Aldous Leonard Huxley (26 July 1894–22 November 1963) was an English writer best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays. Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry. He published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts.
If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.
There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.
People intoxicate themselves with work so they won’t see how they really are.
Writers write to influence their readers, their preachers, their auditors, but always, at bottom, to be more themselves.
As Huxley observes, self-knowledge is unpleasant. From his youth, man develops and imaginary picture of himself, which often strays far from his true identity. He is master of this illusory creation, and through it, can flatter himself endlessly. The reality of one’s self, however, is unflattering, especially in light of the fact that one has no unified self, that one is many. Now he loves, then he hates; now he is attracted, then he is repelled.
Yet as unflattering and painful as it may be, the truth of one’s nature is the only firm ground from which to build true character. As long as man avoids this truth, he lives an imaginary life based on the opinion of others. Once he permits this illusion to dissipate, he begins a journey of true liberation from the influence of others and set upon genuine self-realization.
Know Thyself: a sobering command
“Most of us remain ignorant of ourselves,” observed Huxley. Know thyself, then, is a sobering command: it is a call to awakening and an invitation to grab hold of one’s life while there yet time. For of what value could a life be if lived in ignorance? And of what value can a human being be if ignorant of himself?
No wonder, then, that the early philosophers placed know thyself at the foundation of their teaching. Self-knowledge is the only knowledge that justifies learning. Indeed, it justifies life itself, and indicates an aim in life: to shed the pleasures of illusion and embrace on the ultimate task of becoming one’s true self.