Aldous Huxley Trips on Acid; Talks About Cats & the Secret of Life (1962)

Dystopia and drugs: these are the two con­cepts most com­mon­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Aldous Hux­ley, who wrote Brave New World and, decades lat­er, advo­cat­ed the mind-expand­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties of psy­che­del­ic sub­stances. The sociopo­lit­i­cal real­i­ties of the 21st cen­tu­ry have prompt­ed us to return to and more ful­ly under­stand what Hux­ley was try­ing to tell us with his nov­el­is­tic vision of a soci­ety engi­neered and auto­mat­ed into total sub­mis­sion. But how many of us real­ly under­stand his per­spec­tive on what the drugs did for his think­ing?

Hux­ley may have writ­ten elo­quent­ly on the sub­ject, most pop­u­lar­ly in 1954’s The Doors of Per­cep­tion, but in the audio clip above we can hear some of that think­ing straight from the vision­ary’s mouth. “This is a record­ing of Aldous Hux­ley on 100 μg of LSD, made on Decem­ber 23 1962,” writes the uploader, “gonzo philoso­pher” Jules Evans. “The trip sit­ter is his wife, Lau­ra Archera Hux­ley.” A trip sit­ter, for the unini­ti­at­ed, is like the des­ig­nat­ed dri­ver of a psy­che­del­ic jour­ney, a com­pan­ion who stays on the ground to look out for the one who gets high. (This same wife would, the fol­low­ing year, take Hux­ley on his final trip, the one that would take him all the way out of this world.)

Hux­ley “dis­cuss­es the secret of life — to be one­self and at the same time ‘iden­ti­cal with the divine.’ And he won­ders about the val­ue of blast­ing off into the stratos­phere, like Tim­o­thy Leary.” Leary, a fel­low cham­pi­on of psy­che­delics, began his career as a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at Har­vard and end­ed up ded­i­cat­ing his life to the pos­si­bil­i­ties of LSD, along the way pop­u­lar­iz­ing the phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out.” “Tim is alright,” says the trip­ping Hux­ley. “He’s just sort of… an Irish­man, bang­ing around, but I think he’s doing a lot of good.” But in Hux­ley’s view, Leary also “just wants to be an ass. We all have to be for­giv­en for some­thing. My God, will you for­give me!”

In just three min­utes drawn from a longer record­ing stored at UCLA’s Hux­ley archive, the writer makes a vari­ety of oth­er obser­va­tions as well. These include the desire of drug-users to “take hol­i­days from them­selves,” the val­ue of psy­che­del­ic expe­ri­ences show­ing peo­ple that “they don’t have to always live in this com­plete­ly con­di­tioned way,” and the chal­lenge of hav­ing to be “com­plete­ly boxed up in one­self as that cat is” — as he ges­tures, pre­sum­ably, toward a house­hold pet — “at the same time one has to be com­plete­ly iden­ti­cal with God!” LSD has report­ed­ly led some of its users to com­mu­nion with the divine, but on this trip Hux­ley set­tles for try­ing to com­mune with the feline. After a brief attempt at speak­ing the cat’s own lan­guage, he returns to Eng­lish to make a broad­er point about the human and ani­mal con­di­tion: “Luck­i­ly he does­n’t have our prob­lems. But he has his own.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When Aldous Hux­ley, Dying of Can­cer, Left This World Trip­ping on LSD, Expe­ri­enc­ing “the Most Serene, the Most Beau­ti­ful Death” (1963)

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

Aldous Hux­ley Tells Mike Wal­lace What Will Destroy Democ­ra­cy: Over­pop­u­la­tion, Drugs & Insid­i­ous Tech­nol­o­gy (1958)

When Michel Fou­cault Tripped on Acid in Death Val­ley and Called It “The Great­est Expe­ri­ence of My Life” (1975)

How to Use Psy­che­del­ic Drugs to Improve Men­tal Health: Michael Pollan’s New Book, How to Change Your Mind, Makes the Case

Woman Takes LSD in 1956: “I’ve Nev­er Seen Such Infi­nite Beau­ty in All My Life,” “I Wish I Could Talk in Tech­ni­col­or”

The His­toric LSD Debate at MIT: Tim­o­thy Leary v. Pro­fes­sor Jerome Lettvin (1967)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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