
DJB: How about in terms of descriptive principles. How would you describe the
difference between them?
JOHN: Naming such things is a dichotomy. The only dichotomies are in language
and in the eye of the observer. Until you can describe the system of mathematical
continuous process, or stepless process, then you aren't really saying anything. As I keep
saying in every workshop I give, "For the rest of this week you are going to hear a
lot of stuff and all of it is bullshit." You know why? Because language itself is
bullshit. It's a way of spending your time without experience or experiment.
DJB: But what other alternative do we have besides language for communication?
JOHN: Well, if you don't know, I can't explain it to you. No, I told you about
it; on the ketamine experiences you're going through reality experiencer; and they're
experimenting on you and you're experimenting and there's no way that language has
anything to do with this. So what's happening is so fast and continuous that you don't
have a chance of describing it.
DJB: But don't you think it's important that people write books and map out the
JOHN: Only if they tell you, "There's a territory over there. Go see
it." That's all.
DJB: What do you think of the notion that Terence McKenna talks about a lot, that
language actually creates reality?
JOHN: No, it doesn't. Language creates reality? That doesn't make any sense at
RMN: Maybe he means that language creates our experience of reality, because it
programs us to think in certain ways.
JOHN: The experience in the tank, for example, is: a continuous paragraphic
process and that's true of life in general. You cant describe me, for instance, you
can't even remember me in your video memory, right?
RMN: I can't remember you? I haven't forgotten you yet.
JOHN: No, no. That's a simulation. You haven't forgotten your simulation of
this, whatever ii is. See, I can't describe me and I can't describe you.
RMN: Right, I see that. But if somebody were to ask me about you later on, the
language I used to recall and describe you then would effect how I re-experienced you.
JOHN: My book The
Simulations of God: The Science of Belief, explains all of this.
DJB: Explains? Isn't that the notorious explanatory principle creeping in again?
JOHN: All we do is construct simulations. I construct the simulation of you, for
instance, and I turn this into words. But that simulation is nowhere near who you really
are. Then I tell you what my simulation of you is and you correct it, and on and on. You
cannot substitute words for the action of the brain, the action of thought or the action
of mind. When I say mind I'm talking about the whole universe of stuff, see? It's not that
RMN: Why do you think we have this desire for meaning, this compulsion to
explain things all the time?
JOHN: Childishness. The circle. The explanatory principle will save you from the
fear of the unknown; I prefer the unknown, I'm a student of the unexpected. Margaret Howe
taught me something. I went over to St. Thomas one time and she said, "Dr. Lilly,
you're always trying to make something happen. This time you're not going to make
something happen, you're going to just sit and watch." You know what I'm saying?
DJB: Yeah, I get caught in that one a lot.
JOHN: So, if I can't make something happen I get bored sometimes. But if I don't
get bored and I just relax and let it happen, you show up. Now I can afford to do this, I
don't have to earn a living, but if you know how to do it you can earn a living and be
passive as hell.
DJB: What's the trick to doing that?
JOHN: You become an administrator who doesn't know anything, so people are
always explaining to you what's happening. My father was the head of a big banking system;
he taught me something about passivity. He said, "You must learn to be as if
you're angry, and then you'll always be ahead of the guy who really gets angry." And
I said, "Well, what about love?" And he said the same thing. All those powerful
emotions--you can act as if you're experiencing them, but you're not involved, you see,
you haven't lost your intellectual load.
DJB: You think that if people get overwhelmed by emotion they lose their ability
to think clearly?
JOHN: Well, I had a lesson in that. I got really angry at my older brother, and
I threw one of those cans that have calcium carbide in them and spark, because he was
teasing me so much. He teased me an awful lot. So I threw this can at him and it missed
his head by about two inches. And suddenly I stopped and thought, "My God, I could
have killed him! I'll never get angry again."
RMN: What do you think about America's involvement in the Gulf War and what are
your thoughts about the causes of war in general?
JOHN: Well, the Gulf War happened because Russia and the United States made
peace. So the United States Defense Department had to have something to do, because they
have this huge budget. Luckily the Russians didn't have that huge budget as their economy
is falling apart. If our economy was falling apart then there wouldn't be any war. As Eisenhower said,
industrial establishment and the Defense Department are in control of this country.
