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The Doors of Perception

ALDOUS HUXLEY
1954

  • Mescalin is the active principle of peyotl. Administered in suitable doses, it changes the quality of consciousness more profoundly and yet is less toxic than any other substance in the pharmacologist’s repertory.
  • There is a close similarity, in chemical composition, between mescalin and adrenalin. Further research revealed that lysergic acid, an extremely potent hallucinogen derived from ergot, has a structural biochemical relationship to the others. Adrenochrome, which is a product of the decomposition of adrenalin, can produce many of the symptoms observed in mescalin intoxication. But adrenochrome probably occurs spontaneously in the human body. In other words, each one of us may be capable of manufacturing a chemical, minute doses of which are known to cause profound changes in consciousness.
  • We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes. Communication between universes is incomplete or even non-existent. The mind is its own place, and the places inhabited by the insane and the exceptionally gifted are so different from the places where ordinary men and women live, that there is little or no common ground of memory to serve as a basis for understanding or fellow feeling.
  • Only when I have a high temperature do my mental images come to independent life.
  • The other world to which mescalin admitted me was not the world of visions; it existed out there, in what I could see with my eyes open. The great change was in the realm of objective fact.
  • ‘Is it agreeable?’ somebody asked. ‘Neither agreeable nor disagreeable,’ I answered. ‘It just is.’
  • What I noticed, what impressed itself upon my mind was the fact that all of them glowed with living light and that in some the glory was more manifest than in others. In this context, position and the three dimensions were beside the point. The mind was primarily concerned, not with measures and locations, but with being and meaning.
  • 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 most of 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. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funnelled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve. In others temporary by-passes may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate ‘spiritual exercises,’ or through hypnosis, or by means of drugs. The brain is provided with a number of enzyme systems which serve to co-ordinate its workings. Some of these enzymes regulate the supply of glucose to the brain cells. Mescalin inhibits the production of these enzymes and thus lowers the amount of glucose available to an organ that is in constant need of sugar.
  • What happens to the majority of the few who have taken mescalin under supervision can be summarized as follows:
    • The ability to remember and to ‘think straight’ is little if at all reduced.
    • Visual impressions are greatly intensified and the eye recovers some of the perceptual innocence of childhood
    • Interest in space is diminished and interest in time falls almost to zero.
    • Though the intellect remains unimpaired and though perception is enormously improved, the will suffers a profound change for the worse.
    • Better things to think about may be experienced ‘out there,’ or ‘in here,’ or in both worlds, the inner and the outer, simultaneously or successively.
  • Mescalin raises all colours to a higher power and makes the percipient aware of innumerable fine shades of difference, to which, at ordinary times, he is completely blind.
  • What the rest of us see only under the influence of mescalin, the artist is congenitally equipped to see all the time. His perception is not limited to what is biologically or socially useful.
  • There is no form of contemplation, even the most quietistic, which is without its ethical values. Half at least of all morality is negative and consists in keeping out of mischief.
  • The body does look after itself. All that the conscious ego can do is to formulate wishes, which are then carried out by forces which it controls very little and understands not at all. When it does anything more – when it tries too hard, for example, when it worries, when it becomes apprehensive about the future – it lowers the effectiveness of those forces and may even cause the devitalized body to fall ill.
  • Most takers of mescalin experience only the heavenly part of schizophrenia. The drug brings hell and purgatory only to those who have had a recent case of jaundice, or who suffer from periodical depressions or a chronic anxiety.
  • The problems raised by alcohol and tobacco cannot, it goes without saying, be solved by prohibition. What is needed is a new drug which will relieve and console our suffering species without doing more harm in the long run than it does good in the short. Such a drug must be potent in minute doses and synthesizable. If it does not possess these qualities, its production, like that of wine, beer, spirits and tobacco will interfere with the raising of indispensable food and fibres. It must be less toxic than opium or cocaine, less likely to produce undesirable social consequences than alcohol or the barbiturates, less inimical to heart and lungs than the tars and nicotine of cigarettes. And, on the positive side, it should produce changes in consciousness more interesting, more intrinsically valuable than mere sedation or dreaminess, delusions of omnipotence or release from inhibition.
