Life gets busy. Has The Doors of Perception been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for entertainment purposes only. It is not a replacement for professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor and check your local laws before taking any drugs.
About Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley was a post-war intellectual elite born in 1894. He studied English literature at Oxford University. He wrote almost 50 books and was nominated for nine Nobel Prizes in Literature. Huxley’s first novel was Crome Yellow (1921), an exposition of the futility of the lifestyle of many privileged intellectuals in the 1920s. He later wrote Antic Hay (1923), which satirizes modern society’s preoccupation with sex, business, and consumerism. Huxley was a respected philosopher. Intrigued by how we perceive things, he famously wrote Brave New World, a dystopian vision of society, in 1932. Brave New World is about using mind-altering drugs. The characters take a drug called Soma, which allows them to break from reality.
Huxley was a pacifist. His interest in philosophical mysticism and universalism led him to produce The Perennial Philosophy, which illustrates the similarities between Western and Eastern mysticism, and The Doors of Perception, which explores his psychedelic experience with mescaline.
Published in 1954, The Doors of Perception is about Aldous Huxley’s first psychedelic experience. The book is an account of his trip on Mescaline, the insights he experienced, and the esthetic beauty he saw. Huxley’s psychedelic experience helped him develop psychological and philosophical ideas around perception. He believed we live in a narrow field of perception. We need to open our minds to a broader perceptual experience to improve our lives. Because of his experience, Huxley recommended Mescaline to others.
Similar to Brave New World, The Doors of Perception also describes how we can break away from normal perception and uniquely experience the world.
Back in the 1930s, Huxley called Mescaline a poison worse than Soma. So it’s interesting to see how his perception of the drug changed within the 22 years of writing the two books.
“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.”— Aldous Huxley
StoryShot #1: Learning About The Extract
Although Huxley didn’t have a mystic background, he was interested in higher cognitive states. Individuals like Blake, Swedenborg and Eastern mystics influenced his decision to take Mescaline. He wanted to encourage more heightened awareness.
Mescaline is a root extract of the Mexican peyote cactus. Indigenous Mexicans have eaten this root for thousands of years. They often use it in spiritual rituals. Mescaline works by inhibiting the production of enzymes that regulate the supply of glucose to brain cells. In other words, it heightens awareness by removing our evolutionary filters. Those who take it report seeing parts of the world for the first time.
Huxley first became familiar with the extract when he read a paper by Humphry Osmond. Osmond worked at Weyburn Mental Hospital, where he researched treatments for Schizophrenia. Mescaline mimicked the symptoms of Schizophrenia, so it was a big part of his research.
StoryShot #2: The Effects of Mescaline
Huxley wrote to Humphry Osmond in 1952 and put himself forward as a test subject for the drug. In 1953, Huxley tried Mescaline for the first time. He did this at his LA home and took it in the presence of his wife and friend. These two companions acted as scientific observers and were there to help support him if he had a bad trip.
Osmond had concerns about Huxley taking the drug but, after an evaluation, considered him an ideal patient. He even described him as “shrewd, matter-of-fact, and to the point.”
Huxley swallowed 0.4 grams of Mescaline, dissolved in half a glass of water. The first hour of Huxley’s psychedelic experience was not overwhelming. He expected to lie with his eyes shut and see multicolored visions and heroic figures. After all, he had training in spirituality, so he thought the experience would come easy. In the end, his poor visualization skills trumped this openness.
“I am and, for as long as I can remember, I have always been a poor visualizer. Words, even the pregnant words of poets, do not evoke pictures in my mind. No Hypnagogic visions greet me on the verge of sleep. When I recall something, the memory does not present itself to me as a vividly seen event or object. By an effort of the will, I can evoke a not very vivid image of what happened yesterday after- noon, of how the Lungarno used to look before the bridges were destroyed, of the Bayswater Road when the only buses were green and tiny and drawn by aged horses at three and a half miles an hour.”— Aldous Huxley
Instead of seeing dancing lights and moving shapes, Huxley saw his household items differently. Half an hour after swallowing the drug, Huxley became aware of a slow dance of golden lights. Soon, he saw red surfaces swelling and expanding from bright nodes of energy. These nodes vibrated and were constantly changing in their shape and pattern.
Later, Huxley closed his eyes during his trip and saw a complex of gray structures within pale blue spheres. These structures kept emerging before sliding upwards and out of his perception. He saw no faces, forms, or animals. He also saw no landscapes, expansive spaces, or magical growth. So, the drama and story he expected never happened.
What Huxley experienced was a deep connection with a vase of flowers. An hour and a half after taking the pill, Huxley was sat in his study, where a small vase decorated with flowers adorned his dining table. He could not take his eyes off the three flowers painted onto the vase. He described the color of each of these flowers with clear passion:
“Belie of Portugal rose, shell pink with a hint at every petal’s base of a hotter, flamier hue; a large magenta and cream-colored carnation; and, pale purple at the end of its broken stalk, the bold heraldic blossom of an iris.”— Aldous Huxley
At breakfast and before taking the pill, Huxley noticed the lively dissonance of the vase’s colors. But he was now looking at a dramatic flower arrangement with all the colors connected. He said the experience was something Adam had seen on the morning of his creation: naked existence.
StoryShot #3: Seeing Beyond the Object
Our minds help us identify relationships between things. We continually measure and analyze the world around us. Huxley explains that Mescaline helps you see beyond the object. On the drug, the place and distance of objects are unimportant. Additionally, time becomes absolute. The time on Huxley’s watch felt like it was from another world. He no longer had a perception of the past or future. Instead, he only knew the present. The feeling was the first time in his life that he knew what it meant to simply ‘be’. This ‘beingness’ describes heightened perceptions found in some Eastern religions.
