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The Center of the Cyclone: Looking into Inner Space

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  607 ratings  ·  45 reviews
In this long-out-of-print counterculture classic, Dr. John C. Lilly takes readers behind the scenes into the inner life of a scientist exploring inner space, or “far-out spaces,” as Lilly called them. The book explains how he derived his theory of the operations of the human mind and brain from his personal experiences and experiments in solitude, isolation, and confinemen ...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published June 5th 2007 by Ronin Publishing (CA) (first published January 1st 1972)
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 ·  607 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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Mar 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dr. John C. Lilly, M.D. is one of those legendary scientist/psychologists who went exploring the mysterious inner spaces of their own freaking minds - zoning out in sensory deprivation tanks, communicating with dolphins, meditating and chanting on the side of mountain in Chile with gurus, doing aggressive and traumatic group therapy sessions in San Francisco, loading up on pure LSD and being pulled through swirling infinite inner mental vortices, reprogramming his mind, learning from mystics and ...more
Erik Graff
Jun 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: altered states fans
Recommended to Erik by: lots of people
Shelves: psychology
During the four years of seminary study, summers and Christmas breaks were the two periods when there was time for fun books outside the curriculum. They were mostly fictions, often tangentially related to academic studies, things like historical novels or sf books playing off religious themes. Occasionally, I'd pick up a non-fiction title, something lighter than the usual school fare. Lilly's The Center of the Cyclone was such a book.

I cannot remember anyone specifically recommending this title
Deepak Dev
May 12, 2013 rated it did not like it
It is hard to contemplate or be in the states described in the book by just reading them.An apt heading "the centre of the cyclone" was all i found.Since imagination has its own limits in creating a mental reality, this a set of hallucinatory crap for someone who is not already following the path consciously or consciously.
Dec 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
This book I really have to rate in two halves. The first half is the author's experiences with LSD. It is typical of other psychedelic literature, but better written than most (although nothing in the genre tops Huxley's Cleansing the Doors of Perception). The second half is the author's self explorations with various self-improvement cults and builds on Programming the Human Biocomputer. It is really week. The first half, gets 4 stars the second half gets 2.
Costin Manda
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
I wanted to read this book as I knew the author experimented with LSD and sensory deprivation tanks. He was the inspiration for the brilliant film Altered States, which I enjoyed immensely. The third book of John C. Lilly, The Center of the Cyclone starts as an intense book, an exploration of the deep mind using arcane and sometimes forbidden techniques. A magnificent beginning... and a horrid ending.

Let me start from the beginning. Lilly is a psychoanalyst and a neuroscientist at the same time,
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is some excellent material here, especially Lilly's work with LSD and isolation tanks, and his descriptions of various out-of-body states he has achieved. A lot of the latter material in the book, however, is not very readable or essential to Lilly's story; his time in Chile basically amounts to pages and pages of describing his state using a number rating system that is, at best, almost completely incomprehensible. A decent read, but not as compelling as some of his other material.
Dave Summers
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Brings new meaning to the word (and concept of) "introspection". Fearless, curious, initially egoistic, eventually generous; all told with the honesty of a true explorer. Recommended.
Chris Harris
Aug 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
Lilley was an interesting guy, and became influential in the 60s counterculture movement, so I had high hopes for the book. Unfortunately, it's written in the vernacular of that time and it really hasn't aged well. The later chapters are mired in a mess of computational metaphors and pseudo-biblical pronouncements (there are lots of "thee"s and "thou"s) and the book offers little or no insight into the mechanisms or process of achieving other states of consciousness. Although the book touts Lill ...more
Dennis Degraw
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In the late 50’s and 60’s it was rule that if you were doing research on psychedelics that you had to try them. Lily kept a diary of his adventures and they are profound in the depth of inner therapy he unwillingly ventured. Interesting read for those interested in the depth of the mind.
Ian Feigle
Jul 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Lily's writing can sometimes be unclear, but this book is a personal look into Lily's transformation as a scientist and psychonaut.
Chon Cunningham
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An odd mediation of intelligent self-reflection and psychoanalysis and 1960's self-love language.
Light Bringer
Jul 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
OMG! Programs for biocomputer. Loading..
J.Istsfor Manity
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
First read it as a teenager in 1980. Enjoyed it (did I really?!) along with Catañeda’s Journey and Huxley’s Doors, but a bit less than those, as I found the second half of the book difficult and uninteresting — this second time around was... worse.

