Aldous Huxley, Psychedelics Enthusiast, Lectures About “the Visionary Experience” at MIT (1962)


Today, those who get “turned on” to Aldous Hux­ley (as they might have said back in the 1960s) get it through his books: the dystopi­an nov­el Brave New World, usu­al­ly, or per­haps the mesca­line mem­oir The Doors of Per­cep­tion. But dur­ing Hux­ley’s life­time, espe­cial­ly in its final years from the late 1950s to the ear­ly 60s, he made no small num­ber of adher­ents through lec­tur­ing. Hav­ing trans­plant­ed him­self from his native Eng­land to Cal­i­for­nia in 1937, he even­tu­al­ly achieved great regard among the region’s self-styled intel­lec­tu­als and spir­i­tu­al seek­ers, giv­ing talks at such mys­ti­cal­ly high-in-the-zeit­geist places as Hol­ly­wood and San­ta Bar­bara’s Vedan­ta tem­ples and even Big Sur’s famous Esalen Insti­tute. But the pro­lif­ic speech-giv­er also went far­ther afield, to far squar­er venues such as the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy. There, in 1962, he record­ed the album Vision­ary Expe­ri­ence: A Series Of Talks On The Human Sit­u­a­tion, which you can hear on Ubuweb, or right below.

At that point, Hux­ley had already gained world­wide fame for his views on bet­ter liv­ing, which was some­times achieved, he believed, through psy­che­del­ic drugs. This might have already sound­ed like old hat in, say, the San Fran­cis­co of the late 1960s, let alone the 70s and onward, but in these record­ings Hux­ley says his piece in — I still can’t quite believe it — the MIT of the ear­ly 1960s. But Hux­ley, diag­nosed a cou­ple years before with the can­cer that would claim his life the next, had noth­ing to lose by spread­ing the word of his sub­stance-induced dis­cov­er­ies. These would, as you may remem­ber, even facil­i­tate the death itself, Hux­ley’s final vision­ary expe­ri­ence. To learn even more about all those that pre­ced­ed it, see his col­lec­tion Writ­ings on Psy­che­delics and the Vision­ary Expe­ri­ence (1931–1963), that’s avail­able on the Inter­net Archive. While we here at Open Cul­ture don’t endorse drug use, we do endorse the words of Hux­ley as a sub­sti­tute, and per­haps an even more vivid one.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Aldous Huxley’s Most Beau­ti­ful, LSD-Assist­ed Death: A Let­ter from His Wid­ow

Aldous Hux­ley Reads Dra­ma­tized Ver­sion of Brave New World

Zen Mas­ter Alan Watts Dis­cov­ers the Secrets of Aldous Hux­ley and His Art of Dying

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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