(David Jay Brown is known for his research into, and writing about, psychedelics and human consciousness expansion. He’s the author of numerous magazine articles and 15 books, including 2016’s Dreaming Wide Awake and his most recent, Women of Visionary Art, with co-author Rebecca Ann Hill. The interview was conducted by email.)
I interviewed Malcolm on August 20, 2014. He appears sincere and is eager to share his unique story with the world, and spread awareness about dolphins. We spoke about interspecies communication, telepathy, what people can learn from animals, and what its like to have sex with a dolphin.
David: What inspired you to write Wet Goddess?
Malcolm: I was inspired to write Wet Goddessby my six-month love affair with “Dolly,” a 400-lb female bottlenose dolphin who lived and worked in a small amusement park near Sarasota, Florida in the early 1970’s.
At the time, Dolly was the only dolphin outside the U.S. military who was trained to work in open water and reliably return to captivity. Her part of the show was to swim alongside a moving riverboat and jump for fish.
(Photo by Malcolm J. Brenner)
It struck me as an astonishingly athletic performance, and I found myself wondering why she bothered to return to the little sea-level pen where she was apparently bored and lonely much of the time.
When I learned of her death (spoiler alert), I wrote the book to commemorate her life, which otherwise would merely have been another untold story of the thousands of dolphins who have died in captivity, entertaining human audiences for corporate profit.
I also wrote the book because I felt partially responsible for her death, and I needed to make a confession and get my guilt off my chest.
Life had handed me an extraordinary story about a series of rare and remarkable events. Information theory says that the rarer an event is, the more information can be extracted from it, so I figured my experiences should be valuable to someone.
Finally, the public’s image of dolphins is largely shaped by conservative science and corporate oceanarium ($eaWorld) image-making, which promotes them as compliantly serving their human masters.
I had found them to be anything but that, they have minds of their own and can think for themselves! This was so startling to me, and the conditions of their treatment so unjust, that I felt I had to write about it as part of my personal ethics.
David: What is your philosophy regarding interspecies communication and interspecies love?
Malcolm: Not being a philosopher (I am by trade a reporter) I’m not sure I have anything as sophisticated as a philosophy regarding interspecies communications and interspecies love. The two are different things that do not necessarily go together. (So I think you have confused these two questions.)
Regarding interspecies communications, we are, or should be, talking science. In the 21st Century we find ourselves living on a strange planet with not one, but at least two pinnacles of evolutionary intelligence, the humans and the toothed whales (possibly more – elephants, mockingbirds, parrots).
The anatomical and behavioral evidence of a high degree of awareness, communication and cognition in the toothed whales is simply at this point irrefutable. And what are we doing with them? Enslaving them, murdering them, turning them into fertilizer and cat food, trashing their environment.
My sense of social justice, which compels me to defend the weak and helpless, is outraged beyond imagination. There is also a profound and terrible sadness that we as a species do not reach out to these creatures. As humans, we tend to flounder in our own humanness. We assume we are the only self-aware creatures out there, the only ones with a moral sense of right and wrong, the only ones aware of our own mortality.
I think the dolphins prove us wrong on all those counts. If we could communicate effectively with another, sufficiently different species, we could learn so much about ourselves through the comparison. We might just learn what it really means to be “human.”
When we talk about interspecies love, we are also talking about communication, but on a whole other level. Obviously, communication can and does exist outside of love; we do not love everyone we communicate with on a daily basis.
Interspecies love comes in a wide range of degrees of involvement, from a young girl whose room is decorated with horses to a rider who thoughtfully cares for horses in a stable to a man who has sex with horses in a loving or tender manner.
What this shows is that in English, “love” is a very sloppy word with a lot of imprecise meanings. What’s truly unfortunate is that as soon as interspecies love gets sexual, we enter the realm of bestiality, and in many places the law rears its ugly head. Right now, most bestiality laws are predicated on the false, biased assumption that to have sex with a non-human animal is to automatically abuse that animal.
This is no more true than a similar blanket assumption about a human partner would be. Most people have a reflex, kneejerk reaction to bestiality which leads them to assume that it’s automatically abusive and that a nonhuman partner “can’t give consent” because they don’t speak our language. This is patently false, because under natural conditions animals engage in courtship, which is the process of selecting and vetting a mate and obtaining non-verbal consent for the mating.
Unlike humans, mating animals (for the most part) don’t know they’re reproducing. They’re not consciously looking for the mate with the best survival characteristics, they’re looking for a mate who is going to get their rocks off, who is going to give them the best chance for an orgasm.
