The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

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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

Overview

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."

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
Huxley's challenge is forcibly put...the ideas are freshly and prodigally presented.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060900076
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/01/1990
Pages:
185
Product dimensions:
5.33(w) x 8.03(h) x 0.48(d)

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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.

Meet 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 Devils of Loudun, The Doors of Perception, and The Perennial Philosophy. Born in Surrey, England, and educated at Oxford,he died in Los Angeles, California.

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Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A good book if you find your self asking, 'why,' it may alter the way you think a little bit. it did for me, though i bought it becouse i love 'the doors' its a good book all by itself without knowing 'the doors' history.....B.A.T. age 16
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! Recommended to anyone and everyone who has ever enjoyed Blake or Dante. Great read. Oh and by the way, Jen, The Doors did get their name from the quote 'the doors of perception,' but that was from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (also an excellent read I might add).
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I heard that the rock group, 'The Doors' took their name from this book, I took immediate interest in reading it. I was very glad that I decided to read this book. It was by far the most spiritual book I have ever read. I felt very peaceful after reading it. I plan on reading it again and again. Aldous Huxley describes his experience with mescalin. I especially liked his descriptions of the world. It seemed as if he was describing the world from 2 different perspectives. One was a hellish state of mind in which infinity seemed tiring. It was like life was nothing more than doing the same boring routine day in and day out. Another view was a heavenly state of mind. Huxley described the infinite beauty of the world and the colors. It really made me think that the heavenly state of mind was the way we should all look at the world, and all the time too. Not only when we're on mescalin! That's another thing-I have tried many hallucingenic drugs, but not mescalin. This made me really want to try it. Hah.
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite¿, a quote made famous by William Blake is used by Aldous Huxley to create a beginning to the journey the book, The Doors of Perception/ Heaven and Hell, takes you on. The book is about the effects mescalin and other hallucinogens have on the mind and how the mind perceives reality while under the influence of them. Huxley directs most of his thoughts in The Doors of Perception to the effects of mescalin in which he experienced himself in order to write the book. He explains that ¿mescalin raises all colors to a higher power and makes the percipient aware of innumerable fine shades of difference, to which, at ordinary times, he is completely blind¿ (27); meaning it isn¿t so much that you are seeing things you normally wouldn¿t, the colors are just illuminated and a brighter color than normal. In Heaven and Hell, Huxley writes about how if you are forever in this heaven-like environment, meaning you are under the influence of mescalin or a like hallucinogen in everyday life, you may find yourself lost in a hell-like environment; not in a ¿high¿ state but in a realm of what used to be a normal ¿come-down¿. I enjoyed The Doors of Perception because the writer went to extreme measures to research this lesser known hallucinogen. The book was packed with information about the drug and its immediate and long-term effects on the human brain. Though the book was educational, I also enjoyed it because it identified with a culture I have always been interested in: the hippies. I learned more about this historically eventful drug than in any other book I have read on it. I enjoyed Heaven and Hell because it helped me gain more insight into the mind of one who is trapped in a ¿Purgatory¿ of sorts. What I didn¿t like about the book is that is got to be a bit wordy at times, when the writer would focus on something painfully obvious. Some parts of the book failed t differ from other parts but in the end made the book entirely come together.
Guest More than 1 year ago
the doors of perception allowed me to see things in a new way i read it once and noticed these changes in how i saw things i red it a second time and the world semed much more butiful i would recomend it to anyone who whants to expand there outlook on life and the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In reading books as this one is tempted to believe that Millan Astray, the fanatical general in Spanish Civil War who cried ¿Death to the intelligence¿ was at last rigth. We see; here are Aldous Huxley, a man withouth material worries. He writes good works and this is a sample. But the trouble is his point of view about life, because for him, ¿normal life is limited, grey and few interesting¿. So he needs mezcalin to enlive life. I think this is something as these people that needs dangerous sports, racing, climbing or the Russian Roulette because Huxley knows this drug approaches normal human mind to the state of madmen, schizofrenics or mystics or anchorites because the effects of starvation, isolation autopunishment, etc. Spanish San Juan de la Cruz, one of the best poets knew these very well. The question is if these experiences are well worth. I think not much and mostly an experience in dilettantism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many think the univers is comprised of a total benevolent force. Think agian - huxely, nor I agree with this tired out hippy myth. In this book Huxely takes you beyong all clechyes of soul, and reality, offering up actual knolege of the human psyich. If you disagree with this master piece either you failed to understand, or your head is cemented with ideas constucted in fuzzy logic. I'll stake my life on that one!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Huxley crosses psychology and science with mysticism in this pair of essays. Based upon psychology, Huxley argues that there is a 'shutting off valve' in the brain, restricting humans from the whole of reality. But this valve can be temporaralily opened, allowing humans to take in the whole world around them. From mescalin to bright lighting, humans can open the valve and experience all that reality has to offer. These experiences and are necessary for religious and mystical well-being. An intriguing look into the limited scope of human perception, destroying and promoting religious experience, and providing and insightful view into the human experience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that the book was great. Doors of Perception was the best book I have ever read. Aldous Huxley is one of the best authors.Eventhough the book was really short it really made me think. I loved this book and I read it like 2000 times!