Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, November 30, 2015

Huxley and The Doors of Perception (2/3)

Read my first post here.

Before Aldous Huxley had his first experience with mescaline, he thought that the drug would turn off filters in his brain, revealing an expanded view of the universe. Building on work done by Dr. C.D. Broad and Humphry Osmond, Huxley developed a concept he called Mind at Large.

 Aldous Huxley

The concept of Mind at Large is fairly simple: Huxley thought that the brain was a reducing valve, or a series of filters, that filtered out most of the stimuli of the world, leaving us with only the information that we need to survive. In The Doors of Perception Huxley said,

“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.”

This echoes the conclusions of Dr. C.D. Broad. Huxley references Broad’s work in Doors. The passage as follows:

“The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful."

Huxley was interested in using mescaline to unlock the secrets of the geniuses, the savants, and the mystics. He claimed that these people experienced life differently that the average person, so there was no way for the normal person to understand the minds of the extraordinarily gifted. He wanted to use mescaline to, “…change my ordinary mode of consciousness as to be able to know, from the inside, what the visionary, the medium, even the mystic were talking about.” 

The Peyote Cactus that Mescaline is extracted from

 After Huxley took the mescaline, he began to dictate his experience to Oswald, who was monitoring him with a tape recorder. When Oswald asked Huxley if he was having a good experience, Huxley replied, “"Neither agreeable nor disagreeable… it just is." Huxley described a shift in his perspective. The way he processed what he was viewing changed, shifting importance to secondary characteristics. When reflecting on his experience Huxley said, “The really important facts were that spatial relationships had ceased to matter very much and that my mind was perceiving the world in terms of other than spatial categories.”

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