John C. Lilly: Floating Pioneer Timeline

Exploring our minds only works when we know where to start. John C. Lilly did more than anyone else to give humans the perfect mental compass.

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No single person had a greater impact on our understanding of the powers of floating than Lilly. He was a pioneer in researching floating and developing the modern isolation tank. Lilly was driven to peer deep inside the human mind and see what made it tick. The isolation tank became his tool for opening the door to that unexplored frontier.

It is impossible to condense Lilly’s life and work into a single blog post. But it is also important to gain a better understanding of his contributions to the development of floating.

Enjoy this timeline exploring Lilly’s life and his development of the modern isolation tank:

January 6, 1915 – Lilly is born in Saint Paul, Minnesota

1938 – Graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in physics and biology.

1942 – Graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a medical degree.

1951 – Published a paper at the University of Pennsylvania after extensive research on the physical structures of the brain and consciousness. Lilly showed how to display patterns of electrical brain activity using electrodes inserted into a living brain.

1953 – Lilly took a job studying neurophysiology with the US Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Corps

1954 – Working with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Lilly devised a prototype isolation tank. He created it through a desire to isolate the brain from external stimulation. Lilly was the first subject for his research. The original tank required masks for breathing underwater, which was later eliminated through modifications.

1958 – While floating in his isolation tank, Lilly communicates with two other beings monitoring his evolution on a subconscious plane. This is the famous First Conference of Three Beings.

Late 1950s – Lilly established the Communication Research Institute on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. It was a facility devoted to fostering development of communication between humans and dolphins.

Early 1960s – Lilly published several papers revealing that dolphins could mimic human speech patterns.

1960s – Lilly experiments with LSD while floating in the isolation tank. The results cause a greater fear and a greater bombardment of images and ideas than he had ever experienced.

1972 – The US Government passes the Marine Mammal Protection Act, making it illegal to kill dolphins as a result of Lilly’s research.

1980s – Lilly directed a project which attempted to create a computer language dolphins could learn and use to speak with humans.

1990s – Lilly moved to Maui in Hawaii and continued his research from the island during the remainder of his life.

September 30, 2001 – Lilly died in Los Angeles from heart failure. He was 86 years old at the time of his death.