Astronaut Edgar Mitchell on the Moon - Exploration of Consciousness

Explorations in Consciousness

The late Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell was the 6th man to walk on the moon. Personal insights experienced during his moon missions prompted Mitchell to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 in order to study the further reaches of human potential. We hope you enjoy this fascinating interview with Edgar Mitchell..

DiCarlo: Transformation. Literally, the term means to change form, but how would you define it?

Mitchell: Perhaps the process that we are talking about here is more what the Greeks meant by the term “metonia”, or change of mind. Might as well call it a change of heart. It is a change in our subconscious thinking-a change in perspective in modern terminology.

DiCarlo: You have stated the following as you and your Apollo crew were coming back from the moon: “I suddenly realized it’s all one, that this magnificent universe is a harmonious, directed, purposeful whole. That we humans, both as individuals and as a species are an integral part of the ongoing process of creation.” Would you say in your own growth process that moment of recognition in the deep of space was kind of a turning point for you, a trigger.

Mitchell: Well, the trigger was the space flight, and the opportunity to see the universe from the perspective of floating in outer space. I’ve been philosophic, searching for answers since my adolescent days, and I had long recognized that which I was learning from science and that which I had been taught, like religion, were in conflict. The conflict had been swept under the rug, but nevertheless there was a conflict. Resolving the conflict has been a deep avocational interest of mine for all those years.

Seeing things from the perspective of outer space, I more deeply recognized, that our science was incomplete and flawed, and our cultural cosmologies, based upon our religious cosmologies, were archaic and flawed. Seeing the planet against the backdrop of infinite space was the real trigger for this recognition.

DiCarlo: What would you see is the perspective you now have of yourself, our species, and the world in which we live as a result of your outer and inner experiences?

Mitchell: I’ll quote Buckminster Fuller whom I just re-read not too long ago. “When you want to understand the human condition” someone asked Fuller, “where do you start?” He said, “You start with the universe.” And that’s exactly where you have to start. You start with the question, “What kind of a universe are we in that brought us to this point where we are now? What are the processes involved? And how have those processes spawned this little civilization on this planet, in this little solar system, in this rather average galaxy, which is only one of billions of galaxies. The universe is about 15 billion years old.

In the past our Newtonian physics has taught us that it is a mechanistic, energy/matter universe, created full blown and set in motion by diety and going on inexorably toward wherever diety had in mind. The view that seems to be emerging from frontier science is this: We live in an intelligent, self-organizing, self-learning, evolving, participatory, creative universe. And that humankind is not simply a species of creatures just along for the ride. All life (and matter) is connected in a creative, participatory fashion.

DiCarlo: So that would be the essence of the new paradigm as you see it?

Mitchell: Yes.

DiCarlo: Regarding IONS. Why did you found it and what is its mission and scope?

Mitchell: Well, I founded it to pursue these questions I just stated. It was rather obvious at that point-and it still is-that the central issue-is what is the nature of consciousness? What is this thing we call “self”, “I AM,” that thinks, feels, is self-reflecting? What is that, and how does it fit into the understanding of physical reality that we experience around us. That was the central question around which the Institute was formed. And of course, that is not a single investigation. It is a multiple, multi-disciplinary investigation. It always has been. It extends from fundamental physics on one hand, to theology, and philosophy on the other, and includes all the sciences in between.

The notion that we have been living with for 400 years -and even longer than that frankly-is the Descartian notion. Descarte enunciated it formally at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, that matter and spirit are two separate realms of reality. You cannot put them together. In other words, a dualistic system of thinking. But that system of thought is clearly wrong. We are now going through a revision of that system of thought.

Science, in this century has undergone a radical paradigm shift that the rest of civilization is just catching up with by incorporating quantum mechanics and now the role of consciousness in quantum mechanics. That paradigm shift is coming to the fore and exerting itself as a unitary paradigm where spirit and matter are viewed as being of the same “stuff” (energy). What we are talking about here-the movement from a dualistic way of perceiving the world to a unitary perception-represents a very fundamental shift in the way humankind sees itself, and its place in the universe.

DiCarlo: Would you say it is accurate to make the statement that consciousness is equivalent to soul? If not, how do they differ?

