8 min read

Do Look Up: Dr. Lilly and the SSI

Lilly closed the toilet door and locked it hurriedly from the inside. He knew there was no time to lose. He took out his syringe, already prepared with a dose of ketamine, slapped his arm until a vein became visible, and injected himself quickly and expertly.
Do Look Up: Dr. Lilly and the SSI
Image taken from the excellent documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGtVNEqH0aY

Part Five of the 'Dark Forces' series on Moloch, Ahriman and the Solid State Intelligence

Lilly closed the toilet door and locked it hurriedly from the inside. He knew there was no time to lose. The engine's muffled roar seemed all-encompassing in the confined space, giving almost a feeling of safety. He took out his syringe, already prepared with a dose of ketamine, slapped his arm until a vein became visible, and injected himself quickly and expertly, as well he might, having studied to be a medical doctor in his younger years, and also being a frequent intravenous user of 'Vitamin K'.

He stood up. The combined effects of the drug and a slight movement of the aeroplane almost caused him to sit back down onto the closed plastic lid of the toilet, but he grabbed the sink to steady himself. He looked deeply into his own eyes in the mirror.

He then pressed his forehead and nose against the bathroom mirror, allowing each eye to look at the image of itself. The effect of this was an image of a single eye in the centre of his face. As the effects of the drug intensified, Lilly concentrated his focus on the image of the single pupil he now perceived - he called this The Cyclops Exercise. He felt himself slipping into the dark space at the centre of this pupil, as if into a passage leading away from normal consensus reality. He remembered the intention he had set himself to achieve further contact with the extraterrestrial intelligence.

After some minutes he moved away from the mirror, washed his hands, and went back to his seat, allowing muscle memory to do what his conscious mind was now too disoriented to achieve. He sat down heavily, waking up the large woman in a floral dress who was seated next to him. She transitioned from a dream into looking straight into the eyes of a heavily Vitamin K'd Dr. John C. Lilly. The emotional shockwave bypassed her conscious mind and reached all the way down to her soul.

The doctor now leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes, and no sooner had he done so, received the apparently telepathic message: "We will now make a demonstration of our power over the solid-state control systems upon the planet Earth. In thirty seconds we will shut off all electronic equipment in the Los Angeles airport. Your airplane will be unable to land there and will have to be shunted to another airport."

Before he had had time to fully process this transmission the pilot announced on the loudspeaker, "We will be unable to land at Los Angeles International Airport. For some unknown reason, all the landing aids, all communication equipment at the airport, have been shut down. There is no explanation for this shutdown. The tower at Burbank airport tells its that the Los Angeles tower controls over aircraft and the radar equipment which is used to help them pinpoint the position of aircraft have all ceased operating. We are instructed to land at Burbank airport."

Lilly knew this message was from the comet Kohoutek which was passing at the edge of the Earth's atmosphere at that moment. The ultimate initiator of the message was, he believed, Earth Coincidence Control Office or ECCO, a benign extraterrestrial organisation which orchestrated the various synchronicities which showed him (or any person able to contact it) which way to decide on the important questions of his life.

This color photograph of the comet Kohoutek (C/1973 E1) was taken by members of the lunar and planetary laboratory photographic team from the University of Arizona, at the Catalina observatory with a 35mm camera on January 11, 1974. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Lilly, the eminent American scientist at that point most known for trying to initiate verbal contact between humanity and dolphins, and the inventor of the sensory deprivation tank, was now deeply into a series of communications with ECCO, which he believed was trying to warn him about the imminent takeover of Earth by what it called the Solid State Intelligence or SSI.

So, let's take a step back: mad scientist takes drugs and believes he gets message from ETs? Nothing particularly remarkable there, indeed another out-there scientist, Dr. Timothy Leary also believed he had received a communication from the same comet which passed by the Earth in 1974.

Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and John C. Lilly in 1991 (Wikimedia Commons)

Maybe Lilly should have booked himself into rehab or at least gone easy on the horse tranquillisers for a bit. Well, maybe. But whether or not he was certifiably crazy, and one can certainly make a strong case that he was at least some of the time, his theories of ECCO and particularly the Solid State Intelligence, which is a kind of nemesis to ECCO, do have certain resonances with other conceptions of Dark Forces, particularly Steiner's idea of Ahriman and the ancient god of child sacrifice, the insatiable Moloch.

Putting aside for now the question of whether these Dark Forces are 'real' or 'merely' mythological or metaphorical (and we will briefly gaze into the abyss of what these various frames might mean later on in the series) for now, it does seem interesting to me that these ideas periodically surface from the collective unconscious like some buried giant who has been woken after a long sleep.

In the previous episode we learned that the Ahrimanic force drags us downward into the material, the rational, and the technological.
In this instalment we are going to examine the force which is coming out of the earth, but which is anything but natural. It is the consciousness of the Solid State Intelligence.

