I recently stumbled upon a book that changed the way I will perceive the act of perception forever—Huxley’s Doors of Perception. I want you to discover it too, and, as always, I am happy to do curate the discussion. The short (79 page) essay is the result of Huxley’s controlled experiments with mescaline, which were guided and recorded by both an investigator and Huxley’s own wife. As he plays back records of the events during the experiment, Huxley uncovers several incredible insights about the outer limits of human perception, and in so doing, sheds critical light on its elusive core as well. As someone who, on principle, will never try drugs, having Huxley–perhaps the most upright and articulate man ever to record such an experiment (forgive me Hunter Thompson; Fear and Loathing was fascinating, but undeniably less controlled)–to so accurately convey his experience under the influence was not only interesting, but a journey of revelation on human nature worthy of our attention. So, the following posts, over the next few months, will be a four part series on what we can discover from Huxley’s experiment.
Planned Topics Include:
1. Huxley X Perception: Can temporarily tuning out biologically useful thoughts enhance creative capacity?
Huxley argues that the mind is essentially a ‘reduction valve,’ which limits our perceptions according to what is biologically useful in a given situation. For example, if you are in the woods and a bear suddenly appears, ready to attack you, everything except for what’s needed for your biological instincts to determine ‘fight or flight’ is temporarily disabled. I am interested in whether the mind can achieve the reverse effect. i.e. consciously disregarding biologically useful instincts in order to allow greater creative capacity when desired.
2. Huxley X Transfiguration: To Utility and Beyond (Building Products that Transcend)
Huxley perceives things differently while under the influence of mescaline (duh). Specifically, he finally is able to grasp the Buddhist concepts of ‘suchness’ and the ‘Dharma Body,’ wherein a specific object (the particular) transcends to contain a greater (universal) significance. I am interested in methods by which we can create products that transcend their own particular utility to acquire a deeper meaning among consumers, and methods to create experiences that help people become more capable of experiencing personal transcendence.
3. Huxley X Technology: To what extent should we automate human tasks?
Technological progress has been addressed in BxP several times. This time, we will deal specifically with the cumulative personal cognitive impact of outsourcing tasks that have traditionally been computed by the brain, to tools–such as search engines and GPS systems–that make life easier by offloading the necessity for simple daily reason and logic. I am interested in the extent to which we should build simple human logic back into products that were created to make life easier–in order to avoid outsourcing the mental exercises that keep us sharp, and separate us from other animals as ‘rational’ creatures.
4. Huxley + Others X Thresholds: Drawing the Thin Line Between Genius and Madness
This is the one I am most enthusiastic about–a subject that I have been contemplating for the better part of several years. For every Steve Jobs, there are 1000 people sleeping under bridges across America that once thought they too could become a visionary CEO. And, every game-changing innovator’s biography includes one pivotal story about the time when everyone said they were crazy, or when they almost lost it all. The answer is the result of inspirations from Huxley’s discussions of the Tibetian Book of the Dead and Kierkegaard’s concept of Hiin Enkelte.
Subscribe to receive an update when these are published. As always, comments are welcome and appreciated. If anyone has ideas for other relevant sources, I’d love to include them.