Tag Archives: drugs

Book Review: The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

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.

Book Review: Wired for God by Charles Foster

I picked this book up quite a few months ago, as the subject really piqued my interest. It would probably be good to note that the subtitle is “The biology of spiritual experience.” Now those of you who know me will be well aware that I am not a biologist. However, in recognising my own ignorance of this subject, I am seeking (albeit slowly) to add in some more biology into my science reading, which tends to be heavily weighted towards to maths & physics.

I was prompted to take it off the bookshelf and take it with me on the train after I recently listened to the Gifford lectures given by Simon Conway Morris in which he puts forth his views on convergent evolution and touches on the area of the relation of “mind” and the brain. For me, as a christian with a scientific background, I love looking at creation and not only marvelling at the end results, but also to look at the methodologies God used to bring it all about. That’s just my metaphysic viewpoint; I know not everyone will agree with it.

I think the same will be true of Foster’s book. I found plenty in there to agree with and some which I disagreed with wholeheartedly. I think there is something in there for everyone to object to, and I can think of few people I have met that would agree with all of the opinions (which cover a wide range of subjects) espoused by Foster.

The book was not quite what I expected. What I thought we were going to get was mostly neurological with some talk about how “religious” experiences affect the brain, along with discussions about causality, and whether what happens in the brain was the result of a “real” external stimulus or whether the experience was merely a product of what was going on in the brain.

Instead, what we have is a survey of various psychological experiences which might be considered to lie “outside the norm.” A lot of space is given to psychotropic drugs and the different effects experienced by users of a variety of different substances. Foster also covers some aspects of shamanism, out-of-body experiences, near-death-experiences, epilepsy and sexual ecstasy. So I wouldn’t have thought I’d see in a conservative Anglican church. In touching on shamanism, it gets close to, though does not reach, my own less-than-popular opinion regarding the presence of shamanistic practices in the Anglican church, specifically in what is known as liturgy, but which I see as being no different from ritualistic chanting, regardless of the veracity of the words being chanted.

Foster hides his own voice in the book sometimes. He does this by spending most of the chapter laying out the testimonies of others and gathering other viewpoints, whilst not commenting on them until the very end of the chapter. This left me a bit frustrated, as I would be reading a chapter, disagreeing with it, shaking my head, only to find in the last couple of pages that Foster actually & I were in agreement.

Along the way, he has a few pops at the reductionists, most notably Richard Dawkins, Susan Blackmore and Daniel Dennett. Though written with erudition, his critiques are potentially too concise and I would love to read a fuller comment from Blackmore on Foster’s work (she does contribute a quote on the cover, but little more than that).

In conclusion, I think the book spends too little addressing the subject of the subtitle, and too much on merely describing drug experiences which may or may not be related to spiritual experiences.