Mitchell: This is a very subtle and tricky aspect. What we experience with our consciousness is a highly evolved evolutionary product. What you and I are using to think with, and to experience our awareness with at this moment, is a self-conscious state that has quite a few attributes. It allows us to reflect upon ourselves. It allows us to think and do all of those things humans at this state of evolution can do. That facet of our consciousness has only been around less than a couple hundred thousand years. It would seem to have evolved. While we can’t pin it down precisely at this moment, between homohabilis and homo-erectus, there was an evolutionary development that allowed us to evolve this highly thinking, self-reflective, self-analytical process. It’s interesting that humankind didn’t really start to become self-critical about their mental processes until almost the 7th century BC. We didn’t even have spoken language until about 50,000 years ago.

Now, one asks, “what is the nature of consciousness before you experience it in a highly organized, highly developed anthropomorphic form, like we humans experience it?” Well, we look around to other species. We look at our pets-is there any doubt that dogs are conscious, that cats are conscious? All forms of life are conscious. Now that notion has been around for quite some time, the so-called “Great Chain of Being”, where everything possesses some more or less developed sense of consciousness, from the most simple organism to the most complex. The key idea here, is an organizing universe. And the level of that organization has become more and more complex as that universe evolved.

The issue of soul in its most strict definition is the issue of the essence of a living being. Is the religious belief that soul survives death valid? Does consciousness survive death? Nobody really knows the answer to that. But to the question, “Does the normal awaking state consciousness like we experience it right now, survive death?” Probably not. But, “does consciousness of some sort survive death?”, probably yes. Our normal awake, daily consciousness and mental abilities are the result of the evolution of the physical brain. That state likely does not survive.

It is now becoming obvious that consciousness in some sense has been present since before the Big-Bang. Now metaphorically, you can think of consciousness with a capital “C”, in an all-encompassing sort of notion, the equivalent of what we call Diety or God. But one must ask, “what is the difference between consciousness unevolved and consciousness in an evolving sense?” What is arising, is the idea that Consciousness is beyond time, and beyond space.

It is a universal attribute of nature that allows us to be conscious in the body. That Consciousness is more closely aligned with what the mystics and religious teachings would call the soul, the essence of being that is immortal, eternal and survives physical death. So, there is not a direct one-to-one correspondence between what we talk today about as consciousness and the notion of soul, but as to function, yes, there are similarities in many ways. What people would like to believe is that their “ego” consciousness survives death and is the same as the soul. That is not likely the case.

DiCarlo: You have stated, “The utopian existence, if it is to be found, lies in knowing ourselves as individual human beings with an essence that transcends physicality….
Do you think it’s important at this juncture in our collective history that we recognize this aspect of our being?

Mitchell: Absolutely! You know, in all of our religious traditions, in one form or another, it says, “Know thyself.” The essence of existence is knowing. Even Descarte said that, “I think therefore I am.” It’s our ability to assimilate and utilize information that makes us what we are. But the conscious, thinking level of functioning that we have placed so much emphasis on in the last several millenia, is really only one aspect of the nature of managing information-our whole creative and subconscious function has been doing it for a long, long time. The divine within us has not vanished-we just explain it now with more timely and useful metaphors.

DiCarlo: If our consciousness is in a state of evolution as you stated, what might be the next step for us as a species?

Mitchell: If you look at the Michaelangelos, our Einsteins, our great sculptors, mathematicians, Olympic athletes, you see that they really don’t have different mental machinery than anybody else. So it would appear to me that the next stage of human development involves learning how to better use the capabilities that we have within us, learning how to develop ourselves to much more accomplished states of performance in quite a number of areas: creatively, artistically, mathematically, scientifically. Even expanding our general knowledge. We have all of these capabilities, to store and utilize information at enormously greater potential than most humans ever use. It would appear also that evolution, at least our branch of evolution, could very likely be coming under control of our awakened state of consciousness.

We are evolving towards those attributes that the ancients have traditionally ascribed to Diety . But it’s a matter of choice, choosing.

DiCarlo: So do you feel that when people such as Michael Murphy talk about our species evolving into multi-sensory human beings, that they are being accurate?

