As I’ve said before, before I left Facebook, someone recommended The Doors of Perception to me. As I read it, I could see why she. It’s similar in some ways to my experiences with ketamine. But it was also different enough that I decided to write a review, which will hopefully help the reader to see the differences and similarities between Huxley’s experience and mine.
The Doors of Perception is an essay about Aldous Huxley’s experience taking mescaline and his musings that result thereof. On May 3rd, 1953, Humphry Fortescue Osmond (referred to as an “investigator”) arrived in West Hollywood at Huxley’s house to administer mescaline to him, and Huxley’s experience was recorded on a dictating machine so as to refresh his memory of what was said.
Upon mescaline taking effect, what ensues is an odyssey centering around the way mescaline shapes the way Huxley perceives both the outscape (i.e. the physical world) and the inscape (i.e. the mind). This can be broken down into two basic qualities: an additive quality and a Zen quality.
The additive quality enables Huxley to perceive more — such as “supernaturally” brilliant colors he couldn’t see earlier -- but this isn’t limited to enhancing perception that deals with “the implied questions to which [sense organs respond]”. It also enables him to see beyond the carefully selected utilitarian material our “narrow” minds can normally perceive. It opens, as it were, the doors of perception.
For instance, measurements, locations, and even time cease to be important to Huxley, resulting in his small typing table, wicker chair, and desk appearing flattened and distorted, like still life in a Cubist painting. Thus, when Osmond asks him about space and time, he replies, “There seems to be plenty of it.” His mind is no longer concerned with measures and locations per se but with being and meaning.
He even declares, “This is how one ought to see, how things really are,” while obsessively fixating on the minutiae around him: the “labyrinth of endlessly significant complexity” made by the folds in his trousers, the “Inner Light” of some flowers, or the “miraculous tubularity” of the chair’s legs. However, he realizes that if one always saw things this way, one would never want to do anything else, and that is perhaps why our brains limit our perception. Mescaline gives access to contemplation that is incompatible with action and even the will to action.
The Zen quality is what most of Huxley’s other revelations stem from: what the Dharma-Body of the Buddha is, how one’s own mind contains mere symbols for Suchness (much as writing is symbols for objects and concepts), and what the “not-self” truly is—something made possible by the experience of dissociation, which also makes him realize what it must be like to schizophrenic. These give rise to some of the essay’s most fascinating sections.
For instance, religion, poetry, and art have placed greater importance on the “inscape” than on tangible objects as the former are supposed to have greater spiritual value because familiarity breeds contempt. Taoists and Zen Buddhists, though, are an exception. Not surprisingly, it was only in the Far East that landscape painters consciously regarded their art as religious.
Or take his observation that the urge to transcend the self is universal. Healthier "doors in the wall", or escapes, are needed than alcohol and tobacco. Some will be activity- or knowledge-based, but the need for chemical vacations will still remain. What is needed is a benign drug which will do that, and that drug, Huxley claims, is mescaline in modified form (its effects last too long in its natural form). After all, the fact that there is a worldwide connection between religion and drugs points to the fact that they are for satisfying the same needs, and one of those needs is self-transcendance. In fact, for the Native American Peyotists, religious experience is something more direct, illuminating, and spontaneous and not so much the product of the superficial, self-conscious mind. They’re also generally more industrious, temperate, and peaceable than non-Peyotists.
However, what really gets to the heart of his essay is reflections on the limits of words. Words can refer to sensations, feelings, insights, and such, but they're only an indirect way of conveying them. We can infer how the speaker might feel based on our own experiences, but we may miss important information. As such, one can never really know what it feels like to be someone else or truly understand what someone else feels. Huxley says gestalt psychologists have devised ways to help overcome the limits of language and further claims there is no interest in their methods in academia, but this is where the essay starts falling flat.
According to him, rationalists, intellectuals, educators, psychologists, philosophers, and clergy won’t give gestalt psychologists’ methods a chance because “[in] a world where education is predominantly verbal, highly educated people find it all but impossible to pay serious attention to anything but words and notions.”
He also claims direct perception of the inner and outer worlds should be unsystematic. He even considers systematic reasoning to be poor at understanding the relationship of words to things! Perhaps he saw reality as a bunch of stray information and a systematic approach as something that contaminates it. However, one must have a way of sorting through that information and making sense of it in a way that doesn’t produce inconsistencies. Being systematic can help one avoid making erroneous assumption and can help one decide whether a conscious or subconscious approach is better. And it certainly isn’t at odds at understanding the limits of language.