I recently (finally!) got around to reading Chayefsky’s Altered States (after indelibly scarring the Ken Russell film into my eyes/brain in the 80’s-90’s) and thought I’d give this another go.

Oy! No!

It’s the tale of two books really: I breezed throug
Jan 03, 2014 rated it liked it
John C. Lilly was the inventor of the sensory deprivation chamber. He and many others believe that by removing the constant sensory reminders that "you are here" via sight, sound etc. you can free the mind and achieve different states of consciousness.

This book contains interesting stories about the author's experiences with altered states of consciousness including: experiencing nitrous oxide administered by his dentist at age 7, an air bubble in his vein/artery, lung and then to his brain ca
Apr 04, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In one way, this book gives me insight into the inner thoughts of the psychedelic-era-style belief systems that allow for instantaneous communication across the universe, telepathy, previous lives, and mental transcendence to different realities. But in another way, I'm left just as baffled as before. Lilly does explain his experiences and some of the beliefs that surround them in a rather straightforward way, but I still don't feel like anything is actually explained. He leaves open a lot of ro ...more
Jason Meinig
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is proof positive that there are, or at least were, open-minded scientists - willing to have some pretty extreme ordeals to reach non-ordinary states of consciousness. I'm not sure all of the descriptions and experiences he described could accurately be called "science", but I do think Lilly at least thought of himself as a scientist and so this book tends to turn a fairly objective eye on very subjective realms and experiences. The books covers a wide variety of methods and journals t ...more
David Arnold
Dec 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at the world of a world-class scientist who has decided to probe that most touchy of subjects, consciousness and the experience of it with the use of psychedelics, and the sensory deprivation flotation device he invented which is now offered for rent at such places as Reboot in San Francisco.

John C. Lilly was either a genius or the strangest crackpot ever invented, but either way, this book reveals a number of insights into the basic human condition, and the unconditional acce
Apr 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: other mad scientists
Here is a book by my favorite mad scientist, John Lilly. He worked in isolation studies as well as human-dolphin communications. The government tried to exploit him. Both Day of the Dolphin and Altered States are based on his life and work. Come with him on this psychedelic voyage and you will encounter ECCO, the Earth Coincidence Control Office, and the CCCC, the Cosmic Coincidence Control Center. This is his most deeply personal memoir and a great read for exploring the wilder side of science ...more
Aug 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have spent a fair amount of time and money with teachers who said they understood programming, but no one has ever explained programming and the levels of enlightenment attainable with certain practices/disciplines the way John C. Lilly does in this book. He connected a lot of dots for me. Most importantly, before you spend any more money, if no one in the group of students reaches any level of enlightenment, then he/she may not be the guru you think they are. If you are a seeker like me, drop ...more
Sara Gray
Mar 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Trust a scientist to turn even the heights of woo-woo into a bunch of dry systematics, charts, and continua! This book is a glorious artifact of the 70s, and I had a great time reading about how Lilly peed in isolation tanks and pooped himself into existence. The sections on his work in Chile with Oscar Ichazo made my eyes glaze over with his many schemas of "Satori," but overall, this was an interesting peek into the woolier past of psychedelic science. And I'll admit--this book has some pretty ...more
Nov 04, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One may think the parts of the book, in which John Lilly begins to speak as one to one about how one may experience one's perception of one's universe to be annoying.

