|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
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 experiences?
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 incredible.
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
So I kept that memory, and on my first acid trip I relived it
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 reality.
RMN: Has your understanding or idea of God evolved
over time as a result of your changing experiences?
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
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
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 explain it?
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 of self-discovery?
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
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 to accomplish?
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
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 the Cyclone.
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
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
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 the
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
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 dolphins!"
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. Wide open.
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
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
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 using electrodes?
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 men’s and women's brains
operate in a very different way?
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
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 now.
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 similar.
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
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
DJB: Yeah, with commercials even.
JOHN: Well, they're real. The first time I saw that I
thought, my God, all we’re 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 directions, yes.
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
JOHN: Of course not! ECCO is the one that's running
everything on the whole planet.
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
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
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 that’s 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 for me.
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
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 territory?
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
JOHN: No, it doesn't. Language creates reality? That
doesn't make any sense at all.
RMN: Maybe he means that language creates our
experience of reality, because it programs us to think in
JOHN: The experience in the tank, for example, is: a
continuous paragraphic process and that's true of life in
general. You can’t 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
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
RMN: What do you think about America's involvement in
the Gulf War and what are your thoughts about the causes of war
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
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, Don’t 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
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. They’re knowledgeable and educated and they’re 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 that.
RMN: Does busy have to mean war? Are there no
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 boredom.
RMN: Do you think that aggression is inherent in the
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
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
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
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 of it.
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
DJB: So you think that there are areas then that humanity
shouldn't mess around with?
JOHN: Right. Well, we've proven it with atomic energy and
biological warfare, too. AIDS.
DJB: You think that AIDS is the result of genetic engineering
experiments gone astray ?
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 scientific research?
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 Childhood’s 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 psychotherapy?
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
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 your unconsciousness."
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
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."