249 of 256 people found the following review helpful
In the first half of the book, DOORS OF PERCEPTION--originally a separate volume--Huxley offers a cogent and erudite argument for the use hallucinogens (specifically, mescaline) as a means for opening up the thinking mind to new ideas and perceptions, or even as a method for jumpstarting human creativity in the common man. Not only does he offer compelling historical precedents and sound medical research, but he also reveals positive details about his own personal experimentation with the drug. As is always the case with Huxley's essays, his various hypotheses are very articulately expressed and not easily dismissed.
The second part of the book, HEAVEN AND HELL--also originally published separately--Huxley introduces the idea that spiritual insight and personal revelation can also be achieved through the use of hallucinogens. (By the time he had written this volume, Huxley had added LSD to his psychedelic repertoire.) While just as articulately written and researched as the first volume, the idea that religious insight can be gained through drugs may offend some readers (theists and atheists alike), and the premise seems odd and contrived or expedient (was he trying to gain support of the clergy?) coming from a generally non-theist thinker-philosopher such as Huxley. Nevertheless, it is still thought-provoking reading for both professionals and amateurs interested in the positive potential of mind-altering drugs.
134 of 143 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2006
Huxley's `experiment' in The Doors of Perception was a right of passage for many in my generation, and it's interesting to have such an intelligent analysis of the experience. He does waste a lot of words on something that is indescribable, but it seems to have been written in the first blush of excitement. And Huxley makes some very sound observations, as well, that have probably helped many people reconcile their own indescribable experiences.
His conclusion that Mescalin and Lysergic Acid are relatively harmless for people in good health with an untroubled mind is probably objectionable today, especially among people who have never tried them. Looked at objectively, however, I wonder how this conclusion has stood the test of time. For myself, I believe he underestimated the long-term psychological challenges that cleansing those doors poses.
I remember something I read long ago from Philip K. Dick saying how difficult life is after you've seen God's face. The realization afterwards that you'd been forced back to a colorless, banal existence - a prison, if I recall the sense of what Dick wrote - must surely be considered one of the long-term psychological challenges that Huxley could not have fully appreciated when he wrote this book.
The feeling of being a prisoner in the normal world of perceptions might conceivably result in a hunger to return often to that `Antipodes of the mind' which, if felt too keenly, could cause permanent damage to be done to the mind's function as a `limiting valve.' This suggests to me that blaming acid casualties on a `troubled mind' may not be wholly satisfactory: some people choose to pack up their belongings and move to an island in Huxley's Antipodes, and these people can't always continue to function in the society their bodies continue to inhabit.
But the situation is complex: whether these `immigrants to the Antipodes' can continue to cope in the normal world is surely also a function of the society they live in. An American Indian tribe in the 1800's or Amsterdam today probably offer the mental émigré more of a chance for social survival than Riyadh, for example. One of the strengths of this book is to provide a good line of reasoning that explains why this might be true.
Heaven and Hell follows the extended, and appropriate, Blake reference. But to me this essay feels more like a long article you'd find in a magazine written by a cocky critic. Sure, there's much erudition on display and many valid aesthetic points are made; but the spirit behind it feels naïve: like many of the new ideas and associations that had formed in his mind hadn't had a chance to mellow and mature.
On the other hand, what seem like random observations to me may form a pattern I just didn't pick up on. Huxley was a smart cookie, and I wouldn't presume to speak authoritatively on his shortcomings.
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2002
"The Doors of Perception" is probably the most popular non-fiction work on the subject of psychedelic experiences; it is based on first account records of the author's decision to experiment the consequences of intake of small amounts of mescalin, in an attempt to reach enlightenment and escape world's boredom. Being who he was, the result is a very interesting narrative in which the author expands on his not only scientific but also philosophical, religious, and artistic ideas.