RMN: Why do you think it is that politicians and national leaders so often
reflect the darker side of human nature?
JOHN: It isn't the darker side. It's the busy side. They get bored so they have
to do these things. I started a book called, Dont Bore God or He Will Destroy
Your Universe. Nobody knows they're doing this to avoid boredom; they make other
excuses for it. You've never been bored?
RMN: I've been bored but I don't feel like going out and bombing somebody
because of it.
JOHN: No, no. You're not one of those people. If you took PCP you wouldn't kill
anybody. Sidney Cohen, who died last year, was the head of the committee of the Mental
Health Institute for Drug Abuse. He said, "How is it that PCP and ketamine have
similar molecules. Have you ever seen any violence with ketamine?" I said,
"No." He said, "Well, with PCP we sec it all the time." I said,
"Look Sidney, you've forgotten that there's a selection of people who take PCP and a
selection of people who take ketamine. All the people that I know who take ketamine are
professionals who have respect for their own minds and brains. Theyre knowledgeable
and educated and theyre not violent. But the people who take PCP are violent in the
first place; peaceful people who take PCP don't get violent.
RMN: What do you think needs to happen before war becomes an obsolete activity?
JOHN: It won't happen. Something must make people busy together and war does
RMN: Does busy have to mean war? Are there no alternatives?
JOHN: Now Kennedy tried to make a space program. I think if we started a colony
on the moon, and then on Mars and we got sufficiently involved we could redirect all our
RMN: Do you think that aggression is inherent in the human psyche?
JOHN: No. I once wrote a chapter called, "Where do Armies Come From?"
Do you know where: they come from? Tradition. Kids learn that history is war, so they're
all pre-programmed. If you read some of the history books, it's all about war, it's
incredible! In my Latin class I learned about the wars of Caesar, when I took French I
learned about the wars of Napoleon
and on and on and on. What did we learn from Caesar? That you don't divide Gaul into three
parts. What did we learn from Cleopatra? The
you may have to kill yourself with an asp. If you start reading Italian history and you
come across Leonardo
Da Vinci or Galileo
then the whole thing falls apart. They're individuals doing their thing and it's
magnificent. And that's the only part of history that's interesting.
RMN: What do you think about the current theories of evolution?
JOHN: I looked into the paleontology of humans. Paleontology is the only science
that could take an observation here, and a million years later another one here and draw a
straight line between the two. Every time I read Leaky or Gordon Danier or any of those
other people I look at it and say, well those are good observations but are they
necessarily connected at all? Maybe a spaceship came and put a colony in at this point.
But they don't think of the obvious, you see.
I have a concept called "alternity." From here to alternity. I came back from
Chile and sat in Elizabeth Campbell's living-room on acid and started evoking ECCO.
Suddenly the energy came out from above and went straight down my spine and on all sides
of me were these divisions like a pie. And I could look down this one and see a certain
future and then right over here another future and on and on. So this was alternity that I
was sitting in. Now actually, unconsciously, we sit in alternity all the time, we have to
or you wouldn't know how to get anywhere, right? But you don't know it.
DJB: You mean sitting in a place where you see all the infinite possibilities
and pathways that can emerge from a particular point in space-time?
JOHN: I don't know if it's infinite. It's sure 360 degrees and each alternative
reality was every two degrees or something like that. There were a hell of a lot of them
and some that I couldn't ever imagine.
RMN: If you were conscious of that do you think you would be able to make any
decisions to go anywhere?
JOHN: Well, I get conscious of all of them or none of them. So when I get out of
my body I don't try to program anything because there are so many alternates possible.
DJB: What are you thoughts about the future?
JOHN: What's the future?
DJB: That which hasn't happened yet. The next micro-second, the next year, the
next century and so on.
JOHN: We act as if there's going to be a year out there, but we haven't got
there yet, right? And we think the sun is going to come up every morning and we count on
that, we expect it. What's going to happen when it doesn't? One alternity is enough so why
talk about the future?
DJB: John, on a different note, do you think there is a qualitative difference
between organic and synthesized compounds?
