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Aldous Huxley's Island Revisited: Psychedelics and the Semantics of Perception and Belief

Crane, Reanne (2022) Aldous Huxley's Island Revisited: Psychedelics and the Semantics of Perception and Belief. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.99004) (KAR id:99004)


This thesis is primarily concerned with the ideologies that structure Western narratives about psychedelic experiences. We are in a moment of unprecedented change regarding the legal, medical, and social status of psychedelic substances-what some refer to as the 'Psychedelic Renaissance'. But there are numerous incompatibilities between current psychedelic platitudes (and the dominant discourses of the West more generally) and the idea of 'altered' states of consciousness as an asset.

Western psychedelic rhetoric is saturated with conceptualisations of personal growth and healing, part of a larger paradigm in which health-especially mental health-is pitched as the responsibility of the individual. This thesis questions the meaning of 'psychedelic integration' in a hyper-individualistic context in which wellness is being increasingly commodified; it explores why medicalisation ought to be just one of many socially sanctioned applications of psychedelics.

Aldous Huxley's Island exemplifies radical agnosticism (among other things) through a pluralistic approach to psychedelics. Pala's psychoactive toadstool, moksha, is embedded within a pedagogical system that continuously questions the ideologies woven into the fabric of language and culture.

With the conviction that a similar system could exist as yet undelineated outside Huxley's imagination, I use a combination of literary archival research and extensive linguistic, historical, philosophical, cultural, and scientific analysis to critique the contemporary psychedelic moment. With equal import, I also turn that critical lens back onto the imbalances of modern Western society, with a view to rekindling the neglected reciprocities between language, perception, and belief systems. I conclude that flexible semantic practises and adaptable philosophies are indispensable to the sustainability of any system-ideological or practical-that endorses perceptual modulations.

I question not only the implications of corporatizing psychedelics, but also the implications of quantifying reality. I show how a greater understanding of one's own linguistic, perceptual, and philosophical predispositions can serve as a prophylactic against capitalist dogmas. In this way, the project has not only been about the role of semantics and metaphor in psychedelic preparation and integration, but about their role in the meaning of our lives.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Rowlandson, William
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.99004
Additional information: For the purpose of open access, the author(s) has applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising.
Uncontrolled keywords: Psychedelics, Huxley, Language, Perception, Experience, Metaphor, Consciousness, Panpsychism
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 08 Dec 2022 10:10 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2023 10:04 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Crane, Reanne.

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