The philosopher C.D.Broad suggested that our brains are genetically programmed to screen perceptions, selecting only those that are necessary for survival. By doing so, humans close the doors to what Huxley calls "Mind-at-Large," thereby loosing access to the world of unconsciousness and wonder. Only through the use of chemical substances can a human being free himself from his inherited limitations, experience the realms of supernaturally brilliant visionary experiences, and obtain total freedom from the ego. In this new stage of consciousness, spatial and time relationships cease to exist, whilst intensity, profundity of significance are augmented. Our everyday reliance on language petrifies perception because "however expressive, symbols can never be the things they stand for." There is a need for a less exclusively verbal system of education and "an occasional trip through some chemical Door in the Wall!"
Huxley's work is highly controversial and paradoxical. How are we to develop a science of perception if our language is not equipped to express that same perception? How are we to explain the differences in reaction to mescalin intake, ranging from peaceful and mystical to schizophrenic behavior? How are we to define individuals "with open minds and sound lives" who would be normally allowed to use chemical substances (drugs) with no risk involved? Let the reader keep in mind that this book was published back in 1954 and nowadays science is till dealing with these issues.
In order to give an anwer as to why individuals react differently to drug intake, Huxley worte "Heaven and Hell." According to him, for some "the ego doesn't melt like an iceberg in tropical waters, but expands to the point of suffocation;" only those who are free from negative emotions (fear, hatred, anger) have the door opened to visionary experience.
Aldous Huxley raises a number of interesting issues, not be taken as "chicken-soup for drugs," but rather as intellectual exercise for further thought and consideration as to what we most commonly refer to as "reality." His opinions and explanations may sometimes be considered "naive" and not fully elaborated, but merit goes to his audacity in exploring an area which to this day remains open to further understanding.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2002
This book is truly a classic. It has a timeless quality and youth-like enthusiasm. Mr. Huxley does such a superb job at capturing the "feel" of the whole experience. He weaves wonderful prose with intriguing ideas. Not being an avid art aficionado, I was left a bit daunted with the numerous art references, but overall he has left me with a newfound interest in art.
Huxley touches on some good questions concerning psychoactive substances (and general "chemical vacations") and perception. I am intrigued with his idea of the brain acting as a sort of "reducing valve" for the whole of what could be perceived (experiencing "mind at large"). It is surely a quick read, but still packed full of philosophy, little tidbits, history and a myriad of other such though provoking ideas.
A great quote: "The need for frequent chemical vacations from intolerable selfhood and repulsive surroundings will undoubtedly remain." And Huxley does a wonderful job at explaining why this is so. This is a must read for anyone trying to understand the whole why and what for of hallucinogens, or for the aspiring philosopher, the general curious about life, mystery, etc. It is a necessary read.
173 of 214 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2000
This is an interesting book -- it is really two books in one -- "The Doors of Perception", in which Huxely recalls his first experience using mescalin, and "Heaven and Hell", which is considerably more speculative. Of the two, the latter is by far the better book. The former deals mainly with the mescalin experience itself, which I can assure you, is impossible to convey in print. One caveat here for potential psychonauts, however: Read Wilson's account of his own mescalin experiment in his "Beyond the Outsider" as well as Sartre's experiment with the drug. How one reacts to the chemical depends wildly upon one's own personality. Most people will not react the way that Huxely did, as he tended to intellectualise the whole world -- to think instead of doing. One cannot expect a simply blissful experience regardless of one's state of mind and personality -- these are factors in the trip. Huxely took a small dose and never suffered from ego dissolution common with higher doses. If he had, he may have had a greater insight into the ideas that he used in his "Perennial Philosophy". The Hindoos of India used to use soma (a undetermined psychoactive similar to mescalin in its effects) to achieve a sort of cosmic consciousness in which one regards oneself as being at one with the Brahman, the all-pervading universal spirit. What he did not mention is that mystics from many religious traditions mention that they can often get into states very similar to mescalin-induced ecstasies via meditation, something that is infinitely preferable to ingesting a