The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The man who stared at dolphins

Even when I was a rather credulous teenager who took seriously the writings of Carlos Castenada, Colin Wilson, Timothy Leary, Teilhard de Chardin and R. D. Laing, all it took was one flick through a snazzy paperback of John C. Lilly's The Centre of the Cyclone for me to conclude that the author was out of it. Just how far out is detailed here.

Needless to say, he had NASA and Naval funding. Was there any part of the counter-culture that didn't start as a black op?

Via, with a juicy taster quote and the fine understatement: This is by no means the strangest part of this article.

My own favourite paragraph, however, is this:
To appreciate the rings of significance that widened from this laboratory scene, it is critical to understand that in the 1950s no one thought of whales and dolphins as “musical” or “intelligent” or—of all things—“spiritually enlightened.” At that time, the large whales were generally regarded as huge kegs of fat (useful for making soap), meat (good to feed to chickens), and fertilizer (best thing to do with what was left after you took the fat and meat), and the smaller dolphins and porpoises were mostly just a nuisance to fishermen—though bottlenose were sometimes actually hunted, since the fine oil in their jaw ducts was considered a superior lubricant for precision timepieces.
How times have changed.



In the 50s no one thought of whales and dolphins as "musical" or intelligent"

For some values of "no one" that translate to "quite a lot of people, actually."

I was there then, though very young: and I heard quite a lot about the intelligence of especially dolphins but all the cetaceae. And the music was known of, though the first recordings I believe happened about that time.

People like to exaggerate the ignorance and benightedness of earlier times, when they're not glorifying them, but when the times are within recorded history they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

Fair enough, but the idea of cetacean intelligence certainly wasn't widespread. My only relevant memory (must be from the early to mid 60s) is of reading a Reader's Digest condensed book version of an account of life on an industrial whaling ship, written by the ship's doctor, and I don't recall the slightest qualm about the process.

ISTR there's a character in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End whose beach house is designed to let his friendly dolphin swim into the living room, like the floodable apartment at Lilly's lab, and my copy says the first printing was 1954. I wonder if this was partly an example of Clarke-Driven Development, or rather Clarke-Driven Sex With Dolphins?

As for the cold war angle, well, anything to take your mind off the prospect of imminent nuclear genocide. Although it may be a truth that you never want to be too efficient in dispensing research grants - if the bureaucracy responsible for handing out USAF research money had been more scrupulously focused, we wouldn't have personal computers, packet-switching networks, and we probably wouldn't have given a dolphin hand relief or an elephant LSD!

Among American leftists of sufficient humourlessness, it is a given that the entire counterculture was a CIA plot designed to move a soon-to-be-radicalised generation toward infantile disorders and bourgeois pleasures, and away from True Revolution.

In fairness, CIA had its fingers in so many pots that it's very easy to detect a connexion between the object of your hate---for example, Gloria Steinem in the case of Phil Ochs---and the Agency. Then, of course, you must assiduously avoid attempting the same with those (probably very few) people of whom you approve....

(The same trick is used with respect to government in general these days by some: anything bad can be traced to it whilst ignoring all the things one likes about it, as in "Keep the government's hands off my Social Security.")

Not caring about fairness, and jettisoning any hope of being a Perfect Multiculturist, it seems more reminiscent of the West African people of whom I've heard who account no death natural, and go looking for a witch or sorceror to kill every time someone would die.

Among American leftists of sufficient humourlessness, it is a given that the entire counterculture was a CIA plot ...

Hey, I resemble that remark!

I fear some day we shall learn that even the underground comix of Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton were secretly sponsored by the CIA...

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