Overall, though, I highly recommend The Doors of Perception to anyone looking to enhance his or her understanding of reality.
Unfortunately, I missed the ketamine session I was supposed to get yesterday due to some balls up. I'm now waiting for the day I don't have to keep going to San Francisco to get it.
Unfortunately, my two sessions in March failed to have any appreciable effect on my mood. However, I can look forward to having my next session in just two days, and you the reader can look forward to reading my review of Aldous Huxley's essay The Doors of Perception next week.
This is a belated post from a session in January.
This session was less effective than the previous one, but it definitely still had an effect.
The first thing I noticed was a falling sensation like falling out of a chair tilted back except that the bed I was lying on felt tilted back. This sensation lasted quite a while.
Periodically throughout most of my session, I'd hear, “Suzy, 12/11/1935” coming behind the curtain separating my bed and the one next to mine. I thought about what a long time ago 1935 was, and this got me thinking about times in our lives. I wondered what Suzy's birth looked like on that day that happened so long ago and thought about how much the world has changed since then. I thought about my own past life and how I wish I could revisit some scenes from it and make different decisions, but time is unidirectional.
I even thought about time in general. We don't understand what it is. Physicists have found themselves stumped, and philosophers have helpfully pointed out to them they'd been using time to describe itself. As as a little kid, I found myself perplexed by how time could or couldn't have a beginning. My mom was puzzled when I asked her, “What's the first day?”, not realizing I meant, “What was the first day ever?”
I then saw myself looking down on Earth throughout the ages and felt like the master of all I surveyed as I saw things coming together on increasingly small scale in fractal-type manner. First star dust clumped together to from Earth. Then Earth's volcanoes spewing lava and such. Eventually, things settled down enough for molecules to form the first life forms. Then self-aware animals competed with each other until some species developed empathy, leading to social species working as groups. Then humans engaged in inter-tribal warfare. Some of them would leave the Stone Age, and they would carry on fighting in the Bronze Age, forming the first civilizations, then the first city-states, and then the first nations. Then I'd see the pattern repeat with business mergers leading to large corporations having monopolies in their respective fields.
Finally, throughout my session, I wished there were a way to record my thoughts directly since I knew I'd forget quite a bit before since there is always some delay between my session and my writing of it. Yes-- some interesting details from this session and all the other interesting ones will be lost forever because of that. Aldous Huxley apparently didn't have this problem, though, since he mentions in The Doors of Perception a psychiatrist there to record his thoughts. That may be due to difference between ketamine and mescaline, though.
I have another session soon. I have another post in the pipeline too from January.
This is a really belated post from January...
Well, this time my parents accompanied me to my ketamine session in San Francisco.
I figured this session would be much more effective this time around because I'd felt my brain "hardening" a few days earlier. It's a feeling kind of like having a knot in your stomach except that my brain felt as though it'd compressed into something hard like a rock.
Well, sure enough, the ketamine was MUCH more effective this time than the two previous times. Although I'd decided to take a break from philosophy, the drug had a way bringing out the philosopher in me.
I started wondering what the cosmos is made of. What is reality made out of? The Chinese have a saying, "It's hard to see the mountain when you're inside it." So someone ideally suited to figure out what reality is made out of would be someone who exists outside reality. But how can someone exist outside reality? No wonder it's so hard to figure out!
I also started thinking about the different stages in one's life, and I felt regret that I'd missed out on so much.
After the session was over, my parents and I went to see the psychiatrist in charge of me ketamine to see if certain changes could be made to the protocol.
Yet another awful journey in San Francisco. Yet another session that did me no good. Stupid fucking Weebly won't let me choose the titles for my posts anymore...
I had to wait quite a while for my next session because of Kaiser Permanente taking so damn long to get its act together.
Well, I had to make the very inconvenient journey to San Francisco to have it. It was administered to me in some hospital, and I felt hardly anything. I really am starting to think there is no hope for me, and I have nothing to live for.
My latest treatment had no effect. I'm starting to wonder if I'm beyond being helped.
Whoa! It's been a while since my last post. That's because getting my next session squared took considerably longer than anticipated. Rest assured, though, that there will be a post covering my upcoming session next week.