Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley

huxleya-heavenandhellThis short book, which is little more than an essay, is a sequel to The Doors of Perception – a continuation of the theme of expanding consciousness via psychoactive drugs. I hardly know what to make of it, as I have never felt attracted to such experimentation, but I do find Huxley’s theories fascinating. He states that ordinary waking consciousness is heavily restricted, and there are higher states of consciousness that the brain generally excludes from awareness because they contribute nothing to the survival of the human organism. There is ordinary “mind” and “Mind-at-Large.”

Huxley maintains that the reason for the prevalence of visions in medieval Christianity, and the absence of visions in present day religion, is due to factors such as a restricted diet in winter causing vitamin deficiency, which triggers chemical changes in the brain facilitating visions of heaven and hell. The practice of deliberate fasting has the same effect. Chemical changes in the brain put us in touch with what Huxley calls “the antipodes of the mind.” He claims it is also possible to reach these visionary states more safely by using certain psychoactive drugs.

The book describes our fascination with gemstones and gold as a manifestion of our mind’s longing for the antipodes. When we decorate our churches with stained glass and shiny ornamentation, we are really attempting to evoke a sense of the otherworldly. This would have been clearer centuries ago, in a world that was not saturated with larger-than-life visuals via television and cinema. Going to church centuries ago would have evoked a sense of awe not possible today.

I can see what Huxley is getting at, but it’s all so foreign to my own experience. I have had what I believe to be a genuine mystical experience in the past, but it did not involve anything of a visual nature, and I simply can’t relate to this fascination with visions. In my opinion, the glory of creation is the very world in front of me, and I feel no urge to use psychoactive substances to mess with my appreciation of it. Do drugs really open us to higher perception, or do they merely distort perception? It’s a tough question, one I don’t have a solid answer for as yet. There are plenty of “spiritual” drug users out there who will tell you that their experience with drugs was life-changing, but if you ask them to elaborate on their spirituality, they’re often not very deep people at all.

Heaven and Hell, due to its shortness, is usually found packaged with The Doors of Perception as a single volume. Worth reading for its thought-provoking content.

Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World Revisited was written thirty years after Brave New World. It is a non-fiction work, essentially a comparison between the predictions of the original science fiction novel and developments in the real world. In the novel, the world population is kept at an ideal number by means of eugenics. In the real world we see an ever encroaching trend towards over-population. Huxley discusses how we have become ever more skilled at “death control” (living longer and healthier lives), but we have no corresponding birth control. The forces of predation, sickness and natural disaster, which keep the rest of the animal kingdom in balance, are having less and less effective against humans, due to our own ingenuity. Related to overpopulation is the problem of over-organisation, where a human being becomes nothing more than as a cog in the wheel of society; the human exists only to serve a greater social organism, whereas the social organism is really no more than a social organisation. Integral to the book is the tension between anarchism and totalitarianism; too much freedom versus too little.

A major theme of the book is mind-manipulation in its various subtle forms. Hitler comes under the spotlight, in particular how he made his propaganda successful using fervent emotion, reinforced through repetition. This is contrasted with propaganda that addresses the intellect. In our advertising-saturated lives, the chapter “The Arts of Selling” is more relevant today than ever. Huxley brings to light how we are exploited by those who sell products by tapping into our fears and wishes. An excerpt from the chapter “Brainwashing”:

The fact that strong negative emotions tend to heighten suggestibility and so facilitate a change of heart had been observed and exploited long before the days of Pavlov. As Dr. William Sargant has pointed out in his enlightening book, Battle for the Mind, John Wesley’s enormous success as a preacher was based upon an intuitive understanding of the central nervous system. He would open his sermon with a long and detailed description of the torments to which, un­less they underwent conversion, his hearers would un­doubtedly be condemned for all eternity. Then, when terror and an agonizing sense of guilt had brought his audience to the verge, or in some cases over the verge, of a complete cerebral breakdown, he would change his tone and promise salvation to those who believed and repented. By this kind of preaching, Wesley converted thousands of men, women and children. Intense, pro­longed fear broke them down and produced a state of greatly intensified suggestibility. In this state they were able to accept the preacher’s theological pro­nouncements without question. After which they were reintegrated by words of comfort, and emerged from their ordeal with new and generally better behavior patterns ineradicably implanted in their minds and nervous systems.

Later chapters are entitled “Chemical Persuasion” (the use of drugs to control a population), “Subconscious Persuasion” (the subliminal technique of persuasion by association), “Hypnopaedia” (hypnotic suggestibility). The book closes with a forward-looking discussion on education.

