December 21, 2008

Jeffrey Kripal on Aldous Huxley and the 'neural Buddhists'

Writing in the Chronicle Review, Jeffrey Kripal argues that a kind of Huxley renaissance is under way. "It is worth returning to Huxley," writes Kripal, "not as he has been for us in the past — the author of the prophetic, dystopian Brave New World — but as he might be for us in the future."

Kripal sees a connection between Huxley's work and that of the burgeoning neural Buddhist movement. He writes:
But Huxley was suspicious of gurus and gods of any sort, and he finally aligned himself with a deep stream of unorthodox doctrine and practice that he found running through all the Asian religions, which, he proclaimed in Island (his last novel, published in 1962), was a "new conscious Wisdom ... prophetically glimpsed in Zen and Taoism and Tantra." That worldview — which Huxley also linked to ancient fertility cults, the study of sexuality in the modern West, and Darwinian biology — emerges from the refusal of all traditional dualisms; that is, it rejects any religious or moral system that separates the world and the divine, matter and mind, sex and spirit, purity and pollution (and that's rejecting a lot). Put more positively, Huxley's new Wisdom focuses on the embodied particularities of moment-to-moment experience, including sexual experience, as the place of "luminous bliss."

Science, particularly what would become neuroscience, was a key part of that mature vision. Very late in life, Huxley would drift further and further into an oddly prescient fusion of Tantric Buddhism and neurophysiology, a worldview captured in the "neurotheologian" of Island, identified there as someone "who thinks about people in terms, simultaneously, of the Clear Light of the Void and the vegetative nervous system." This Buddhist neurotheologian was in fact a fictional embodiment of Huxley's own philosophy, which we might frame as "the filter thesis." Following the philosophers Henri-Louis Bergson and C.D. Broad, Huxley consistently argued that consciousness was filtered and translated by the brain through incredibly complex neurophysiological, linguistic, psychological, and cultural processes, but not finally produced by it. We are not who we think we are. Or better, who we think we are is only a temporary mask (persona) that a greater Consciousness wears for a time and a season in order to "speak through" (per-sona). That old English bard had it just right, then: The world really is a stage.
Read the entire article.


ano said...

That NY Times article is poor. "Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment." The two are proposed as opposites when in fact a person's fairness, empathy and attachment can be easily shown to be emergent properties of selfish genes! This was done more than 30 years ago in the book which the article flagrantly misrepresents.

Nebris said...

To ANO: That such a High Consciousness world view is coming from a hard core Neo-Con apologist like Brooks is fucking monumental and we should take some hope from that.

Casey said...

On holiday, I had an extended blab about Huxley's reemergence as a visionary psychonaut (my wife was surely thrilled).

Also, I predicted a rash of born-again Keynesian conversions to sweep my home city (DC).