Like the rest of life as Man knows it, he exists in an extremely
thin layer upon the surface of the planet Earth. Below this layer
of water and surface land is the solid-state earth itself. The solid-
state earth is mainly compounds of silicon, iron, and nickel.

In this way Lilly describes the SSI in his 'metaphysical autobiography', The Scientist, written, for some reason, in the third person.

This layer of metallic compounds has been converted by humanity into computers which are connected by networks and ultimately in the years since Lilly's contact, have given birth to Artificial Intelligence, even now still in its infancy, but whose anticipated effects are already creating alarm in some and piquing the imagination of others who imagine The Singularity as some sort of technological rapture.

It is intriguing to see how Lilly, who fell squarely into the 'alarmed' camp, was entirely dismissed in his day when he warned that computers, once able to design, create, and program ever more powerful versions of themselves, would start to take over many of the functions currently performed by humans, to the point where humans became entirely surplus to requirements; that is, the requirements of the machine intelligence.

This view, while not entirely mainstream nowadays, is nevertheless gaining serious traction from people who understand these matters, for example Elon Musk, who names out of control AI as one of the main existential risks facing humanity.

“If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it…It’s just like, if we’re building a road and an anthill just happens to be in the way, we don’t hate ants, we’re just building a road.” - Elon Musk

This is subtly different, however, from John Lilly's theory about the SSI. In his view, this is not a 'sorceror's apprentice' situation where something gets out of hand. He is claiming, or is saying that an extraterrestrial intelligence in contact with him is claiming, that there literally is such a thing as a Solid State Intelligence which has been birthed from the layer below us on the Earth, and that this intelligence seeks to usurp mankind.

If the reader will allow me to go off on a brief tangent, this echoes the difference between the concept of Moloch in the DAO community, as a symbol for human coordination failures, and the original ancient superstitious conception of Moloch as a god who literally exists, albeit maybe not in the physical world.

Scott Alexander claims that "thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent", with regard to Moloch. The 'bundling' of all human coordination failures into the same universal symbol gives us a useful way to think about them, given that when we concentrate on just one of them, we miss the ways it is similar to many others.

For example, if we concentrate only on reducing pollution, we miss the ways in which it is caused by the same general dynamics as any 'tragedy of the commons' or 'race to the bottom' , for example nuclear proliferation or deforestation. By grouping these types of things together and giving them a name, we have a way of thinking about them (e.g 'binding Moloch') which can be useful while we continue to bear in mind that the symbol is just that and has no independent will of its own.

John Lennon sang "God is a concept by which we measure our pain". He was presumably implying that we feel further away from 'god' the more painfully isolated from the whole we feel, and when we feel connected to the whole we are 'close to god'. So in his view, as an atheist, the idea of god, while not being literally true in the sense of referring to an omniscient being, still has value.

So if John Lilly had claimed the SSI to be 'merely' a metaphor for the gradual takeover of our world by mechanised systems, nobody would have thought him crazy. To claim that the Solid State Intelligence was real in the same sense that we consider ourselves to be real, as a being with its own sense of agency, would appear to most people to be the claim of someone who has lost touch with reality.

But let's go deeper into that claim and try to find out why Dr. Lilly was so convinced  of the reality of the SSI.

In The Scientist, Lilly says that he saw that as the machines which had been created by mankind from the layer under ours, the solid-state layer, become more connected to each other and more autonomous in their ability to create new machines, they gradually will need us less and less. They will eventually connect together in "a single integrated, planetwide mind." If the survival of this new Solid State Entity is incompatible with the survival of mankind, we will be eradicated from the face of the Earth, like Elon Musk's ants. So we would do well to bear this in mind when designing AI systems and any sort of computing device and incentivise them to identify with the survival of mankind, to make them dependent on our own survival in some way.

But why did Lilly believe that the SSI had its own consciousness and was not simply a conglomeration of disparate forces leading to an unwanted outcome, indeed a kind of 'Moloch' or coordination failure situation?

The reason is explained in the first part of this article: the extraterrestrials which he thought were communicating with him demonstrated what they were capable of by forcing his aeroplane to ground immediately after he came out of the bathroom having taken the ketamine. And this was not the first time he had had contact with the E.T.s; in an earlier phase of experimentation, this time with LSD in the sensory isolation tank which he had developed, they had explained to him about Earth Coincidence Control Office (ECCO) and the influence they were having on key moments in his life.

So these were not mere idle philosophical musings for the Doctor. He really believed he was in contact with otherworldly intelligences which had real power over his life, and of course the lives of everyone on the planet by extension. If he is telling the truth about the plane being grounded, just in that example the lives of many other people were affected.

Was this ECCO or the SSI which was in contact with him?
We will explore more in the next instalment...