This small book is a treasure-trove of rational information to chew over, for anyone who wants to have a more conscious existence – that is, to be more aware of the forces controlling our lives, and thus more able to make our own choices. In today’s world, we have the unfortunate phenomenon of the paranoid conspiracist, who learns the very real nature of the information presented here, through “researchers” like David Icke and Alex Jones, but then he ends up believing that there’s a secret “Illuminati” who are trying to bring about a New World Order – an ancient elistist brotherhood who are actually the Biblical Nephilim in disguise, or reptilian shapeshifters from another dimension. If you wonder how people can get so carried away, that’s because it begins with a genuine grasping of truth leading to an awakening out of a hypnotic trance of sorts. Unfortunately, not all are up to the task of maintaining a sharp critical perspective on information, and they fall prey to the more outlandish claims of fear-mongers and sensation-seekers.

Brave New World Revisited represents the best of the modern “truth movement” without the bullshit. A book to treasure and to read again and again.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World takes place in a dystopian future masquerading as a utopia. The whole world is united under a World State. Eternal peace is maintained, not by threats of punishment, but by the most intimate control of the human race – a control that begins even before a person is born.

In this future, natural reproduction has been done away with, and by means of technological advances, humans are now spawned in vast “hatcheries.” Through chemical interference, the development of a foetus is arrested, so that different social classes can be maintained, to fulfill various functions in society. Only members of the highest caste, the “Alphas,” are allowed to develop naturally. World population is permanently limited to two billion people.

Once born, all education is performed by rote, using technology called “hypnopedia” – learning while you sleep. This way, everyone is implanted with the same ideas, such as “Ending is better than mending” to promote continual consumerism. People are conditioned to view the idea of “family” as repulsive and even funny.

Life consists of work (that that lower castes are conditioned to love), frivolous entertainment, recreational sex, and drug-induced happiness. Man is made to feel content in his bondage. This is a society where there is no place for individuality, and little hope of it sprouting. People are simply cogs that service a vast, efficient social organism. The only places that have any freedom are reservations where “savages” live. Although citizens are free to take vacations to these reservations, this appearance of freedom is made grotesque by the crippled nature of the minds of the holiday-makers.

The novel is told from multiple perspectives, a technique which the author uses to allow the reader to view this strange society from a variety of angles: from those who control it (Mustapha Mond, a World Controller) to those who are alien to it (John the savage). Somewhere in between we have the interesting character of Bernard Marx, an Alpha who suffered a chemical mishap before he was born – something that left him uncommonly small of stature, a disadvantage that imbued him with a sense of individuality born out of adversity. But if you’re expecting Bernard Marx to be the hero of the story, think again. Likewise, if you are expecting John’s “savage” upbringing to bring a ray of sanity to the proceedings, nothing so uncomplicated or idealistic ensues. This is a highly unpredictable tale.

While the technology foretold in this novel hasn’t emerged in quite the same way, we see similar methods of mind-manipulation employed in television (subliminal advertising) and education (learning by rote). Brave New World is essentially a satire of our utopian pipedreams and a sober warning about the price that would have to be paid to ensure the continuance of such a “paradise.” There is not a single gun in sight, nor a single murder commited, and yet the cost of such a dream is appalling.

Brave New World is a complex novel of great insight. It taught me something about the human condition, and left me with a sense that there was more going on in the story than I could grasp with a single reading.

Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley

Ape and Essence begins in a movie studio, with a script accidentally falling from the back of a trolley full of manuscripts (what authors would call the slushpile) on its way to the incinerator. Two movie executives pick up the screenplay and they are so moved by the story that they seek out the writer, a man named Tallis. Finding him deceased, this part of the story ends (about a quarter into the novel). The rest of Ape and Essence is the mysterious script itself, presented to the reader without modification or editorial comment.

When I say “script”, it’s really a bit of a curious script-novel hybrid – not nearly as sketchy as a screenplay, which is good from a reader’s point of view. We are transported to a world where apes act like people, but in a manner far more surreal than Planet of the Apes. Tribes of apes go to war against each other, each one keeping its very own Albert Einstein on a leash. The symbolism is obvious: the apes allude to the stupidity of mankind, going to war with nuclear weapons and bringing about universal destruction.