JOHN: I don't know what qualitative means; I never was able to grasp that word.
It's one of the first things that they teach you in grade school and it never made any
sense. My bullshit filter said it was bullshit.
We take something that a plant or animal did and we call it pure sugar or whatever.
That's chemistry, the science of separating out components which you can't reduce any
further without destroying them. So what does the plant do:, The plant picks up carbon
dioxide and stuff from the ground and starts combining these compounds in certain ways and
synthesizes them. Plants are chemists just like us. A lot of people call something natural
or organic hut they don't know their organic chemistry, because anything that has a carbon
atom in it is organic, okay?
RMN: How do you define addiction and how do you avoid falling into the trap of
misusing the chemicals you take?
JOHN: Let's see. There's drug use, drug over-use, drug abuse, drug hypo-use and
on and on. There is a set of chemicals that if you take them and you don't exercise and
you don't cat right, you go downhill. When you go downhill you have to take more of that
chemical to substitute for the food and stuff. But if you are taken off that chemical
without the proper stimulus you get grand mal seizures or something. That's the
old-fashioned description of addiction.
What I say is, you take certain chemicals and change the chemical con~iguration in your
brain and body. This is a very interesting process and if you slay interested and look
after yourself then you can take cocaine or heroin or any of those things. Physical
exercise is absolutely essential to get good changes of conscious states. If you're in
good physical condition you can experience a hell of a lot. If you lose interest then you
go downhill and wind up in Harlem or something.
RMN: What about people who have developed a powerful physical and mental
addiction, for example, to crack and cocaine, in some cases: even killing or stealing in
order to fulfill their craving for the drugs.
JOHN: They'll kill and steal without the drugs, they live that way. The drug
just gives them an excuse to do it. Read Freud on cocaine. He really
knew what cocaine did but he was never able to say it in the presence of the
psychoanalytic people. Psychoanalysis is all based on his cocaine experiences, every bit
DJB: What do you think about this whole "War on Drugs" thing?
JOHN: We've been subject to the delusion that we should suppress drugs ever
since Anslinger put marijuana on the narcotics list ill 1937. He was enforcing the laws on
alcohol and that was repealed, so he looked around for something new and found marijuana.
In an interview with Anslinger the interviewer asked him, "What if you were to smoke
a joint?" And he said, "I would kill three people that I know." What a
belief system! And he put all that in the law, you see. It's that insanity of certain
people who don't understand what's going on.
RMN: What do you think about atomic energy? Do you have any ideas about how we
could solve the nuclear waste problem?
JOHN: All the atomic materials should be shot into the sun. We're playing around
with something we don't know anything about. This is the stuff of stars, it's not the
stuff of a planet. But it's there so we do it and then we get the illusion that we can
control it. Well, that's bull. ECCO did something in 1942 that I'11 never forget; it threw
LSD and atomic energy at us in one go. I once asked ECCO what they did that for and they
said, "Well, we're trying to test out the survivability of the human species."
DJB: So you think that there are areas then that humanity shouldn't mess around
JOHN: Right. Well, we've proven it with atomic energy and biological warfare,
DJB: You think that AIDS is the result of genetic engineering experiments gone
JOHN: Yeah, you can see it. It's fooling around with biological warfare and
something's escaped. Somebody left a sink open and it went down the sewer. Les Chambers,
who is head of biological warfare at Camp Detrid is an old friend of mine so I went down
and talked to him about it. We went over all this and he said, "You know, someday,
somebody's going to make a mistake, and one of those things is just going to go wild all
over the world." He knew. AIDS is an artificial virus; it's related to the Bovine
virus, but it wouldn't affect humans before. Somebody spliced it so it would.
DJB: You don't think AIDS could be a natural mutation?
JOHN: No. Natural mutations we can handle because we've lived here for three
million years and the mutation rate is very slow. Our immune systems are incredible.
DJB: What role do you think science fiction plays in the development of actual
JOHN: Well, big brains operate with science fiction and create it. What it does
is free up the creative process for a look at a simulated future which may or may not
exist, but it's fun making those simulations and some of them are very good. One of my
favorites is Childhoods End by Arthur C. Clarke.