Often, a motivated human can perform that sexual function as well as a partner of the same species, with or without love being present. The animal partner in an act of consensual bestiality is only concerned with sexual gratification, not what species its partner is.
What’s important in any type of love is respect for the beloved. Simply put, mature love does not exist without mutual respect. Respecting and loving a sex partner of another species raises the sexual act from mere bestiality to zoophilia.
When you are in a zoophilic relationship, you actually accept responsibility for your partner to a greater degree than you do with a human lover; it’s just the same as owning a pet, which cannot adequately care for itself without human help.
When you respect your non-human partner, you acknowledge that its needs and desires are not your own and you take responsibility for them. If you’re a zoophile man, you’re only going to approach your non-human partner sexually when she’s in heat, unless she indicates otherwise. (Some female animals can and do solicit sex outside of the estrus cycle.)
I think most people wrongly see female animals as passive, when in reality they are receptive, active participants in sex with just as strong of a sex drive as a male animal. If you’re a male zoophile, you don’t rape, and you probably couldn’t, because you wouldn’t be able to get an erection– that rapist’s sense of violation, violence and domination isn’t what’s motivating you.
The law allows you to kill an animal in a humane way for food, and punishes you for killing an animal in an inhumane way or injuring it without cause. The law ought to treat sex with non-human partners the same way.
Crimes against animals ought to be based on actual actions that cause demonstrable harm, pain and suffering, not on vapid moral prejudices or Biblical declarations. I would like to see blanket laws against bestiality repealed where they already exist, to be replaced with stronger and more precise laws against animal cruelty.
David: What are your thoughts on telepathy?
Malcolm: If I had any thoughts on telepathy, how could I be sure they were my own? All kidding aside, I am unsure what to think about telepathy. As I understand it, the scientific evidence for it is not substantial.
In spite of that, I feel like I have been able to communicate telepathically with other species on several occasions, the experiences with Dolly being the most profound and longest-lasting of those events.
So I experience some cognitive dissonance here. It seems to me that nothing in information theory (what I know of it, anyway) makes it impossible for the same datum to arise in two places at once. This is what telepathy feels like to me, it feels more like a shared, simultaneous awareness than data traveling from point A to point B, with or without a physical medium of transmission being invoked.
Of course, I am talking about at least three different things I experienced here under the label of “telepathy.” One was this awareness that my thoughts no longer seemed to be my own, that another personality, Dolly, was sharing my consciousness, and that I could enter into “conversations” with her.
The second experience was while Dolly and I were actually, physically making love. It felt like our separate consciousnesses had merged into one and we were aware of the pleasure we were sharing.
The third “telepathic” event, which was terrifying, was this dream that awoke me some nine months after the sexual experience with her, while I was going to college in Washington state. In that dream, I got a very clear image of dolphins dying in a peculiar environment.
Dolly died around the same time, and when I visited the oceanarium where she died, there were remarkable similarities to the dream environment. So in some way, information got transferred between us in a symbolic but realistic form. I don’t pretend to know why or how, but in some way that dolphin and I were entangled on a mental as well as a physical and emotional level.
What throws doubt onto the first set of experiences as genuine telepathy was that they continued even after I knew Dolly was dead. I suppose this isn’t surprising if you believe in some murky concept of an “afterlife,” but I don’t.
My mental plasticity allows for the possibility of telepathy between living beings but not for channeling the dead. (Nobody has ever been able to explain the ecology of the netherworld to me.) So again, I have these paradoxes that I really cannot dismiss or ignore, but I cannot get myself to buy into them like a “true believer” would, whole-heartedly.
Do these paradoxes make Wet Goddess a better story, from a literary point of view? I don’t know, but I feel it would be dishonest to disregard or skim over them in an attempt to make some kind of point.
I have had fleeting telepathic experiences similar to the ones with the dolphin (but much less extensive) with other animals: a dog in a park, a hummingbird, a small wild bird of undetermined species, a praying mantis. They seem to happen at random.
I also had a very similar shared-mind experience happen while performing a Wiccan ritual, when a deity was “drawn down” into me by a priestess. There was a very peculiar sense of “me” being quarantined, as if in a fish bowl, while the Egyptian god Thoth manifested in me. Fortunately for me he was benevolent and the experience was benign.
If telepathy is real, it seems to me that it is not a spiritual thing but a genetic inheritance, the same as the color of one’s eyes or hair. Some people have it and some people don’t, and if you don’t have it you can’t somehow develop it, sadly.
This makes it very difficult to explain the experience to people who don’t have the capacity for it. It’s not that spirituality makes you telepathic, it’s that being telepathic pretty much forces you to confront some spiritual realities.