The objects in his room were no longer discrete objects to him. Instead, they were all attached, like a work of modern art. Sharp shapes and diagonals jutted out so much that all he saw were light patterns. He no longer viewed these objects as objects. He no longer understood the chair next to him was for sitting. Instead, he appreciated the chair for its ‘being’. Huxley appreciated the tubularity of its legs and its polished smoothness. He focused on objects’ nature rather than the purpose he had attributed to them.
Storyshot #4: Seeing Beyond the Self
“But both belonged to the world from which, for the moment, mescaline had delivered me – the world of selves, of time, or moral judgments and utilitarian considerations, the world (and it was this aspect of human life which I wished, above all else, to forget) of self-assertion, of cocksureness, of over-valued words and idolatrously worshipped notions.”— Aldous Huxley
Huxley didn’t always enjoy the trip, though. Sometimes, it became too much for him. He realized why the literature on ecstasy was filled with horror and fear, and he learned that these higher states could be overwhelming. Our brains are not used to coping with every detail of the world in front of us. Filtering out information is essential for us to function, which is why trips can become overwhelming.
In his book, Huxley talks about how the sugar restriction caused by Mescaline leads to a weak ego. We don’t experience this unless we take mind-altering drugs or do some forms of meditation. Although scary at first, his experience helped Huxley feel at one with nature and a higher power.
After taking the pill, Huxley became a ‘Not-Self’. He also perceived the Not-Self in the surrounding things. This Not-Self was new, and all previous behaviors, appearances, and thoughts of the Self ceased to be.
Osmand encouraged Huxley to analyze and report what he was feeling and doing. But he just wanted to be left alone, spending eternity living in a flower. Since he couldn’t be left alone, he avoided eye contact with those in the room to keep that feeling of Not-Self. Huxley respected the investigator and loved his wife. That said, this disconnection from his Self meant they belonged to a different world. Mescaline had delivered Huxley from this world of Selves, time, and moral judgments.
Delivery from this world made everything within that previous world seem obscure and ridiculous. Huxley used the example of a stage during his trip when he was handed a large colored reproduction of the self-portrait by Cézanne.
The self-portrait is a realist painting with him wearing a large straw hat, red-cheeked, red-lipped, with a black mustache. Huxley’s previous Self deemed this painting a masterpiece. But The Non-Self version of Huxley could not understand the painting. Instead of viewing a masterpiece, Cézanne’s head became a 3D goblin. This goblin looked out through a window, which was the page, at him. Huxley found this hilarious and laughed before asking, “Who on earth does he think he is?”
This example shows how much Huxley detached from his former Self and the concepts of the world he lived in. He now had a completely different experience and understanding of his environment.
Storyshot #5: Acting as Our Favorite Character
Huxley believed that we all act like our favorite characters. We relate to stories and people in the world, and this builds our own identities. If we don’t believe we are that person, we aspire to be them. Because of this, our minds reduce reality to who we are and who we want to become.
Huxley said we filter the world through evolutionary filters. When we filter information, it’s done so through an imagined higher order. Every action we take and decision we make is based on this perceived higher reality. And we build our own perceptions based on this reality. When we think of ourselves as beings, we think of our identities as becoming this higher reality.
Most people are unaware of this intrinsic perception. But it was one of the things Huxley believed psychedelic drugs could ‘unlock’. It’s also why Huxley believed religion was a door to higher perceptions. Those who believe in religion already have a firmer belief in a higher self or power.
However, even those who don’t believe in religion have an internal desire to transcend everyday life. We can see this desire in the high prevalence of tobacco and alcohol use.f But Huxley was passionate about making others understand that these methods were harmful. Instead, they create an illusion of transcendence through sedation or stimulation.
Storyshot #6: What Huxley Learned
Huxley’s drug experiment taught him a lot about perception. He believes our usual experiences fall within a very narrow field of perception. There are so many more experiences that we can open our minds to if we use specific approaches. He accepted that drugs could only open the mind for a temporary period, but he argued that we should all try and break open the doors of perception. Huxley believed these experiences could be useful for everyone, not just mystics and artists. Everybody can learn from different perceptions.
Finally, Huxley recommended that people take Mescaline. Alcohol and tobacco were popular when writing his book. Huxley argued that Mescaline was a far better drug for altering our consciousness. He said it was more compatible, spiritual, and helpful than other drugs. It helps us break through social conventions and perceive the world around us in our unique way.
Of course, the effects of Mescaline are longer-lasting. Not to mention, it can have negative effects on some users. Huxley did suggest that religion is a safer ‘door’ to self-transcendence. But he doubted it would become popular.
Even so, Huxley is confident that anyone who takes Mescaline will forever be changed for the better.
“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 sure, 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”— Aldous Huxley.
Final Summary and Review of The Doors of Perception
The Doors of Perception offers a detailed description of Huxley’s first experience with Mescaline. Mescaline is a psychedelic drug used by many philosophers, artists, and musicians. It is also an ancient psychedelic with a strong, ancient relationship to spirituality.
The psychedelic experience was life-changing for Huxley. Stepping outside the world allowed him to understand how narrow everyone’s perceptions are. These types of drugs offer a temporary experience of opening the doors of perception. Huxley recommends others try psychedelics to widen their perceptions of the “real world.”
William Sargant, a controversial psychiatrist, reviewed the book for the British Medical Journal. He thought the book highlighted the unique struggles of schizophrenia and hoped it would spur further research. That said, many other researchers had doubts about the validity of Huxley’s account. In fact, the book became so popular that finding participants to research the drug became too difficult.
The Doors of Perception PDF, Free Audiobook, Infographic and Animated Book Summary
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