I picked this up as “something else” book to read whilst I was on holiday. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time to actually read it undisturbed as the hostel was rather noisy. As a consequence, I think this may be a candidate for a re-read in calmer conditions. I suspect, though, that were I to do so, I would still be as bemused as to how to write a review of it as I am now.
It’s not that the book itself is terribly confusing. It is short, but it covers such a range of topics and in such brevity that I found it hard to get my teeth into. Just when you start to get to grips with it, it ends. At only 50 pages long, it is more of a pamphlet than a work of non-fiction prose.
If you are unaware, the basic premise is this: Aldous Huxley took a mind-altering drug and describes the results.
One should not think, however, that the book was written whilst Huxley was under the influence of the 0.4 grams of mescalin that he took. Rather, this was written in retrospect, relying in places on answers recorded by a friend who he was with during this time. Huxley does become something of an apologist, or even an evangelist, for the use of mescalin, arguing that it has much fewer drawbacks than even alcohol or nicotine. He describes how things become much more vivid, though there is no loss of cognitive functions. Hence, he feels that our evolution has filtered out things in the world which readily exist, but which the use of narcotics open up to us.
One of the strongest parallels Huxley draws is with religion. I wasn’t aware that this was such a significant factor as I was planning on taking a short break from any “religious reading” for a week, though the parallels that Huxley draws are very interesting. He is level-headed enough to dismiss the suggestion that reasoned theological thought should be equated with any drug-induced experience, but he does suggest that both offer insights into realms beyond our everyday comprehension. That’s not to say I agree with him, but it is quite thought-provoking.
In writing this review I will confess that I have been a little lazy as I have not followed up on Huxley’s claim that mescalin and LSD are less harmful than other drugs. I think it likely that there has been subsequent research but I have not reviewed the relevant literature. Nonetheless, as a stand-alone piece I can readily see how this may have influenced the “hippy” movement in the years following the book’s original publication.