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 deprivation.
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 saint.
So I kept that memory, and on my first acid trip I relived it
completely to Beethoven's
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 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
DJB: Do you think that the concept of objectivity is valuable,
or do you think that separating the experimenter from the experiment is
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 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 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 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 the dolphins.
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 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
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
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
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
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 interference.
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
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 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
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
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
synchronicity at all well was in the introduction to the
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 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 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 that’s happened is stored and when it's important
that you know it, you'll know it."
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
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
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 creates reality?
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 certain ways.
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 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
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
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 simple.
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
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, 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
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
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
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 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 boredom.
RMN: Do you think that aggression is inherent in the human
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
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
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 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 human
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
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
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.
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 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 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 ketamine
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
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
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