The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell
By Aldous Huxley
One spring morning in 1953, Aldous Huxley took four-tenths of a gram of mescaline, sat down and waited for the results. When he opened his eyes, he
found everything, from the flowers in a vase to the creases in his trousers, was completely transformed.
With breathtaking immediacy he described this new 'sacramental vision of reality' in The Doors of Perception. In its sequel, Heaven and Hell, he
went on to explore the history and nature of mysticism. Hugely influential, still bristling with a sense of excitement and discovery, these intense
and illuminating writings remain the most fascinating accounts of the visionary experience ever written.
Huxley originally gained publicity with the publication of the classic Crome Yellow. His tumultuous writing career led Huxley and his wife to the
coast of California. From there he wrote his iconoclastic 'The Door of Perception' along with the anticipated sequel Heaven and Hell.
In Doors of Perception, Huxley begins by giving a brief overview of the chemical isolation of mescaline and its striking similarity to the hormonally
produced adrenaline. He proposes that schizophrenia could be attributed to a chemical disorder, specifically a adrenaline disorder.
Shortly after ingesting the mescaline, he ponders the fact that all human experience is subjective. Humans gain experience from our shared world, we
live in an objective universe however what we absorb is by nature subjective. We are 'island universes'. We can convey our experiences, emotion and
thought through devices such as language, art, and music but ultimately these tools lack the emotional content that is inherent is the 'human
experience'. 'Words are uttered but fail to enlighten' because words are merely symbols we use to convey realms of our mind that are exclusively
mutual. Thus he proposes how could one every experience the mind of an extremely gifted individual? Or on the other end a person that suffers from
Schizophrenia? Sure in a remote way we can imagine this person perceives but we will never be able to truly experience what is it to have an Einstein
like mind because the rules and boundaries in which their mind operates are completely alien to us.
An hour and a half after Aldous Huxley ingested the mescaline, the visions began to manifest. A flower vase containing three flowers began to
transform into a a magnificent spectacle of light and color. When asked whether the flowers were 'agreeable', Huxley responded they are in a state
of is'ness. This statement echoes throughout the book and is molded into one of the main themes of The Doors of Perception. Huxley argues that when
something is injected and forced to retain the title of 'significant' it looses its innate existence. He parallels this concept of is'ness with
what ancient artist envisioned in their works and the profound wisdom uttered by Zen monks in Tibetan monasteries. An interesting comment was made by
Huxley during this state; when one of his colleagues asked him how he feels about time he simply replied with 'There seems to be plenty of it'. This
attitude reflects how the visionary perceives temporal and spatial relations. When under the influence of a mystic experience, these elements are
eliminated, the mind is less concerned with space and time and more with 'being' and 'meaning'.
His attention was then directed to the legs of a table outside in the midst of a garden. This is when Aldous Huxley proposed possibly his most notable
concepts in which our brain perceives our reality. He states that while our entire universe is experienced through our brain, the main purpose of our
brain is to limit our universe so that we may be protected from the seemingly overwhelming and confusing knowledge (such as visionary experiences) in
order to ensure our biological survival. In other words, it's vastly more important for our brain to process the distance of a car rushing towards us
so that we may dodge the incoming traffic as opposed to stand in awe at the glistening metal and vivid colors beaming off the hood giving this
machinery some type of divinatory significance.
After finding his grey trousers infused with is'ness he makes the statement that 'This is how everyone ought to see things' but then he ponders the
fact that if everyone perceived reality as he were perceiving it now than humans would just lock at objects in amazing awe. It would leave very limit
space for human interaction.
Later on in the day after the mescaline began to wear off, he contemplates that if one sees the universe always instilled with remarkable significance
and brilliant colors then this paradise could be seen as inescapable horror much like the schizophrenic perceives their world. A person under the
influence of mescaline realizes that they are in an altered state but no matter how wonderful (or terrifying) the experience, in due time the effects
will wear off and they will be back to their normal self. With the schizophrenic this is not the case.
He ends the book, as well as the mescaline experience by discussing how for ages, humans have sought to escape their mundane everyday lives and enter
into a world of altered consciousness. We've been doing so hundreds of years with the social intoxication by means of alcohol or the smokers high of
Tobacco and Marijuana. He wraps Doors of Perception by stating that Tobacco users knowingly risk their lives every time they light up a cigarette as
their have been much scientific evidence linking smoking with lung cancer. Alcohol leads to innumerable traffic accidents and 'misery-creating
alcoholics' who create their own personal hell every time they down a glass of whiskey. But as for the mescaline taker who takes a dosage to enter
into a realm of the otherworldly, they are seen by society as an addict. Mescaline is completely innocuous.
(5 out of 5 glasses)
This book is a must for the curious armchair psychonaut. Huxley spawned a movement that was the fuel of the experimental culture of the 60s and 70s
and it's upcoming timely revival in the modern era.
‘We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves’ – Aldous
- Review by Simulacra