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.
Whoo boy. I thought I’d spend a little more time on the counter-culture thing. When I spent a little time looking at it, it seems there are tons of little connections and mysterious characters waiting to be brought forth.
It seems like the most efficient way of doing this is to start as close to the beginning as possible and work forward from there. I’ve already touched on Burroughs, and he comes back into it a bit later, but I really wanted to do someone else first.
Chances are if you’re reasonably familiar with Timothy Leary, you know the work of John C Lilly. If you’ve seen the movie Altered States, that’s pretty much based on Lilly. If you’ve every used or read the term ‘metaprogramming’ applied to human brains, that’s Lilly. If you’ve every been fascinated by the conscious nature of dolphins and their communication with us, that’s Lilly too. If you ever know anyone who’s every slipped into serious drug addiction and paranoid insanity, well…. that’s Lilly too.
John Lilly is a perfect and seminal example of the strengths and weaknesses of human consciousness research. On the one hand he came up with brilliant pioneering, visionary discoveries, made huge strides in the ethical and humane treatment of dolphins, and laid the foundations for so many of the counter cultural tropes that we take for granted today.
On the other hand, he also is a perfect example of a scientist who clung obsessively to the delusion of objectivity, even when he went on three week ketamine binges where he was injecting himself once every hour and eventually decided earth was under threat from ‘solid state’ artificial life forms that were going to exterminate organic life and go elsewhere. He even tried to warn the president. Even towards the end of his life he insisted on measuring everything quantitatively, to the point he claims not to know what ‘qualitative’ even means.
And, I shit you not, he gave acid to dolphins:
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.
when you’ve looked at a few interviews you’ll notice a pattern. Lilly will be talking extremely rationally about something, and then he’ll say ‘ this morning when I did ketamine’ or ‘ the other day when I was on on LSD’.
Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, mind you, but I feel it typifies a certain instrumental approach that has bent the counter culture (CC)spiritual project in a lasting way.
One of the key skills in spiritual practice is learning to control attention. In yoga they call it pratyahara or withdrawing attachment to the senses. Partly as a way of achieving clarity but also to cultivate strength of mind to master one’s states.
The use of drugs and isolation tanks lets you get all kinds of amazing experiences, but at the cost of actually developing the discipline to control your sense experiences independent of drugs or machines. I’ve heard it said that the difference between a shaman and a schizophrenic is, that the shaman controls the window to other dimensions, but the schizophrenic has had his window kicked in, he has no control, and must rely on medication to reestablish boundaries. ( incidentally you could make a case that a lot of conspiracy thinking is a case of people who’ve had some or all of their windows kicked in )
A common misconception among drug advocates is that the experiences they have on drugs are not attainable any other way. Perhaps in terms of chemically specific side effects this is true. But in terms of the profound states of consciousness that mirror religious revelations of various types, this is categorically wrong. I have done plenty of drugs and plenty of meditation, and in my experience, drugs give a sneak peek at a profound state that takes long years of work to acclimate to everyday life. It’s much easier to pop a pill, inject something or eat a mushroom. So I can see why drug advocates would think that way, but it’s not correct.
One of the questions I’ve heard about ‘the sixties’ is a kind of bewilderment that the social changes that seemed to be in the air never took root and altered things permanently. The simple answer is that they did, but not in an obvious way. The complex answer is that so much of that energy was based on a quick fix. Absent the discipline to master a different state of being, that energy vanishes, leaving disillusion, or the temptation of addiction.
Lilly’s story also sheds some light on the relationship between CC and intelligence agencies. You’ll see it again and again: the CIA or whoever provides the money and lets the crazy eccentric genius run wild. Lilly thought he was getting out from under when he swore off putting electrodes on the brains of animals, to go study dolphins peacefully, but that project was still funded by the establishment, they had just learned to give John his space. The illusion of independence. The spooks, archons and counter initiates are perfectly happy to let the freaks get crazy and come up with new ideas because they know they’ll end up owning the applications anyway. And it’s hard not to see shocking parallels between Lilly’s early work in behavioral modeling and invasive manipulation of the brain and the latter accounts of mind control. Even his work on the self as metaprogrammer is readily applicable to conditioning others. Perhaps even more readily than it is applicable to oneself, for the reasons I stated above.
A few freaks want to self-program? So what? While they’re busy shooting ketamine and dropping acid to attain fake enlightenment, the control system will happily implement those same principles on prime time television to keep everyone else docile the rest of the time. It’s a win/win situation.
I sort of made light of Lilly’s paranoia that mechanized life forms were going to wipe us all out and migrate to other worlds to do it all over. But maybe he saw a metaphor for what really is happening . Maybe he saw the spreading stain of alienated mechanistic Ahrimanic consciousness, striving to turn humans into ruthless amoral machines, serial killers and paedophiles dressed in silicon and steel, ready to rape the world and walk away?
Lilly made a distinction between what he called ‘insane’ and ‘outsane’. There’s things you keep inside and there’s things you call tell others. I wonder which one that theory would be?