John C. Lilly, biocomputers and the difficulty of studying consciousness

John C. Lilly, biocomputers and the difficulty of studying consciousness

It is my firm believe that the experience of higher states of consciousness is necessary for survival of the human raze.
― John C. Lilly, The center

John C. Lilly wrote the books The Center of the Cyclone and Programming & Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer and is the father of the term bio-computing.

Many of the things he explored in his life are entry points to areas where science hasn’t reached yet. But here is the thing, the deeper you go into researching Lilly, the more bizarre the story gets, the more he disregards the scientific method and the more esoteric it all becomes. In any case, Lilly introduced some very interesting concepts that are all that more relevant today than ever and we should take his ideas as inspiration, not as a dogma.


Lilly proposed that the brain is a huge biocomputer, of certain universal quality that can run many series of programs, that come loaded with programs but can run many different kind of them.

All human beings, all persons who reach adulthood in the world today are programmed biocomputers. No one of us can escape our own nature as programmable entities. Literally, each of us may be our programs, nothing more, nothing less.

—John C. Lilly, Simulations of God: A Science of Belief, in preparation, 1972.


One of the most important consequences of the idea of the brain as a computer is metaprogramming. This universal biocomputer has—theoretically—full control over the programs it runs and can alter said programming itself.

To avoid the necessity of repeating learning to learn, symbols, metaphors, models each time, I symbolize the underlying idea in these operations as metaprogramming. Metaprogramming appears at a critical cortical size — the cerebral computer must have a large enough number of interconnected circuits of sufficient quality for the operations of metaprogramming to exist in that biocomputer.

Essentially, metaprogramming is an operation in which a central control system controls hundreds of thousands of programs operating in parallel simultaneously. This operation in 1972 is not yet done in man-made computers — metaprogramming is done outside the big solid-state computers by the human programmers, or more properly, the human metaprogrammers. All choices and assignments of what the solid-state computers do, how they operate, what goes into them are still human biocomputer choices. Eventually, we may construct a metaprogramming computer, and turn these choices over to it.

—John C. Lilly, Simulations of God: A Science of Belief, in preparation, 1972.

Consciousness, ego and many minds

Lilly explains that the ego, the thing we call self is a high-level program that runs all the subroutines of the brain.

As out of several hundreds of thousands of the substrate programs comes an adaptable changing set of thousands of meta-programs, so out of the metaprograms as substrate comes something else — the controller, the steersman, the programmer in the biocomputer, the self-metaprogrammer. In a well-organized biocomputer, there is at least one such critical control meta-program labeled I for acting on other metaprograms and labeled me when acted upon by other metaprograms. I say at least one advisedly. Most of us have several controllers, selves, self-meta-programs which divide control among them, either in time parallel or in time series in sequences of control. [O]ne path for self development is to centralize control of one’s biocomputer in one self-metaprogrammer, making the others into conscious executives subordinate to the single administrator, the single superconscient self-metaprogrammer. With appropriate methods, this centralizing of control, the elementary unification operation, is a realizable state for many, if not all biocomputers.

—John C. Lilly, Simulations of God: A Science of Belief, in preparation, 1972.

Rejecting the study of consciousness

“Being driven to a set of assumptions because one is afraid of another set and their consequences is the most passionate and nonobjective kind of philosophy.”
― John C. Lilly

I suspect that one of the things that turn off most people interested in the studies of the mind and consciousness is the lack of rigor from most intellectuals in the field. I’m afraid Lilly fell in that trap as well. Sharing his learnings becomes meaningless when those teachings are entirely subjective. I propose looking at the teachings of Lilly, Leary, and others simply as sources of inspiration for more meticulous studies.

I appreciate anybody who dedicates their life to exploring the questions that science is not focused on or can’t find an explanation for. We need to be cautious, and approach the research in a methodological way, and apply the scientific method. Will we ever get to an absolute truth when talking about subjetive states of consciousness? I don’t know, but at least I hope we will be able to find a framework to study the mind that is reliable.

“In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the mind, there are no limits.”
― John C. Lilly

Final words

“My philosophy: Don’t get caught with a fixed philosophy, a set of safe beliefs, a particular way of life.

Experiment! With life, with love.

Run an exploration of the real and the true degrees of freedom of life, of love, of the human condition, inside self and in one’s style of life.

Move! Into new spaces beyond one’s present concepts of possible/probable/certain real spaces.

Far vaster than I now know are the innermost/outermost realities.

