Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Huxley and The Doors of Perception (3/3)

Read my first post here and my second post here.

When Aldous Huxley wrote his book The Doors of Perception, he made several statements that quickly generated response, especially concerning religion. Huxley himself spent time studying Vedanta, a branch of Hindu philosophy. In The Doors of Perception, Huxley asserted that mescaline would allow users to “participate in a common being”, or come closer to experiences typically associated with religion or spiritualism. As you can imagine, people of faith tended to take offense to that claim. Many stated that using mescaline or other psychoactive drugs like LSD did not create enlightenment; instead drugs create a “strictly private sphere”, according to a Jewish religious expert. Huxley’s relationship with his spiritual guide at the Vedanta Society of Southern California, Swami Prabhavananda, began to decline as Huxley experimented with drugs and wrote more about those experiences.
Several people wrote extended responses to The Doors of Perception, most directly Robert Charles Zaehner. Zaehner, an Oxford professor, thought that Huxley was dead wrong in his statements on religion. He wrote a book, Mysticism, Sacred and Profane, in which he stated his case against Huxley’s claims. Citing passages from the Catholic bible pertaining to drunkenness in church, Zaehner claimed that drug-induced states of euphoria were not the same as having an encounter with a god. He also took offense to the connections that the psychological world was making between mescaline and psychosis. To many doctors and researchers, mescaline and other psychoactive drugs offered the best insight into a psychoactive episode that they had to date. Zaehner thought that if a mescaline trip was like having a psychotic episode, and also like having a spiritual experience, then that meant the visions of the prophets of Christianity were comparable to the ravings of psychotic lunatics.
Regardless of the public reaction, The Doors of Perception heightened awareness and interest not only in mescaline, but other drugs as well. Research inspired by Huxley has spurred advances in medicine, science, and of course, philosophy. 

1 comment:

  1. There's actually a growing body of evidence, from researchers like Andrew Newberg, suggesting that the brain may indeed come pre-loaded with a spiritual "hot-spot" that for some is activated by religion, for others by psychoactive experiences, etc.

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