Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer
Introduction: John C. Lilly was a brilliant (though erratic) scientist. His list of achievements spans physics, neuroscience ("the Lilly wave"), electronics, computer science and inter-species communication. Often, it is said of him that he went "off the deep end", beginning as a scientist then winding-up a mystic when science bored (or frustrated) him.
Until the 1950s, the medical consensus held that should a human's brain be totally deprived of sensory stimuli, that person would go into a deep coma. Lilly put this hypothesis to test, and refuted it. He invented the "sensory isolation tank", proving decisively that the human brain compensates (actually over-compensates) for the lack of external sensory input. In the "deprived" brain-state, the brain's neural activity becomes more robust and energetic than in "normal" conscious brain-states.
Lilly, also, employed the sensory isolation tank as a device to investigate the "mind of the dolphin". He hypothesized that dolphins evolved a rudimentary form of language, which they use to communicate with each other. Later in his career, he pioneered inducing "out of body experiences" with his invention.
In conjunction with lying motionlessly suspended in the tank, Lilly ingested LSD, PCP and ketamine, and he arrived at a staggering conclusion: that what he "observed" - while dazed on a psychedelic (or a dissociative) and floating in the tank were data, as objective as data in any scientific field. His initial skepticism ran that what he'd experienced in the tank were ultra-subjective in nature and entirely worthless in disclosing knowledge about universe; To overcome his skepticism, it took Lilly about 6 years of "re-programming" in the dark silence of the tank.
Lilly's theory might be best described as a "drug cum sensory-isolation realism", i.e. a theory, based on metaphysical realism, whereby impressions, ideas and experiences triggered by the combination of drugs and sensory deprivation are as authoritative as the data collected by science. The view that whatever is experienced in the tank (while under the influence of certain drugs) is real, Lilly coined: "the Existence Theorem".
"out of body experiences" can be produced under conditions, involving the ingestion of various chemicals and sensory isolation - to the point where a queer "mind-body disconnection" is elicited. To conclude however - that this "phenomena" demonstrate that the human mind is functionally independent from the brain is, to me, a precipitous leap into the abyss of irrationalism.
To Lilly, the human brain is made extremely receptive to grasping how things stand in the world - by a combination of drugs (especially dissociatives) and the "solitudinous isolation" of the tank. He went on to write about his tank "experiences", declaring that he was in contact with super-human, alien intelligences. These aliens "took" him to other star systems, where he "witnessed" stars and planets created and destroyed, "beaming up" to a council meeting where he "observed" the aliens programming the "long term goals of the human species", having his penis "bloodlessly detatched" as a prank by the aliens, etc. His theory, however, can probably be refuted. In 1975, Lilly predicted that the earth was to be invaded and destroyed by extra-terrestrials (because his aliens "told" him that they were going to do so). Lilly made a public stink about this affair by - frantically - seeking to contact the President; He was ultimately hospitalized until he calmed down. The absence of an alien invasion in 1975 goes a long way to refute the theory that his "data" were as objective as that of - say - particle physics. Here's an early passage of Lilly's (1966) in which he anticipates his 1975 prediction:
"Some of these beings (the subject reported) are programming us in the long term. They nurture us. They experiment on us. They control the probability of our discovering and exploiting new science. He reports that discoveries such as nuclear energy, LSD25, RNA-DNA, etc., are under probability control by these beings. Further, humans are tested by some of these beings and cared for by others. Some of them have programs which include our survival and progress. Others have programs which include oppositions to these "good" programs and include our ultimate demise as a species. Thus the subject interpreted the evil ones as willing to sacrifice us in their experiments; hence they are alien and removed from us. The subject reported with this set of beliefs that only limited choices are still available to us as a species. We are an ant colony in their laboratory. "
Below is the full text of Lilly's book, "Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer". He addresses some of the issues presented above, though not as clearly nor as straight-forwardly as he intended; Due to the centrality of LSD in the book, he was under orders from his publishers (the government) to obscure the nature of his research. One of the scientists who participated in Lilly's "tank research" was Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, whose experiences are documented anonymously in the book. In 1987 - after Feynman died, Lilly confirmed that "Dick Feynman did the tank 12 times". Finally, below the link to the book is a video of Lilly, interviewed on a American talk show.
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