Historically you can see the same pattern in the rise and fall of great nations and empires. For example, take Hitler’s Germany as an extreme case of paranoia, where you have a system that not only is completely wrapped up in and devoted to its own bizarre ideas, but physically harnesses the industry of an entire continent to realize them and try to spread itself.
If you have an interactive technology that does perfectly nothing but follow your expectations, projections, and interests, then you become information-tight, you don’t interact with anything anymore, and you’re in an increasingly descending and narrowing spiral of your own. I think you see this now in the mentality of people who spend too much time on their personal computers. It usually takes the form of some kind of game or some kind of obsessive conversation about a subject that’s only interesting to a small in-group. It follows that maybe we need the journalists hawking ideas and new blips, but not the self-expanding tabloid kind.
David I’m curious about how your experience working with John Lilly and Timothy Leary influenced the development of your present belief system?
Francis: Leary is a great permissionary, a term located somewhere between missionary and permission. if a missionary is someone who’s out to sell you some belief systems, a permissionary is somebody’s who out to sell you on doing your own thing, to give you permission. So Leary was always an upper, an excitatory stimulant, and a kind of a machine-gun blast of new information. The man is compulsively collecting the most shocking, interesting new information and blasting it at others. So it was always a challenge being exposed to him, to open up to all these new ideas and see what you could do with them. He’s kind of like a great firehose, where high-pressure ideas come spurting out at you. Very stimulating guy.
Lilly is a much more difficult case to describe. Perhaps he’s almost more interesting as a specimen, and I guess that characterizes the role I ended up playing with respect to him. I wrote his biography, John Lilly, So Far, and that’s really putting him under the microscope. I just saw him a couple of weeks ago, and he smiles a lot. He’s like an example of how far somebody can go in the direction of being an extraterrestrial while living here. Very interesting. But he’s also an extremely rigorous scientist, which J think people who don’t know him well maybe wouldn’t get, unless they went back and read some of his earlier work. So he has an enormous capacity for objectivity, for looking at things in an uncliched way, and for seeing the unobvious aspects of issues. He was, as part of his own development, maniacally committed to studying the question of consciousness and how it relates to perception, computers, and so on.
Lilly introduced me to the technology that he developed, the isolation tank, and also to cetaceans–dolphins and whales–to which I hadn’t really had any prior exposure. The model operative there was that ET is already here on planet Earth. Here is this alien species that has a brain with a similar level of sensory capabilities and many other characteristics like our own. Some of them even have about the same size brain, so you have this interaction possibility with the “like-minded.” Where I’m sitting right now, I literally have these guys living in the backyard.
In that ocean down there, the dolphins can’t hear us on land, but they’re actually hearing the whales, and together they’re a global communication system. I told this to Ted Turner one night–I said that he had the second global news system. (laughter) He probably didn’t like that too much, but he loves whales, so I don’t think he minded. WNN, the Whale News Network, has been going on, apparently, for millions of years. It’s only been in recent decades that humans have had things like transatlantic cables and global communication satellites. The whales have actually had this kind of system, through acoustic underwater communication, for millions of years.
David I’m curious about the work that you’ve done here in Malibu to help dolphins gain civil rights. Can you tell me how you became involved in this work and what goals you’re trying to achieve?
Francis: About two years ago the Malibu city council passed a resolution that I wrote up. Walt Keller, a member of our new city council and a former mayor, urged me to do this. He was one of the founders of the city of Malibu. We were able to introduce the idea that Malibu is a shared human-dolphin environment. It’s a beach community, and the dolphins figure very prominently in the lives of people here. You see them every day. Just right off this porch are dolphins and whales.
So that idea caught the collective imagination. CNN carried it. I remember doing interviews with German television networks, and even Time and Newsweek ran little articles about it. Because the implication is, if a community defines itself as no longer exclusively human–it’s a human dolphin shared environment–then by implication you’re making them at least honorary citizens. So then you start thinking, “Well, if the dolphins are honorary citizens, then this implies that they’re individuals.” I think anybody who’s got any sense figures they’re individuals anyway. But legally they’re defined as commodities.
We have in the United States a Marine Mammal Protection Act, which is to protect the numbers of them. It’s a resource conservation model. According to some biologist, if there are too few of a given species, then we start being extra careful to protect that species so it doesn’t become extinct.
But they have no rights as individuals. In fact, just the opposite is true. Under current United States law, with a permit dolphins can be legally captured for various reasons, one of which is to put them on display in some kind of aquatic circus or something. Then they virtually become the property of the people who hold them. There’s no provision for them to be liberated or eventually receive retirement pensions or anything like that, because there’s no Screen Actor’s Guild or Cetacean Performer’s Union for dolphins. (laughter)
The law has worsened over the last couple months. Congress caved in to pressure from various businesses that exploit dolphins, and under the new law even the standards for making sure they’re properly cared for are far more lax. They referred it to the Department of Agriculture, which administers the Animal Welfare Act. I should point out that under the Animal Welfare Act, certain mammals and birds are not defined as animals! How do you like that? The Department of Agriculture has “humane” standards, but they’re pretty vapid, because they assume that the animal is being raised to be exploited or consumed in some way. That is like having “kind” ways of killing someone. The situation is a little better than that with captured cetaceans, who are considered theoretically to be held in some kind of public trust.
But when you come right down to it, they become the property of the captors. When Congress recently renewed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, they provided that the offspring of these captive dolphins actually become the property of the people who hold them. So essentially it reduced them to the status that breeding slaves had before the Civil War in this country. If you own dolphins, then their children become your slaves and property automatically. It’s a pretty scurrilous situation, in my opinion. Of course, globally, the only real regulatory regime is the International Whaling Commission [IWC], which was also founded on a resource paradigm, and the original idea was to maintain enough stocks of the various species so you can continue to exploit them. When you talk about resource conservation, basically it’s about conserving now so you can exploit in the future. That’s the paradigm. This year Malibu made another significant–at least ideologically significant-contribution, calling on the International Whaling Commission to recognize whales as living cultural resources, as opposed to consumable resources. That actually does coincide with the legal rubric under which the IWC was established, which was to provide for the greatest sustainable use of the whale resource. So the position we’re taking now is that the greatest sustainable use of the whale resource is not to treat them as potential food, but to treat them as a nonconsumable cultural resource. Because whales are part of a global communication society, and we’re all in on that today. The problem is, in addition to killing them–which is equivalent to destroying nerve cells in the “global brain”–humans have put so much noise in the sea that whales’ hearing range is now down to a few hundred miles, versus the thousands they could once talk across. The big question today is whether whales are potential customers for the phone companies. (laughter)
David So what’s the next step in what you’re trying to do?
Francis: Well, I’d like to see various localities, states–and eventually the United States and other national governments–extend individual legal recognition to dolphins and whales. I think the arguments for doing that are compelling, based on their neurological parity–some would say superiority-with humans. Everything we know about the richness of their social communication fabric supports this view.
David As a result of your experiences in the isolation tank, you developed an interesting model of consciousness, which was published several years ago in the Handbook of States of Consciousness. Can you briefly summarize the essence of your theory and what its implications are?
Francis: Remember the isolation