  • The urge to transcend self-conscious selfhood is, as I have said, a principal appetite of the soul. Countless persons desire self-transcendence and would be glad to find it in church. They take part in rites, they listen to sermons, they repeat prayers; but their thirst remains unassuaged. Disappointed, they turn to the bottle.
  • Systematic reasoning is something we could not, as a species or as individuals, possibly do without. But neither, if we are to remain sane, can we possibly do without direct perception, the more unsystematic the better, of the inner and outer worlds into which we have been born.
  • To be enlightened is to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness – to be aware of it and yet to remain in a condition to survive as an animal, to think and feel as a human being, to resort whenever expedient to systematic reasoning.
  • I
Heaven and Hell
  • Some hypnotic subjects are transported, in the trance state, to a region in the mind’s antipodes, where they find strange psychological creatures leading an autonomous existence according to the law of their own being.
  • About the physiological effects of mescalin we know it interferes with the enzyme system that regulates cerebral functioning, and it lowers the efficiency of the brain as an instrument for focusing mind on the problems of life. This seems to permit the entry into consciousness of certain classes of mental events, which are normally excluded, because they possess no survival value.
  • Similar intrusions of biologically useless, but aesthetically and sometimes spiritually valuable material may occur as the result of illness or fatigue; or they may be induced by fasting, or a period of confinement in a place of darkness and complete silence. By reducing the amount of available sugar, fasting lowers the brain’s biological efficiency and so makes possible the entry into consciousness of material possessing no survival value. Moreover, by causing a vitamin deficiency, it removes from the blood that known inhibitor of visions, nicotinic acid. Another inhibitor of visionary experience is ordinary, everyday, perceptual experience. If you confine a man to a ‘restricted environment,’ where there is no light, no sound, nothing to smell and, if you put him in a tepid bath with only one, almost imperceptible thing to touch, the victim will very soon start ‘seeing things,’ ‘hearing things’ and having strange bodily sensations.
  • The experiences encountered under the influence of mescalin or deep hypnosis are certainly strange; but they are strange with a certain regularity, strange according to a pattern. Everything seen by those who visit the mind’s antipodes is brilliantly illuminated and seems to shine from within. All colours are intensified to a pitch far beyond anything seen in the normal state, and at the same time the mind’s capacity for recognizing fine distinctions of tone and hue is notably heightened. The typical mescalin or lysergic acid experience begins with perceptions of coloured, moving, living geometrical forms. In time, pure geometry becomes concrete, and the visionary perceives patterned things, such as carpets, carvings, mosaics. These give place to vast and complicated buildings, in the midst of landscapes, which change continuously, passing from richness to more intensely coloured richness. Heroic figures may make their appearance, alone or in multitudes. Fabulous animals move across the scene. Everything is novel and amazing. Almost never does the visionary see anything that reminds him of his own past. He is not remembering scenes, persons or objects, and he is not inventing them; he is looking on at a new creation. Most paradises are adorned with buildings, and, like the trees, the waters, the hills and fields, these buildings are bright with gems. Similar descriptions are to be found in the eschatological literature of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Heaven is always a place of gems. Precious stones are precious because they bear a faint resemblance to the glowing marvels seen with the inner eye of the visionary.
  • The more than human inhabitants of these far-off regions are the psychological originals of those beings who, in the theology of every religion, serve as intermediaries between man and the Clear Light. They never do anything. They are content merely to exist. To be busy is the law of our being. The law of theirs is to do nothing. The sculptured figures have one characteristic in common: a profound stillness. And it is precisely this which gives them their numinous quality, their power to transport the beholder out of the Old World of his everyday experience, far away, towards the visionary antipodes of the human psyche.
