Aldous Huxley talks about a lot of interesting things in his book The Doors of Perception. He’s talked about a lot of things that I’ve pocketed for later use in conversation. His points seem to be relevant to a lot of what I’ve been talking about lately, and in terms of how I experience the world.
Huxley was part of a scientific experiment that allowed him to take mescaline. He came to the conclusion that taking the drug opened the doors of his perception, and that he could essentially fathom infinity, or at least see infinity, and was aware of much more of what was happening in the universe than he normally would have.
He brings up a really important point along this line, when he describes how, this must be the experience of the schizophrenic, the mentally ill. Basically saying, if you’re mentally ill, you’re more aware of all that is happening. Except unlike mescaline, it’s permanent. So a drug user would be able to ride out the intensity, a person experiencing delusion cannot do this, and they are forced to experience reality in all of its infinity and complexity.
I’ve been struck by these points on a fundamental level. It’s impacted me, for sure. My struggles with schizophrenic symptoms … is that what I’m experiencing? Something greater than what I’d normally be able to experience? I would argue that this is why many people cannot relate to my experience. Huxley describes how our sensations and experiences are isolated in our being, in our body, and this is already hard … but probably harder when you want to share you experience with others. So many times, I want to share my manic experiences, my psychotic experiences. The closest way I’ve been able to do this is through my writing, which is a kind of shared experience. But it’d be cool if the experience could be shared elsewhere.
All of this leads me into a larger point. I’ve been struggling for about a year now. I’ve been struggling in general, of course. I had my worst breakdown of all time when I was twenty-one, hospitalized multiple times throughout the summer, spending a month in jail, suffering suicidal thoughts, suffering from powerful and pervasive delusions. But I wonder, as I think through Huxley’s ideas, if part of my suffering comes from the sheer magnitude of the things that I understand.
To be clear, I don’t want to make this a grandiose claim. I’m not claiming it makes you better because you can experience more of the world, and in fact, I’m not even sure it’s a good thing. Nonetheless, I would say, this is why I’ve been struggling over the past year. I haven’t gotten the support that I need, whether through sexual intimacy or healthy communicative expression or good medication and therapy, basically left to fend for myself. But I’ve been suffering mostly because I’ve picked up more on just how wild and uncertain and dangerous and unknown and mysterious the world is.
I was just talking to a neighbor of mine, and I don’t think he was aware of how intense his own mania was, wasn’t aware of how weighty his words were. I showed him my new collection of poems, Pocket Words, poems with plenty of heart, and he made the following heavyweight comments: you need to see a therapist, you’re struggling obviously, you used the word euthanize which signifies mental instability, none of this seems sincere, this work is fake, my son definitely can’t read this because it’s dangerous … the list goes on. When all he had to get out of them is they are emotional sound bytes, minimalist poems that I just happened to write when I was going through heavy stuff over a period of three to four years: I wrote pretty much each pocket poem when I was experiencing some deep manic experience. But, it’s still just emotion. Words. Concepts, even, as was the goal (I was thinking of the Language Poets and Conceptual Poetry). It’s supposed to have that hint of fun, having words to pocket.
But this encounter was unsettling not because of the criticisms, but because the underlying ideas behind the suppositions and criticisms. Basically implying my mind is screwed. Which amps up my paranoia. Which amps up my delusion. Which amps up my general distrust of the world in a metaphysical sense, in that I don’t know what’s real or what isn’t.
All of this to say, in the context of a conversation about him describing so many things about the nature of reality, of people going through the back door to get to your emotions, and making strange metaphysical claims about the nature of the universe, from point to point, reminding me and mirroring the way that I think: Yes, I would say, perception can pick up on a lot of things, sometimes infinity.
This is only one concrete example of how my mind gets stretched, but it’s gotten stretched almost past the breaking point (I would even argue, to the breaking point, I just haven’t been hospitalized yet), because of so many things people have said to me over the past year, indicating a destabilized reality of some sort. Conspiracy theory, nihilism, fundamentalist Christianity, hardcore materialism, etc., etc.: What you realize, with all of these ideas that we take so unbelievably far, past the breaking point, is how unstable the world is, in a metaphysical sense, and how wild the possibilities are, and how much there is to learn and understand. Philosophy, for instance, has been linked to madness. I wonder if this is because, as Schelling said, philosophy is the natural history of thought … but in order to understand that thought, you must go deep down the rabbit hole, and you must be willing to ask the questions, and realize that the questions people have been asking for a long time are puzzling not because we create problems, but because we uncover problems. Nothing makes sense, for instance. You could probably take it that far.
I’ve been losing it, because I’ve been trying to construct a cognitive system that keeps me mentally stable, but there is so much that happens ideologically around us, as well as conceptually, that we can’t possibly accommodate all of that. I would imagine that the unconscious really is as dark and full as it could be, like the bottom of an iceberg, because it has so much responsibility. We do so much without thinking, without being aware of it, and that’s scary.
I’ve been losing it because, not only can I not express myself fully and in a way I find sufficient in our society, our world (a tired point I’ve hit on too much), but I’ve realized the complexities that drive philosophers insane. A friend of mine once said that mathematicians go insane, or abstract thinkers in general, because abstract thought leads to understanding: Because, of the intensive nature of this type of thinking, and how close it gets to what is otherwise an unfathomable and infinite universe.
I’ve been losing it because I don’t get it, and people keep trying to incorporate more into my system without my inclination or desire. I’m interesting in assimilating more, but not too much. People fuck with you, in other words. They manipulate you to think a certain way, and when that’s already in conflict with your own thoughts and in general, your mind, as well as when they manipulate you in a way that’s ramping up your paranoia and causing you to question your already unstable set of cognitive premises, it’s easy to crumble.
In other words, I’m going insane because I’m understanding the world. Right now, I’m in a seemingly safe place, writing this essay at the library, understanding things through reflection and trying to be honest about where I’m coming from with myself and whoever reads this in the end … but how long will this security last? Not long. Once I go back out into the world, and listen to people talk, people on edge, people fundamentalist with some belief, people who use passion to manipulate others and feel a certain way … well, fuck, man: The doors of perception. I’m fucked because my cognitive capacity allows for me to assimilate more than I should be able to, more than is healthy for me to. I suppose this is why Durkheim hypothesized that religion is helpful for bonding groups and communities together, even if we question the truth value: Because he knew the reckless search for truth (or confused search for truth, as in my case) would lead to something like insanity, or destabilization.
But does this make the search for truth bad? No. In fact, I use my mind’s capacities, the “illness,” precisely for this reason: To understand and comprehend more. I want to know. But I only want to know so much. But because I want my doors of perception to be as wide as possible … I’ve found myself down the rabbit hole more than I’ve meant to.
I suppose, then, I agree with Huxley that those who suffer with schizophrenic symptoms really do experience the world at a more truly open and intense level. Just like taking mescaline. It’s infinite.
I suppose this is why I question reality so much, why I consider myself a philosopher, but chiefly a metaphysician: Because, I don’t quite understand my own reality, and studying the nature of reality, whether through Buddhist metaphysics or the words of some Analytic philosopher, allows me to lay some kind of groundwork, even if it can never be fully stable.
But that’s what happens when you look at infinity: You realize, just how grand it all is.
And instead of taking fear in that, I find solace in it. Because it means the possibilities are there. Sure, the cost might be fears of hospitalization and many psychotic breaks, but … at least I live more fully.
I live real.