May 2015

John C. Lilly: Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove (1998)


Also emerging from the discursive cradle of the counterculture, John C. Lilly worked as a neuroscientist, focusing on interspecies communication, specifically dolphins, before expanding his intellectual scope to become a consciousness researcher. Much of his work on human-nonhuman communication would serve as the basis for his self-experiments over the course of the ’70s with a systematic mapping of states of consciousness. Through a series of books—part documentation, part mysticism, part autobiography—Lilly would attempt to chart psychic topographies within “quantitative systems of mind-consciousness.” His methods were notorious, involving extreme dosages of psychoactive substances such as LSD, DMT, PCP, and ketamine, as well as his development of the sensory isolation tank. In fact, Lilly’s lab experiments were one of the inspirations for the 1980 science fiction horror film Altered States. Picking up on the argument proposed in the previous video, Lilly’s conclusions are decidedly cosmo-informatic: the human mind is a “biocomputer” which can, through meditative techniques and self-experimentation, be reprogrammed to its optimal operational capacity. In many ways Lilly exhibits the merging of the “scientific” (objective) with the “mystical” (subjective) within the noopolitical turn, as the modern glorification of “scientific truth” finds itself reappropriated within the capitalist imagination as pseudo-scientific speculation. Of note in this interview is Lilly’s belief in ECCO—the Earth Coincidence Control Office—an extraterrestrial cosmic agency, “one of God’s field offices,” responsible for programming long-term coincidences (that is, history) on planet earth. Though Lilly always couches his ideas in the idiosyncratic language of his personal explorations, his conceptualization of ECCO has much in common with simulation theory in physics, as well as with arguments from critical theory, such as Jean Baudrillard’s notion of simulacra and the Real. Indeed, Lilly’s intentions are to stimulate transformative modes of embodiment, and yet when approaching his work from a contemporary perspective in which notions of self-realization and substance-consumption are standardized and commodified, a decidedly neoliberal, micropolitical agenda is revealed: molecular technologies of mind, materialized as chemical supplementation, can permanently reprogram consciousness, whilst the body finds itself increasingly pushed to its limits of disembodiment, in which information flows reassemble the traces of the flesh—its affects, its soul—into virtual data.

John Cunningham Lilly was an American physician, neuroscientist, psychoanalyst, psychonaut, philosopher, writer and inventor.

Thinking Allowed was an independent public television series which broadcast from 1987 to 2002.

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