The Doors Of Perception

Posted on April 23, 2013


Brought to you by the letter ‘T’

‘The doors of perception’ is a phrase close to my heart. For one thing, the phrase inspired the name of one of my favourite bands of all time ‘The Doors’. Drugs, dreams and the unconscious are three things I believe to be closely integrated with one another and with the phrase itself. The link between the unconscious and perspective is the main reason I find this phrase so intriguing.


Image from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Taken from WM Commons User:Lithoderm

The phrase originates from the mastermind William Blake in his poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The line reads: ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.’ Often depicted as one of Blake’s most influential works, the poem explores the idea that two types of people exist ‘energetic creators’ and ‘rational organisers’. This is the marriage of heaven and hell, or the ‘angels’ and ‘devils’ as they are described in his words.

Later on, Aldous Huxley famously explored ideologies behind Blake’s phrase in his novel The Doors of Perception. In his book Huxley described his experience of taking mescaline. On recalling his experience, Huxley described the effects as ranging from ‘purely aesthetic’ to ‘sacramental vision’.

The release of Huxley’s novel met both praise and criticism, with critics questioning whether Huxley’s motives for the experiment were purely to gain perspective or just an excuse for escapism.

Though the phrase is associated strongly with the experience of mind expanding drugs, I believe it is closely linked with the unconscious in general. After all, euphoric dreams can also help us gain a different perspective and pull us out of creative ruts.

Years later Huxley would influence founding member Jim Morrison to name his band ‘The Doors’. Inspired by Huxley and others, the band indulged in taking psychedelic drugs originally to gain perspective by opening the doors of perception within the mind.

But sadly what started as a quest for perspective lead to drug abuse. Morrison’s extensive drug-taking ended in eventual death by heart failure and a membership into the 27 Club. But when not abused are drugs, psychedelic or otherwise, a brilliant aid to the creative process?

The Doors performing in 1968 Copenhagen

The Doors performing in 1968, Copenhagen.

The problem is, is that it’s common for users to abuse drugs so that they are no longer an aid for perspective. Addiction is a strange notion, and for many people a drug induced haze is far more addictive than reality. Sadly this can cause people to chase an obsession that often ends beyond going down the rabbit-hole.

If you’ve never heard of the 27 club, it is a term used to refer to a group of musicians who all died before their time at the age of 27, most commonly as a result of drug abuse. Members include Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. I think it’s safe to say that when these people died young we as a nation felt robbed; we felt as though these people had more to offer.

When intelligent and creative people take drugs to a level of abuse, is it simply a case of chasing the rainbow? An obsession of chasing that perfect yet unattainable mastermind of an idea that once presented itself during a trip years ago but has never been replicated since. Or is it the simple idea that people are messed up, come from bad backgrounds or cannot handle the pressure of fame? I personally feel that in most cases there is more to drug addiction than that.

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas is based heavily around Thompson’s drug taking experiences.

It’s no secret that Hunter S. Thompson created one of his best known works Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream based around his own drug experiences. In his novel Thompson goes into fascinating lurid detail when he explores the blend of fact and fiction. But would the book have been just as descriptive and just as defining without the aid of drugs? Just like Huxley, Thompson was able to gain a different perspective and therefore another level to his writing.

Much like drugs, dreams are also famous sources of inspiration. Great classics such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Stephen King’s Misery all originate from dreams. To all the creators out there, who can give me a virtual hands up if you keep a notepad next to where you sleep? Who has at one time or another woken up from a dream and immediately had to write something down there and then before it disappears from memory? More frustratingly, who has woken from a dream and thought, “I must remember that for later,” only to roll back over and go to sleep? When you awake later you realise whatever it was you had to remember has already been forgotten.

Our subconscious minds seem to be brilliant tools for creating original ideas and therefore brilliant pieces of work. Subconscious thoughts allow us to approach things from a different perspective and gain perspective. This in turn can help creators out of the deepest rut. Depending on how long you’ve been in a rut for, these moments can feel like great euphoric moments of clarity.

Keeping this in mind, I have always found it strange that people assume certain great creative works have been written on a drug-trip. It is heavily assumed that Lewis Carroll was on hallucinogens at the time he wrote Alice and Wonderland, but it’s not proven. Actually it is widely disproven since it would have been difficult to get hold of such drugs at that time.

Did Carroll's inspiration come from drugs? If so, is that any different from getting inspiration from a dream?

Did Carroll’s inspiration for characters like the Cheshire Cat come from drugs? If so, is that any different from getting inspiration from a dream?

Must Carroll have been on drugs to create Wonderland? If so, do we assume that the human mind cannot create that level of imagination on its own? Perhaps Wonderland is inspired by the utopian/dystopian world drugs allow the human mind to create, but I don’t think creators have to be on drugs to create great works like this. I also believe the effects of drugs are highly subjective; thus that any great work created from a drug-trip is created from an already brilliant mind.

The unconscious mind is something I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about, but it is something that has always fascinated me. Can we manipulate our perceptions to aid creation by merely taking drugs? Or much like fate, is it destined to either work or not work?

We treat writer’s block almost like it’s a disabling curse placed upon its victims. Therefore, I’m sure if there were a magic cure on the market it would sell like hotcakes. For now at least, we will have to come up with our own inventive ways to open the doors of perception. Anyone for a nice inspiring walk in the park?

Posted in: Art and Culture