How Huxley Can Save Your Life

In 1953, Aldous Huxley took 0.4 grams of mescalin — a hallucinogen derived from the Peyote cactus. What he felt and saw is described in an account titled the Doors of Perception, first published in 1954. I attempt to draw out and elaborate on two main ideas put forth in the text. Ideas that can save your life.

(Page 3)From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.

“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.”

This idea touched on by Aldous Huxley is suitably the first, as it gives the reader an insight into the mental and emotional state of the writer. Every day we go about our lives, interacting with other “island universes”, acting out this charade of commonality and understanding. However, despite how close and intimate our relationships with others might be, there will always be a void.

When we think, our brains often think in terms of visual images. Colours, feelings and emotions are attached to those images. Yet it is with symbols, our man made languages, that we attempt to communicate our thoughts and feelings to others. Is it possible that words could be sufficient to describe those most intimate and instinctual images our mind creates?

“ Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies — all these are private, and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable.”

Take for example, a multi lingual person who is brought up speaking one language, such as Cantonese. And upon moving to a different country, are forced to learn a different language, like English, and communicate using different symbols than those originally relied upon.

How much is lost in translation? We could argue that a language as broad and diverse as English is more than capable of expressing any phrase or idea in Chinese. However speak to enough people for whom English is not their native tongue, and you will find this is often not the case. Many a conversation between two different races has stalled at: “Um, how do you say…?”

“Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he or she has been born…”

Each of us lead a life of unique solitude in our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Which may account for a lot of the conflicts in our lives: with our partners, relatives, friends, children etc. And in a broader view, those issues in society between different social classes, ethnic groups, even the two sexes.

(Page 10)The function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive.

“In so far as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet.

The idea that our brains function in such a way that all we take in through our eyes; the room in front of us and the objects in that space, is what our brains deem as important — for our survival. This spatial awareness is intensely inbuilt as humans that we often take for granted the world around us. Rarely do we pause and gaze at a spot on the floor, and often our first thought regarding said spot is whether it is a spider, or dirt, or something that requires our attention. When it is no more than perhaps the natural darkening of the wooden floorboards. Nothing important.

“I was looking at my furniture, not as the utilitarian who has to sit on chairs, to write at desks and tables, and not as the camera-man or scientific recorder, but as the pure aesthete whose concern is only with forms and their relationships within the field of vision or the picture space.”

Our awareness is so suffocating that many revert to hallucinogenic drugs to escape into the nether regions of the subconscious, to coax out what is buried deep within us into the light.Why do we buy art for our homes if not to pause and admire its beauty? Or congregate at beaches, mountain summits, cliffs, waterfalls and other nature spaces?

What, if we were to simply open our eyes, like an infant who knows nothing, but sees everything, could we gain from the world around us?