The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

by Aldous Huxley

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In the early 1950s, distinguished novelist Aldous Huxley ingested mescaline and wrote about the experience in The Doors of Perception. For Timothy Leary, the Merry Pranksters, Jim Morrison (who named the Doors after the book), and a whole generation of psychedelic seekers, Huxley's account became an essential touchstone.

Today, Huxley's insights into the psychedelic experience remain as fresh and provocative as ever. By taking mescaline, he hoped to experience, from the inside out, the sort of visionary mysticism that inspired artists such as William Blake. What Huxley discovered was something else altogether. Instead of a luminous inner world, he found himself transcending his own consciousness and becoming one with the outer world, where everything -- the desk, the chair, the flower vase -- "shone with an Inner Light and was infinite in its significance."

Huxley concluded that although psychedelic drugs did not offer enlightenment as to life's ultimate purpose, they could open the door to self-transcendence, offering a sacramental vision of everyday reality akin to the Catholic concept of "gratuitous grace." Lambasting his contemporaries' lack of curiosity about mescaline's potential as a spiritual catalyst, he worte, "The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same man who wnet out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance but better equipped to understand the relationship of words to hings, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780586044377
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 02/28/1977
Pages: 144

About the Author

Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) is the author of the classic novels Brave New World, Island, Eyeless in Gaza, and The Genius and the Goddess, as well as such critically acclaimed nonfiction works as The Perennial Philosophy and The Doors of Perception. Born in Surrey, England, and educated at Oxford, he died in Los Angeles, California.

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The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

Chapter One

It was in 1886 that the German pharmacologist, Louis Lewin, published the first systematic study of the cactus, to which his own name was subsequently given. Anhalonium Lewinii was new to science. To primitive religion and the Indians of Mexico and the American Southwest it was a friend of immemorially long standing. Indeed, it was much more than a friend. In the words of one of the early Spanish visitors to the New World, "they eat a root which they call peyote, and which they venerate as though it were a deity."

Why they should have venerated it as a deity became apparent when such eminent psychologists as Jaensch, Havelock Ellis and Weir Mitchell began their experiments with mescalin, the active principle of peyote. True, they stopped short at a point well this side of idolatry; but all concurred in assigning to mescalin a position among drugs of unique distinction. 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.

Mescalin research has been going on sporadically ever since the days of Lewin and Havelock Ellis. Chemists have not merely isolated the alkaloid; they have learned how to synthesize it, so that the supply no longer depends on the sparse and intermittent crop of a desert cactus. Alienists have dosed themselves with mescalin in the hope thereby of coming to a better, a first-hand, understanding of their patients' mental processes. Working unfortunately upon too few subjects within too narrow a range of circumstances, psychologists have observed and cataloguedsome of the drug's more striking effects. Neurologists and physiologists have found out something about the mechanism of its action upon the central nervous system. And at least one professional philosopher has taken mescalin for the light it may throw on such ancient, unsolved riddles as the place of mind in nature and the relationship between brain and consciousness.

There matters rested until, two or three years ago, a new and perhaps highly significant fact was observed. Actually the fact had been staring everyone in the face for several decades; but nobody, as it happened, had noticed it until a young English psychiatrist, at present working in Canada, was struck by the 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. Then came the discovery that 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. Certain of these changes are similar to those which occur in that most characteristic plague of the twentieth century, schizophrenia. Is the mental disorder due to a chemical disorder? And is the chemical disorder due, in its turn, to psychological distresses affecting the adrenals? It would be rash and premature to affirm it. The most we can say is that some kind of a prima facie case has been made out. Meanwhile the clue is being systematically followed, the sleuths—biochemists, psychiatrists, psychologists—are on the trail.

By a series of, for me, extremely fortunate circumstances I found myself, in the spring of 1953, squarely athwart that trail. One of the sleuths had come on business to California. In spite of seventy years of mescalin research, the psychological material at his disposal was still absurdly inadequate, and he was anxious to add to it. I was on the spot and willing, indeed eager, to be a guinea pig. Thus it came about that, one bright May morning, I swallowed four-tenths of a gram of mescaline dissolved in half a glass of water and sat down to wait for the results.

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.

Most island universes are sufficiently like one another to permit of inferential understanding or even of mutual empathy or "feeling into." Thus, remembering our own bereavements and humiliations, we can condole with others in analogous circumstances, can put ourselves (always, of course, in a slightly Pickwickian sense) in their places. But in certain cases communication between universes is incomplete or even nonexistent. 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. Words are uttered, but fail to enlighten. The things and events to which the symbols refer belong to mutually exclusive realms of experience.

To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves. But what if these others belong to a different species and inhabit a radically alien universe? For example, how can the sane get to know what it actually feels like to be mad? Or, short of being born again as a visionary, a medium, or a musical genius, how can we ever visit the worlds which, to Blake, to Swedenborg, to Johann Sebastian Bach, were home? And how can a man at the extreme limits of . . .

