Hope for the Blue Planet:
A Conversation with Edgar Mitchell, Ph.D.
by Sydney L. Murray
Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.
~ Robert Kennedy
Edgar Mitchell is a hero to me. He epitomizes the kind of person who is setting the standard for all of us who believe we have something to offer the world. The greatest people I have ever met are also the most humble and Dr. Edgar Mitchell is no exception. He is matter-of-fact about his accomplishments. I asked him, what is the one thing that we could all do to change the world? Mitchell replied, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. To change the world we must first change ourselves.” Mitchell is the founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which in my opinion, is one of the premier organizations for the study of human consciousness. The word noetic is derived from the Greek word nous, meaning something similar to “intuitive ways of knowing.”
The origins of the institute came as Mitchell, a physical scientist, who had always focused his attention to the objective world “out there,” had a profound experience, in the form of a hypothesis, during his Apollo 14 mission: Perhaps reality is more complex, subtle, and inexorably mysterious than conventional science had led me to believe. Perhaps a deeper understanding of consciousness (inner space) could lead to a new and expanded view of reality in which objective and subjective, outer and inner, are understood as co-equal aspects of the miracle and mystery of being.
After his safe return “home,” Mitchell sought out others who likewise felt the need for an expanded, more inclusive view of reality. They resolved to explore the inner world of human experience with the same rigor and critical thinking that made it possible for Apollo 14 to journey to the moon and back. In 1973, this small group of explorers founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
Vision Magazine: Give us a brief history of your background.
Dr. Edgar Mitchell: I was a naval officer in the Korean War right after college, and I had learned to fly when I was 13. I got my pilot’s license at 16. When I graduated from Carnegie Tech in 1951 the draft board decided that they were going to draft me, so I enlisted with the Navy. I was aboard an aircraft carrier in the 1950s and was in the Korean War as a test pilot.
Then on October 4, 1957 Sputnik went up and even though I hadn’t planned on a military or aviation career, I realized that humans would be right behind robot spacecraft. That changed the whole game plan for my life. I went back to test pilot duty, and after a few years of that, I received my Ph.D. from MIT in 1966.
VM: How can Social Healing contribute to environmental awareness?
EM: One of the fundamental principles in my understanding confirms the mystical notion that we’re all one; we’re all interconnected and the universe is all connected in some way. The study of quantum physics brings this notion into play; when we start realizing that we’re all part of the same pattern. The physical reality of our world and universe is that we are all interphysically connected, which is a part of the epiphany I had in space. Using this notion to help us understand our environment, we can answer the questions of who are we? Where are we going? How did we get here? What is this really all about? And it’s about our relationship to the cosmos which helps us to try and understand how we must work together as a team to resolve the problems of a non-sustainable future. We happen to be at a place in the early 21st century that is not sustainable from an environmental point of view, or a consumption point of view, or from the natural resources point of view.
Everything in modern civilization is headed for disaster unless we can turn it around and resolve the problems created. We must come together as a civilization and as a species to correct this notion that we can do anything we choose and the world makes up for it.
VM: Why do you think so many people are disconnected from our natural environment?
EM: Most people try to make a living for themselves and their families and have some sense that it is a cruel, cruel world. We all have egos we need to shrink down to size and begin to work for the greater good of all people. That’s a lesson we have to learn ourselves.
It takes a knock on the head like my epiphany in space (or on a mountaintop) in order to grasp that it is better working for the greater good instead of for self-purpose and personal greed.
VM: What do you believe are the most momentous discoveries in the last twenty years?
EM: One of the most powerful is the photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope that lets us see deeper into the cosmos so that we can understand the enormity and magnificence of all of this.
It’s recognizing that this is the beginning of a space age; a concept of the universe that’s more sophisticated than god in the heavens and man in the middle and everything else below; a pretty simplistic notion of this universe, but that’s what has prevailed.
I think the Hubble Space Telescope and its magnificent pictures of the universe are one of the most powerful discoveries.
The other is a discovery by a colleague of mine, Dr. Walter Schempp which demonstrates that the world we live in is indeed a quantum world, as opposed to the belief, since the 1920s, from academic physicists, that quantum worlds only existed in subatomic matter and didn’t have to do with our scaled size. The discovery of the quantum hologram demonstrates that that simply isn’t true, and that quantum principles apply to everything. This discovery is helping us with the understanding of interconnectedness; it’s helping us with a whole new approach to physics, biology and chemistry, as well as to help us see our systems and ourselves in a brand new way.
VM: Is there hope for our planet?
