John Lilly + Jon Torn Interview

Updated 6 months ago

Blue Tech Background 2

January 6, 1915 – September 30, 2001 Ketamine pioneer. Proof that old K heads eventually die too, it just may take a long time.

Update 2023

Ketamine pioneer John Lilly remembered at multimedia event in NYC Dec 15 & 16 2023

My Wild Lunch with John C. Lilly, the Scientist Who Inspired Arrival
The Scientist: An Evening With John C. Lilly: An Interview With Jonathan Torn
Memorial Page
2019 Event in NYC

Here is an interview I did with Jon Torn about Lilly:


meets Dr. Jon Leon Torn,
creator of “The Scientist” multimedia show in NYC,
June 12th and 19th, 2019
by Machinelf

Jon Torn comes from NYC film royalty. Parents Rip Torn and Geraldine Page, and siblings Angelica and Tony – all actors.
I knew Jon when we both attended the University of Texas in Austin in the late 80s where he played in the band Thanatopsis Throne and I threw anarchist gatherings in and around the Ark Co-Op.
After graduation I went to NYC for a couple decades of adventures, meeting his family through modern psychedelic luminary Daniel Pinchbeck. (Daniel and Tony had played Dungeons & Dragons together) It was only later we realized the connection back to Jon. So Jon was the common thread all along.
Jon became a professor of communications, electronic media & film in Arizona. In 2016 he edited
Crafting Public Personas, and this Wednesday – June 12, 2019 – he will debut The Scientist in New York, a play about Ketamine pioneer John C. Lilly.
John Lilly was a scientist and doctor of high pedigree – in one word salad, Mayo, Dartmouth, Univ. of Penn, Huxley, Leary, Nixon, Hollywood, SETI. Lilly invented the sensory deprivation tank in 1954.
In a nutshell, John Lilly’s philosophy was, to paraphrase Marshal McLuhan, “Dissociation is the Message” and his M.O. was taking the dissociative psychedelic drug Ketamine – which dampens sensory perception while keeping brain function fully intact – while floating in a sensory deprivation tank. This produces a profound dreamworld effect of existing in a quantum field, a disembodied mote of consciousness, a proverbial eyeball floating in the cosmic void – where Lilly envisioned dolphins as fluid allies in the cosmic battle with the evil Solid State Entity and received transmissions from the “Cosmic Coincidence Control Center.” 

John Lilly

Why Lilly? Why now?
It’s Lilly’s time now. He’s the last of the major 60s counterculture figures to be rediscovered. There seems to be a real interest in him.
I‘ve started getting interested in Lilly’s story in the 90s, but it’s only the last few years that I’ve noticed him popping up more and more, getting rediscovered, which makes it an ideal time to present this now.
On the surface, the more prurient details about him are what’s circulating but once you dig deeper there are all sorts of layers that speak to our situation today, with global warming and extinction rebellion. He was warning us about all this stuff early on.
His story was considerably darker than many of his contemporaries, and that’s something not to shy away from. So I’m hoping that people will approach the piece with an open mind. His story is really a microcosm of recent history with all its highs and lows.

Have you ever done Ketamine, yourself?
I did K at a party and it had no effect. How about your experiences? Did you encounter non-human intelligences when you were on K, like Lilly did?

Yes! But not like, say, mushrooms or DMT. Rather than constantly shifting three-dimensional apparitions, they were more a felt presence – incredibly (ahem) disembodied and impersonal, almost a chorus of Demiurges. But it was a galactic chorus of billions of intelligences. I felt that my mind, being temporarily free of having to deal with the physical body, was finally able to “tune in” to the universal wavelength they use. [See bottom of this page for more on my experience]
Obviously, my experience would have been different if I were religious.
…and it’s probably good that it “didn’t work” for you. It’s incredibly psychologically addictive. The more imagination you have, the more immersive it is. Marsha Moore and D.M. Turner’s deaths come to mind. Don’t wanna get too specific, as I don’t want to guide people into this Mother of all Traps, but it doesn’t work if you’ve had alcohol, and there is a common form (the positive isomer) sold that does next to nothing psychologically other than place you in a fugue state.

Anywayyy… next question. Given Lilly’s predilection to dial into the galactic intelligence (not to mention that time he got Richard Nixon on the phone to babble incoherently), I thought the venue choice of Bell Labs Boardroom was genius. Very John Draper. My brother works for them. Was the metaphor intentional? Is this really their boardroom?
Bell Labs was in the building now known as Westbeth until the 60s. There was an offshoot of the Manhattan Project that Bell was involved with managing called Sandia, after the mountain outside Albuquerque. This was during his early research with the Lilly Wave. They wanted it for military purposes.
Lilly resisted, but they found a way to use it anyway. This was the beginning of Lilly realizing that there was something not quite right with his worldview. So of course doing it right at the place that was probably monitoring and surveilling his early experiments is pretty heavy stuff.
That said, a film version is definitely in the works, and perhaps a podcast might work too. The sonic aspect of the show is a really key element, thanks to Freddie Katz’s brilliant score and the sound design we worked on together.
If we did a film we would possibly try and work out some kind of dramatization but a Spaulding Gray type treatment might work too. We’ll see. I know Jeff Bridges has a copy.

