You may already know of this novel called 1984, and its author George Orwell. Aldous Huxley wrote a dystopian classic called Brave New World, which is contemporary to 1984 and has a similar literary significance. Although Huxley is slightly less familiar, I have come to realize.
Both Huxley and Orwell talked about dyspotian futures. Although the path leading up to their fearful vision of world were treaded from different ends.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no-one who wanted to read one.”
“Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.”
“In 1984, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.”, writes Neil Postman.
Reading this with the context of Social Media and News in our present world, we are so much closer to the world Huxley envisioned almost hundred years ago.
However, this blog post isn’t about dystopia. I want to talk a bit about this other masterpiece Huxley wrote called “The Doors of Perception”. It is a tiny book, just about 30 pages; but is top shelf for me.
The Doors of Perception
Huxley says that no two human beings have the same perception of the world. We perceive things around us uniquely. For example, it doesn’t matter how close we feel to a person, let it be our partner, a close friend of ours or our parents - each of our perceptions will always be different. And it gets interesting if you think more about it.
“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies - all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes…”, says Huxley in this book.
If someone asks me - what do you mean by reality? I’ll say, well, you know the trees grow, flowers bloom, we live on planet Earth, which is round, human beings experience pain and suffering, gravity exists - and the other things that I see in the world.
In my answer, I only mentioned what is easy for me to say, and can be agreed upon by a lot of people - hopefully everyone. But my complete reality is much larger and has edges which get a bit fuzzier. And I have not grown enough to describe them well, I think. I probably never will.
“What we ordinarily call “reality” is merely that slice of total fact which our biological equipment, our linguistic heritage and our social conventions of thought and feeling make it possible for us to apprehend.”
These words of Huxley are painful to read at times. He basically suggests that we’ll never know the absolute reality even if it exists. The tool that helps us cut this “slice” is called Perception.
But the good news is that our perceptions change, or rather expand. And we get to see more of it as we grow.
Huxley says that for each of us, there are many perceptions which we can not access. Their doors are locked for us. For example, if you never given birth, you can still talk about parenting but there is so much more still locked for you. And you’ll get to unlock that door only when you will raise a child.
He says that we are caged inside our perceptions, and that there are doors which lead us to new realities. But so far we have opened only a handful of them. And majority of doors are still locked for us - and that too from outside - so it’s not possible for us to go and see what’s on the other side merely by thinking.
It takes experiences - or rather “meaningful experiences” to unlock these doors.
My university campus was beautiful. The trees and the shades of green always blew my mind. Taking frequent walks in the day was one of my favorite activities. For a few years, I thought everyone around me knew it - just because it was obvious for me.
After reading Huxley and The Doors of Perception, I entered a brief but gloomy phase in life. He basically gave me some uncomfortable realizations that I had to live with. No matter how much I love my parents or my partner, they will never get to know it all. A part of me was getting sadder with more experiences I was having one by one. And it was getting harder for me to communicate everything I felt. I was naive.
Years have passed and I have made peace with this limitation of life. We can not communicate everything, but we can try! Since then, I started putting more effort into the ways I communicate. Sometimes I speak, write poems, draw analogies from stories - and sometimes I would just send someone a song. I have made peace with the fact that everything can not be conveyed with language. Some things need to be heard, seen and felt.
Same goes for taking pictures. Don’t get me wrong - I think photos are a great way of communicating. But sometimes I respect a view, by not taking a picture. How would you feel if someone took a favorite song of yours, and sang it poorly and offbeat? The same goes for me when I try to capture extraordinary beauty of nature in pixels. It usually happens with mountains, forests, oceans, etc.
Art is an attempt to communicate
Art (poetry, music, paintings etc.) are beautiful attempts by human beings to convey their perceptions. Even though I will never get to think about music, the way David Gilmour of Pink Floyd did. I will never get to think about world, the way Aldous Huxley did. I will never look at the stars in the sky, the way Van Gogh did. But their music, writings and paintings hints me of a larger reality.
Realizing that the true nature of reality is beyond our comprehension and that we’ll always be cutting slices of it, can be a humbling feeling. It can inspire us to keep expanding our perceptions - by have more meaningful experiences in life.