A New Existentialist Perspective: An Essay on Anthony Peake’s Opening the Doors of Perception (2016)

(You can buy the book here: https://www.anthonypeake.com/product/opening-the-doors-of-perception/)

                Anthony Peake is at the forefront of a controversial science that aims to unify consciousness with the literally mind-bending and time-defying processes of the subatomic world.  His work shares some similarities with the work of Lynne McTaggart, particularly her excellent book The Field (2001).  Indeed, Peake’s Opening the Doors of Perception (2016) and McTaggart’s The Field bring consciousness back into prominence; that is, consciousness as being a fundamental component of reality, and an enormously important participant in the world around us, even extending so far as the macrocosmic scale of the structures of the cosmos itself.  Much like the apparent entropy of background radiation, there is also the anti-entropic, ordering principle of consciousness – a higher formulation, if you will.

Peake asks the question of why matter, aggregated in the form of a body, suddenly generates something that can self-reflect.  Of course, consciousness has the ability to ask this very question, being as it is, by definition, self-aware.  But what is more significant for Peake are those moments in which consciousness suddenly launches itself out of time and can, from its new vantage point, look backwards and forwards in time.  This profound state of ‘timelessness’ takes place under unusual neurological and neurobiochemical states which, in a variety of different ways, remind us of the experiences of many of the great mystics such as Blake, Boehme, Swedenborg (even the science fiction author, Philip K. Dick) – and yet, and most importantly, these can also be experienced by ordinary people undergoing an extraordinary altered state of consciousness.

Moreover, people undergoing temporal lobe seizures, aura migraine or as a result of autism or Alzheimer’s disease, are more likely than us ‘neurotypicals’ (neurologically typical) to experience these radical new perspectives of time, the world around them and of themselves.  And this results, sadly, to a general misunderstanding, a sense of alienation in the one who experiences it firsthand; so, in as much as Peake’s work studies and attempts to understand these unusual states, he is also presenting a reassuring paradigm in which to understand their mysteries. Furthermore, Peake contends that these alternative modes of being are not to be treated as mere hallucinations or an imaginative concoction of a non-typical brain – they are, in a very real sense, a glimpse beyond the world of appearances into the underlying reality that constitutes the structure of the cosmos.  Indeed these individuals are seeing and experiencing an objective reality beyond what he refers to as the ‘reducing valve’ of ordinary consciousness.

The ‘reducing valve’ was term that Aldous Huxley used throughout his famous book The Doors of Perception (1954) to explain the normally constricted consciousness of our everyday experience.  And in the famous words of William Blake, if these “doors of perception were cleansed” (in other words, if the ‘reducing valve’ is removed), “everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”.

Opening the Doors of Perception is Anthony Peake’s own response to, and an updated celebration of Huxley’s seminal book; but instead of continuing with the hallucinogenic experiences of mescalin, Peake undertakes a more scientific approach of understanding brain physiology and its relationship to consciousness – particularly inter-hemispheric communication, and what he calls “neuroatypical ‘illnesses’” along the “Huxleyian spectrum”.  The Huxleyian spectrum is a means to gauge just how wide open the doors have become, and indeed how much the ‘reducing valve’ has been switched off.

Peake aims and, as I argue below, successfully achieves an enormously stimulating synthesis by re-evaluating “the model of perception suggested by Huxley and to view it through the lens of our modern science, and, more importantly, to evaluate the evidence taking into account how the web, virtual reality and holographics have changed forever the way we appreciate the external world” (7).  Now Opening the Doors of Perception is not simply an up-dated version of Huxley’s book, but is also an evolution of Peake’s previous books, namely Is There Life After Death? (2006) and The Daemon (2008) which first laid down his unique ‘Daemon-Eidolon hypothesis’, in which argues convincingly that “human consciousness is split into two independent foci of self-aware consciousnesses” which he the calls the Daemon and the Eidolon.

To place this hypothesis into perspective it is worth returning to his earlier book, The Daemon, which prefigures his later work in Opening the Doors of Perception admirably:

“I disagree with [Henry] Bergson and Huxley in their belief that the reducing valve allows direct access to the ‘outside world’ as it really is.  I argue that the ‘Doors’ open up to allow access to the everyday awareness of the Daemon.  Put simply, the Eidolon perceives the world as the Daemon does and the Daemon perceives the actual nature of ‘reality’ – a very sophisticated, internally-generated illusion – a recording of a life that was once lived, a recording generated by a process similar to holography” (58)

The Eidolon, then, is you – the normal ‘I’ who experiences our lives from position of ordinary linear time.  However the Daemon is also ‘you’, but, a much higher you that lives outside of time – the Daemon, in short, has already lived your life (maybe even thousands of times!).  When the doors of perception are cleansed, whether through hallucinogenic drugs or a temporal lobe seizure, Peake argues that what we really perceive is ‘reality’ as the Daemon sees it; that is, from a sort of timeless perspective that can offer us glimpses – by means of precognitions, déjà-vu, hallucinations or voices – of the future.  This viewpoint is simply a ‘timeless state’; it is also what Huxley called ‘Mind at Large’, a perspective that allows us insights into the structures and more importantly implicit meanings in nature and the universe.

