Wednesday, October 3, 2001

JOHN C. LILLY / 1915-2001

Researcher pioneered
studies of dolphin minds

He felt dolphins were complex
creatures with ethical principles


By Lisa Asato

JOHN C. LILLY, the man who taught dolphins to count to 10 and who postulated sometimes controversial theories on the extent of their intelligence, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 86.

A Maui resident for the past decade, Lilly's dolphin studies accelerated in the 1950s and '60s when he established that dolphins have large, sophisticated brains and operate on highly ethical principles.

A deep believer of their intelligence, Lilly speculated that dolphins also had oral histories and philosophies, stirring some controversy in the scientific arena, said Louis Herman, director of the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory.

"We do owe him a debt for having alerted us to the dolphin and its large brain," Herman said. "It was very intriguing the way that he wrote, but it was very clear he was going beyond any evidence that had accumulated or has accumulated since. (His writings) inspired many people to look into it ... but to look into it with the objective eye of the scientist."

Lilly was born in 1915 in St. Paul, Minn. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he later taught medical physics and experimental neurology.

He wrote many scientific articles and more than a dozen books ranging from "Simulations of God: The Science of Belief" to "Communication Between Man and Dolphin."

Lilly supported the creation of a "Cetacean Nation," in which dolphins, porpoises and whales would gain individual rights and representation by the United Nations. His work inspired the movies "Day of the Dolphin" and "Altered States."

A physicist, physician and psychoanalyst, Lilly invented the isolation tank, a dark, silent retreat where one could push the boundaries of the human psyche. His experiments in the tank included LSD-induced hallucinations.

During World War II, Lilly studied how altitude affects the body. His later work included posts at the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Corps and the National Institutes of Health. Starting in 1959, under a grant from the Office of Naval Research, Lilly probed porpoise intelligence at his Communications Research Institute in the Virgin Islands and later studied interspecies communication with Project Janus.

"(Cetaceans) have been on the planet now with brains our size or larger for 25 million years," Lilly wrote on his Web site. "We've only been here with our present brain size about two-tenths of a million years. So they've been here something on the order of 25 to 50 to 100 times the length of time we have. I'd just like to talk to such ancient beings."

Survivors include sons John Jr. and Charles, daughter Cynthia Lilly Cantwell and adopted adult children Philip Bailey and Barbara Clarke-Lilly.

A memorial service will be held tomorrow in Los Angeles. Another service is being planned for Maui.

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