The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (Perennial Classics)
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Two classic complete books -- The Doors of Perception (originally published in 1954) and Heaven and Hell (originally published in 1956) -- in which Aldous Huxley, author of the bestselling Brave New World, explores, as only he can, the mind's remote frontiers and the unmapped areas of human consciousness. These two astounding essays are among the most profound studies of the effects of mind-expanding drugs written in the twentieth century. These two books became essential for the counterculture during the 1960s and influenced a generation's perception of life.

Sometimes a writer has to revisit the classics, and here we find that "gonzo journalism"--gutsy first-person accounts wherein the author is part of the story--didn't originate with Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe. Aldous Huxley took some mescaline and wrote about it some 10 or 12 years earlier than those others. The book he came up with is part bemused essay and part mystical treatise--"suchness" is everywhere to be found while under the influence. This is a good example of essay writing, journal keeping, and the value of controversy--always--in one's work.

Customer Reviews:

  • an essential read for psychonauts and anyone who likes to think
    you don't need to take psychedelics to realize their importance in this world, especially when you have this book to tell the story from the mind of an intelligent writer...

    aldous, like all psychedelic virigns, went into the experience of taking a psychedelic with his own ideas of what it would some ways he was right, in other ways he could never have predicted such wonderful things...

    doors of perception is basically a campfire story about a man's journey on mescaline (found in peyote) translated into basic english...he does a fine job of explaining the unexplainable and keeps you interested all throughout the favorite part is how he describes being under the influence as the loss of survival mode....this is spot on and it is the same idea as ego death....there are plants on this earth that can kill you ego for a few hours so you can finally see the world from untainted eyes....finally a chair is just a chair...a tree is just a tree....the ground connects to your feet and to the tree and to the air and back again (reminds me of i am the walrus "i am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together")

    if you are not going to take a psychedelic you could at least read this book!...more info
  • A Classic
    Anyone interested in the subject of mind-altering drugs, or what it means to see a mind-altered world, must read this classic self-examination.I Think, Therefore Who Am I? ...more info
  • outdated
    These are two essays from Huxley (the brilliant mind that brought us Brave New World) about the psychadelic experience. BUt I found them to be ponderous and outdated. Important books in the sixties, manuals to counter culture even, but nothing more than a mere curiousity nowadays....more info
  • Good reading, but too spculative at the end.
    I liked this book right from the start, maybe because it supports my views upon life, but at the same time it challenges my view upon drugs through my views upon life.

    Aldous Huxley describes a state of Suchness as a state where everything just exists, there is no real value in this state of mind except that there is beauty in everything, it's a kind of objective state distanced from the beholders self. To Aldous Huxley this is a state he reaches with mescalin, and the attainment of this state is the argument for drugs, because as he says, this is the way that people ought to see things. Huxley believes that we would be better human beeings if we reach into to this Other World, this state of distance from our own egos, and I believe he is right. We would probably be more peaceful, more open minded, more accepting and more forgiving, but as he points out, this is also a state of inactivity. This mind at large is a very observative and percieving state, and the beholder might even forget or ignore even his/her own basic needs like food. We aren't productive enough to sustain our own living in this condition.

    I think that I know this state of mind well, with all it's blessings and pittfalls, even though I don't take any drugs (except from beer). Anyway I have started to wonder if I could extend this state of mind with mescalin, and wether it would be any good? My principal standing is that no drugs are needed in order to extend the experience of life, that's why I almost never have taken any kind of medication, even though I might suffer from pain. Also freedom is very valuable to me, so addiction scares me away form drugs. But if we had a perfect drug with no addiction, why not have this expereience? Why not once in a while? And why not all the time?

    I think that Huxley himself answers this question very well in his book Brave New World, although its a long tim ago that I read it (6-7 years). I definitly need a brush-up on it. I read this as a critique of the ignorant state of mind of all the inhabitants in the Bave New World. I loved this book by all my heart and would recommend that you read it after reading Doors of Perception.

