John Cunningham Lilly

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John Lilly

John Cunningham Lilly (born January 6, 1915 in St. Paul , Minnesota, † September 30, 2001 in Los Angeles , California) was an American biologist and neurophysiologist . Lilly was first known for the invention of the isolation tank and for his research on dolphins and their language . Later he tried - mainly in self-experiment - to explore human levels of consciousness with the help of LSD and other drugs such as ketamine . He uses the so-called human biocomputer as an explanatory model .


Lilly graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in biology and received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 . He initiated and led research projects a . a. in the fields of biophysics and neurophysiology , whereby his main interest was the question of the structure of human consciousness .

In 1961 John Lilly took part in the first SETI conference in Green Bank . While Lilly carried out recognized scientific research until the 1970s, which moved in the border area between biochemistry , neurophysiology , behavioral physiology and psychology, his later publications increasingly concentrated on theories about consciousness. Lilly's contributions to the biology and behavior of dolphins are of scientific importance. His later work received attention in the New Age scene.

In the 1960s he caused an international stir when he wanted to teach dolphins English. He prophesied that in ten years humanity would be able to speak to dolphins. His research project received several million dollars in support from NASA. The research center on the island of St. Thomas was eventually closed due to unsuccessfulness. The 2014 documentary The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins, shot for the BBC, is about this project .

Essential Findings

In Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer , he summarizes his findings as follows:

  • Such applications of the biocomputer, as mentioned above, teach us the elementary truth about our own equipment:
    • In the region of the mind, within limits to be found through experience and experimentation, what is believed to be true becomes true. These limits are other forms of belief that must be overcome. There are no limits in our thought space.
    • In the field of our mind is the area of ​​our models, our only self, memory, metaprograms. But what about the area that includes our body, the bodies of others? There are clear limitations here.
  • In the network of the body, in which one's own is connected to that of others in order to survive, reproduce and be creative, there is another category of information:
    • In the field of networked thoughts, what the network believes to be true is true, either it is true or it becomes true within certain limits to be found through experience and experimentation. These limits are other forms of belief that must be overcome. There are no limits in the networked thought space.
    • But once again the networked bodies that house the thought spaces, the ground on which they rest, the surface of the planet, impose clear boundaries on us. These limitations have to be found, with the agreement of specialized intellectual workers, through experience and experimentation and communicated to the network. The result of this is known as scientific consensus.

Schematic representation

Globally networked neurosocial biocomputer system
  • Sm: neurosocial system of planetary networked biocomputers: group dynamics , internet
    • p1: biological entity 1: human body 1
    • p2: biological entity 2: human body 2
  • Area of ​​metaprograms
    • Bp1: thought space of p1: field of observation
    • Bp2: thought space of p2: field of observation
  • Subjectively experienced metaprograms
    • p1 ': image of p1 in Bp1: observing entity, the ego of p1
    • p2 ': image of p2 in Bp2: observing entity, the ego of p2
    • p1 '': image of p1 in Bp2: observed entity that you from p1
    • p2 '': image of p2 in Bp1: observed entity that you from p2
  • Field of subjective metacommunication: symbolic interactionism
    • Kp1'p2 '': communication between p1 'and p2' ', subjective meta-experiences of p1
    • Kp2'p1 '': communication between p2 'and p1' ', subjective meta-experiences of p2
  • Area of ​​planetary communication
    • Kp1p2: communication between p1 and p2, physical-planetary "reality"

Plato's allegory of the cave

Plato's allegory of the cave

" Cave allegory : Some people are so tied up in a cave from birth that they constantly turn their backs on the light and can only look at a dimly lit cave wall. Everything behind them casts a shadow on the wall. Not seeing anything else, people mistake these shadows for the real things. This remains so when one of them, who has been untied, returns to the cave from outside and tries to explain the real situation to the others. "

  • Sm: neurosocial system of planetary networked biocomputers: as such, not directly conscious material world
  • p1: biological entity 1: human body 1
  • BP1: thought space of p1: the conscious world of p1
  • p1 ': image of p1 in BP1: observing entity, the ego of p1


  • Man and Dolphin: Adventures of a New Scientific Frontier (1st ed.), Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961.
    • Dolphin a creature of the 5th day. Winkler Verlag, 1969.
  • The Center of the Cyclone: ​​An Autobiography of Inner Space (1st ed.), Julian Press, 1972.
  • The dyadic cyclone. Sphinx, 1983, ISBN 3-85914-206-2
  • The deep self. Sphinx, 1988, ISBN 3-85914-221-6
  • The scientist. Sphinx, 1984, ISBN 3-85914-413-8
  • Simulations of god. Sphinx, 1986, ISBN 3-85914-214-3
  • Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments. Julian Pr., New York 1987, ISBN 051752757X

Web links

Commons : John C. Lilly  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Caroline Lahusen: Who speaks with dolphins , in: Geo-Magazin No. 11/2017, pp. 146–154.
  2. John C. Lilly: Rausch der Tief
  3. The dolphin who loved me, accessed on June 20, 2014
  4. H. Paul Shuch: Project Ozma - The Birth of observational SETI. In: ebender: Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence - SETI past, present, and future. Springer, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-642-13195-0 , p. 16, @google books
  5. ^ Green Bank conference (1961) ( Memento of May 18, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  6. a b c d J. Kuroczik: I am called Flipper, in: FAS No. 23, June 10, 2018, p. 66.