Around page fifty I was getting frustrated with the book’s strangeness, but it’s at this point that the story shifts to a post apocalyptic 22nd century and stays firmly grounded therein for the remainder. The world has been devasted by nuclear and chemical warfare. Only one country remains unscathed, for no other reason that it was of little strategic importance during World War III: New Zealand. And the New Zealanders are now making their first sea voyage to rediscover America. Among the crew is our protagonist, the botanist Dr. Poole. Not long after they arrive on shore, Dr. Poole is kidnapped by natives and the rest of his crew are forced to abandon him. He finds himself all alone in a society very unlike the Christian one he came from. The citizens now worship Satan (whom they call Belial), essentially because, given the state of the world, Satan appears to be in charge. Mutation has caused biological changes in mankind. Women typically have three sets of nipples, and mating takes place during a week-long orgy once a year. Anyone who has yearnings to mate all year round is referred to disparagingly as a “hot.” Dr. Poole establishes a place among these “savages” due to his knowledge of botany and the benefits he can bring to the civilisation. Much of the book concerns Dr. Poole as a fish-out-of-water, undergoing changes due to his environment.

Huxley is known for putting a lot of subtext in his novels, although it’s hard to gauge exactly what points he’s trying to make at times. I guess this novel fits in with the mid-20th century preoccupation with the end of the world by nuclear war. It reminded me a lot of John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, only more wacky. Wyndham presents Christianity-gone-mad, whereas Huxley goes for Christianity-gone-Satanic. However, it must be said that Ape and Essence loses none of its charm for its strangeness. I had a great time with this novel. Particularly eyebrow-raising (when you consider the era that it was written) were the sexual elements of the story. Nothing too gratuitious, but the very inclusion of an orgy in which the protagonist participates was quite daring.

I enjoyed this novel particularly as a clash of societies, where the rightness of one’s own views are challenged by submersion into an alien environment, and where something that you might call “humanity” manages to emerge, despite the pressures of both paradigms. I very nearly gave up at page 50, before the real story got rolling; glad I stuck with it.

The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

This short book came about as a result of Aldous Huxley performing a one-off experiment with the the psychotropic drug mescaline. Mescaline is derived from the peyote cactus and was (and is) widely used by the Native Americans in their religious practice as a means of seeing beyond the physical world. Apparently they used to suck on the cactus root to produce the effects. Although it’s illegal today, it’s apparently quite a benign drug. The book claims there are no addictive qualities – the user feels no need to use the drug subsequently – and no toxicity issues. Oddly, according to Wikipedia, a concession has been made to Native Americans, for whom mescaline remains legal. Tsk-tsk – a little favouritism there.

Huxley is best known for having penned the classic science fiction novel Brave New World. I’ve never read it, but it’s one of those novels I’ll definitely get around to. The Doors of Perception caught my attention because of Huxley’s standing and my personal interest in gaining a better understanding of human consciousness.

After taking the drug, Huxley reports staring at a table leg and being utterly absorbed in the brilliance of its form. He was able to walk around, and yet his vision was unconcerned with things like depth and distance. Looking at a flower evoked a kind of timeless contemplation about the flower’s “significance.” The book continues with information about how Huxley felt when being shown a series of paintings.

Interestingly, Huxley discusses the human body as a limiter, using the term “Mind at Large” for the full magnitude of what we are, i.e. we know everything. This is exactly the same concept I was introduced to though the writings of David Icke, only in different language. Icke would say we are are all collectively Infinite Consciousness, and the body is just a vehicle that allows us to experience physical reality. Huxley theorises that by the use of mescaline, the valve between mind and Mind at Large is loosened, allowing more of Mind at Large to come through. He talks about a feeling of timeless contemplation that caused him to be unconcerned about matters of physical life. This is in keeping with the understanding I embrace, that beyond this physical realm, with its illusions of separateness and time, there is a single collective consciousness existing in one eternal present.

This is the second time I have been surprised by the concept of “oneness” (or something close to it) cropping up unexpectedly in my reading material. It also happened recently when I read Upton Sinclair’s Mental Radio, where he theorises that a collective human consciousness is what allows telepathy to be possible.

One of the effects of mescaline on the brain is the inhibition of sugar. This got me wondering if the true reason behind the religious practice of fasting (something I never understood when I was a Christian) was to achieve an altered state of consciousness that would allow the person to get in contact with the realm beyond the physical – the divine, in other words.

The Doors of Perception was an intriguing study that helped provide a rational basis for ideas that I believe in through intuition, i.e. we are all one consciousness and the physical world is just a frequency that we perceive through the five senses. There is far more going on that what we see, and we are far more than what we think we are.