My Father-in-law recently recommended a lecture by the Philosopher Dr. Peter Keefts on “The 10 Books That Every Person Should Read Before They Die” (by the end of his lecture, there were twenty-six). One of the authors Keefts highlighted was Aldous Huxley, a twentieth century English writer and philosopher, and “one of the most important social thinkers, critics, and creative writers of our time”(Rogers, 290). Keefts recommends Huxley’s Brave New World as a must-read. However, since I had recently acquired a compilation of Huxley’s essays, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, I will be referencing this classic work in my blog post.
Tomorrow is a materialistic, naturalistic, or behavioristic outlook of the human spirit which Huxley sees as distinct from the body; “for, in comparison, the capacity of the spirit is limitless and subject to profound modification; the spirit is the result of all experience” (Tomorrow, “The Education of an Amphibian”, 2). Huxley basis his views on “modern psychology” (mid-century!) to the individual sense of oneness. The capacity of the spirit gives a oneness to the obvious diversity within the individual man.
I must admit that his first essay in Tomorrow, “The Education of an Amphibian”, is very dense, way over my head, and I even had to consult my daughter who is a Clinical Psychologist to help me weed through the “psychology-speak” to understand his basic concepts. I was quickly fascinated by Huxley’s idea of the “not-self” made up of “habits, conditional reflexes, impulses repressed but still obscurely active, the not-self of buried-alive reactions to remote events and forgotten words, the not-self of fossil infancy and festering remains of a past that refuses to die”(10). Huxley claims that this “not-self” is the region of the subconscious with which psychiatry mainly deals.
The next level of the not-self in “The Education” is that of entelechy, the vegetative soul in charge of the body. When we wish to walk, it actually does the walk; it controls our breathing, heartbeat, digestion, health, etc.
The third level is the not-self where we derive our inspiration and insights. It is responsible for every enhancement of wisdom, every sudden accession of vital or intellectual power, what Jung refers to as the “Archetypes”—man’s perennial conflicts and ubiquitous problems. The fourth level comes through the world of visionary experience, including Heaven and Hell; this leads to the next level of the Holy Spirit, the Atman-Brahman, the Clear Light, Suchness (10).
Bien sûr, there is the “self”, which can affect and be affected by its association with the not-selves. Huxley explains that our conscious self often responds inappropriately to circumstances and, in the process, fills the not-self with fears, greed, hates and wrong judgments. This would be what we as Christians refer to as “sin”. When this process happens, the not-self reacts upon the conscious self and forces it to behave even more inappropriately. Therefore, the self and the not-self are in constant war with each other.
The last three not-selves constitute the very essence of our being. The ego and the not-self can poison one another; they can “eclipse the inner light”(11). The ego will set up an opaque screen between our conscious self and the transcendental not-self.
Now for the good news! “Health is a state of harmony between conscious self, personal not-self and vegetative soul”(11). How can we learn to place the resources of our consciousness at the disposal of the unconscious? According to Huxley, it is through relaxation! (keep in mind that this was written following a very stressful time in World History, about five years following the end of WWII—see my post on how this time changed the philosophy and writing of Jean-Paul Sartre who lived through the Paris Occupation POST
Huxley gives several techniques for systematic relaxation. By letting go of the muscles which are subject to the will which will release some of the tensions in regions of the body beyond our voluntary control, the conscious ego and the personal subconscious can be induced to stop interfering with the action of the not-selves associated with them. In addition, it is vital to establish the closest possible working partnership between conscious will and autonomic nervous system.
This is the “aim of the psychiatrist” then, according to Huxley, is to teach the (statistically) abnormal to adjust themselves to the behavior patterns of a society composed of the (statistically) normal. Huxley also recommends meditation or to “take hold of the not-thought which lies in thought”. The same is true today, seventy years later. How can we see into no-thingness? The “non-thinker” makes use of words and notions but is careful to not take them too seriously; he is on guard against condemnation and odious comparisons which language forces upon its users (28). Yes, still applicable. As the Scriptures state “Judge not lest you be judged”.
In addition, another way to relax and release tension is for the not-mind to have the capability of non-verbally not-thinking in response to an immediate experience. “One should go into each interest as it arises and not merely concentrate on one idea, one interest…a constant and intense self-awareness, free from preconceptions, comparisons, and condemnations—‘clarity’”(30).
Whew, much ado about nothing-ness! Or everything? These are just some of the highlights of Huxley’s short essay, “The Education of an Amphibian”. “Knowledge and Understanding” will be examined next.
Huxley, Aldous. (1952). Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. New York: Harper & Bros.
Rogers, Winfield H. Aldous Huxley’s Humanism . The Sewanee Review , Jul. – Sep., 1935, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1935), pp. 262- 272 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27535168
I’m intrigued by this, Robyn, because of a 1947 Australian novel by writing duo Barnard and Eldershaw, with the title Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Huxley wrote the essay in the early 50s? Now I’m wondering if they were both referencing some other work with that name…
Hi Lisa, I was drawn to this book’s title because it is a famous quote in Macbeth, which I teach in World Lit. I thought Huxley could give new insight to it. Unfortunately, he gives little reference to Shakespeare. Thank you for sharing this, Lisa. I will do some more investigating on this!
Ah, *blush* Macbeth, of course it is! “A tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing”.
I had to learn it off by heart when I was in Form 2, *chuckle* that shows you how much good it did me!
Huxley sought to explain human behavior in much the way as other thinkers like Freud. Of course, World War 2 destroyed any notion of the humanity getting better and better. Evil reared its ugly head in all its horror. Some might think that the “not self” would be what others refer to as the “reptile brain” illustrated by the instinctive “fight and flight” response.
Thank you for sharing this David. I will have to read Freud sometime. What books can you recommend?