David: What do you think dolphins can teach people?
Malcolm: I know dolphins can teach people how to make love with them because I was the successful graduate of six months’ lessons! What I don’t know is why.
I know that dolphins can teach us how to imitate them vocally, the same way we try to get them to squawk on command. Dolly also taught me quite a bit about play and playfulness, because I am a very tightly wrapped person.
Aside from that, which I know, I believe dolphins could also teach us a lot about themselves, their culture, and about their environment, the ocean. I suspect that they might be able to teach us quite a lot about ourselves as we compare our culture to theirs.
I do not think dolphins are Zen masters or paragons of virtue swimming around in the ocean. They do some things, from rape to murder and infanticide, which seem quite heinous to me. So I do not think they can teach us about “Universal Love” or any of that nonsense.
I don’t believe dolphins have the Secret of the Universe, any more than we do. What they do have is a different way of experiencing the world. Just encountering that alone, with them on equal terms, could shatter a lot of our introverted, twisted, dominant human paradigms.
David: What is it like to have sex with a dolphin?
Malcolm: Well you know, I spent a whole chapter of my book answering this question in great detail. I would really prefer not to cover that ground again. If somebody wants to find out, they can read my book!
But what I can say, in response to your question, is that my experience, with its deep spirituality, may not have been typical. I have spoken with two other men who have had sex with dolphins, one of whom convinced me by showing me a videotape of the event.
They said the sex was very good and that the female dolphins involved were very gentle and loving, but they didn’t describe this kind of profound sense I had of merging with the dolphin on every level, mental, physical, spiritual. I’m pretty sure they hadn’t fallen in love with their dolphin partners the way I did.
Also, there may be a difference in the position. The video showed the dolphin and man making love lying on their sides on a beaching ramp. This would seem to inhibit freedom of movement to me. Whereas Dolly and I made love in the water, swimming freely, which gave her almost complete control over the experience.
I really had to surrender to her. To answer your question succinctly, it was like making love with the whole goddamn ocean.
David: How did your psychedelic experiences affect your love affair with a dolphin?
Malcolm: I don’t know how psychedelics affected my experiences with the dolphin. I was smoking a lot of pot at the time and that seemed to modulate or inspire these “telepathic” encounters with her where I felt we were sharing a lot of information.
I’d smoked some pot just before we made love, and I’m sure that heightened the experience. I’d taken psychedelics for the first time in 1969, when I was a freshman at New College, that was the year before these experiences with Dolly started.
I wasn’t taking a whole lot of LSD-type psychedelics at the time, because frankly I wasn’t having a lot of good experiences, like my friends were having on the same drugs, and I was wondering what was wrong with me.
I think psychedelics were teaching me that the world is, up to a point, our definition of it, but I hadn’t learned that lesson at the time. Really, I think that most of what I learned came from the dolphin, and not from my psychedelic experiences.
David: How did your romantic experience with a dolphin effect your perspective on marine mammals and other highly evolved, nonhuman life forms?
Malcolm: Nowadays, it makes me want to stop Japanese dolphin hunters, for one thing. I experience almost unbearable sadness and rage during the dolphin-hunting season, which lasts six months. I’m not particularly enlightened about this. I don’t think the dolphins are “going to a better place,” I’m just shocked and outraged by the brutality they have to endure.
It’s like watching my in-laws being slaughtered, and standing around helpless. The problem there, of course, is not the hunters, who are simply providing product to a burgeoning number of dolphin exhibits in Asia, mainly China.
The problem is the people who go to dolphin shows. Nobody eats dolphin meat anymore, the stuff is toxic. It’s the oceanariums that are driving the drive hunts. Humans love dolphins too much in the wrong way, we love them to death.
As regards how my experience affected my perspective on marine mammals, needless to say I don’t go to oceanariums any more, they’re just dolphin jails to me. It took a surprisingly long time for me to reach that commitment, however.
The last time I was around dolphins was 2005. I used a small inheritance I’d received to go to the Bahamas, where I went swimming with a pod of wild dolphins. Due to weather we only saw them one day out of a week, but it was redemptive.
One dolphin swam right up to me and stared at me. I felt a sense of absolution, like my sins in regard to Dolly had been forgiven. Unlike going to an oceanarium, which is an oppressive experience, this was liberating. I was thankful. And then the dolphin swam away, which is more than she got to do.
David: How did your meeting with the late neuroscientist John C. Lilly affect your perspective on dolphins?
Malcolm: You’ve got it backwards, my experience reading John Lilly was what got me interested in dolphins. As a child growing up at the dawn of the Space Age, I read a lot of science fiction and was fascinated by the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence.
