In 1952 the English–born writer Aldous Huxley became involved in an experiment to clinically detail the physiological and psychological effects of Peyote (Mescaline), a substance used in spiritual practice by Native Americans and the Indians of Mexico. Having a profound impact and subsequently changing the course of his life, Aldous wrote The Doors of Perception, which contains his reflections on his experience with the powerful entheogen. This book is among the most valuable tributes to the psychedelic experience man has yet to produce.
Before moving forward with Huxley and his work, I think it is important to take a moment to mention some little known information about psychedelics and the positive capabilities they possess. Psychedelics, as the general public understand them, are illegal recreational drugs that render people insane and ruin lives in addictive fashion. This is tragic in both its fallacy and legality; this misconception is a product of the hysterical and reckless use during the 1960’s and the governmental scare propaganda that followed. These substances, like alcohol or even a motor vehicle, can and have been misused; but if proper education in a factual non-biased manner was made available, along with safe and professional environments for use, we could significantly lower the cases of abuse and increase the opportunities for productive exploration of the human psyche.
Contrary to public opinion, there are a vast variety of psychoactive substances that are showing potential intellectual, therapeutic and even spiritual benefits. For example, LSD-25 and psilocybin mushrooms are showing the ability to mitigate end-of-life anxiety in patients suffering from terminal cancer. (Acid test: LSD used as drug therapy for the first time in 40 years) (Harbor - UCLA Psilocybin & Cancer) Rick Doblin Ph.D., founder of the Multi-disciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, has been facilitating research in the potential therapeutic benefits of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) with patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other traumas. (Research > MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy) Iboga, being administered at Ibogain Treatment Centers in Mexico as well as several other countries, has shown significant therapeutic benefits with recovering alcoholics and heroin addicts. (Why Choose Ibogaine for Drug Detox?) And ayahuasca, the Mother of all the entheogens, is the sacred plant medicine used for perhaps thousands of years by the native people of South America. Ayahuasca has a reputation for helping people over come a great variety of internal issues ranging from neurosis to spiritual conflicts. This very small list of benefits only contains the tangible results science has confirmed. Beyond this, these substances also have an incredible capacity to produce remarkably honest self-reflection, life changing expansion of awareness, shifts in perspective, deep appreciation for life and existence, heightened problem solving abilities, love, compassion, curiosity and the list goes on.
Now to get back to the point; Aldous Huxley was a modest, compassionate and open-minded man of formidable intelligence. It is these three qualities that allowed him to produce such an honest, well-articulated account of his experience with Mescaline. Anyone who has ever had any profound experience with the use of psychedelics can appreciate the difficulty in trying to share these experiences. There is a state of consciousness where a kind of information can be experienced and even understood, but can hardly be brought back to our ordinary state of consciousness. Trying to translate and articulate these experiences into ordinary linear thought and symbols seems to be an impossible task. But in The Doors of Perception, Huxley has done a tremendous job at bringing his readers closer to the reality of the psychedelic experience.
Unlike many people, Huxley formed his opinions on matters through personal inquiry; he was not a particularly impressionable man. It was this very method of experiencing life combined with his curiosity that led him through The Doors of Perception.
In his writing Huxley portrays a spectacular experience filled with beauty, purity and a newfound perspective that transcends anything he had ever experienced before. A world “Neither agreeable nor disagreeable,” a world he would describe as simply “Is-ness.” (The Doors of Perception)
Huxley felt, as many people who under go such an experience, at least those with a level of seriousness about it do, that he was much more intimately connected with the universe than he was previously aware of. Upon reflecting on his experience, he found himself agreeing with “the Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C.D. Broad, ‘that we should do well to consider much more seriously than we have hitherto been inclined to do the type of theory which Bergson put forward in connection with memory and sense perception. The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive.” … “The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.’ According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. But in so far as we are animals, our business is at all cost to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system.” (The Doors of Perception)
As you might see, this experience opened up a significantly new view of the universe and man’s place in it for Huxley, one that, given western societies conventional approach to understanding reality, is quite easy to criticize. Such a theory, as metaphysical as it is, was surely written off by mainstream science. But considering how little we know about the nature of consciousness, I find it hard to understand why one wouldn’t find enough of an open mind to consider it. It’s not necessarily impractical, just a bit outside the traditional scope of rational consideration.
Huxley’s account of his experience is filled with beauty and profound ideas, but there comes a time during his trip when he begins to feel overwhelmed. As his journey drives him deeper and deeper into the unknowable, Huxley finds himself shaken to the core. In retrospect, he realizes that his fear was produced from the sensation of “disintegrating under a pressure of reality greater than a mind accustomed to living in a cozy world of symbols could possibly bear.” (The Doors of Perception) This is what some might call an ego-death; the sensation of ones personal identity, cultural conditioning and belief systems all dissolving into the paradoxically beautiful yet alarming mystery experience. But Huxley wasn’t so foolish to claim that the mescaline experience or any other psychedelic experience was on the grounds of producing enlightenment. He instead suggested that the experience was what the Catholic theologians called “a gratuitous grace”.
The Doors of Perception is undoubtedly a controversial piece of writing and can be interpreted in many ways. But regardless of how one interprets the work, it’s clearly an honest, humble, thoughtful and skillfully written report that took a great deal of courage to publish considering the era in which this all was taking place. And as highly regarded as Mr. Huxley was in the world of literature and intellectuals alike, The Doors of Perception was the beginning of a widely mixed and criticized reputation.
Whether you decide Huxley’s report of his experience is rooted in a legitimate reality beyond the realm of ordinary experience or should simply be summed up as merely personal impression, The Doors of Perception is a fascinating and beautifully written piece of work, one of great importance for understanding what it is like to take the trip into the psychedelic experience. And if there’s one thing for certain, and Aldous said it best, it’s that “…the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man that went out.” (The Doors of Perception)
1) "Harbor - UCLA Psilocybin & Cancer." Hefter Research Institute . Web. 1 Sept. 2014. <http://www.heffter.org/research-hucla.htm>.
2) Duhaime-Ross, Arielle. "Acid test: LSD used as drug therapy for the first time in 40 years." The Verge (2014). Web. 1 Sept. 2014. <http://www.theverge.com/2014/3/5/5473828/lsd-drug-therapy-first-time-in-40-years>.
3) "Research > MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy." . Web. 1 Sept. 2014. <http://www.maps.org/research/mdma/>.
4) "Why Choose Ibogaine for Drug Detox?" Ibogaine Association . Web. 1 Sept. 2014. <http://www.ibogaine-therapy.net>.
5) Huxley, Aldous. The Doors of Perception. Seventh ed. 2011: Thinking Ink. Print.