The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Copyright © by Aldous Huxley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
sarahtakash on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was good- but pretty matter-of-fact. I felt as though he was just recounting what he did. It was interesting, but nothing novel or inspirational for me- probably because I had already known.
Curtisclennon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reads like no other book - mesmerising! The title incidently, is where the band 'The Doors' took their name from.
andyray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As did AA co-founder Bill Wilson and former senator Eugene MacCarthy and Ram Doss and manyh others, Huxley writes of the experience of ingesting mescalinl, also known as peyote, a drug that southwest American natives have used for eons as a spiritual aid. he explained things that put its proper use into place for me. When I was raging and thinking hurtful things, if I had dropped that or LSD then I would have had a "bad trip," but now that I have a serene heart and a loving soul, I want to have some; i want the experience.
TakeItOrLeaveIt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
anyone who has interest in the future and everyone who has experimented with acid or psychedelic drugs in general must this book (preferably before the drugs)
carlym on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Huxley's theory is that the mind takes in all sorts of incredible experiences but that it then filters those (through what he calls the "reducing valve") into what we're conscious of. In the first part of the book, The Doors of Perception, he experiments with peyote. He has a psychiatrist present and records everything he says, so the account of his actions and experiences is presumably reliable. This part of the book was highly entertaining. He is fascinated by details like chair legs, and he sees cosmic significance in them. He also advocates allowing the use of peyote over alcohol and tobacco because he thinks it has fewer downsides (and because he thinks people will always seek some kind of drug-induced escape from their lives). In the second part of the book, Heaven and Hell, he talks about "transporting" artwork--stained glass, jewels, and certain kinds of paintings. He thinks that the colors and ways of representing landscapes are similar to what people experience when they have visions of an "other world" or heaven, and we like these because they give us a glimpse of that world. He also argues that while for most visionaries the visions are blissful, for some, like schizophrenics, visions of this other world are terrifying and hellish. At the end, he includes a couple of short sections on the various ways to have visions--carbon dioxide, strobe lights, fasting, etc. I thought his comments on fasting were really interesting. He speculates that people in earlier times had more religious visions because they were malnourished and engaged in more religious fasting, and the lack of vitamins affects brain chemistry enough that the "reducing valve" is opened to allow for visionary experiences. I read the more scientific sections with skepticism because I'm not sure Huxley is a reliable source, but the book is nonetheless interesting and often entertaining.
VVilliam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting read, although very lacking in parts. I enjoyed Doors of Perception quite a bit, and found Huxley's insights onto mystic visions and their relation to religion insightful. He also does a nice job giving the feeling of experiencing mescalin with him. Heave and Hell, however, was very dissappointing. I felt that most of his claims were ill founded and that he made several leaps in logic that weren't valid (like religious singing's purpose is to expel oxygen to create visions). Huxley is also very much an art scholar, so familiarity with various art styles is a must. The appendixes are worth a read as well. I would recommend this book to someone interested in how visions/drug experiences are reflected in art and the social conscience.
juliana_t on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed Huxley's perspective as a research subject experiencing the effects of mescalin for the first time. Also enjoyed the description of art/artists and how Huxley sees art history as connected to the visionary experience of a 'mescalin taker.'
drwhy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Huxley's fascinating account of LSD experimentation in the early 1950's.......Title of his book was taken as a nameby the Rock group, "The Doors of Perception"
autumnc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Careful- the Doors of Perception is a life-changer.
jwcs81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Huxley's "The Doors of Perception" is one of the most interesting books i've encountered. Obviously, its notable for its account of an experiment with the drug mescalin, found in peyote. The fundamental notion of the work is that the mind acts, in its most normal and evolved state, as a "reducing valve." The world of perception is way too intense for one mind to encounter so it seeks to reduce experiences as a need for survival. A drug induced experience allows for the opening of said "reducing valve" ushering in opportunities to see things "isness" and "suchness." I found it particularly interesting that Huxleys suggested that the increase in drug use is in direct relationship to the lack of "transcendance" provided by organized religion. A shortcoming Huxley thinks the church should be addressing. I found this book to be interesting, informative, and challenging. All symptoms of a good read.
pancakekiller on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
could huxley get any better? i think not.
vyode on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"the doors..." changed the way i look at things [ like black moon (movie) ]. "heaven hell" brings to mind jewels. i am thankful for the former.
hennis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting read about how a great writer experiences mescalin. Second part (heaven and hell), I found less interesting. Appendices are interesting again..
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Originally published as two separate pieces, 'Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell' are a must for anyone wanting to know more about hallucigens and the experience that goes along with them. What could be better? Getting to go on a first-hand experience 'trip' without the dangers. Thought provoking and at times irritating and disturbing, Huxley's real contribution to literature is DOORS and not his other works.