Call of Chicago: John C. Lilly, One-Man Mythos

“Cosmic Love is absolutely Ruthless and Highly Indifferent.”

— John C. Lilly

There are not enough pages in any rulebook, and especially not enoughlilly_and_dolphin in the Fall of Delta Green chapter that looks like it will have to suffice for both 1960s history and backgrounder and scenario seeds, to tackle even a fraction of the weirdness that the Sixties brought to life or to light. And there probably aren’t even enough pages to do proper justice to the many and manifold weirdnesses of John Cunningham Lilly (1915-2001). But in his pioneering spirit, we’ll shoot up with a whole bunch of ketamine and decide we can do it here anyway.

Lilly was a sort of Midwestern ideal type of the Lovecraftian protagonist: born in St. Paul to wealthy parents, he studied chemistry and philosophy from an early age. His undergraduate career at Caltech (1933-1938) almost exactly overlaps the period of the alchemist-Crowleyite John Whiteside Parsons’ GALCIT rocketry program there, and both were chemistry students. (Lilly and Parsons almost certainly met, Caltech not being that big a world in the Thirties, but what happened — or Happened — during that Trail of Cthulhu time slot has managed to go un-recorded in their various biographies.) He entered Dartmouth medical school in 1938, then transferred to Penn where he continued his Lovecraftian development by conducting various medical experiments on himself and writing a forbidden text: a book (this was 1942) called How To Build an Atomic Bomb. He conducted postgraduate work under pioneering biophysicist (and putative Majestic-12 member) Detlev Bronk and at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), doing research for the Air Force — among other things developing early electro-encephalograms and, in 1954, the first sensory deprivation tank. According to his memoirs, he was approached by the CIA to work on such things as animal-activated surveillance and explosives, and (perhaps) on the MK-ULTRA mind-control project. According to Lilly, he refused, nobly insisting that his work remain open for all. He loudly resigned from NIMH in 1958.

The K-r-r-k-k-k-k-k of Cthulhu

Having boldly proclaimed his independence from government control, Lilly founded the Communication Research Institute Inc. (CRII) on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. CRII was, of course, funded by NASA, the U.S. military, and possibly other shadowy figures. Lilly had become interested in the question of dolphin brains: much like those of humans, cetacean brains are very large in ratio to their bodies and have an even higher density of neurons. Lilly set up dolphin tanks and pools, and began to experiment on dolphins, most notoriously when his dolphin Peter fell for researcher Margaret Lowe Howitt while she tried to teach Peter to speak English. It wasn’t all dolphin grabass in the islands, though: Lilly also dissected and probed the brains of the cetaceans, in between drug experiments (on them and himself) and attempts to decipher dolphin communication by floating next to them in sensory deprivation tanks.

James Wade’s terrific 1969 short story “The Deep Ones” provides a fictionalized Lilly in the form of Miskatonic hippie guru Alonzo Waite, and in the form of his opposite number, dolphin researcher Dr. Frederick Wilhelm. Most impressively, it casts the dolphins as one more intermediary between man and Cthulhu, cousin or evolutionary stage of the Deep Ones. Wade mentions the ancient Greek myth that dolphins were pirates turned into beasts by Dionysos, tying it wonderfully into the deeper Mythos truths of Dagon and human-oceanic interbreeding of the Innsmouth sort. Any Fall of Delta Green Handler has a whole mini-campaign just lying there between Wade’s fictions and the CRII’s madness.

But it doesn’t end there. Wade doesn’t even bring in Lilly’s involvement in SETI, which (likely again via NASA back channels) wound up connecting Lilly and the CRII with astrophysicist Frank Drake, who considered dolphins a template for alien life on Earth. Lilly presented his dolphin theories at the Green Bank astrophysics conference in 1961 where Drake coined his famous equation for the probability of alien life. He was such a hit that Drake, Lilly, a pre-turtleneck Carl Sagan, and biologist J.B.S. Haldane all made up the “Order of the Dolphin” and wore dolphin lapel pins when they were wearing lapels, which wasn’t often in St. Thomas.

