Generally, I greatly prefer to read books in the dead-trees format—actual paper in my hand. This was the first I've read in a long time where I foundGenerally, I greatly prefer to read books in the dead-trees format—actual paper in my hand. This was the first I've read in a long time where I found myself desperately longing, not only for an electronic edition, but for a fully hypertextual version, rich with links. Over the two months I spent on this volume, on and off, I believe two-thirds of my time was spent on the Internet looking up references. At the very least, this book would benefit greatly from extensive illustration: the range of artistic works referenced, from Caravaggio to Millais to Vermeer, is sure to baffle most modern readers without a degree in Art History. Remember Laurent Tailhade? Yeah, me neither.
Frankly, with the state of Liberal Arts education today, I have a hard time believing that much of anyone who has read this in the last 30-40 years has understood but a fraction of it—and reading over the reviews I can find bears this out. Both essays are often seen as little more than an apologia for "drug experimentation." While that is certainly an element of both, it can hardly be taken as Huxley's central point. It was rather Dr. Leary who much later reduced the matter to such a simple and simplistic premise, and even he had more than that to say to those who were willing and able to delve beneath the surface.
Instead, while making the case for the legitimacy of drug use, Doors offers a hypothesis for the mechanism of the experience via the well known reference to Blake and the then-current state of neuro-biological research; to wit, that ordinary perception is a matter of the mind filtering data for survival, while transformed or visionary experience—whether achieved through asceticism, art, or chemistry—opens the mind to all the data available, regardless of its mere survival value, thus allowing one to see through the ordinary to a truer vision of reality. Why, after all, should one need to starve or abase oneself for months and years to achieve such states when the same experience, or a reasonable simulacrum, can be had for the cost of a drug and perhaps a mild hangover?
Heaven and Hell goes on to develop this thesis by comparing the visions induced by exogenous chemicals to the more visionary pieces of art throughout history, as well as elaborating on the religio-spiritual theme. This is where, I believe, a majority of readers are likely to get lost, and thus explains why there are far more extant reviews of the former essay than of the latter. Even with handy art references, the latter is still the more difficult read, with its several tangential appendices and textual digressions. One might almost suppose that the drugs had not yet worn off while he wrote this one. Still, for the persistent, this is a worthwhile sequel, and it is readily obvious why the two are so often packaged together. But keep your browser near at hand, because many of his points are utterly lost without knowing the art to which he refers.
Finally, it is this very lack of illustration, and internal referencing for the modern reader, that prompts me to deduct one star from what would otherwise be a truly stellar recommendation. I continue to hope that the Huxley estate, or whoever controls the copyrights, will consider reissuing this with the necessary supplemental material, perhaps even in a definitive scholarly "critical edition." Were it in the public domain, I might take on such a project myself....more
While many of the techniques presented in this slim volume are entirely worthwhile and of great value in making oneself clear and defusing potentiallyWhile many of the techniques presented in this slim volume are entirely worthwhile and of great value in making oneself clear and defusing potentially tense communications, I still disagree with some of the author's fundamental categorization of "needs." While it may be useful, or even necessary under certain circumstances, to address the desires of another person in addition to, or even perhaps prior to, their needs, I continue to maintain that there is an important distinction to be made between genuine human needs and mere desires, and that kowtowing excessively to the desires of others, while entirely likely to smooth out an otherwise difficult conversation, is of limited value in the long-term. Reinforcing the legitimacy, to say nothing of the primacy, of such desires can go quite a way toward reifying them in the minds of their holders, and thence to create an increased sense of entitlement. All that said, I still find the techniques described to be extremely useful, especially in such cases as "arguing about the toothpaste" when there is clearly a deeper and more important issue underlying a given conflict. What flaws there are, in many instances, are more the flaws of novice to intermediate practitioners of NVC rather than of the author himself, as is shown in many of the included examples....more
Whatever the merits of the research itself in terms of understanding the effect of situational and systemic factReview in progress: I'm still reading.
Whatever the merits of the research itself in terms of understanding the effect of situational and systemic factors on human behavior, it appears that Dr. Zimbardo's underlying philosophy is self-contradictory. He seems to want to have things both ways in implying that external factors both excuse and not excuse "evil" acts.
Her discusses this in his chapter on ethics following the descriptions of the Stanford Prison Experiment itself. On pages 230-31, in the section "The Perversion of Human Perfectibility," he explicitly disclaims the use of such research to negate human responsibility (emphasis is mine):
However, let me make clear one critical point: understanding the "why" of what was done does not excuse "what" was done. Psychological analysis is not "excusiology." Individuals and groups who behave immorally or illegally must still be held responsible for their complicity and crimes.
And of course, if for nothing but political reasons, he has to say this. American society and jurisprudence requires this model fundamentally. Nevertheless, he goes on directly to undermine this claim on pages 237-38, in the section on "Relative Ethics," when discussing the "process debriefing" used with the SPE subjects after the experiment concluded (emphasis again is mine):
"Recall that the data from the mood adjective checklist showed that both prisoners and guards had returned to a more balanced emotional state following the debriefing session, to reach levels comparable to their emotional conditions at the start of the study. The relatively short duration of the negative impact of the intense experience on the participants can be ascribed to three factors: First, these youngsters all had a sound psychological and personal foundation to bounce back to after the study ended. Second, the experience was unique to and contained in that time, setting, costumes, and script, all of which could be left behind as a package of their "SPE adventure" and not reactivated in the future. Third, our detailed debriefing took the guards and prisoners off the hook for behaving badly and identified the features of the situation that had influenced them."
What happened to still holding them "responsible for their complicity and crimes" especially given that some behaved more immorally than others? While the situation is clearly influential, it is just as clearly not a direct cause leading inevitably to the undesirable behavior occasionally displayed. Why not instead work to uncover possible shortcomings in the profiling tests that were presumed to show that the subjects all had a "sound psychological and personal foundation," when clearly some had a greater propensity toward sadism, or a lower resistance to oppression, than others?
Perhaps these questions will be answered later in the book, at which point I will revise these remarks as necessary....more