Mitchell: They are certainly on the right track. They have contributed enormously to this whole method of understanding human potential.

DiCarlo: Do you know Elmer Green?

Mitchell: I helped Elmer and Alyce 20 years ago when they were struggling to get biofeedback off the ground…Some of the first things we did at the Institute was to help Elmer and Alyce and Carl Simonton. We gave Carl his first research grant to study attitudes and cancer.

DiCarlo: Are you familiar with his Copper Wall experiment? Basically, he’s measuring the role of intention in its ability to produce an electrostatic charge that can be measured..

Mitchell: I don’t have any doubt that can be done. We are seeing a lot of work coming out which describes the electromagnetic modeling of the body, and the tying together of consciousness to intention. The basic functions of consciousness are to be aware and to intend. And so, when we create intention it does have an effect on the external world. I wasn’t aware that Elmer was making experiments like that, but that would be a very natural experiment to do.Others are doing much the same thing to see what are the external effects of creative intention.

DiCarlo: Does any of this work support what the ancients tell us, and what Deepak Chopra talks about also in his work: that there are subtle energy bodies which interpenetrate and surround the human body?

Mitchell: Well, we tend to call those “fields” these days, so I will go along with the field concept. It’s quite clear we have to use field notion to describe the body-fields upon fields, upon fields. And there is nothing really new about that. There have been people saying that for a long time, but it is becoming clear to everybody except the die-hard skeptic that field theory concept is the only way you can explain the many, many manifestations of energetic mechanisms in the body.

So the question that goes to the heart of the issue is, “Which organizations of energy-call them fields or call them soul if you like-survive physical death?” (It could be labeled the soul, if it has the characteristics that metaphysicians have attached to soul, which means being autonomous, being able to think and to observe in a manner similar to the embodied state.) That is the crucial question, and nobody has a really good answer to it. If there are fields, upon fields, upon fields, and all of those together represent what we would call an evolved physical being, and if the outer layers do not survive physical death, the question is, “what field systems, if any, do survive physical death?” At this point, these are the central issues.

Well, this discussion raises another interesting question. Where in the electromagnetic spectrum can all of that function? Number two, if a non-physical being (soul) can function like that, why in the world did nature and Consciousness bother to create physical bodies and brains if you don’t really need them? When we try to move from a dualistic concept of matter/mind and matter /spirit as being two separate things, as Descartian philosophy would say,to bringing it down to simply one thing-in other words a monist theory instead of a dualistic theory-you run into some pretty tricky questions.

DiCarlo: How would you respond to materialists such as Patricia Churchland in this interview with Bill Moyers:

MOYERS: Now the religious idea of the soul…Do you think that’s just a metaphor?

CHURCHLAND: I don’t think it can be accurate. Even talking about God breathing life into something, we now know that life isn’t like that either, that life also is a function of organization of matter. See, there used to be vitalists, and they used to think that there is a life force to explain the difference between living things like us and dead things like rocks and concrete, you had to do it in terms of the life force. We now know that that’s not on.

Ever since Watson and Craig discovered DNA and since molecular biology has proceeded it is very clear that that’s not the correct explanation of living things, that life has to do with the organization of very complex molecules, proteins and so on. I think a similar thing is likely to be the case with the mind and the brain. There isn’t a special thing-the mind. The mind just is the brain.

MOYERS: What is different about your saying that the mind is the brain?

CHURCHLAND: Well, although many people have thought for a long time that that’s got to be the case, what is new now is we’re beginning to be able to see how particular aspects of mind are related to particular structures in the brain. How, the ability to remember a face, is a function that is carried out by a very small region of the brain on both sides. Or that color vision seems to be carried out by a very small part of visual cortex. So I think that we are getting more specific now. We used to say that the mind is the brain, and argue for that in a very general way. Now it is clear that we can say a whole lot more.

Mitchell:Well, I haven’t read her work, but she seems to be speaking from the old basic scientific model, that really is a pre-quantum model, the classical Newtonian model, that says that mind is epiphenomenal, that it evolved out of the accidental evolution of energy/matter to form something very complex and organized which eventually formed a living organism. That model is fading very rapidly now, with the recognition that consciousness is not a by-product of matter-it’s a fundamental phenomenon. That realization throws all of the earlier scientific work into question since it challenges its most basic assumptions.

