Aldous Huxley

Huxley was a rare individual, having a rather logical scientific perspective, and a sharp visionary intellect with which to grapple with metaphysical concepts such as divinity amd carry us along with him in his thought landscapes in the most lucid and meaningful way. His book ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ is a remarkable synthesis of the fundamental mystical (contemplative) aspects of the main world religions. Huxley’s more accessible and perhaps more personal views can be found in the book “The Divine Within”, collected essays written as articles for publication by the Vedanta Society of California. He was not only a mystic – a believer in the direct and personal relationship with the (indewelling) divinity – Huxley was also a visionary, a prophet and a synthesiser and integrator of ‘supposed’ dialectics such as God and Science, Man and nature, the Individual and Society.

Huxley is immensely more erudite in clarifying a shared belief, and as one Surreyite to another (Bookham to Compton is only about 12 miles) I have therefore taken the liberty ahem…of including Huxley’s short and visionary article Some Reflections on Time below, due to the urgency and importance of his message.

My short sound bite goes something like this: In my view the overriding theme of the zeitgeist (for want of a less clichéd word) and thus Man and Woman -kind’s continuing unevolved and unintegrated behaviour in general is that of his conscious awareness and recognition of his own mortality and hopelessness now that he has eradicated God. Man’s futility in his inability to escape death and face his new found ‘lack of direction and purpose’ without a metaphysic breeds fear ( or in the existentialist mantra: ‘Nausea’), and it is this fear that animates and justifies his short term smash-and grab-tactics to satisfy purely MATERIAL ends.

Some Reflections on Time

Aldous Huxley 1960

Time destroys all that it creates, and the end of every temporal sequence is, for the entity involved in it, some form of death. Death is wholly transcended only when time is transcended; immortality is for the consciousness that has broken through the temporal into the timeless. For all other consciuosnesses there is best a survival or rebirth; and these entail further temporal sequences and the periodical recurrence of yet other deaths and dissolutions. In all the traditional philosophies and religions of the world, time is regarded as the enemy and the deceiver, the prison and the torture chamber. It is only as an instrument, as the means to something else, that is possesses a positive value; for time provides the embodied soul with opportunities for transcending time; every instant of every temporal sequence is potentially the door through which we can, if we so desire, break through into the eternal. All temporal goods are means to an end beyond themselves; they are not to be treated as means in their own right. Material goods are to be prized because they support the body which, in our present exisitence, is necessary to the achievement of man’s Final End. Moral goods have many and very obvious utilitarian values; but their highest and ultimate value consists in the fact that they are means to that selflessness, which is the precondition of the realisation of the eternal. The goods of the intellect are truths and, in the last analysis, these are valuable insofar as they remove God-eclipsing delusions and prejudices. Aesthetic goods are precious because they are symbolic of, or analogous to, the unitive knowledge of timeless Reality. To regard any of these temporal goods as self-sufficient and final ends is to commit idolatry. And idolatry, which is fundamentally unrealistic and inappropriate to the facts of the universe, results at the best in self-stultification and at worst in disaster.

Movement in time is irreversibly in one direction. “We live forwards” as Kierkegaard said “but we can only understand backwards”. Moreover the flux of duration is indefinite and inconclusive, a perpetual lapse possessing in itself no pattern, no possibility of balance or symmetry. Nature, it is true, imposes on the perpetual perishing a certain appearance of pattern and symmetry. Thus, days alternate with nights, the seasons recure with regularity, plants and animals have their lifecycles and are succeeded by offspring like themselves. But all these patternings and symmetries and recurrences are characteristic, not of time as it is in itself, but of space and matter as they are associated with time in our consciousness. Days and nights and seasons exist because certain heavenly bodies move in a certain way. If it took the Earth not a year but a century to move round the Sun, our sense of the intrinsic formlessness of time, of its irrevocable one-way laspe toward the death of all entities involved in it, would be much more acute than it is at present; for most of us, in these hypothetical circumstances, would never live to see all four seasons of the long year and would have no experience of that recurrence and renewal, those cosmic variations on known themes, which, under the present astronomical dispensation, disguise the essential nature of time by endowing it, or seeming to endow it, with some of the qualities of space. Now space is a symbol of eternity; for in space there is freedom, there is reversibility of movement, and there is nothing in the nature of space, as there is in that of time, which condemns those involved in it to inevitiable death and dissolution. Moreover, when space contains material bodies, the possibility of orderliness, balance, symmetry and pattern arises – the possibility, in a word, of that Beauty which, along with Goodness and Truth, takes its place in the trinity of the manifested Godhead. In this context a highly significant point should be noted. In all the Arts whose raw material is of a temporal nature, the primary aim of the artist is to spacialise time. The poet, the dramatist, the novelist, the musician – each takes a fragment of the perpetual perishing, in which we are doomed to undertake our one-way journey toward death, and tries to endow it with some of the qualities of space: namely symmetry, balance and orderliness ( the Beauty-producing characteristics of a space containing material bodies), together with multidimensionality and the quality of permitting free movement in all directions. This spacialisation of time is achieved in poetry and music by the employment of recurrent rhythms and cadences, by the confinement of the material within conventional forms, such as that of the sonnet or sonata, and by the imposition upon the chosen fragment of temporal indefiniteness of a beginning, middle and an end. What is called construction in the drama and the narrative serves the same spacialising purpose. The aim in all cases is to give form to the essentially formless, to impose symmetry and order upon what is actually and indefinite flux towards death. The fact that all the arts that deal with temporal sequences have always attempted to spacialise time indicates very clearly the nature of man’s natural and spontaneous reaction to time, and throws a light on the significance of space as a symbol of that timeless state, toward which, through all the impediments of ignorance, the human spirit consciously or unconsciously aspires.