Indeed, implicitness is enormously important when we begin to discuss meaningfulness and its relational quality later on.

This is what makes Opening the Doors of Perception such a profound book, and a treasure trove of insights for anyone interested in the nature of consciousness, and particularly – in my own case – as someone who approaches it as a text pertaining directly to the important insights of Colin Wilson’s philosophy, the new existentialism.

The new existentialism is a philosophy that emerged primarily from the philosophical discipline phenomenology created by Edmund Husserl, in short Wilson argues for a ‘positive existentialism’ that recognises that consciousness has a far greater range than we are lead to believe, indeed it has an intentional, that is an active rather than passive aspect that is underestimated, even totally disregarded by the ‘old existentialists’ such as Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, etc.  Wilson argues that, in an increasing world of materialist-reductionism, and its attack on religious values, there nevertheless remains a very real and significant area of inquiry: the nature of consciousness itself, the very ability that allows us to comprehend these problems at all.

Wilson argues in Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966) that “Everyday consciousness is a liar, and most people have insights to this effect at least once a week”.  He continues by stating that the really important question is:“how to give such insights a philosophical status and how to investigate them” (152).

This is effectively what Anthony Peake succeeds in doing with Opening the Doors of Perception, for he places our consciousness into two different streams – that of the Eidolonic consciousness and that of the Daemonic.  The Eidolonic-mode is in some sense this lying and ordinary consciousness: it offers us only a slither of reality; whereas the Daemon is allowed a full-spectrum view out into time.  Wilson’s Faculty X experience is precisely a glimpse of this Daemonic consciousness, for it is “the glimpse of other times and places”.  In some sense, the peak experience is closer to the Daemonic than the Eidolonic, being as it is stuck in ‘real time’ with all the trivialities of existence.  Significantly Peake makes an extraordinary connection between these experiences of meaningfulness and the Daemon through the work of Michael Persinger:

“Persinger suggests a similar spectrum to myself with regards to religious and mystical experiences.  He is convinced that such experiences are created by the temporal lobes.  The sense of self in relation to time and space is located in the amygdaloid and hippocampal complexes.  These structures are, in turn, areas that generate anxieties and fears.  The amygdale also focuses on pleasure and pain.  Collectively these parts of the brain also facilitate intense feelings of significance, or meaningfulness” (34).

The important word here, I am certain, is the word ‘collectively’.  Indeed, I am here reminded of an event that happened to J.G. Bennett which he recorded in his biography, Witness (1962), for Bennett was apparently able to consciously control the processes created by the temporal lobes.

After intense and strenuous exercise at G.I. Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at Fontainebleau, Bennett experienced something profoundly unique.  He had been feeling exhausted due to diarrhoea and a general sickness – he even considered whether or not he was going to die – but after the forced exercise he was suddenly “filled with the influx of an immense power.  My body seemed to have turned into light” (93).  He was so delighted by this new power that he carried on digging, indeed becoming more self-aware as his body seemed so full of energy that he could not feel the usual strain and exhaustion.  Excited by this Bennett decided to take look around, and the words:

“”in the mind’s eye” took on new meaning as I “saw” the eternal pattern of each thing I looked at: the trees, the plants, the water flowing in the canal and even the spade, and, lastly, my own body.  I recognized the changing relationship between “myself” and “my pattern” . . . Time and Eternity were the conditions of our experience” (93).

But most significantly, in terms of the amygdaloid and hippocampal complexes, he recalled a lecture by P.D. Ouspensky in which he said that it is easy enough for a man to be angry at will, but nevertheless it is very difficult to become astonished at will.  In his new and heightened state of consciousness Bennett decided to put this to the test, and said to himself “I will be astonished”, he continues:

“Instantly, I was overwhelmed with amazement, not only at my own state, but at everything that I looked at or thought of.  Each tree was so uniquely itself that I felt that I could walk in the forest for ever and never cease from wonderment.  Then the thought of “fear” came to me.  At once I was shaking with terror.  Unnamed horrors were menacing me on every side.  I thought of “joy”, and I felt pervaded with such fine shades of tenderness and compassion that I saw that I had not the remotest idea of the depth and range of love” (95)

This suggests that in some way Bennett had gained access to a ‘higher self’ – perhaps his Daemon? –  that could somehow elicit changes within the temporal lobes directly – but changes which are usually very difficult combinational process, such as the case of being ‘astonished at will’ seems to suggest.