What has happened in fundamental physics, in quantum physics, over 70 years, is only now working its way up into biology and into the more structured life sciences. When medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, and neurophysiologists start to study quantum physics, they are going to have to re-think the whole underlying strategy that relates to their field of study. Even though the Newtonian mechanistic model works well for many every day investigations of mind/brain, it eventually fails on the deeper issues.

DiCarlo: Bucky Fuller, whom you mentioned previously, felt humanity was taking its final exam. In your view, are we going to pass the test?

Mitchell:Yes, I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic in that it’s do-able. “Am I optimistic it will be without great trauma?” No. I think it’s likely there’s going to be quite a bit of great trauma because we have such overwhelming resistance to change. And we are in a period where evolutionary change is so rapid, it’s very difficult to keep pace. We’re biologically set-up to reinforce the lessons we learned in childhood, and keep repeating those same patterns and ignoring new patterns. So we are biologically biased to the status quo in a very rapidly changing environment. That makes it difficult to accommodate change.

But fortunately, there are always people that are recognizing, exhorting, changing, accommodating, and adapting. So I have great optimism that we as a species we’ll move forward. But certainly not without crisis and trauma.

DiCarlo: Are there any beliefs that you hold that you feel are especially empowering in these turbulent times?

Mitchell:Yes, the belief that you have everything you need right within you. I use a model which assumes that everything consists of energy, information and consciousness. And all of life’s issues are simply flows of information that needs to be managed and acted upon knowledgeably. That’s the essence of my message of empowerment.

And that we need to move toward a sustainable society is clear viable. An ever-expanding society, which is the basis of the current socio-economic system, is not sustainable. An exponentially growing civilization on a finite planet is not going to work.

DiCarlo: Weston Agor has done some pioneering work in the area of intuition. Isn’t intuition unreliable? And what practical value is it?

Mitchell:Intuition, unreliable? Absolutely not. Well-tuned intuition is more reliable than anything else. Let’s call intuitive information as the visceral data which enters beyond the 5 normal senses. It has been very well demonstrated that the subconscious can solve complex problems that the conscious mind cannot solve. That’s been demonstrated quite a few times in university tests.

So we can think of intuition as that sense of simply “tuning-in” to the subconscious capability which exists below the conscious level of awareness. Any unreliability of intuition results from the individual not distinguishing between the intuitive signal and bad patterns of conditioning. One must be aware and practice distinguishing between these two “feelings.”

DiCarlo: In a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey she asked you where you thought this information comes from. Could you elaborate?

Mitchell:To do that we have to go back to the field theory and quantum mechanics. We can go at this in two different ways. Let’s use this way first…..We know through quantum physics that all matter/stuff in the universe has a particle characteristic and it has a wave characteristic. I like to think of the brain as the particle characteristic, and the mind as the wave characteristic. So the brain has location. The mind is infinite. Are you familiar with the Aspect experiment in France? It’s a 1982 quantum mechanical experiment that clearly demonstrated that all matter is connected throughout the universe in it’s wave characteristics. The Aspect experiment satisfied Bell’s inequality theorem. There have been several of them, but the Aspect experiment is considered the decisive experiment.

In other words, beyond space/time, everything is connected. Intuition then, is simply our visceral awareness of that connection. You can think of the visceral, “gut feeling” if you will, as another sensory mechanism. That is the way intuitive information presents itself. It is the connectedness we experience with all of life or the entire Universe. So the information from all the universe is always available to us at that level. But you have to be aware, and take notice when the impressions are received. AND-you have to practice and learn to discern inputs that are simply early behavioral conditioning.

Now, let me paint this little picture for you. We have certain beliefs about the nature of objective reality-which we are taught is something out there external to us. We don’t know what it is but we can theorize there is an objective reality. If perceived reality is what we experience within ourselves, then between objective reality (outside) and our perceived reality (inside) are three filters: our sensory filter which allows us to gather information (and that includes our intuitive and sentient sensation); our awareness filter ; and finally the biggest filter of all is our belief system filter. Any information that comes in that doesn’t conform to our belief system filter-if the meaning of it seems foriegn to our belief-we tend to reject.