EM: Absolutely. The hope is that we humans have reached the tipping point of having used up our natural resources, the fossil fuels and energy sources and we now know that we have to find new ones. We’ve been saying this for the past thirty years; that we have to do something differently, and we’re starting to see a lot of new approaches, as well as discovering additional concerns about these issues in the past few months.
VM: What is your proudest achievement?
EM: I think the successes of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (which I organized following a space flight) are the most important because they have helped push us toward sustainability and a new discovery of ourselves. But that probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had my space flight and had the ability to see this planet and myself in a new perspective.
VM: What environmental practices do you utilize in your life?
EM: I have tried to live simply. I am not a wealthy man but I live comfortably. I try to minimize my energy expenditures and I have no extravagances. I try to devote most of my time to this whole notion of healing the planet and finding what technology, what insight, what sciences we need to develop to further that process. I try to do my best to live a quiet life along the lines of having a green environment and a green attitude and working with those corporations and people who have the same kind of life and values.
VM: What can our government do to lessen the amount of environmental destruction in this country?
EM: We need to encourage and educate the corporations that have the power in our economy to take the lead in preserving resources while getting us to a sustainable position as they learn to whittle down their own excesses.
The role of corporate profit and money as the primary value in our civilization is actually what’s led us to this problem, accompanied by the fact that population growth has to be brought under control soon.
So how do we get our consumption ethic and our economic ethic brought to a more sustainable level?
This should start with individuals, but the corporations who are the real driving force here, should be brought under control.
VM: What have you learned in your many years studying human potential?
EM: The most important element is that we create our own reality. Most of the problems that we’re enduring at this point are our own creation and therefore they can be resolved by our own determination; and it’s simply a matter of becoming aware and going deep within ourselves and our understanding. Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together…else, we shall most assuredly all hang separately.” We’re in this together.
We will be using the attributes of our space exploration and virtually all of our sciences and technology to move us into the direction of sustainability and a greener environment.
VM: What do you think the future holds?
EM: To go into the very long-range future is that we’ll have to be off of this planet. Our star system, like all star systems in the universe, has a finite lifetime and currently our main star is about halfway through its life, which has somewhere between 4 to 5 billion years left. We have to get out of here in that amount of time if our civilization and our descendants are going to survive. We have to perfect space flight outside of our solar system. I have written papers, published in physics journals, that propose how we can likely go out of our solar system within this century but it’s going to take all of our science and new technology.
The short range future is preserving our environment and developing a knowledge of our resources to utilize in the rest of our solar system which can help us reach our destiny, whatever that is.
VM: What one practice do you believe if practiced by all people, would shift our world toward peace and sustainability?
EM: I believe it would be some form of deep meditation. Mystics have been telling us for years, that these types of experiences are not unknown; they have been known in all the cultures of the world for a long time, with different names. These types of experiences are the same as my space experience, and which some of my colleagues have reported as well. They have been found in all cultures and especially in the deep spiritual traditions of those cultures forever.
One of the basic elements of our existence is that we have distinct abilities to see deeper than where we live. Meditation practice is about going within your self, quieting the mind, learning how to manage the mind and utilizing those deeper resources.
VM: In your book I love the line, ‘God sleeps in the minerals and thinks in Man’. Can you expound upon that sentiment?
EM: That line comes from the ancient Sanskrit, again, supporting my moment of discovery. The ancients did have these aspects of mind and self-discovery that we are rediscovering within a scientific context. And one of these signs comes out of this ancient thinking in particular─ that God sleeps in the minerals, awakens in plants, rocks and the animals and then thinks in man.
That sentiment speaks to the question of what is consciousness? It suggests that the divine impulse and intelligent impulse beyond ourselves is oriented toward the most basic processes of minerals and becomes more viable, organized and then coherent in the plant world. When we get to the animal world, particularly animals with a brain, we start to see self-awareness and the understanding of separateness between itself and the environment. A greater plane of knowledge and intellectual thinking comes when we get to a higher plane─to ourselves. We then have to think about our thinking, and the ancient metaphors do speak to this progression of trying to understand consciousness.
From Edgar Mitchell’s website:
My vision is that the third millennium will bring a new dawn of awareness such that the genius and creativity which we exhibit as individuals will be harnessed together in concert, globally, to resolve the problems which we have unwittingly collectively created and which threaten existence as we know it. This vision cannot possibly become reality without each of us, as he or she awakens to the dilemma, to first make a personal decision to live life productively toward creating a sustainable civilization for all, then to reach beyond our personal commitment to self and family to assist others and also to recognize that our cultural traditions have created the crisis and must be re-examined.