Far more interesting than I now feel are the deeps of the space, the beyond within, the infinite without.

Love and loving are basic.

Hostility is redundant.

Fear is non-sense.

“Death” is a myth.

I am I.”
― John C. Lilly


The levels of Show Don’t Tell

There is a writing maxim that says that authors should show and not tell.

Here are some levels of exposition, from just telling and no showing to all showing and no telling.


The hero finally understood what she meant and realized that he needed be more generous in life.


“You take from all those around you and give nothing back.” Mary said looking at him with her sad dark eyes. “You are gonna find soon that your times is running out, Peter.”


They left the restaurant in silence and faced the storm in the street. Mary said goodbye and walked away wrapping herself in her coat. Standing immobile in the sidewalk Peter looked at her figure disappear. Cold and wet, he stood contemplating the night when he noticed a man crouching in a nearby doorway. He recognized him. Through the window of the restaurant Peter had watched the man panhandled while Mary delivered her news. The man had stood unprotected under the rain for the whole duration of her break up. Walking towards the man, Peter opened his wallet, pulled out a $100 bill and left it on the man’s lap. “Happy New Years, pal.”

Leave Life Exhausted

Most people think the are immortal or they think they have many more lives coming after this one. And so they live safe normal boring lives. they don’t know that this is their only chance, that there is not second Act and that they gotta give it all they have.

So you could live a normal, save boring live by pleasing/pandering to the the majority, by doing what you are supposed. Trying to make it, and succeed at life. So that at the end of the game you can say that you did it, that you won, that you were successful.


You could realize that you have one and only one ticket. And thank yourself for how lucky you already are. And then making the most out of this ticket, and skish it for all it’s worth. So that when you have to leave the stage, you also leave life behind, in bed, exhausted.

My character needed a flaw, and this is what I got

My character needed a flaw, and this is what I got

In The Negative Trait Thesaurus its author, Angela Ackerman gives some helpful hits to craft a character’s flaw for a novel.

Behind a hero’s flaw there really are three different elements:
a wound: an experience inthe hero’s past
a lie: a false believe the hero has because of the wound
the flaw: the weakness the hero has to overcome to reach his goal.

To find the best flaw for the hero and for the story, take those three elements into consideration.

2016 Failures

I am somewhat not hesitant to call a failure a failure. My mom taught me that as long as you make your best effort you have nothing to blame yourself for. Now, I tried. I setup the best goals that I thought I had to complete and didn’t complete them. I can make excuses, but the point is, I setup a goal and I failed. But instead of excusing myself, or not confronting the results, I want to look into the eye of my failed projects and ask like an abandoned lover “where did we go wrong?”

So here are a couple of things I planned for that I didn’t fully complete:

  • Writing Novel #1: I still love the idea of my first long-story, but I was greatly unprepared to write it. I sort of pants my way through this story (a contemporary adaptation of the Ass), but failed to complete the manuscript when the structure fell apart. I realized that I needed more planning.
    • Lesson learnt: I decided to ditch the YA genre, and focus instead on a genre I was more passionate about (this realization coincided with reading Write to Market)
  • Not publishing my 7 Plan: This is a plan for the decade ahead that I haven’t completed yet. I guess it will be a 8 year plan by the time I publish it.
    • Lesson learnt? Oh, man. I’m still digesting this one. I’ll get back to you with something.
  • Writing the first draft of my Novel #2 during NaNoWriMo: I wrote 35K words, but couldn’t get myself to write another 15K words )
    • Lesson learnt? NaNoWriMo forced the realization that I couldn’t write the book yet without more preparation. At least I learnt the lesson in just 3 weeks (unlike book #1). Now I have a plan.

Not that bad, not that bad.

Not A Resolution, But A Plan For 2017

Writing a book seems at times like a mountain of monumental proportions. I know that a book is written one word at a time, but the mountain is not any smaller because of it. Many well intentioned folks are now declaring their resolution for 2017. I am sceptical of life changing decisions made in a rush over a few drinks of champagne, so I like to keep my resolutions somewhat abstract. I think of them as a philosophy rather than a specific goal.

So rather than making the resolution to write a book in 2017, I have, instead, a plan.

Not A Resolution, But A Plan For 2017

I am now preparing for a second draft of my first novel, and I have decided to create a calendar for the book as a whole, and plan out all the tasks and milestones ahead.