There has been an attempt on the part of certain western philosophers of the last few generations to raise time from the position to which the traditional religions and the normal sentiments of humanity had assigned it. Thus under the influence of evolutionary theories, time is regarded as the creator of the highest values, so that even God is emergent – the product of the one way flux of perpetual perishing, not (as in the traditional religions) as the timeles witness of time, transcendant to it and because of that transcendance, capable of imminance within it, Closely allied to the theory of emergence is the Bergsonian view that “duration” is the primary and ultimate reality and that the “life-force” exists exclusively in the flux. On another line we have the Hegelian and Marxian philosophies of History, which is spelled with a capital H, and hypostatised as a temporal providence working for the realisiation of the kingdom of heaven on earth – this kingdom of heaven on earth being, in Hegels view, a glorified version of the Prussian State and in the view of Marx, who was exiled by the Authorities of that State, of the dictatorship of the proletariat, leading “inevitably” by the process of dialectic to the classless society. These views of history make the assumption that the Divine, or History, or the Cosmic Process, or Geist, or whatever the entity which uses time for its purposes may be called, is concerned with humanity in the mass, not with man and woman as individuals – and not with humanity at any given moment, but with humanity as a succession of generations. Now, there seems to be absolutely no reason for supposing that this is the case – absolutely no reason for supposing that there is a collective soul of succeeding generations capable of experiencing, comprehending and acting upon the impulsions transmitted by Geist, History, Life-Force, and all the rest. On the contrary, all the evidence points to the fact that its the individual soul, incarnated at a particluar moment in time, which alone can establiosh contact with the Divine, to say nothing of other souls. The belief ( which is based on obvious and self evident facts) that Humanity is represented at any given moment by the persons who constitute the mass and that all the values of Humanity resides in those persons, is regarded as absurdly shallow by these philosphers of history. But the tree is know by its fruits. Those who believe in the primacy of persons and who think that the Final End of all persons is to transcend time and realise that which is eternal and timeless, are always, like the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Taoists and the primitive Christians, advocates of non violence, gentleness, peace and tolerance. Those on the contrary who like to be “deep” in the manner of Hegel and Marx who think that “History” deals with Humanity-in-the-Mass and Humnanity-as-successive-generations, not with individual men and women here and now, are indifferent to human life and personal values, worship the Molochs which they call State and Society and are cheerfully prepared to sacrifice successive generations of real, concrete persons for the sake of the entirely hypothetical happiness which, on no grounds whatsoever, will be the lot of humanity in the distant future. The politics of those who regard eternity as the ultimate reality are concerned with the present and with the ways and means of organising the present world in such a way that it will impose the fewest possible obstacles in the way of individual liberation from time and ignorance; those on the contrary, who regard time as the ultimate reality are concerend primarily with the future and regard the present world and its inhabitants as mere rubble, cannon-fodder and potential slave labour to be exploited, terrorized, liquidated, or blown to smithereens, in order that persons who may never be born, in a future time about which nothing can be known with the smallest degree of certainty, may have the kind of a wonderful time which present-day revolutionaries and war-makers think they ought to have. If the lunacy were not criminal, one would be tempted to laugh.

Reprinted courtesy of the Vedanta Society of Southern California.

(All Huxley’s articles and essays for the Vedanta Society can be found in the book “Huxley and God”, lately retitled to “The Divine Within” available from Harper Collins publishers.)