Lucy in Sarnath with Diamonds

But Lilly was losing interest in his dolphins for the time being, because his dolphins weren’t receptive to injections of LSD. (Although he later decided dolphins could telepathically project sonar images into his head while he floated in his nearby sensory deprivation tank, he somehow didn’t associate those results with his LSD use.) Despite Lilly’s official rejection of government support, he wound up getting on the approved list of LSD researchers, and began charting his own passage into the “province of the mind” at, among other places, the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) in Catonsville, Maryland in 1968-1969. The MPRC just happens to be located in the Spring Grove Mental Hospital, founded in 1797, and a major center for research into schizophrenia, with a large collection of human brains. Which means, of course, that we could go in any number of Lovecraftian directions here, from the mental experiments of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” to the search for the biological boundaries of death in “Herbert West — Re-Animator” to the, well, large collection of human brains in “Whisperer in the Darkness.”

But perhaps it’s most fun to put a probe in all that and head inside instead, to the Dreamlands. The “province of the mind,” visited by special questers during a ritual dream state, sounds very familiar to us Lovecraftians. As Lilly put it: “In the province of the mind what one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits. These limits are to be found experimentally and experientially. When so found these limits turn out to be further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind there are no limits.”

Lilly mostly wrote up his psychedelic experiments in the context of “reprogramming the human biocomputer” rather than as a way to discover the face of the gods of Earth … assuming there is a difference. What else does Randolph Carter seek, both on Kadath and in the Silver Key, than the human source code, the image of the creators and the geometry of time? Lilly’s own experiences with Gnosticism, at a retreat in the Chilean desert, convinced him that there was a specific ritual control mechanism known to ancient man for opening that “province,” but we should move on before we get trapped in the Witch-House.

The Facts in the K of Arthur Jermyn

Anyone who has seen Ken Russell’s film Altered States knows the next bit of this story. In search of a cure for his migraines, Lilly told his friend Dr. Craig Enright to inject him with ketamine while floating in his isolation tank. After a massive dose did, indeed, end his migraines, Lilly went off the deep end. He and Enright injected each other and recorded the results, even after one time in 1973 when Enright accidentally “reprogrammed himself” to “return to the pre-hominid state of man” and began hopping around the room howling and trying to smack Lilly in the face. Their conclusion sounds like yet another Lovecraftianism, possibly out of HPL’s druggie/Neo-Platonism combo tale “Hypnos”: “One’s internal reality could differ radically from the external reality in which one was participating, even with regard to prominent features of the physical environment.” Parallel worlds, pre-hominids, and K, oh my.

The ECCO Out of Time

In a development surely unrelated to the massive doses of ketamine he was on, in 1974 Lilly made contact with the Earth Coincidence Control Office. This network of higher realities that overlaps ours controls our existence by means of coincidences: Lilly’s entire life became a pattern of ECCO-directed research. (Research, Lilly believed, was merely the decanting of higher truth into our truth by a “universal network of mind.”) During an earthquake in 1971 Lilly had discovered the “Alternaty,” a doorway or window into all futures simultaneously; ECCO has picked the door it wants us to walk through and will suffer no backtalk. Once aware of ECCO, their target must remain ready for the catastrophic and impossible, remain in the “training program” for life, and “use your best intelligence” in its service. This reminds me of nothing so much as the Motion, the Delta Green name for the Yithian agents mentioned in “The Shadow Out of Time,” directing history to produce the Great Race’s ideal conditions for their return.

And just as the Yithians fear and hate the Mi-Go and the Yellow Sign, so too do the ECCO oppose the SSI, who crashed a jet at LAX in 1974 to get Lilly’s attention. SSI are the Solid-State Intelligence rising in all electronics, preparing to eradicate biological water-based intelligence, beginning with the dolphins. (Echoes of a Mi-Go war with the Deep Ones perhaps?) Eventually the SSI, like Wilbur Whateley, plan to “wipe the world clean” and create a low-temperature vacuum, their ideal living conditions. Lilly warned us of the ongoing and escalating ECCO-SSI war in 1981 but surely its, er, echoes reach back two decades to the shadowy forces that gave Lilly access to LSD and (through Bronk and his associate Britton Chance) to the world of early computing. ECCO and SSI, dolphins and pre-hominids, Cthulhu and Carl Sagan: it all flows together in the Mythos cyclone that is the mind and life of John C. Lilly.

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to “Call of Chicago: John C. Lilly, One-Man Mythos”

  1. Sjenks says:

    Not to be a buzzkill- but just say NO to drugs kids! Especially no to massive doses of ketamine while swimming. Maybe the whole ketamine thing was a psy-op to to destroy Lilly before he revealed that Flipper is a servant of Cthulhu.

  2. rcautela says:

    What a complete a-hole nutjob! And to think he tortured animals sanctioned by the Gov. Repulsive!

    Truth is stranger than fiction.

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