By Peter Bebergal
Between his 1932 vision of a sterile dystopia in Brave New World and the 1962 novel Island about a spiritual utopia, the author Aldous Huxley experienced two things; the Hindu religious philosophy known as Vedanta and psychedelic drugs. In Brave New World, people are addicted to Soma, a hallucinogenic that artificially simulates a kind of dull transcendent state, and so makes religion irrelevant. In Island, the Palanese (residents of Pala where the book takes place) ritually use the drug moksha for spiritual and mystical insights. It wasn’t that by the time he was writing Island Huxley no longer believed that civilization was potentially doomed to a homogenized over-indulgent consumer culture, but rather that there was another possibility for human destiny. Soon after writing Brave New World Huxley saw this other opportunity but believed it would take work, a disciplined and rigorous adherence to a spiritual ideal. By the time he got around to writing Island he was convinced there was a faster, less strenuous way to find the higher purpose of human consciousness: mescaline.
Huxley had long been interested in the hallucinogenic properties of certain plants but it wasn’t until 1953 that he encountered the work of Humphry Osmond. Continue Reading →