foreign substance, as it is not of much use unless reproducible at will. His ideas in the latter volume are more along these lines, although he does mention some things that could be dangerous. He suggests that most people could benefit from a "mescalin holiday". I totally disagree. For the more indulgent, it could prove a disaster. Huxely was a man of exquisite self-control; others who do not possess such control may be in for problems if introduced to such a powerful drug (the "Beat" Poets come to mind). Also, to many it would be merely unsettling and disturbing, while for others a means of escape from the real world. His speculations about the brain being "Mind At Large", to use Broad's term, is intriguing, but offers no evidence in support of it. The notions that most religious experiences being closely related to the mescalin experience may prove insightful, but as for now, most use this book as an excuse for irresponsible recreational drug use. Comical, pathetic, even absurd at points, it nevertheless makes a point that many others fail to grasp, which he should have used to more effect in the "Perennial Philosophy" -- that at the heart of religion and human life, is an experience of reality which the conscious mind conceptualises until the world and life is less of an experience than a symbol. Zen students may find this perspective quite enlightening. For a more detailed look at psychoactive experimentation, see R. H. Ward's "A Drug Taker's Notes" and the notes from William James' experiment with Nitrous Oxide. Also, for information on reproducing the mescalin experience at will, look into research on Kundalini yoga and tantrism.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
"the doors of perception" is an obscure little book by aldous huxley that, in my opinion, is one of his best. it is obvious that huxley is really reaching, however, and perhaps looking for metaphysical meaning where there really is none, although as a great man once said i am too skeptical to deny the possibility of anything. the beautiful and unique thing about this book is that you can practically feel huxley's passionate search for the underlying essence of the universe, and it is a real privilege to be allowed a peek into the mind of a man of genius in an altered and stimulated state. along with gerard de nerval's "aurelia", this book is probably the best 'hallucinatory' work ever written. references to blake, coleridge, and many of the other 'mystical poets' abound, and one can practically feel the author's near desperation for attainment of ultimate truth. for a short time during the book he becomes what the surly schopenhauer would have called "the free willless subject of knowledge" and is more interested in the magic and wonder of pure perception than that of engaged being. huxley's honesty is at times almost disconcerting, and he admits several times that for people of abnormally abundant intellect such as himself, the world becomes more of a symbolic concept than a lived reality and experience, and his drug experimentation was an attempt to temporarily escape this mental deadening and sterility. it is probably true that this book may have helped to inspire some illicit and destructive drug use, but the blame for that hardly lies with huxley himself. if i remember correctly he published an essay that discouraged recreational drug use a few years after writing this book, although i could be thinking of someone else. there is no similarity whatsoever between a self controlled, brilliant man like huxley attempting a fleeting transformation of consciousness for creative purposes and a perpetually stoned young hippie trying to 'get the on the magic carpet ride' for a few hours. his more hasty readers should read a book entitled "beyond the outsider" by scholar/philosopher colin wilson before they start popping mescaline or taking psychedelic drugs that they are not experienced with. wilson describes in agonizing detail his horrific experience with mescaline and makes the astute and accurate observation that most people are too neurotic and fearful to have a positive experience with the drug. all of that said, however, this is an absolute must read for anyone even mildly interested in philosophy, poetry, or mysticism.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2003
What does Zen, Hindu and various forms of meditation have in common with poor diet, fasting and starvation, with self inflicted body wounds that bring on infection, with chanting songs and poems that hyperventilate, with yogic breathing exercises? Cerebral Infarction, or as Huxley words as inhibiting the brain's cerebral reduction valve, draining the required glucose to maintain a filtered, that is a reduced amount, of reality to be perceived for the survival of the human species. Whether this science is empirically true or not, the connection is most certainly there. One can find such revelatory and hallucinogenic experiences in the Hindu Upishads and Vedas, the Old and New Testaments and all cultures which have mystical experiences. The Catholic mystics called this experience the "gratuitous grace."