    Another book that I will recommend highly is "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. This book is about another kind, but omnipresent drug, called television. This book might give you an idea of why drugs/television are no good solution. Drugs are just a too simple push-a-button-and-be-happy solution, the good has no proportions without the harsh to put it into perspective. Personally many of my great Mind at Large experiences have come to me after climbing a volcano, after walking 80 km in 14 hours or just by experiencing an extremely beautiful landscape while travelling.

    Some of us might be more prdisposed to this Mind at Large than others, but I believe in David Keirseys theory that each of us are in fact satisfied with beeing the kind of person we are. Maybe we envy traits of others, but if the trade-off is our own abilities, we would rather like to be ourselves. "Please Understand Me II" by David Keirsey is a phenomenal book.

    The reason for only giving this book 4 stars is that it get's a little too speculative towards the end....more info

  • a very interesting read
    First and foremost, I could hardly put this book down from first to last page when I first read it. Since then, I've read it a few more times and have decided this is definitely one of my favorite works of philosophy.

    His ponderings about the nature of perception and the function of the central nervous system are very insightful and seem to still hold valid with a lot of the newer stuff I've read about those subjects. Heaven and Hell is especially interesting in the fact that he links religion and the basic human experience with the expanses of the subconscious mind. This is really a mind-blowing book and will definitely get you thinking.

    This isn't a book just for people interested in psychoactive drugs (which is a big misconception with the people I know who have heard about this book) because Huxley goes so far beyond that in the subjects that he discusses. Anyone vaguely interested in how we percieve our world and the conscious and subconscious mind will love this book. It's Aldous Huxley at his finest....more info
  • Cerebral Infarction and Increased Human Percepton
    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....more info
  • a visionary classic
    It's been a long time since I've touched any illicit drug. I remember in my teens I went through my Rimbaud phase of experimentation to see if I could write poetry under pot. But as with drunkenness, creative writing while you're high has little or no good effect. Often it's not even possible to create in such a state. The notion that you'll get all these visions and reach a higher creative reality is all, unfortunately, bullsh*t. However, in very moderate doses, drugs and alcohol can help stimulate an artist's creativity.

    "The Doors of Perception" was the result of Aldous Huxley taking an hallucinogenic called mescaline to see what would happen to him. He sat down and closed his eyes, waiting for it to take effect. When he next opened his eyes, his perception of everything was completely altered. Even the flowers in the vase were different. Huxley referred to this mystical experience as a "sacramental vision of reality" and "the miracle, moment by moment, of naked reality."

    David Rehak
    author of "Love and Madness"...more info

  • How do you find pure perception?
    "This is how one ought to see." In Huxley's essays on the mescalin experience, he stresses the need for one to wipe clear the door of perception. He dives into the mysticial experiences and practices of age old religions, and attempts to achieve a higher plane of perception "by taking the appropriate drug". An excellently written account of mescalin use as well as a philosophical argument as to what religion and reality are really all about....more info
  • Doors of Perception/ Heaven and Hell go beyond Mind at Large
    Aldous Huxley bravely travelled to the unexplored antipodes of human consciousness and brought back with him one of the most accurate dipictions of the mescaline experience to date. Filled with mysticism, this book captivates your imaginaton and elevates you to higher places. This is one book you can't afford to miss!...more info
  • Huxley's Wild Ride
    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....more info
  • The light of Eternity
    While these two slim volumes, collected here under one cover, will always be associated with the 1960s, they shouldn't be thought of as dated or period pieces by any stretch of the imagination. And that's a key phrase here, because stretching the imagination is precisely what they're about, and what they can do for you -- if you're willing to read them with an open mind.

    Certainly they belong in the library of thoughtful, deeply considered books on mind-altering drugs & experience. But let's be clear on this: Huxley wasn't interested in cheap, easy highs, or simple escapism. He saw the use of such drugs as a useful & potentially powerful tool for exploring the depths of the psyche, the "Antipodes of the Unconscious," as he phrased it so well.

    And so we not only get Huxley's own account of his controlled experiments, offered in vivid detail, always observed by his keen & penetrating intellect -- but we also get a history of the visionary experience in culture & art. Some might find this extraneous, even boring; but it's of vital import to his inward explorations.