It appears that in some way, the Eidolonic consciousness is a passive ‘first lifer’, so to speak, and that only in glimpses is it granted the freedoms which are usually bestowed solely to the Daemon.  Peake argues that each ‘mode’ of consciousness is in fact divided between both the dominant and non-dominant hemispheres of the brain; that is, roughly speaking, the Eidolon lives in our left hemisphere and the Daemon in the right.  Peake also suggests there can be times when there is a “bicamerality of consciousness, which may mirror or even override the hemispheres model” (233), that is, they can communicate to one another via the corpus callosum (the bridge of nerve fibres between the two hemispheres).  This communication, if it is effectively democratised, enables the Eidolon and the Daemon to work together harmoniously, and more importantly, in a controlled manner.

In Frankenstein’s Castle (1980), a book about the powers of the right brain, Colin Wilson says that the “fundamental human urge is not for happiness, but for control.  A man who has spent his life in a state of misery may be glad enough for a few scraps of happiness; but the moment he becomes a little accustomed to happiness, he is seized with a desire to grasp its underlying principle, so that he can turn it on  and off as he pleases” (48).  He continues: “insight is not enough.  The two halves [of the brain] need to combine their functions.  When this happens, the result is far greater than either could achieve individually” (48).  Opening the Doors of Perception offers us one of the most penetrating examples of the powers of the right brain at present, particularly with the amazing abilities of autistic savants who are able to remember and draw entire cities after a mere 30 minutes in a helicopter (in the case of Stephen Wiltshire), or even people who can remember their entire lives in extraordinary detail.  What is necessary is the understanding that this is a potentiality within every brain and each one of us, and yet for us neurotypicals it is indeed more difficult – and often very rare – to access these rich sources of information and insight.

Fortunately we can gain access to these states, and in a uniquely controlled way, but it is a matter of self-discipline and certain phenomenological exercises.  But before we discuss these it is worth taking a look at some of the hints that Anthony Peake provides us with.

In discussing hallucinogenics Peake refers to the work of the German-American psychologist Heinrich Klüver who noticed that there is a common recurrence of geometric forms in hallucinations – whether as a result of ingesting a hallucinogen or suffering from epilepsy, migraine or through hypnagogic imagery.  These ‘form constants’ can take the form of cobwebs, tunnels, spirals, lattices, etc, and are very often represented in the psychedelic artworks of the ancient shamanic cultures through to the 1960s and recent times (more recently popularised by the work of Alex Grey).  This brings us back to the example of J.G. Bennett when he said that he could see ‘in the mind’s eye’ that everything he looked at had an “eternal pattern”.  Peake suggests that Klüver’s Form Constants could be a glimpse into the holographic and fundamentally mathematical basis of reality.  This could be what Bennett saw in his vision; the interconnectedness of everything to everything else, until he was almost blinded by William James’s “sudden vision of increasing ranges of distant facts”.  Perhaps this is best represented by geometry, as Peake suggests by comparing it to the Mandelbrot set, or what Oliver Sacks called the ‘geometrization to infinity’.

Indeed, Peake suggests that the migraine sufferer may “short-circuit Aldous Huxley’s reducing valve and in doing so facilitate a perceptual viewpoint similar to that of Mind at Large” (41).  Colin Wilson also made this connection when he was studying an interesting individual called Brad Absetz, for in Access to Inner Worlds (1983) he describes some of the artworks of Absetz which exhibit an insight – by his other-self, perhaps located in the right hemisphere – with extraordinary paintings of highly geometrical flowers and so on, which seem to suggest a more holistic rather than ‘granulated’ – piecemeal – view of reality.  Wilson later on in the same book discusses the notion of an ‘inner library’ that is full of memories, insights and a vast accumulation of the whole of our lives, and when we experience this flash it is as if this library was suddenly lit up for us to see.  In these experiences we realise that we are not separate, trapped in time and personality, but instead apart of something much larger, vital and evolutionary.  Wilson continues:

“. . . this library inside of us is not merely a repository of separate memories.  What is so exciting is that these memories can blend together and connect into something much bigger.  The tarry smell of the sun-warmed fence is connected with the smell of grass, and an odd cold sensation that seems to be a memory of water, which in turn brings back the cold of a winter day and the sogginess of melting snow . . . And at this point, it becomes difficult to pinpoint the sensations because they seem to be spreading outwards, so that every one evokes half a dozen others, and so on in geometric progression.  There is a dazzling sensation of hovering above your own life, seeing it as a whole, like some enormous landscape.  And as we glimpse these ‘distant horizons’, we also become aware that this  is what memory is for.  Not fragmentary piecemeal perceptions, but a total grasp.  And not only my own life, but, by some process of deduction, of other lives, of all life” (122-123)

The philosopher and professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University, Jeremy Needleman, in his book What is God? (2011) expressed a very similar notion, for he too realised that all great insights, “all visions of man and universe, all magic that called me away from my little egoism and dreams – it was the power of some force that could bring together oppositions and conflicts into a greater whole, a mysterious incomprehensible event prosaically labelled “the coincidence of opposites”” (170).  Could it be that this force that both Wilson and Needleman refer to, either indirectly or directly, a glimpse of the Daemonic consciousness of the right hemisphere?  The coincidence of opposites is certainly very evocative of the unification of both hemispheres; working most effectively in a balanced fashion and lending a certain connectedness – of reality, of vivid implicit meaningfulness – to our vision of ourselves and the world around us.

This is perhaps why the works of genius themselves seem to resonate through our cultures, constantly changing it and becoming more relevant as time goes on; there is the sense that a vision is ever unfolding, a multi-dimensional and geometrical event that transcends time and space.  Indeed, the very word genius is related to the Daimonic, for Socrates had his own guardian spirit, his own genius or inspiration.  In Prometheus and Atlas (2016) Jason Reza Jorjani argues that aesthetic ideas themselves, when in touch with genius or the inspirational spirit, transcend the ordinarily rational mind (the left brain) and these “aesthetic ideas are capable of indefinitely expanding, and hence redefining rational concepts that they spawn, and that attempt, unsuccessfully yet generatively, to clearly grasp . . . that which engendered them” it is, in an enlightening analogy, the “material supplied to it by Nature in order to surpass Nature by generating ideas that lie beyond the bounds of experience” (118).  These geometrical visions, the Klüver’s Form Constants, the paintings of Brad Absetz and the ‘eternal pattern’ as seen by Bennett all seem to be referring to the same thing; these intuitions of something beyond the time-bound appearances that are presented to us in our Eidolonic state.  The Daemonic, when it bleeds into our ordinary everyday consciousness leaves us with ideas that “lie beyond the bounds of experiences” and therefore, as the mystics constantly remind us, beyond the capacity of ordinary language to convey.

Only highly aesthetic forms of expression, music, poetry, painting, and geometries, can remind us that these realities beyond the ordinary world, and beyond our ‘reducing valve’ are incredibly rich – and this realm of incredible richness of experience is only, in reality, a very slight step away – even a matter of centimetres – if we are to consider the enormous possibilities Anthony Peake presents us in his books.

The final lines of Opening the Doors of Perception boldly state this, and Peake shares his vision of an exploration of inner space:

“We will break out of the confines of our present consensual reality and in doing so will begin the first few tentative steps in creating a new science to explain the wonders of the Pleroma [Mind at Large or the Ultimate Reality]” (241)

And this statement was similarly stated by Colin Wilson in The New Existentialism, for the ‘new existentialist’ “accepts man’s experience of his inner freedom as basic and irreducible” and ‘the new existentialism” concentrates the full battery of phenomenological analysis upon the everyday sense of contingency . . . it uncovers the complexities and safety devices in which freedom dissipates itself”.

Anthony Peake’s Opening the Doors of Perception constantly reminds us, through exploring the fascinating processes of hallucinations, to the scientific explorations of quantum physics, consciousness studies and the enlightening worlds of temporal lobe epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, near-death experiences and so on, that the reality behind the contingent world of temporal forms, there is a rich and scintillating infinity, of, in short, the evolutionary potentiality of man.

anthony-peake-opening-the-doors-of-perception-the-key-to-cosmic-awareness-508x783

Bibliography:

Bennett, J.G. (2007) Witness. Santa Fe, Bennett Books

Jorjani, R.J. (2016) Prometheus and Atlas. London, Arktos

Needleman, J. (2011) What is God?. New York, Tarcher Penguin

Peake, A. (2008) Daemon. London, Arcturus

Peake, A. (2016) Opening the Doors of Perception. London, Watkins

Wilson, C. (1966) Introduction to the New Existentialism. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company

Wilson, C. (1980) Frankenstein’s Castle. Bath, Ashgrove Press

Wilson, C. (1983) Access to Inner Worlds. London, Rider.

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