Did your book Crafting Public Personas have any influence on your play? Compared to, say, Leary, how did Lilly approach all this publicity, or he did not really care about it and considered it a byproduct?
The Scientist, where I’m drawing most of the material from, is definitely an attempt by Lilly to shape his public persona.
He did the popular science angle with Center of the Cyclone but he was trying to reframe what he was all about but trying to ground his explorations in a kind of empiricism, based on a rigorous experimental process of doing these consciousness tests on himself.
Of course, the problems with accepting his version of events, the visions he had while under the influence of these mind-altering chemicals will in the floation tank, were his experiences. They were witnessed only by extraterrestrial forces, the “coincidence control” people to hear him tell it. Definitely not the kind of rigorous control that science requires.
In my mind Lilly was more kind of like a phenomenologist, giving us a rich description of these states which are useful to read while bracketing the epistemological question of where these phenomena were coming from or if they had objective reality or not. They happened to him, that’s the point. Anyway, I don’t know if “The Phenomenologist” would be as snappy a title so I’m sticking with his own for now

Finally, can you tell us a bit about the format?

There are all sorts of potential venues to get his story out. The recent documentary, The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins, is one. It follows the “expose” frame, with a voiceover affecting shock and disapproval. Not that some aspects of his story don’t elicit that, but I trust the audience enough not to impose that reading on them with my piece.
Drunk History did a pretty salacious episode recently. Most of their stuff also frames the stories as OMG check out these lunatics! I have a different ambition to take people through the story and have them figure it out themselves, and I feel a solo piece has had the effect of getting people to hear his side of the story without the sensationalism getting in the way or having to figure out how to depict what happened visually.
It’s pretty clear that when you do that there’s just too much of a temptation to Hollywoodize it or hype it up, like Ken Russell did with Altered States. I mean, that’s a great movie. But it just frames Lilly’s experiences in terms of fiction.
This way, you’re going to hear what happened straight from the horses’ mouth. And while I did edit and extrapolate some for clarity of took some dramatic and poetic license the vast majority of what people will hear is Lilly’s own words on the subject, reliable or unreliable as that may be. You can accept his version of events or be skeptical about it, the point is to hear his version of what these extreme, boundary-pushing experiences were like for him.

Thanks Jon!
Cool! Thank you, Han!

The Scientist, (An Evening with John C. Lilly) will be Presented during the So-Fi Festival this Wednesday NYC -June 12th (and another one, one week later on the 19th), 2019 – Click here for details

– – –
Full disclosure: It was slightly difficult to do this interview. Around the Y2K
fin de siecle I myself had an insidious, yearslong obsession with injecting Ketamine, and was consequently, like Lilly, a sort of underground spokesman for it in media such as BBC/Discovery (see below) and MTV, albeit, much smaller, i.e. I never got President Nixon on the phone.
As a Ketamine user at the dawn on the internet, I often felt myself in a Matrix-style cybernetic astral plane that I felt must replicate what it would have been like in the future to be completely jacked in.
The religious experience is so utterly profound, users easily get addicted chasing that dragon.
But I did almost drown in a floatation tank while on Ketamine – at the last moment I realized I would be completely out of my body, and there were no safeguards to keep my head above water during the 30 odd minutes I would be under- see D.M. Turner. So I forced myself to get up and out before it all kicked in.
Which was itself a metaphor for me quitting altogether, as I eventually realized I was going to die at some point. So I quit.
But at least I experienced what we experience chemically when we are dying. It’s heaven. And that made me fear death less.

Around that time my friend James Kent sent me a poem. I have saved it after all these years:
<< Should I assume from your post that you are under the spell, that you are not well?
That others would gladly see you awaken, get back on your feet and give back what you’ve taken?
Hopefully I am mistaken.
But if I am not and your life is a dream, remember that things may not be what they seem.
This gift you’ve been given, this power to see, it will rob you of time by the power of three.
Idle time is eaten by the power of fours, and indulgent time eaten in sixes, sevens, or more.
This may sound like gibberish, but It’s not ’cause I know.
The bottom of the bottle is a sweet place to go.
But life doesn’t stop as you dream time away, it goes on as you miss precious hours, precious days…
If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d want to do,
is steal tiny moments from my waking life just to sit down and spend them with you…
O -K? Once a day? All the time? Anytime?
Where’d you go?
Reach out and touch someone…

John Lilly 4 Enhanced Colorized

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