So the only thing that separates our perceived reality inside from our objective reality outside are those three filters. Interestingly enough, all three of those filters are subject to conscious control and training. You can change your belief. You can change your level of awareness through meditation or biofeedback. And by the way, you can change the band-width of all the sensors to perceive additional information.

DiCarlo: Are there programs available to help a person to evolve these filters?

Mitchell:Well, the yogic trainings have been trying to do this for a few thousand years. The question is: “How do we speed it up?” So, biofeedback is a way of speeding things up. Recognizing, and having a better model of how brain/mind works is another. Knowledge helps speed it up. Practiced disciplines help speed it up. So all of the modern things that we are working on are moving in that direction, bringing those filters under conscious control.

DiCarlo: It has oftentimes occurred to me that pure information is out there, right now, and is available for people to ‘plug into” if you will, but if it is to be used by the individual then it must be filtered through their belief system. I oftentimes listen to people from a wide spectrum of belief systems-take fundamentalist Christians for example. It’s amazing to see how these deeper insights, filtered as they are through the individuals belief system, comes out in a variety of forms, some more profound, some less distorted than others.

Mitchell:The belief systems of many of these groups must fall apart-particularly fundamentalists. They really do represent dinosaur thinking. It’s just very, very clear that the dominant and prevailing world view is not the way the universe is organized. It was nice and convenient to say that all the major decisions are made “out there”, but that’s part of a Newtonian World View, that we are just passive observers in a mechanistic universe, set in motion by Diety, and only Diety knows where it’s going. We are just along for the ride. But that isn’t the universe we live in!

We live in a participatory universe where our thinking and our actions account for something. And if the objective reality is not the Newtonian Universe but it is a participatory universe, and we try to live in a Newtonian, mechanistic universe, then it isn’t going to work for very long. That’s exactly the crisis we are in right now.

DiCarlo: Are there any particular individuals who have most influenced you in your thinking?

Mitchell:Well, I think there have been a lot of people who have influenced me in my thinking over the years. I really can’t say there has been any one individual. It has been my own experience combined with the experiences of others who have been pondering along the same lines. I have studied the shamanistic traditions in the past 30 years. If you looked 20 years ago, you know that I was looking at “psychic things”-primarily because science said they didn’t exist, and cultural experience said they did. So I started out looking at shamans and primitive beliefs. I studied Uri Geller and other people who could do some really strange things, and I said, “Hell, they’re doing all of this. Just because we can’t explain it doesn’t mean it’ s not real.” So, my effort over the last 25 years has been to create a model that allows all of that to take place and yet is still consistent with the information from quantum physics that has evolved since the mid-20s.

So there have been a lot of people whose ideas have influenced me. But by and large, it has been a process of pulling all of it together, making my own observations of the way the brain/mind works to produce the so-called “bizarre” manifestations of mind/consciousness, and then discovering that those are real and explainable. They are valid. They are very hard to test under existing scientific protocol, but that’s because scientific protocols aren’t designed to deal with subjective realities. Now that we are starting to change that a bit, we can test these things in quite different ways.

Since we know that our perceived reality is produced by all these filters, the only way we can establish reality is through some sort of consensus among serious, knowledgeable observers.

DiCarlo: What do you think about those skeptic organizations that try to discredit any bona fide investigation of consciousness?

Mitchell:Well, they are very rapidly falling by the wayside. They are under enormous fire because they are wrong. I won’t say they are in full retreat, but it’s pretty darned close. The implications of quantum mechanics and other discoveries in science totally undermine that position, which is strictly a classical position.

DiCarlo: Why is it taking so long for the quantum reality to influence us in how we live our day to day lives?

Mitchell:Because we can still get by with classical mechanics at the macro level pretty well. Most physicists-the “cook-book” physicists-didn’t want to consider the philosophical implications of a universe in which there can be action at a distance. It undermines a large number of the basic assumptions of science. Particularly positivism. Now, one must be a reductionist at times to get things down to simple and understandable terms. But the notion of positivism is that if you reduce the universe into its simplistic elements, you can build it back up and understand the entire universe. And that’s simply not true. We must go beyond mundane applications and look at the larger implications.