  • The vast landscape is emptiness and silence. This revelation of the wilderness, living its own life according to the laws of its own being, transports the mind towards its antipodes; When we look very near or very far, man either vanishes altogether or loses his primacy.
  • When the visionary experience is terrible and the world is transfigured for the worse, individualization is intensified and the negative visionary finds himself associated with a body that seems to grow progressively more dense, more tightly packed, until he finds himself at last reduced to being the agonized consciousness of an inspissated lump of matter, no bigger than a stone that can be held between the hands. The negative visionary experience may be induced by purely psychological means. Fear and anger bar the way it is faith, or loving confidence, which guarantees that visionary experience shall be blissful. Negative emotions – the fear which is the absence of confidence, the hatred, anger or malice which exclude love – are the guarantee that visionary experience, if and when it comes, shall be appalling.
  • Visionary experience is not the same as mystical experience. Mystical experience is beyond the realm of opposites. Visionary experience is still within that realm.
  • Two other less effective aids to visionary experience include carbon dioxide and the stroboscopic lamp.
  • A mixture (completely non-toxic) of seven parts of oxygen and three of carbon dioxide produces a marked enhancement of the ability to ‘see things,’ when the eyes are closed. The chanting of the medicine-man, the shaman; the endless psalm-singing and sutra-intoning of Christian and Buddhist monks; the shouting and howling, hour after hour, of revivalists; the psychochemico-physiological intention remains constant. To increase the concentration of CO2 in the lungs and blood and so to lower the efficiency of the cerebral reducing valve. This is the real purpose and point of magic spells, of mantrams, litanies, psalms and sutras.
  • With the stroboscopic lamp its rhythmically flashing light seems to act directly, through the optic nerves, on the electrical manifestations of the brain’s activity. There is always a slight danger involved persons may go into a full-blown epileptic fit. No sooner is the lamp turned on than the most brilliantly coloured patterns make themselves visible. These patterns are not static, but change incessantly. The interference of two or more rhythms – the rhythm of the lamp and the various rhythms of the brain’s electrical activity - may be translated by the visual centre and optic nerves into something, of which the mind becomes conscious as a coloured, moving pattern.
  • The Western world visionaries and mystics are a good deal less common than they used to be. It is not only our mental climate that is unfavourable to the visionary and the mystic; it is also our chemical environment. For almost half of every year our ancestors ate no fruit, no green vegetables. By the beginning of each successive spring, most of them were suffering, mildly or acutely, from scurvy, due to lack of vitamin C, and pellagra, caused by a shortage in their diet of the B complex. The distressing physical symptoms of these diseases are associated with no less distressing psychological symptoms. The undernourished person tends to be afflicted by anxiety, depression, hypochondria and feelings of anxiety. He is also liable to see visions; Every mediaeval winter was a long involuntary fast, and this involuntary fast was followed, during Lent, by forty days of voluntary abstinence. Holy Week found the faithful marvellously well prepared, so far as their body chemistry was concerned, for its tremendous incitements to grief and joy, for seasonable remorse of conscience and a self-transcending identification with the risen Christ. Ecstasies and visions were almost a commonplace.
  • It is a matter of historical record that most contemplatives worked systematically to modify their body chemistry, with a view to creating the internal conditions favourable to spiritual insight. Starving themselves, beating themselves into intoxication by histamine, adrenalin and decomposed protein, cultivating insomnia and praying for long periods in uncomfortable positions, in order to create the psycho-physical symptoms of stress. They sang interminable psalms, thus increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the lungs and the blood-stream, breathing exercises.
  • Today we know how to lower the efficiency of the cerebral reducing valve by direct chemical action, and without the risk of inflicting serious damage on the psycho-physical organism.

These notes were taken from Aldous' book.
Find out more about the book at Wikipedia


© 2020 Cedric Joyce