Aldous Huxley was highly educated, at Oxford, in all the right subjects: history, religion, the classics, literature and philosophy. He was blue blood. His brother Julian was a renowned biologist. His grandfather, Thomas Huxley, was the famous defender of Charles Darwin.
Somehow he came to realize that he did too much thinking, with words, and not enough perceiving – experiencing things as they really are – with his senses. He called this type of person a ‘verbalist’. He realized that he was a very successful ‘verbalist’, a world renowned writer of fiction and non-fiction and nearly all of his privileged, upper class friends were also successful ‘verbalists’. He increasingly found himself, however, unhappy, and came to see, in his friends and in himself, a distressing obsessiveness, egotism, and alcoholism.
“In a world where education is predominantly verbal, highly educated people find it all but impossible to pay serious attention to anything but words and notions.”
He sought to try to stop being such a thing as a ‘verbalist’. He learned about mystical religion, and decided to try LSD. H was hoping for . . . some kind of change.
And he got it. LSD gave an experience of intense perception, a profound awakening of his senses.
“A large pale blue automobile was standing at the curb. At the sight of it, I was suddenly overcome by enormous merriment. What complacency, what an absurd self-satisfaction beamed from this bulging surface of glossiest enamel! . . . the percept had swallowed up the concept. I was so completely absorbed in looking, so thunderstruck by what I actually saw, that I could not be aware of anything else.”
He found wonder and awe, and a newfound reverence for the non-verbal – “the glory and the power of pure existence belongs to another order, beyond the power of even the highest art to express. . . an impeccable sense of gratitude for the privilege of being born into this universe.”
In Brave New World, his most famous novel, he presents a world where words of propaganda control a society that values rational ‘stability’ – verbalism! – above all else. People there need soma, a tranquilizer, to tolerate it.
Huxley concludes that we must be ‘amphibians‘ – alive in both the worlds of perception and of thought. We must have “education both in facts and in values, and in the abuses as well as the uses of language”, and to oppose verbal tyranny, we must have “smaller, more autonomous units of government – ‘self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups. ”
A four star intellectual manages to transcend the confines of enlightened philosophical and linguistic habit and discover life in the here and now, and people as they are.
In his last novel, The Island, a utopian answer to Brave New World, he writes of a ceremonial ‘Island Service’ of death in which the experience of death is fully embraced, with no sedation.
Aldous Huxley died of throat cancer, in 1963, on the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In his final moments, his wife gave him IV LSD . . . as he requested.