    Century after century, culture after culture, Huxley shows us that the visionary experience is essentially the same for all of humanity. The minute, superficial particulars may vary, but the essence is the same. And as he points out, drugs are not necessary for such an experience -- although he's fascinated by & intellectually curious about their possibilities as an entrance to them, and sees no reason not to utilize them under the proper conditions.

    In fact, Huxley is reminding us that such visionary experience is the common, rightful inheritance & treasure of all who live. Moreover, now that we live in a culture impoverished by a lack of such experience, with an official contempt & fear of it, he asserts that we need it more than ever. And this was written in the late 1950s!

    Yes, there were abuses & mistakes in the drug culture of the 1960s -- some of them dreadful. But much of this was due to an immature, basically hedonistic approach to the visionary world. There were many people hungry for a living visionary experience, but they didn't have the proper knowledge & preparation for it, and wound up plunging into the very deep end ... where some drowned.

    Today we have a culture in which the "the only war that counts, the war against the Imagination" (poet Diane DiPrima) is still in full force. We're offered mass-produced substitutes for visionary experience, but they're only empty, glossy sensation, shoddy goods & special effects, with no substance or depth.

    Huxley's wise words offer another approach, one that might yield real rewards for the sincere seeker. Again, while this might entail the use of mind-altering drugs for some, they're not a necessity. And if they are used, then they should be used knowledgeably & judiciously. More importantly, Huxley reminds us not to sacrifice the possibilities of rapture & transcendence out of fear. At best, this volume should lead the reader to art, to poetry, to the wisdom of the perennial philosophy. For the honest seeker with honest questions, this is highly recommended!

    ...more info
  • Huxley in one of his most sincere investigations
    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....more info
  • Interesting viewpoints from a different perspective

    "The Doors of Perception" is essentially a commentary by Huxley describing his experience with Mescaline. What I found most interesting was that it is written from the perspective of a very well-educated intellectual who, while high on Mescaline, observes and waxes mystical and philosophical on art (paintings), of all things. This was funny in an odd sort of way, reading an obviously passionate art appreciator discuss the merits of various artists and works of art while using a hallucinagenic drug, - however not understanding a lot myself about the history of painted artwork I think much of his commentary was lost on me. In addition to criticizing art he also commented in general on the nature of the mind and the connection between the mind, hallucinagens and mystical experience, etc.

    In "Heaven and Hell", Huxley discusses the nature and history of mystical experience, or as he tends to refer to it "visionary experience". Again, he focuses strongly on the role of art (mostly painting) throughout history as being evocative of mystical visions and it's almost as if he is discussing the mystical implications of art throughout history as much as he is discussing the mystical experience itself.

    While interesting, I found his approach a bit too intellectual for my tastes, and his fixation with art a bit beyond my reach considering I know little of art and had no frame of reference with which to personally evaluate his examples and comparisons (not being familiar with the specific works and artists that he was using for examples). Also, compared to the wealth of written material and research available today on the subjects of hallucinagens, mysticism, and transpersonal psychology I felt that his material was a bit outdated.

    Nevertheless, these books are worth reading and he makes many interesting points.
    ...more info

  • I just didn't like either one of them.
    In The Doors of Perception, I found his research to be fairly decent but he seemed to consider what he say a true reality instead of an altered reality that will open doors for the true reality. I was thouroughly disappointed with this book and I give it three stars. It is okay to open a door of perception and peer out onto the other side, but to live there as Huxley claims everyone should is simply foolish and would lead directly to apathy.
    In Heaven and Hell, I was sure that the experiment in The Doors of Perception had been done too many times. His ramblings are fairly pointless and foolish. Heres a piece: "precious stones are precious because they bear resemblance to the glowing marvels seen with the inner eye of the visionary." Just think about why you like precious stones. Perhaps because they refract light in a manner that is unusual or perhaps because you love things that are rare, that is human nature. But surely you don't agree with him.
    He honestly thinks that if he can use enough big words people will believe his philosophy. If you will believe anything someone tells you or just like exploring people's thoughts then maybe you should read this, but I have not recommended it to anyone....more info
  • An Exit through the Chemical Door in the Wall
    Like Douglas Hofstadter three generations later, Aldous Huxley is in awe of the complexities of the human mind. Just like Hofstadter, he too is a compassionate and astute observer of what the mind can accomplish when given full and free-reign. He is also a teacher like Hofstadter with the single purpose of conveying what he has learned to later generations. But unlike Hofstadter whose writings seek to soothe our fears, Huxley perhaps unwittingly, heightens them.

