“This participation in the manifest glory of things left no room, so to speak, for the ordinary, the necessary concerns of human existence…” — Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception
Aldoux Huxley — an intellectual of the type no longer seen today and uncle of all hippies — was one of the first people to experiment with and study entheogens during the cultural revolution of the 1950s and ‘60s.
In his well-known essay “The Doors of Perception” (1954), he tried to explain what happens to consciousness after contact with (dis)hallucinating substances or practices.
In the brain there exists a kind of a valve or filter that regulates the flow of information from the exterior toward one’s consciousness. At birth the filter doesn’t work, that’s why as children we’re usually absorbed with everything in our surroundings, but as we mature the brain gradually closes itself off to information that’s unnecessary for our well-being.
Entheogens disable these barriers. They open the doors of perception, and the world is presented in all its fullness and wealth. It’s like returning to childhood where social dysfunctions return to us because saturated and fascinated consciousness is unable to distinguish between vital and non-vital knowledge. That’s how I understood it.
Huxley appeals to a mechanical epistemological model, a biological one, but a model that’s especially contemplative. He seems to have been reacting to US philosophical pragmatism (he was British), but from what I also understand, he threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
Entheogens don’t crowd consciousness; instead they increase it, expanding our self-awareness beyond our bodies. They heighten us (not always but usually) toward a state of sensitivity and commitment to the world in which we live, because they make us feel more connected to it.
For Huxley, the expansion of consciousness was a form of reaching our peak, grandeur. But the proximity of social and environmental disaster to this planet is beginning to transform it into a practical and perhaps vital question. The danger today is not in opening the doors of perception, but in keeping them closed.