When Lilly first began proposing that we could communicate with dolphins as a precursor to communicating with extraterrestrials, I was very excited. I didn’t have a very well-developed sense of ethics at that age, so I just glossed over his dreadful early brain experiments on dolphins, the ones that upset everyone else so much.
I finally got to meet Lilly when I was on the West Coast, attending Evergreen State College. As described in Wet Goddess, that first meeting was rather underwhelming and confusing. It came at the end of a long day when all sorts of people had been through his house, and I didn’t know him well enough to really open up and discuss my sexual experiences with him or his wife, Antoinette Lilly.
Later, I attended a weekend workshop with him and Toni in New York state, and for the first two days, Toni mistook me for one of the staff! But Lilly said the interview I did with him for Future Life magazine was the best anyone had done with him, up to that point.
My perspective on dolphins had been pretty well established by the time I met Lilly, so I don’t think our meeting in person affected it very much. Later on, when he started the JANUS project, I was sad that I couldn’t work with him, but I didn’t have the requisite skills or resources. Turned out, neither did he, and the experiment went no place.
David: Do you think dolphins can attain high levels of spiritual awareness?
Malcolm: I think dolphins exist in a high level of what we would call “spiritual awareness” all the time. Their oceanic lifestyle requires it of them.
For one thing, the dolphin lives in a truly three-dimensional world, where danger or opportunity can come at you from any angle, whereas humans live primarily on the flat surface of the earth and operate in two dimensions.
Very few things in nature attack us from above, and almost nothing serious attacks us from below. Most of our predators are either extinct or in zoos. Whereas the dolphins live in a world of real monsters, sharks, killer whales and squid.
A dolphin’s echolocation provides it with its own illumination. A dolphin is constantly making its own “light,” in the form of ultrasonic sounds, which it uses to “illuminate” the objects in its environment.
What our eyes do passively with light, a dolphin does actively with its hearing and sound-producing organs. The dolphin can, of course, vary the intensity, wavelength and beam coverage of the sound as dictated by the needs of the circumstance.
So imagine if we went around in the world, and we had these flashlights on our heads that could change brightness, color and zoom in or out. That’s the visual equivalent of what the dolphins can do voluntarily with their bio-echolocation.
Then there’s the whole sleep thing. Dolphins don’t sleep like we do, they have to rise to the surface to breathe every few minutes or so. For them, breathing is a conscious act of will, there is no involuntary breathing reflex the way there is in terrestrial mammals.
This raises the question, how does a dolphin know how long it can hold its breath without going unconscious, but let’s not get into that here. The need to breathe while sleeping requires that the dolphin sleep with only half its brain at a time.
While the left hemisphere is slumbering, the right hemisphere is keeping one eye open for sharks and remembering to breathe, and vice-versa! What this means is that dolphins’ dreams and reality must overlap, since they are dreaming and awake at the same time in opposite brain hemispheres.
In addition, it was recently found out the mother bottlenose dolphins go without sleep for the first month of their newborn calf’s life! That would kill most normal mammals. They’re constantly awake and alert, making sure the calf doesn’t get into trouble, and this goes on until they can hand the calf over to a babysitter and catch a bit of shuteye themselves.
A bottlenose dolphin can dive down to 1,000 feet (300m) and come up again in less than 10 minutes. At that depth, the external water pressure is so great that its rib cage collapses, but the dolphin has evolved to survive this experience.
Just the difference in environment between the surface, which is where two or three elements meet, and the depths, where there is absolute darkness and profound differences in pressure, temperature and sound, means the dolphin’s consciousness must readily adapt to these different realms.
And a lot of this stuff isn’t instinctual, it’s learned. So I think that by the nature of their oceanic lifestyle, the dolphins must have a profound knowledge of consciousness and how it relates to reality.
They have to have an acute awareness of their world just to survive in it, and if my experience is any indication, this also includes an awareness of love and what we would call the tender emotions. Attachment, I think, is the clinical term. Certainly, they can become very attached to each other, and to us as well.
David: What can people do to increase their understanding of dolphins and help to protect them?
Malcolm: You don’t increase your understanding of dolphins by seeing them perform stupid tricks in an oceanarium, I’ll say that for starters. What you see is what former Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry has dubbed “spectacles of domination,” humans forcing dolphins to perform unnatural behaviors in synthetic environments.
That teaches you nothing about how dolphins live in the wild. To appreciate that, you have to be able to observe dolphins in the wild, or read about it from authors who have researched it. One of the best books I know about working with dolphins in a scientific context is Carol J. Howard’s Dolphin Chronicles.