The universe has characteristics at complex levels that are not predictable from the parts.

You have to consider not only the finite pieces of the universe-even down to the quantum level-but you also have to understand the interactions at the level of the organism, which exhibit different characteristics than they do as isolated parts. That concept is shaking up classical, traditional scientists, to no end. Quantum physicists have been wrestling with the problem for 70 years, but the biological and life sciences-and chemistry to a small extent-have been able to get along quite well with classical notions. But we see that falling apart too. So many people are turning to Eastern medicine and to alternative medicine just because they realize classical Western medicine is painting itself into a cul de sac.

DiCarlo: So do you think that energy medicine is the emerging medicine?

Mitchell:Energy medicine is “an” emerging medicine. Western medicine is wonderful as crisis intervention at the last minute in many cases. Energy medicine is more focused on health maintenance than crisis management.

DiCarlo: What would you say to the average individual then who doesn’t see in their own personal lives a whole lot of change going on, and they are very skeptical about all this.

Mitchell:Then they are being like the ostrich with their heads buried in the sand. I don’t see that anymore. In recent years, I have seen nothing but shocked increased awareness everyplace I go, without exception. People are recognizing that the institutions are crumbling. They are not serving the needs they were set-up to service. Our Western institutions were built upon Newtonian-Descartian principles, whose assumptions are being demonstrated to be flawed. And if your foundational assumptions are flawed, then your whole system has to be re-worked. That’s what’s happening. And those that don’t want to recognize it are playing the dinosaur or the ostrich, as the case may be.

DiCarlo: What are the implications of all this at the level of the individual, community, nation and world?

Mitchell:Let’s start with the individual. Everything starts with the individual because it’s the thought process that is the fundamental issue. So people are going to have to become more aware. They are going to have to become more knowledgeable. They are going to have to understand these rapid changes that are taking place. We do not live in a deterministic, linear universe as the classical notions would have. We live in a non-linear, feedback, evolving, creative universe. And we are participants in it, not observers. Once individuals become aware and more knowledgeable, the institutions will take care of themselves.

DiCarlo: Do you have any advice for a person who is only now starting to go through their own transformation process?

Mitchell:Yes. Be flexible. Be adaptable. Grow and learn. Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn. The age we are in is vastly different from the past, where one could live a life with the knowledge gained in childhood. As we approach the end of this century and the beginning of another, that is no longer possible. You cannot. It’s a lifelong learning experience. Change is accelerating so rapidly, what we use to call the “generation gap”, exists year to year now in kindergarten. That’s how fast things are moving.

DiCarlo: Do you feel it’s not only a change in degree, but a change in kind as well?

Mitchell:I don’t no how to place it in that characterization. It is definitely a paradigm shift and that means a change in belief. It’s a change in perception. A change in meaning. Let me define this for you. “Meaning” is assigning new relationships to information. “Meaning”, is the creation of relationships between new bodies of information. And what we are doing is assigning new meanings to so much of the old information. That results in changed belief. And belief is one of the major filters that separates our perceptions from objective reality.

Excerpted from the book Towards A New World View: Conversations At The Leading Edge with Russell E. DiCarlo. The 377-page book features new and inspiring interviews with 27 paradigm pioneers in the fields of medicine, psychology, economics, business, religion, science, education and human potential. Featuring: Willis Harman, Matthew Fox, Joan Boysenko, George Leonard, Gary Zukav, Robert Monroe, Hazel Henderson, Fred Alan Wolf, Peter Senge, Jacquelyn Small, Elmer Green, Larry Dossey, Carolyn Myss, Stan Grof, Rich Tarnas, Marilyn Ferguson, Marsha Sinetar, Dr. Raymond Moody, Stephen Covey and Peter Russell.

Russell E. DiCarlo is a medical writer, author, lecturer and workshop leader who’s focus is on personal transformation, consciousness research and the fields of energy and anti-aging medicine. His forthcoming book is entitled “The Definitive Guide To Anti-Aging Medicine” (1998, Future Medicine Publishing). DiCarlo resides in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Copyright 1996. Epic Publishing. All Rights Reserved.


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Written by Russell E. DiCarlo

Explore Wellness in 2021