But other than that, it was well written, had good examples of some real places and was a good affirmation of psychic places that I've peeked. He seemed to have a much healthier outlook and ability to navigate these places consciously, which was a great read.
Feb 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Ah, the 60's... neuroscience was in its dark ages, academics hung out naked, and researchers injected themselves with pure LSD and wrote about the symbolism of their bowel movements. For people who have done their own work with altered states, you likely won't find much new here (though it's a fun read). For those who have never tripped (or meditated, or so on), this book is probably way more interesting -- and is, in the very least, accurate and honest. Worth a read.
A. D. Jameson
Nov 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is a real adventure. Lilly writes with a contagious passion, obsessed with understanding his own mind and then communicating what he's learned—or thinks that he has learned. Revelatory, even if what it mostly reveals is how little we understand about ourselves—and how OK so many of us sadly might be with that.
Rob DC
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I found a this book very interesting and thought provoking. However, my interest was really being pushed towards the end of the book. This is because there is just no way I can verify anything he was saying. It could all be true, it could all be utter nonsense ... there's no way of me knowing, and that's not good enough for my scientific/analytical mind. But still, good food for thought.
Declan McInerney
Mar 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
John Lily is a balanced blend of science and mystic. He is a true cartographer of the inner realms which so often are ignored in Western society. Center of the Cyclone is the culmination of these explorations through means of the sensory deprivation tank, LSD, group therapy, yoga and much more. Great read!
Oct 19, 2010 is currently reading it
After reading a little bit, i immediately incorporated lilly's ideas into my vocabulary, referring to my various state of minds. I'm not sure why he numbers the states as he does but i kinda like it and i'm pretty sure that there's good reasoning behind it.
Nov 11, 2010 rated it liked it
This book explores an incredibly interesting and intriguing subject, but Lilly's scientific approach to spirituality didn't really resonate with me. His pragmatic and empirical treatment of the material left me yawning where I could have been feeling encouraged or enlightened.
David Biddle
Jun 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Along with Crack in the Cosmic Egg, this book is fundamental to everything that you need to think about...Lilly is one of the major researchers on dolphin communication, but he kind of went beyond that once he figured out how little we really know about bending the mind.
Robert Blakesley
Nov 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: changed-my-life
Of all life's lessons, one of the most valuable is the basic truth that I am not my body, not my thoughts, not my feelings, but something beyond those things. I first learned this lesson as a seeker, long ago, reading this book by John Lilly.
Dec 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: own, mexico, nonfiction
Perhaps if I had read this in the 60s when most of us were mindless, I would have liked it. but I grew up I did not like one page of it and am sorry that I kept going , should have dropped it after 10 pages.
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John Cunningham Lilly was an American physician, neuroscientist, psychoanalyst, psychonaut, philosopher, writer and inventor.

He was a researcher of the nature of consciousness using mainly isolation tanks, dolphin communication, and psychedelic drugs, sometimes in combination.

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“I am not my opinion of myself, I am not anything I can describe to me. I am only a part of a large system that cannot describe itself fully; therefore, I relax and I am in the point source of consciousness, of delight, of mobility, in the inner spaces. My tasks do not include describing me nor having an opinion about the system in which I live, biological or social or dyadic. I hereby drop that "responsibility".

I am much more than I can conceive or judge me to be. Any negative or positive opinions I have of me are false fronts, headlines, limited and unnecessary programmes written on a thin paper blowing about and floating around in the vastness of inner spaces.”
“I am a thin layer of all those beings on [samadhi level] 3, mingling, connected with one another in a spherical surface around the whole known universe. Our "backs" are to the void. We are creating energy, matter and life at the interface between the void and all known creation. We are facing into the known universe, creating it, filling it. I am one with them; spread in a thin layer around the sphere with a small, slightly greater concentration of me in one small zone. I feel the power of the galaxy pouring through me. I am following the programme, the conversion programme of void to space, to energy, to matter, to life, to consciousness, to us, the creators. From nothing on one side to the created everything on the other. I am the creation process itself, incredibly strong, incredibly powerful.

This time there is no flunking out, no withdrawal, no running away, no unconsciousness, no denial, no negation, no fighting against anything. I am "one of the boys in the engine room pumping creation from the void into the known universe; from the unknown to the known I am pumping".

I am coming down from level +3. There are a billion choices of where to descend back down. I am conscious down each one of the choices simultaneously. Finally I am in my own galaxy with millions of choices left, hundreds of thousands on my own solar system, tens of thousands on my own planet, hundreds in my own country and then suddenly I am down to two, one of which is this body. In this body I look back up, see the choice-tree above me that I came down.

Did I, this Essence, come all the way down to this solar system, this planet, this place, this body, or does it make any difference? May not this body be a vehicle for any Essence that came into it? Are not all Essences universal, equal, anonymous, and equally able? Instructions for this vehicle are in it for each Essence to read and absorb on entry. The new pilot-navigator reads his instructions in storage and takes over, competently operating this vehicle.”
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