In alignment with The Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell is Huxley’s view of the two opposites in terms of the human visionary, various art forms and mental illness.
First, he talks the specifics of spirituality, such as the efforts of fasting or praying/meditating in darkness. Such practices have been carried out by monks, saints and spiritual leaders over the years, seemingly because this “pain” would bring them closer to God. However, he points out how, besides this, when our bodies fast and therefore don’t have high levels of sugar, our brain’s “biological efficiency” is lowered, meaning we don’t desire or think of things that are necessary to our survival (oddly which some are material things, which aren’t necessary but have become part of our modern world.) In this way, if someone stayed in a dark room with little or no outside contact with anyone or anything, or if they fasted, (or both,) one would presumably become in tune with their visionary side vs. their material side.
This is shown within sensory-deprivation tanks, which allow a person to be completely immersed in darkness, without feeling any of their senses, almost as if they were in the womb. Of course, for some this isolation might be an unpleasant experience (not to mention a tactic used to interrogate prisoners.) Which brings about the concepts of heaven and hell.
Essentially, a visionary, whether their visions are self-induced or involuntary, may experience visions that appear to them ugly, grotesque and horrifying, or visions that appear celestial, other-worldly and beautiful. Huxley uses the ingestion of drugs like mescalin, or such spiritual practices as mentioned above, to explain how one might enter their “antipode.”
First, Huxley discusses how colors in our “antipode,” or visionary mind, are typically more radiant than those of our reality, and even our dreams. The images we perceive when we are in our “unreality” typically cannot be described with words easily, and almost by a rule, do not contain fragments of our daily lives and dramas, (unlike our dreams.)
“At the antipodes of the mind, we are more or less completely free of language, outside the system of conceptual thought. Consequently our perception of visionary objects possesses all the freshness, all the naked intensity, of experiences which have never been verbalized, never assimilated to lifeless abstractions.”
He also discusses how the vivid imagery and scenes of our subconscious/visionary mind are so much more lively and intricate than those of our mind in reality, especially considering that these images, etc., do not come from our individual psyche. This is why, when taking a hallucinogenic drug for example, one might have images of things that they’ve never seen before, within any plant, animal or being on Earth; things of mythology or fairy tales even. Maybe because humans can talk and feel emotions, (and therefore have the power of imagination,) we are blessed with the ability to shed our biological/survival instincts and channel to a place that only we could go; a place that would never exist in our reality on Earth; a place that would remind us of a better life after death; or perhaps a place that secretly is trying to convey to us that this type of paradise DOES exist on Earth, we just take our surroundings too much for granted to realize it; or maybe all of our visions come from a universal psyche that did exist at one time but evolved into something else.
This brings into question the objects of our subconscious fantasies and the objects of earth, such as stones, jewels, gems, glass, and color in general. For example, we hear stories from Greek mythology to Catholic religion that describe heavenly and magical places as having lots of beautiful gems everywhere; sands made of diamonds, palaces made of glass, rituals consisting of sacred jewels. Although we may visit these places in our subconscious, and these places always have more vibrant, plentiful gems, we still treasure these “rocks” in reality, perhaps because they remind us of this magical land that even ancient people would think back upon. (Yes, they are worth money, but think back to the original source of what differentiated a pebble from a ruby.) The main difference? Color. Even such things in nature like flowers have a mystical quality to them because of their color and their natural tie to Earth.
If one thinks back to ancient times, people used to live in huts, in dirt and grass and clay, with virtually no color. Then, objects of color equaled objects of value an importance. Perhaps this is why people marveled in churches (cause of the stained-glass windows,) or why kings chose bold colors of purple, red and gold (to stand out from the earth-tones of the peasants.) Interestingly, as Huxley points out, we no longer share the same enthusiasm for color in our modern world, simply because color is thrown at us everyday; artists no longer have to strive to purchase that specific shade of blue, and simple advertising alone has abused color in order to persuade us towards mass consumerism. Even glass is now present in many office buildings and fixtures, and city lights are no longer a beautiful wonder, but an daily fixture. Point being, we are no longer fascinated with color in our modern world, even including art perhaps (think about the minority of landscape paintings,) which perhaps is why we have so much color in our subconscious world.
Still, art does help to capture some of our visionary moments, whether the artist realizes it or not. Through art, we are reminded that these antipodes exist, although some people can travel to these caverns of the mind easier than others.
Huxley spends little time relating to the “hellish” part of one’s subconscious, except that a negative visionary sees everything opposite; their visions make them feel very small, like they are being crushed, and often everything around them seems like one big machine, intent on destruction of them as individuals and the universe they live in. Huxley non-surprisingly compares these negative visions to schizophrenia, which is warranted, but the way in which he describes this “hell” appears to be more like nihilism. A schizophrenic will have their highs and lows, their heaven and hells, and perhaps more hells than heavens, but a nihilistic person will simply believe that there is no purpose in the world whatsoever, and these visions will only induce terror in them that this “system” of nothingness will go on forever. Perhaps the real hell would be a preexisting nihilist who had a bad mescalin trip and therefore became schizophrenic.
Overall, I didn’t necessary find the title Heaven and Hell to be particularly relative to the subjects discussed, but nonetheless, Huxley brings up some interesting points in terms of what we see in fantasies, fairy tales and religion, and what we have here on Earth.
For example, a “sea of glass” is mentioned in the Bible as seen by the throne of God, and many relate this to the concept of clear water, and therefore a clean, pure God. Could the “glass” and clear jewels of our celestial visions then not be equal to the oceans here on Earth? What about the colors of our fantasies and fairy tales- truly we do have those colors here on Earth, if not in our backyard than in another part of the world.
Or, perhaps I’ll be a cynic and say that this was the way our world was created and was supposed to be, but now our oceans are polluted, our jewels are called “bling,” and we choose to seek color only through the box of our TV’s while sitting in our rotten, polluted, black city walls.