The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

The Doors of Perception & Heaven and HellThe Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley

Based on his own experience with mescalin, Huxley informs us about the true nature of reality, that is, the sheer scope of it. He doesn’t stop at great works of art, schizophrenia or religion, but freely attaches his intake to an ambitious bundle of themes in order to supplement them all. Drugs and transcendence/life in general had always have much in common, but his way of portraying is exactly like what his drug encounter warns him against.

The description of his adventure would be much more revealing, if it hadn’t elevated into a lecture about two ancient categories of being, one experienced through our everyday life, where language represents a barrier between us and the world, and the other one of true essence that can be reached only through some transcendental activity such as taking drugs. Although his expedition to the sphere of “pure perception” shows him the limitations of words and all our classifications, it seems he identifies his trip with as many concepts and theories as he possibly can. He makes a paradigm of unvailed awareness out of it, which selfless as it is, is based on one sole experiment of his humble self. Little is left of this experiment but widespread doctrines, which just fit too neatly. I wonder how much previous knowledge affected his experience or how much posterior interpretations transversed it and I got the feeling he didn’t quite catch it in its uniqueness, or as he would said, suchness.

28 Comments

  1. An interesting and thoughtful take on the book, it’s a while since I read it, but I remember some of the problems you talk about. I think the flaws you’re describing can be a result of the drugs he’s taking – easy to get caught up in ideas, or to half finish thoughts when your brain is all mashed up. Easy to think a tiny thought explains the entire universe too, because that is how it can feel.

    • Thank you very much! What a wonderful sentence – a tiny thought that explains the entire universe! It did feel exactly like that.
      I’m not sure though if it was for the drugs or his specific intention – he took this drug under surveillance to see in what ways it can broaden the everyday experience. I didn’t mention that in the review, because the scope of his application was out of proportion nevertheless!
      Also, he wrote so many brilliant books (have you read Point Counter Point maybe?) that every “normal” one might seem disappointing:)

      • I haven’t read Point Counter Point, is it good? He has some interesting thoughts, so I shall go and have a look for it…Seems you have also broadened my horizons 🙂 Have a delightful day!

  2. You have some interesting book selections here. It’s refreshing to see. Leave it to Huxley to explore ancient categories of being, art, and religion in one work. I haven’t read this one, but I enjoyed reading your review. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you very much!:) I will keep it random (or as you would say, refreshing) 🙂 I hope you’ll find the time and read some Huxley, he’s a great writer otherwise.

  3. Thanks for the follow! I know I will enjoy yours as well, if this post is a good indicator.

    My own experiences of mescaline in the 70’s were notable chiefly for their effect the following day: my face would hurt from having smiled so much! 😃

  4. Sounds like Huxley was advocating for some mescaline use! This books sounds interesting but I would never be able to understand it! My connection to the universe is tenuous at best. 🕴🕴🕴

  5. Thanks for following my blog Frona! I very much enjoyed this review; thinking of reading this book now… 😊

  6. I read the book over 40 years ago. At that time it was a seminal work in exploring alternate states of consciousness. What I enjoyed about it is exactly his conceptual observations and interpretations of the experience. It was a personal journey but done in a seemingly detached, way. Doors of Perception was in its own way a doorway into that world.

    • Maybe I didn’t judge it fairly, since I didn’t pay attention to the chronological order – I heard that this book was groundbreaking, but after knowing the idea behind it so well even before reading it (I believe many copied it and made it widely known), it didn’t seem so special anymore..It is similar with many of the classics, when all you can think of is “I’ve heard it all before”, but forget that what’s in front of you is exactly the reason why this is so.

  7. I like your idea that he’s expanded a single subjective experiment into a treatise on so many theories and themes. It’s a long time since I read it, so I can’t remember, but did he state his scope and intentions at the start, or wander into them without introduction?

    • He did state it quite clearly, if I remember correctly. He also took this drug for exactly such (or similar) scientific purposes. But I still think his intentions were somehow on shaky grounds to begin with. My main concern was that though I’m sure drugs do broaden one’s experience, it is doubtful that they show anything more realistically – except of course the possible states of one’s consciousness.

      • Writers will write subjective experiences, though whether they base objective claims on them is another thing. And they sometimes draw on a range of other materials when writing on their chosen subject. Whether these materials count as ‘evidence’, assuming that’s the claim, is another thing too. I vaguely remember him referencing all kinds of mystic stuff didn’t he?
        The bit I remember clearly was his fascination with the corduroy of his trouser leg. I read this when I was an art student who regularly got fascinated with the things I drew. No drugs necessary. In fact, they’d have likely made me put my pencil down, fall asleep, and draw nothing.

        • Haha, I think that’s the part I loved the most as well. I think it goes on to describing draperies in baroque paintings, why they tell more then one’d guessed, that which was very interesting indeed.
          Yes, mixing subjective and objective claims always bothers me, but I guess we all do that, you’re right, there’s a very thin line between the two. He did mention some mystical stuff, I think mesculine was used in some native tribes.. Which just calls for mysticism:)

  8. Thanks for following my blog. I have read only one Huxley book, Brave New World. The edition I read had a forward by the author written some years after initial publication and described how he would write the book differently if he was writing it later in his life. Perhaps he would do the same thing with this book.

    • fronaness@gmail.com

      March 22, 2017 at 11:46 am

      Thank you very much for visiting mine:) If I’m not mistaken, this drug-related experience made him change his perspective and Brave New World Revisited was influenced by it.

  9. It sounds very interesting! Reading Brave New World made me question a lot of my opinions, The Doors of Perception sounds like it might be worth a read, too.

    • fronaness@gmail.com

      April 16, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      It is, I highly recommend all of his works:) Thank you for your kind comment, I hope you do read it.

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