There must be other good, current books out there about dolphins’ lives, but I don’t know what they are. I doubt if many of them speculate on the awareness or spirituality of dolphins, though. Those seem to be taboo subjects since Lilly passed away. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, though.
Help protect them? First thing, stop patronizing dolphin jails. Stop going to commercial aquariums, especially those in foreign countries that buy dolphins from the Japanese slaughter industry. Countries that have no Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The only good thing I can say about a place like SeaWorld is that they breed their own dolphins, so they don’t need to capture any more from the wild, which is traumatic for the individual and devastating for the population.
But a dolphin raised in a concrete tank isn’t able to dive or swim or echolocate like a wild-born dolphin can, so in my opinion the dolphins born in captivity aren’t real dolphins, they’re look-alikes. I dub them “Tursiops homunculus,” the warped little man of a dolphin.
Second thing, it would be nice if fishermen would quit leaving gobs of monofilament and fishing lures in the environment. It seems like every year or so we read about yet another dolphin getting tangled in fishing line, and then the Florida Fish and Game people and some local research and conservation organizations have to get out and net the poor dolphin before the fishing line cuts it in half and untangle it.
People could stop leaving trash on the beach, by the seaside, or along rivers and creeks where it will wash into the sea. Stop feeding dolphins! Yes, we have dolphins down here in Florida who solicit humans for food, and we have people stupid enough to feed them.
It’s dangerous for both the dolphin and the human. The dolphin may get sliced by a boat propeller, and the humans may get hurt if the dolphin doesn’t like the ham sandwich or banana or whatever else they’re feeding it. Dolphins evolved to eat raw fish and squid, not the food we eat.
Don’t run over them in boats! Dr. Randall Wells, who has been studying the dolphins in nearby Sarasota Bay for more than 40 years, has calculated that based on the number of boats that use the bay, a wild dolphin has a boat come within 100 meters of it every six minutes during daylight hours. It’s like living on a freeway.
On a larger scale, we need to stop polluting the dolphins’ environment. Dolphins are near the top of the food chain, so toxins like mercury and PCB accumulate in them. In many populations, female dolphins are so polluted that their suckling young die from toxins in the mothers’ breast milk.
The dolphins slaughtered in Taiji have so much mercury in them they actually violate Japanese food law, but there’s a loophole that allows their meat to be sold and even used in children’s school lunches. It’s sickening, literally. Finally, we need to understand them.
I suspect there’s a lot going on with the dolphins that the scientists simply do not understand because they can’t imagine it, their scientific discipline simply doesn’t give them that luxury. Or if they do imagine it, they can’t talk about it because they’ll lose their research grants.
David: What are you currently working on?
Malcolm: A pair of Miami filmmakers, Joey Daoud and Kareem Tabsch, who want to make a documentary about my experience with Dolly, contacted me a few months ago. According to them, it will contrast my opinions about my experience with those of scientists and animal-rights activists. I feel a little uncertain about it, but I’ve met them and they seem like a couple of pretty reasonable guys, so I trust them.
By the time your readers get this, I will have published a second book, this one a memoir titled Growing Up In The Orgone Box: Secrets Of A Reichian Childhood.
In the 1950’s, my parents were followers of the mad scientist Dr. Wilhelm Reich, who claimed that orgasms were the key to mental and physical health. If you just know a little about Reich that sounds kinda groovy and all, but in reality it led to a series of terrifying, painful encounters with a close associate of Reich’s who sexually molested me and hundreds of other children sent to him for “orgone therapy.”
My family suffered from mammoth dysfunctions that eventually destroyed it, and this book chronicles how Reich and his bogus, pseudo-scientific crap utterly failed us.
Finally, I am writing a third book, Mel-Khyor: An Interstellar Affair, a novel about a woman’s UFO experience back in the late 1970’s and how her husband’s discovery of it affects their relationship.
David: Is there anything that we haven’t spoken about that you would like to add?
Malcolm: Everybody seems to think of me as “the guy who had sex with a dolphin.” Some people aren’t that discrete. That isn’t what’s important, though. If I had just banged a dolphin to get my rocks off, like some farm boy banging a goat, I would never have exposed myself the way I have.
The fact is, however, the dolphin reached out to me in emotional and intellectual ways that I never anticipated, and we fell in love with each other. That’s the primary reason why I wrote Wet Goddess, to commemorate what undoubtedly has to be one of the strangest and most moving love affairs ever consummated on this Earth.
(Dolly, the subject of Wet Goddess. Photo by Malcolm J. Brenner.)