    Huxley's writings have shocked and informed us for the better part of a century. His relaxed, clear, almost laconic style can be disarming. Yet, lurking behind this easygoing persona and writing style are always truths so devastating that we ordinary "socially adjusted" humans still have great difficulty getting our minds around their full implications. As was true in his most famous novel, "A Brave New World," here in two of his non-fiction works, Huxley continues his exploration into the implications of expanding the dimensions of the mind; or conversely, exploring why we continue to maintain a world in which the mind remains closed, shutoff, rendered static and limited. Using his own self-administered experiments with drugs, the author directs his fire at how cultural limitations and misuse of the mind have often diminished rather than enhanced the richness of man's life as well as affected his survival chances negatively.

    The first book in this two-book volume is called "The doors of Perception." It is an all but clinical reporting on the effects of a self-administered experiment with the mind-expanding drug, Peyote. (I will review the second book, "Heaven and Hell," separately.)

    Long before the neuro-scientists had confirmed that it was so, Huxley had reported that the brain and its nervous system are primarily a "data-reduction machine." That is to say, since in principle each person is capable of taking in vast amounts of data, including being able to remember all that has ever happened to him, and is capable of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere else in the universe, the primary function of the brain and nervous system is to "reduce" or "abstract from" this universe of infinite complexity and possible perceptions, only those data that might be useful in enhancing survival. This "reducing function," accomplishes its task by allowing us to discriminate between a mass of overwhelmingly irrelevant and useless stimuli, and those that are perceived to be useful to survival. Importantly, the residue that remains is what we have come to know as conscious awareness.

    In order to communicate the content of consciousness we have invented symbol systems such as languages, which in themselves have become a mixed blessing: since, at the same time that they allow inter-subjective sharing of accumulated information (usually of survival value), they also erroneously confirm the fact that reality itself is the same as our "reduced" version of it. That is to say, languages teach us that the reality we have constructed to make the world save for our survival, is the only reality. Further, through language, we have also learned to mistake for "real data," the very "concepts" we invent as their substitutes. And likewise, we have learned to mistake "words" for the "things we have assigned them to represent." Thus the world we see is a severely "tapered-down" version of the wider universe. It is one of limited, reduced awareness: a "symbolic playground" that is a mere fragment of the larger, much richer reality: It remains one that is etched and ossified into our brains through language.

    Huxley claims here that by depriving the brain of its primary fuel, sugar, drugs such as mescalin, the active ingredient in Peyote, can allow us to bypass the brain's "data reduction function," making it possible for man to see well beyond the narrowly constricted world created only for purposes of advancing survival. Bypassing the brain's data reduction function, mescalin opens up a whole new world of "cleansed or virgin perceptions." It does this by relaxing the constraints and inhibitions perceived necessary for survival: things such as our dependence on time, space and having a need for a goal or a purpose. Without the need for a survival purpose, many ordinary utilitarian concerns simply just become uninteresting.

    What become infinitely more interesting are details previously left unattended to: things that artists see naturally and are conditioned to take for granted, such as intensified visual beauty and impressions, form and structure as inherent qualities, the absence of a dependence on time and space, discursive ego-free thinking, the apprehension of new orders of reality, extra-sensory perceptions, awareness at a distance, awareness of un-conceptualized and un-verbalizable events, perceptions of "being one with the universe," simultaneously perceiving everything that is happening within the body (both physically and mentally), and everywhere outside it in the universe at large; a conceptual world that is free of moral judgments, the pursuit of power and control, and all other petty utilitarian concerns that go with them; in short, being able to get beyond the ego-filter allows us to forget the need for self-esteem, ego-relevance, and self-assertion. And most of all it opens the door to transcendental experiences.

