John C Lilly, Interspecies Communication, Dolphin Worship

In areas where dolphins and humans share habitat, each species' curiosity and playful intelligence has made peaceful encounters relatively common for two such large predatory mammals. For humans at least, these encounters have made a powerful impression and have produced rich mythologies about the nature and meaning human-dolphin interaction.

Arion Preserved by a Dolphin, Bernard Picart, 1731

A new explosion of dolphin myth occurred in the mid to late 20th century, coinciding with the first serious research about the lives, minds and behavior of dolphins. Discoveries of their complex social relationships, vocalizations and problem solving abilities were equally exciting for scientists and lay persons, a case where available facts could be as strange and inspiring as speculative fictions.

The work and personal life of marine biologist, inventor, psychonaut, and writer, John C Lilly inhabit this overlap between hard data and mystical thinking. During his lifetime, Lilly's accessible, thought-provoking writings on the possibilities of meaningful human-dolphin communication, and his experiments with sensory deprivation, psychedelic and dissociative drugs, attracted attention from both fans of popular science and science fiction. The popular interest in Lilly's work resulted in two feature films loosely based on his work(Day of the Dolphin, Mike Nichols, 1973 & Altered States, Ken Russell, 1980).

Lilly's writing, and especially his meditations on the nature of consciousness resonated in a time of retreat from traditional spiritual practices, and of emerging awareness of the vulnerability of the planetary habitat.

For some that read and were touched by his work, the cetacean mind became less significant as an object of scientific inquiry than as an object of worship. The dolphin became iconic of an ideal intelligence, a benevolent, co-operative, free-flowing consciousness, living in total harmony with its ecosystem, the perfect planetary-citizen. A noble savage for the post-industrial world.