Lilly, John Cunningam (1915–2001)

John Lilly

John Lilly was an American physician, neurophysiologist, and maverick researcher, previously of the Communication Research Institute on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, who is best-known for his efforts to understand the 'language' of dolphins.1, 2 Lilly was an attendee at the Green Bank conference in 1961 where he urged that dolphins represent another form of advanced intelligence on Earth (see dolphins, as a form of alien intelligence). Although this idea remains valid, as does the possibility that cetaceans engage in sophisticated forms of communication (see humpback whales, songs of), the scientific rigor of Lilly's research has been called into question by some and his conclusions no longer considered reliable.


Lilly was also a pioneering researcher into the nature of consciousness using isolation tanks and psychedelic drugs, sometimes in combination. He was a prominent member of the Californian counterculture of intellectuals and mystics, which also included Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. Lilly envisaged a time when killing cetaceans would end "not from a law being passed, but from each human understanding innately that these are ancient, sentient earth residents, with tremendous intelligence and enormous life force.



1. Lilly, John C. Man and Dolphin. New York: Doubleday (1961).
2. Lilly, John C. The Mind of the Dolphin: A Nonhuman Intelligence. New York: Doubleday (1967).