Who Are We?
A Lecture by Aldous Huxley
Plus Selections from the Question/Answer Session
“It wasn’t Huxley’s wit alone, of course, that powered his talk—he was a master conversationalist generally. His imposing height, magnificent profile and sonorous voice all contributed, but it was the way he used words to shape ideas that accounted for the magic… I seldom left his presence without feeling recharged, as if some new corner of the world—if not new vistas of being—had opened before me.”
—Huston Smith from Remembering Aldous Huxley,
LA Times Book Review, November 20, 1988
In Who Are We? Aldous Huxley explores the human “mindbody” from the empirical to the transcendent, beginning with the workings of human physiognomy, touching on the function of the brain, commenting on both the importance and limitations of language, and ultimately advising that we “uneclipse ourselves.”
In the course of his long association with the Vedanta Society of Southern California, Aldous Huxley was an important contributor to the Society’s literary heritage.
Who Are We? and the informal question/answer session were recorded at the Society on a wire recorder and have been digitally transferred by Vedanta Archives and mastered by mondayMEDIA. While the audio quality of the Q&A session may be less than modern studio standard, the spirited exchange is not to be missed.
The entire Question/Answer session straddles two CDs, part being
included at the conclusion of Knowledge
and Understanding. When Knowledge and Understanding
was originally released, it was believed that the Q&A
followed that lecture; but we've since discovered that the
entire Q&A session that is split between these two
recordings followed Who Are We?.
From Bill Moyers' website
Who was more prophetic,
Orwell or Huxley?
“We were keeping our eye
on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t,
thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The
roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror
had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian
But we had forgotten that
alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly
older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous
Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among
the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing.
Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed
oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required
to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he
saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the
technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those
who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be
no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to
read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of
information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that
we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that
the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth
would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would
become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a
trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies,
the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley
remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians
and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny
“failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite
for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are
controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are
controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that
what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will
Cover: Aldous Huxley, portrait by Don Bachardy (1962, ink on paper, 73.7 cm X 58 cm, copyright Don Bachardy, all rights reserved). Collection of the
Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Special thanks to both.
Bachardy's work can also be seen online (by clicking the links
below) and live in Santa Monica at Craig
Krull Gallery and in New York at Cheim