Anotherwards, these various forms of ancient religious exercises were designed to allow greater portions of reality to be perceived "Mind at Large," by otherwise a limited and filtered human mind that only perceives limited amounts of reality. And both in ancient times with the use of etheogenic/hallucinogenic plants, and now in modern times with laboratory extraction and use of such plants this opening of perception (doors of perception) of the human mind, are opened to allow such beneficial observation.
According to Huxley, this is not an escape to utopia, nor an ultimate answer, however it is an experience that will ever change the human in a most beneficial way, where he will never quite be the same but will have a newer and deeper understanding of art, creativity and perception as never before. Not as a simple recreational tool, but an advancement for the intellectual.
I agree with his assessment.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2003
This book is in the top three mind-expanding reads I've indulged in. The kind of book which made me question the reality I knew. And at the same time, it reminded me of my "oneness" with sights, sounds and ideas around me. Aldous Huxley's writing style took me to a place I'd been to before. And explained to me the beauty of it in a way which blew my mind.
I highly recommend it for fans of psychedelia and new age ideas.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2004
It is from this book that Jim Morrison's band's name was taken. Hopefully, that should be enough to garner the opening of pages.
If not, then the idea of a book that, at its essence, is an acid trip should draw at least a certain audience. Huxley's cutting edge ideas move well within the bound of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but his presentation is fearless. The man does what few of his time dared to do...question the solidarity of human perspective. His vision is dynamic and psychadelic, and should be explored by anyone willing to peek through the keyhole of their own door to perception. Hopefully, some will open up.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I've always felt that Aldous Huxley was the most versatile thinker of England the last century, Without forget obviously the presence of Bertrand Russell. His huge culture allowed him to explore all the known items. I must recognize that with the astonishing exception of a "Brave new world", as novelist, he doesn't have much to offer. I'd rather prefer his meticulous essays in multiple directions.
This book, in particular may be a good star for all who pretend to get into the Huxley's world.
I read that book in the middle of the seventies, and the first you acknowledge is the visible enchantment that gives to every note. In fact, Huxley was a fan of William Blake, and that explains the title "The doors of perception" (Jim Morrison was too a fervent reader of Blake).
The approach given for Huxley in The doors... is like he and us were in an opened conference with no restrictions of any subject.
The explanations above the different ways you may reach of reducing the efficiency of the "third eye" is ravishing. You read page after with anxiety for absorbing every little commentary or observation. The links inmediatly leads you to Loudun's demons (which served to Ken Russell for making a film entitled The demons, with Oliver Reed) (in my point of view his most complete work),
Heaven and hell is an autobiografical experience, in which he is under the effects of the mescaline, a plant used in Mexico. This mind journey is supported by recordings made in company with his wife and a friend of them. So this reading is just an overlapping of all the process.
In the seventies, too many things shocked the world. The end of Vietnam's war, The Watergate affair, the prizes of oil established by the OPEC in 1973. Those were the days in which Marcuse and Erich Fromm hold a wide audience all around the world.
And in this sense, this book became a landmark, because the huge amount of items that troubled to Huxley , such he refers us in a "New visit to a brave new world", The island (the other side of the coin respect a New brave world), Huxley added it no limits territories, a true example of what you may define like a reinassance man. In this category, you can include thinkers and writers like Bertrand Russell, Ortega and Gasset, Ernesto Sabato, Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, Paul Diel, Jean marie Domenach, just to name a few.
This book, if you're really are interested for knowing the essential facts that happens in your mind when you are disturbed by your own choice, will offer a crude but enriched analysis. Don't be afraid just thinking the information may be dated.
I'm talking about the first step you may climb in order to follow you bliss in this sense. The links you can do have no ending. All depends about your inner convictions and interest areas, like investigator, universitary student, common reader or mythology investigator . The sky is the limit.
You will be always rewarded.