This is my book laid out for 2017:

Not A Resolution, But A Plan For 2017

This is basically 9 months of work including planning of the book, writing, editing and publishing. I tried to make it all fit in half the time and I had to accept that I can’t commit to that goal. Estimating projects is quite complicated and estimating the time for a project that you have never done before is even more so. So 9 months it is!

When I first thought about writing this book I wanted to complete it in 3-4 months. Then after failing, I decided that NaNoWriMo (1 month), would be even a better idea (genius, I know). Now that I failed a second time, I decided to make a detailed plan of how I am planning on getting to the top of this mountain before I lose my oxygen.

So that’s it. A roadmap to a novel.

On Planning A New(ish) Book

“I’ve found that people who outline a lot spend more time up front planning. People who discover their story by writing it spend more time at the end revising. It tends to even out.”
—Brandon Sanderson

On Planning A New(ish) Book

I’ve long known that I am much more a plotter than a “pantser” but after writing thousand of words for NaNoWriMo, I came to the conclusion that my book lacked structure. The plot wasn’t tight enough and I wasn’t ready for such amount of writing.

Plotting and planning can feel like procrastination at times. There’s definitely a danger of never ending quest for the perfect plot. As a perfectionist I know too well about this sin, but it’s never been my style to leave success to luck.

After reading Outlining Your Novel I have decided to plan the full lenght of my novel writing, starting with an outlining phase of one full month. At first glance it seems overkill—it does to me at least—but looking into all the tasks involved, I rather be safe. I think of outlining as the key that will let me enjoy the wild ride of writing, and still get me safe to port.

“For many of us, writing is all about tapping that sense of freedom—the promise that anything could be waiting for us around the next bend in the road. Some writers fear outlining will destroy that freedom by locking them into a set route. But the truth is just the opposite. Freedom is knowing you never have to stare down the blinking cursor and the blank page because you don’t know what comes next. You’re still free to explore all you want, but, at the end of the day, when the detour turns out to be a dead end, you can always return to the marked path you know will lead to your destination. With your route highlighted on the map, you’re free to put on your sunglasses, crank up your tunes, and let your hair blow in the wind.”
—K.M. Weiland Outlining Your Novel

Max Interviewing Max: Conversations With Myself

Everybody speaks inside their heads. Everybody has dialogs with themselves. I don’t chat, I interview myself. Sometimes I’m an entrepreneur, others an author or an intellectual. But always I am successful.

Many times I ask myself about the origins of my triumph.

“What is the key to success, Max? How did you get there? Where did the spark of inspiration came from? when did it hit you? Is there a recipe for success?”

Other times I ask about future beyond my success.

“What’s next? Are you afraid you will be a one hit wonder? How are you going to top this? Do you have another project in the works?”

And sometimes, I like to look beyond my own life timeline, and ask myself about the meaning of it all.

“What would be your message for aspiring artists? What would be your legacy? If you had to summarize your life motive, what would it be?”

I have long interviews, and short ones too. I see through the years of work and listen to my advice and words of wisdom. I tell myself, what the truly valuable thing is, I tell myself that there is a meaning to just being even if life is, well, meaningless. And that success is not the answer but also not something to disregard.

On Being Quick And Dirty

the only way to find the treasure is to get yourself all mucky crawling around in the jungle.
—K. M. Weiland, Outlining Your Novel

My plan for this blog is not to be a perfect place for reference, but to serve me as a tool for exploring and learning. I am convinced that through the act of recording my discoveries, I strengthen the lessons and learn new things.

Just like the fact that there is no better way to learn a topic than having to teach it, I hope that nothing better to cement my learnings than by recording the raw path.

As I like to say: It’s about the journey, not the destination. The journey is the destination.

I Am Planning For Somebody Else To Write My Novel

Yes, I am planning for somebody else to write my novel.

I was just reading Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland and the second chapter introduced an interesting idea for starting your outlining process: writing the perfect review for your future book. This is a glowing review of your finished book that highlights all the merits of the story. Whatever one writes in this review is the high level goal for the book.

I’ve been thinking lately how to better organize or schedule the writing of my book. As somebody who relies on calendars and schedules to complete my projects, I would like to find a similar approach for fiction writing.

So Weiland’s book got me thinking about an approach for planning my book: Creating a plan for somebody else’s work. In other words, prepare the scheme for the novel as a series of steps and directions to be followed by somebody, anybody, not necessarily me. My hope is that this will force me to be more explicit about the work that needs to be done, and like with the review, have a more clear defined goal that’s easier to achieve.

So, I am planning for somebody else to write my book, and I will just carry on the plan myself.