    The beauty of this expanded dimension of psychic reality is that by existing above "ego-ness," it necessarily also lies beyond good and evil; indeed beyond a preoccupation with power and self-assertion. The problem with this expanded psychic worldview, however, is that it is incompatible with action-based reality. It gives us access to pure contemplation but not to action itself: It cannot bring the contemplative realm down from the clouds and into phase with the realm of action, in the present. This is so because this wider world of inner contemplation is itself acting as a "stand-in" for feelings and ideas. As a result, it reduces to a kind of intuited "proto-language of the mind" of its own: one in which the mind devises its own internal set of psychic symbols, operations and dynamics; symbols and dynamics that interplay among themselves well above our conventional paradigms of how the mind is supposed to function. Schizophrenics use the same self-constructed internal language and in a real sense represent the extreme end, or "worse-case" example of this enlightened "exterior point of view."

    Yet, Huxley makes a strong case for exploring this broader "deeper internal" (and "superior external") point of view. It, for instance, allows us to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness -- arguably, the very definition of awareness. And yet it also allows us to be able to think and feel as an animal and as a human being; that is to say, it does not preclude the possibility of resorting, whenever expedient to systematic survival-based reasoning.

    As but one example, Huxley compares religions that are "talk therapy based" -- that is Christianity for instance -- with those that include drugs as part of their sacramental rituals, for instance most Native American religions. Huxley argues rather convincingly that if the purpose of religion is to share a transcendental experience, where the soul knows itself as unconditioned and is of one with nature and with the divine, then Christian bible reading, prayer, hymnal singing and sermonizing, go together to constitute a kind of "talk therapy:" a living abstraction away form both deep feelings and about as far from "true" religious needs as one can get. True religion demands a deep shared psychological experience with the universe and with the divine. All religions strive for this kind of oneness that transcends the bounds of selfness. Yet, Christianity is based on having a "personal God" as man's personal servant, constantly at the very "beck and call" of every religionist's ego.

    Huxley suggest that Christians might well learn from our Native American brothers, who took the best of Christianity and married their inherent religious needs with their own self-transcendent experiences, using Peyote. Thus in one religious rite, they satisfied the two appetites of the soul: the urge to independence and self-determination, and the urge to become one with God through self-transcendence.

    However, for contradictory cultural reasons, drugs, it seems have no place in the Judeao-Christian Church, even when "sacramentized use" could expand religious understanding, address psychological yearning that can only be satisfied through transcendent experiences, and vastly enrich the religious experience. In order for Christians to have a true religious experience they are required to turn to the drug of alcohol, outside of the walls of the Church, Mosque or Temple.

    1000 stars...more info
  • Like taking your mind on a psychotropic voyage
    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....more info
  • Exploration of the Mind at Large
    One of the most fundamental things to keep in mind when reading this work is that Huxley is no telling the general populous to go find the nearest meth dealer but rather to remain open to the possibilities of other perceptions. Additionally, this book explores the various perceptions of the mind asking the reader to be more open minded in his/her experiences....more info
  • Insight into YOUR mind.
    A brillantly written account of the mind's inner-workings. A subject, due to government intervention, which many are unfamiliar with. This book is best read under experimental conditions (say mushrooms) however it is also useful to read before the substances are taken. It will help you deal with what passes for reality in our consumer culture...more info
  • Insight into Intellectual Explorer Genius
    Aldous Huxley was one of the deepest and most profound thinkers to ever explore how various chemicals alter the state of one's thinking and being. His varying perceptions and thought processes are recorded in these two novellas with lucid clarity and thought that only Huxley could produce despite his mind-altering states. A fearless explorer and detractor of controlled societal construction, Huxley reveals with poignant depth the frequency and wavelengths of his various psychedelic induced experiences. A must read for those interested in chemical or meditatively induced mind expansion....more info
  • enlightening
    This book changed the way I look at books. Huxley was able to take the findings of his experiment and make it into elloquent reading. The book was captivating and intriguing. A must read....more info