DJB: Are you familiar with Virtual Reality?
JOHN: I've just heard about it. I want to experience it. It shows us what we're
doing all the time--constructing realities. You change the chemistry of the brain, you
change the realities. Sometimes that can get very scary. Once on ketamine I had an
experience that scared the hell out of me, and then I realized, hey, this is happening all
the time! Why should I be scared of something that's happening all the time?
DJB: What do you think about the potential of using ketamine in conjunction with
JOHN: They did it in Iran. One hundred patients. Got them all out of the
hospital in one trip. They programmed in that which the patient feared most. Did I tell
you what happened to me with that? I went and looked up the Iranian reprint at the UCLA
Medical Library and the Albanian one which confirmed the Iranian study.
This whole business about keying in that which is feared most stuck out. So I came back
here and took 200 mg of ketamine. Suddenly I was transported to the year 3000 by ECCO and
they removed my penis bloodlessly. I screamed in terror and Toni, my late wife, came
running out of the bedroom. She looked at me and said, "It's still attached." So
I looked up at the ceiling and said, "Who the hell is in charge up there? A bunch of
psychotic kids? And the answer came back, "Dr. Lilly, you were at the UCLA Medical
Library this afternoon and we programmed in for you that which you feared most. It was in
RMN: What do you think is the purpose of fear?
JOHN: From Orthonoia to Metanoia through Paranoia. Orthonoia is the way most
people think; they're creating simulations that everyone accepts. Metanoia is where you
leave all that and you're experiencing higher intelligence. But the first time you do
this, you're scared shitless.
On my first acid trip in the tank, I panicked. Suddenly I saw the memorandum from the
National Institute of Mental Health: "Never Take Acid Alone." One investigator
who tried to take acid alone got eaten up by his tape recorder. That's all I could think
of. Luckily I was scared shitless, had no idea what was going to happen and boy, that was
rocket fuel if ever there was one! I went further out into the universe than I've ever
been since. So the paranoia is rocket fuel to get you into Metanoia.
Before I did the tank I was frightened by water. I sailed a lot in the ocean and feared
sharks. I had a continuous phobia about this. Finally I got in the tank and went through
that horrible experience, being frightened to death, you know. And after that I was never
afraid of water.
DJB: Do you see a similarity between lucid dreaming and ketamine experiences?
JOHN: No. Lucid dreaming is never as powerful as ketamine.
DJB: Well, one nice thing about ketamine is that you can maintain the high for
as long as you want.
JOHN: When people start talking about "higher" states of consciousness
I say, "In outer space there's no up or down."
DJB: It all becomes relative.
JOHN: No, it isn't even relative.
DJB: It isn't even relative?
JOHN: It isn't anything you can describe.
DJB: Now I'm thoroughly confused.
JOHN: If you stay around me long enough you're going to get a whole new
language. Some people stay around me for a while and run away. I can't keep a woman here.
They all get frightened sooner or later. I'm crazier than hell.
DJB: So are you writing these days? What are you doing?
JOHN: I never say what I'm doing. My analyst said it very well. I came in one
day and flopped down on the couch and said, "I just had a new idea this morning, but
I'm not going to talk about it." And he said, "Oh, then you understand that a
new idea is like an embryo. A needle will kill an embryo, but if it's a fetus or a baby
then it's just a needle-prick." So you have to allow a certain amount of growth
before you talk.
RMN: What do you think is the best therapy for people?
JOHN: The best therapy for people is to hit them over the head with a hammer.
DJB: Maybe we could start running workshops at Esalen.
JOHN: I've been hit over the head several times. We had a big hot tub out here.
I stood up too fast and the circulation left my brain and I fell face down. Three days
before, Toni had read how to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in The National Enquirer, and
she did it. So many people have saved my life, it's incredible. I finally figured out that
ECCO doesn't want me to go yet. I asked them to let me go at times. They keep saying,
"You've got to teach, you've got to learn what it is to be a human." So, I'm
spending all my time now trying to learn this. You know, it just gets to be fun. I
realized that certain humans have a lot of fun. On some day I said, "What is it to be
human?" And they said, "To laugh more."
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