Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Renegade Science: John Lilly

ACCOUNTS OF DOLPHIN RESEARCH IN 1957 "If one works with a bottlenose dolphin day in and day out for many hours, days and weeks, one is struck with the fact that one's current basic assumptions and even one's current expectations determine within certain limits the results attained with a particular animal at that particular time. This effect, of course, is quite commonly found with one's peers in the human species.

"This working hypothesis of an advanced capability raised our index of suspicion and in turn sensitized our minds and methods to new sources of information. It was this subtle preparation of the mental climate which allowed us in 1957 to listen to some rather queer noises that the dolphin was producing in the laboratory and to review them very carefully on the tapes. Because the possibility of a very large brain capacity and because of musings about the possible areas of achievement already realized in this species, but as yet undiscovered by us, our minds began to open.

"This opening of our minds was a subtle and yet painful process. We began to have feelings which l believe are best described by the word 'weirdness.' The feeling was that we were up against the edge of a vast uncharted region in which we were about to embark with a good deal of mistrust in the appropriateness of our own equipment. The feeling of weirdness came on us as the sounds of this small whale seemed more and more to be forming words in our own language. We felt we were in the presence of Something, or Someone who was on the other side of a transparent barrier which up to this point we hadn't even seen. The dim outlines of a Someone began to appear. We began to look at this whale's body with newly opened eyes and began to think in terms of its possible 'mental processes,' rather than in terms of the classical view of a conditionable, instinctually functioning 'animal.' We began to apologize to one another for slips off the tongue in which we would call dolphins 'persons' and in which we began to use their names as if they were persons. This seemed to be as much of a way of grasping at straws of security in a rough sea of the unknown, as of committing the sin of Science of Anthropomorphizing. If these 'animals' have 'higher mental processes,' then they in turn must be thinking of us as very peculiar (even stupid} beings indeed.''

An account of the mimicry phenomena with Elvar and other dolphins:

"The repeatedly painful and humbling part of this experience that we as human beings had felt that man is at the top: we are alone; yet here is an 'animal' which was entering into that which was peculiarly human; i.e., human speech. At no matter how primitive a level he was entering into it, he was taking Step 1.

"To convey to you our sense of wonder and yet the sense of the uncomfortable necessity of continuously reorganizing our basic assumpltions is difficult. We gambled on Elvar's taking the first step and he did. (We haven't done as well with his delphinese language.) He impressed us with the fact that he took the first step to repair a gap of at least 30,000,000 years in a few weeks. He may be skipping some of the belabored efforts of the human race for the last 40,000 years to achieve our present degree oi articulate speech among ourselves. Maybe he is not skipping Maybe he is just beginning what Homo sapiens went through 40,000 years ago. And he first did it when and only when we believed he could do it and somehow demonstrated: our belief ta him."

"These experiences illustrate the thesis that one can protect one's self by maintaining one's ignorance by belittling disturbing experiences? Or one can newly recapture sensitivity and be openminded (even painfully so) and discover new facts. Discovery, in my experience, requires disillusionment first, as well as later. One must be shaken in one's basic beliefs before the discovery can penetrate one's mind sufficiently above threshold to be detected A certain willingness to face censure, to be a maverick? To question one's beliefs, to revise them, is obviously necessary. But what is not obvious is how to prepare one's own mind to receive the transmissions from the far side of the protective transparent wall separating each of us from the dark gulf of the unknown Maybe we must realize that we are still babies in the universe taking steps never before taken. Sometimes we reach out from our aloneness for someone else who may or may not exist. But at least we reach out, and it is gratifying to see our dolphins reach also, however primitively. They reach toward those of us who are willing to reach toward them. It may be that some day not toa far distant we both can draw to an end the 'long loneliness,' as Loren Eiseley called it."

from John Lilly's homepage

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