The Doors of Perception  

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"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern." —The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake


"Istigkeit--wasn't that the word Meister Eckhart liked to use? "Is-ness." The Being of Platonic philosophy-- except that Plato seems to have made the enormous, the grotesque mistake of separating Being from becoming and identifying it with the mathematical abstraction of the Idea."


"I returned the Van Gogh to its rack and picked up the volume standing next to it. It was a book on Botticelli. I turned the pages. "The Birth of Venus"-never one of my favorites. "Mars and Venus," that loveliness so passionately denounced by poor Ruskin at the height of his long-drawn sexual tragedy. The marvelously rich and intricate "Calumny of Apelles."

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Doors of Perception is a 1954 book by Aldous Huxley detailing his experiences when taking mescaline. This short book is considered to be one of the most profound studies of the effects of mind-expanding drugs and what they teach about how the mind works.

The title comes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."

Psychedelic drugs are thought to disable filters which block or suppress signals related to mundane functions from reaching the conscious mind. In this book, Huxley explores the idea that the human mind filters reality, partly because handling the details of all of the impressions and images coming in would be unbearable, and partly because it has been taught to do so. He believes that psychotropic drugs can remove this filter (to an extent), or "open these doors of perception." Huxley was administered mescaline, and had an interviewer prompt him to comment on various stimuli around him, such as books and flowers. The conversation was recorded and the book mainly concerns Huxley's thoughts on what he says in the recordings. He observed that everyday objects lose their functionality and suddenly exist "as such." Space and dimension become irrelevant, and perceptions seem to be enlarged and at times even overwhelming.

Contents

Quotations from "Doors"

  • To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large— this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.
  • "Is it agreeable?" somebody asked.
"Neither agreeable nor disagreeable," I answered. "it just is." Istigkeit - wasn't that the word Meister Eckhart liked to use? "Is-ness." The Being of Platonic philosophy - except that Plato seems to have made the enormous, the grotesque mistake of separating Being from becoming and identifying it with the mathematical abstraction of the Idea. He could never, poor fellow, have seen a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and nothing less, than what they were - a transience that was yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence. (page 4-5)
  • I strongly suspect that most of the great knowers of Suchness paid very little attention to art.... (To a person whose transfigured and transfiguring mind can see the All in every this, the first-rateness or tenth-rateness of even a religious painting will be a matter of the most sovereign indifference.) Art, I suppose, is only for beginners, or else for those resolute dead-enders, who have made up their minds to be content with the ersatz of Suchness, with symbols rather than with what they signify, with the elegantly composed recipe in lieu of actual dinner.
  • The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.

Cultural references

See also

Publication data

The Doors of Perception is usually published in a combined volume with Huxley's essay, Heaven and Hell




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