Upon reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, I was surprised how little it had to do with philosophical and mythological ideas. Instead, it focused purely on Huxley being a guinea pig for a “new” drug called mescalin.
While I disagreed with some of his insights (and everyone has their own when on hallucinogens,) it still provided a detailed, intricate account of his own experience, while attempting to relate the drug’s significance to society as a whole.
The book begins with the infamous quote from William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is- infinite.”
Huxley then points out interestingly how, (although it hasn’t been proven to my knowledge,) the symptoms that arise from ingesting mescalin are similar to those of ingesting adrenochrome (adrenalin,) and this adrenochrome is produced in small amounts naturally in the human body; while changes in consciousness due to this chemical may be invisible to human perception, the changes that could and would occur due to its production are similar to the changes in consciousness that a schizophrenic experiences, raising the question of whether this disease is chemical-production related (Of course it is, to some people, but nonetheless, I’ve yet to hear it being related to specific substance in the body.)
Huxley admits before he took the drug that he expected strange, wonderful geometric visions of rich capacity, yet he foolishly undermined the factoring of his own mind into the equation; as in, that his own thoughts, preconceptions and habits would play a part in his trip. He also did not see any “visions” but merely distortions of what was in front of him in reality. (More like an LSD trip.)
Huxley then describes how everything he saw “just was”; there was no thinking about what he was doing or what he was looking at, it was simply there, without a purpose, for it needed no purpose; he was sincerely “in the moment,” free from his reality-attached ego.
He also notes how spatial barriers and differences didn’t seem to matter, as well as time. What he noticed, and observed for hours, were the tiny idiosyncrasies and patterns of everyday objects, which in reality we wouldn’t think twice about, such as the tiny weavings in a knit jacket or the smooth carvings on a chair. Look around the room you are in- I guarantee you’d be watching a TV in this room rather then staring at the intricate patterns on your curtain. When going for a drive, he thought the cars looked funny, almost alluring, while the houses looked intricate; when looking back over the town as a whole, the view did nothing for him visually.
He also noticed his profound admiration an appreciation for color, of which mescalin intensifies: “Man’s highly developed color sense is a biological luxury- inestimably precious to him as an intellectual and spiritual being, but unnecessary to his survival as an animal.” Of course, under mescalin one can experience the reading of auras, and other visual and mental perceptions typically available to psychics.
Interestingly, when Huxley viewed a picture of “The Chair” by Van Gogh, he did not feel the same spark that he did when he viewed the real thing (a chair) in person. However, he noted that in order to draw a singular object with such intensity, as Van Gogh did, one surely would have to see the object just as he saw now; meaning that artists stand out from the rest of society because they see ordinary objects with a raw passion and flare that allows them to transcend reality, with or without drugs.
In regards to the affairs of other people, and other people in general, Huxley had no interest, for he was a “non-self” and therefore felt all the petty, busy, stressful woes of life did not matter. The people that were watching him as he took the drug (he did it as a sort of favor to a scientist-friend,) he did not want to communicate with, as they, (being not on the drug,) felt completely separate from him and his current world. Perhaps this is why, in paintings, human faces appeared grotesque.
While he certainly enjoyed his mescalin experience, as he felt it raised his consciousness to a significantly higher level, he did admit that the drug still does not push one to take action on the ideas they experienced during contemplation. Of course, this makes sense, or else the whole 60s counter-culture would have been running around doing protests on hallucinogens (or did they?) Nonetheless, I think Huxley’s point was that no drug is perfect… although in his mind, mescalin came close…
For one, a person’s neurotic tendencies typically will disappear. They will appreciate the beauty around them, which they typically ignore. The drug can bring you to the point of bliss, almost too intense and terrifying to bear, (depending on your mental make-up,) but still something worth experiencing. It is potent in small doses, doesn’t produce a hangover and isn’t addicting, while it also isn’t toxic to bodily organs as most other drugs. As far as religion and spirituality, mescalin ties more into these concepts than alcohol or any other drug of seemingly religious significance; Native Americans have been taking peyote for centuries as part of their church, and in this process the drug is never abused, but taken as part of their spiritual ceremonies. Mescalin also allows you to forget words and symbols, which often flood our mind and make us forget to perceive the world directly, versus giving everything a label as in relation to something else.
Still, in between these thoughts, he compares the drug’s peak to the experiences or “up-sides” of full-blown schizophrenia, which I somewhat disagreed with. Yes, a schizophrenic person’s view of reality is certainly more skewed then that of a “sane” person, and this could thinly relate to their mind being like that of someone who is on mescalin, however, Huxley says a schizophrenic person’s destiny lies either in “murderous violence or psychological suicide,” which I found to be a bit gung-ho. There are many factors which go into the evolvement of schizophrenia in a person, and to compare their mind simply on that scale and to a mescalin trip, is absurd. I didn’t understand why he was claiming such authority over the subject of mental illness, especially when, in most cases, it has little to do with drugs.
He also suggests that maybe psychiatrists can do for the mentally ill what Buddhist monks did for the dead and dying, which was keep the mind undistracted from past memories, future worries and potential sins- that if psychiatrists reminded patients that reality and the outside world was one and the same as their inner, tormented minds, patients would be healed. Again, I disagreed, as almost 50 years later psychiatrists have done nothing to help patients except prescribe medicine, and telling a schizophrenic that the outside world is the only reality in existence is by far the worst thing you could do, as this will only descend them deeper into their own mind, (and obviously they rejected the outside world for a reason.)
Anyway, once Huxley’s trip ended, he went back to his “reassuring but unsatisfactory state known as ‘being in one’s right mind’.” He then goes to compare the drug’s pros and cons with that of our nation’s legal substances (cigarettes and alcohol); even today, it’s obvious what is legal harms us the most, and some of what is illegal could truly help us (while certainly the “harmful illegals” aren’t disappearing anytime soon.)
Says Huxley, “The urge to escape from selfhood and the environment is in almost everyone almost all the time… That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradise seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.”
Huxley goes on to describe how some mediums help to “open the doors” of the soul, such as art, music, religion, etc. Still, the worst things for the human race are what are available to us, and no matter how many drunk driving accidents occur or how many cases of lung cancer exist, people will keep partaking in each of these vices because it provides temporary release. Still, mankind needs better doors to open in order to flourish.
I’ll leave you with this quote:
“To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large- this is an experience of inestimable value… The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.”