The Way of the Explorer: An interview with Dr. Edgar Mitchell


Apollo 14 astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell, author of The Way of The Explorer, now available in a new, revised edition, is described in this way on his website:

“On January 31, 1971, Navy Captain Dr. Edgar Mitchell embarked on a journey into outer space that resulted in becoming the sixth man to walk on the moon. The Apollo 14 mission was NASA’s third manned lunar landing. This historic journey ended safely nine days later on February 9, 1971. It was an audacious time in the history of mankind. For Mitchell, however, the most extraordinary journey was yet to come.

“As he hurtled earthward through the abyss between the two worlds, Mitchell became engulfed by a profound sensation ‘a sense of universal connectedness.’ He intuitively sensed that his presence, that of his fellow astronauts, and that of the planet in the window were all part of a deliberate, universal process and that the glittering cosmos itself was in some way conscious. The experience was so overwhelming Mitchell knew his life would never be the same.

“Scientist, test pilot, naval officer, astronaut, entrepreneur, author and lecturer, Dr. Mitchell’s extraordinary career personifies humankind’s eternal thrust to widen its horizons as well as its inner soul.”

Dr. Mitchell, 78, founded the non-profit Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in 1973 to conduct and sponsor research into areas that mainstream science has ignored, including consciousness research and psychic events. He is the Advisory Board Chairman of the Institute for Cooperation in Space.

He spoke with Edge Life from his home in Florida about his many experiences.

To what degree does being in space and walking on the moon change the life of those who experience it?
Dr. Edgar Mitchell: I call it “the big picture effect.” Getting to see earth as a small planet and to see it in that perspective, seeing it in the heavens as a planet as opposed to being down here among it, most of the people, in fact, I guess all of the people who have had that experience, shift their thinking.

It’s been written about as “the overview effect.” All I can give you is my perspective, but most all of the people who have been in space start to see the world without boundaries. You start to think about how we can keep doing these things we’re doing that are destructive of the environment and destructive of the planet. It causes you to start to think things in a quite different way than we had before.

Do you think we’re going to return to the moon?
EM: Oh, I’m sure we will in due course. I’m not quite sure whether the plans of this administration will get us back there in the time they’re talking about, but I’m sure that we will.

What value will future lunar visits have?
EM: Let me put it in a rather larger picture framework. Let’s go to the longest time frame, the time frame of the life of our sun. As a star, our sun is about halfway through its life cycle. In the long run, we only have a couple of billion more years likely that we can inhabit this planet. By that time, we’re going to have to be out of here before our sun dies. Now, I don’t think we need to wait that long, and we certainly shouldn’t wait that long. At the moment, we are not on a sustainable path.

Let me tell a little story to help get this idea across. My great-grandparents came across from south Georgia to west Texas at the end of the Civil War in the 1870s to start a new life in covered wagons pulled by horses, with a few head of cattle to start a new life. Railroads hadn’t been completed across the South and the West of the United States. Automobiles hadn’t been invented. Light bulbs hadn’t been invented. My father was born shortly after the Wright brothers flew the first airplane flight, and I went to the moon.

So, we’ve gone from covered wagons to going to the moon in just under 100 years. For all the centuries and thousands of years before us, people walked or rode horses, cows, camels or whatever. This so-called modern era, from the late 19th century through now, has been the period of the most amazing development, discovery, innovation and acceleration of change that humans have ever experienced. And it hasn’t slowed down yet. In that regard, we’re not on a sustainable path in civilization. We’re on an exponential growth curve, on which we perhaps always have been, but it has turned up sharply at the beginning of the 20th century.

Another way to think of this is there are now 6.8 billion people on this planet, and half of them weren’t even born when we went to the moon, and so they don’t have the perspective that I’m talking about here. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were less than 3 billion people on the earth, closer to 2 billion. By all measures that we can come up with right now,. with the lifestyle and consumption pattern of the Western industrial civilization, we can probably sustain about 2 billion people on this earth. We already have over 6 billion. China and India are aspiring to come on as industrial nations, aspiring to the lifestyle of the Western world, and it simply can’t happen.

This is a major problem of unsustainability of our environment, and we’re seeing it in our natural resources, peak oil is probably upon us, and it can’t be sustained. We’re on an unsustainable path, and at this point in history we are responsible for that. We’re going to have to change our ways. We’re going to have to think through this problem.

Right now we’re talking about the edible fish of the sea being gone in another 30 or 40 years. Certainly whatever climate change and global warming means, we’ve got a big issue here. Right now, this civilization or this period that we’re in is probably going to need the resources off our planet, perhaps the resources from the asteroids, perhaps there will be some on the moon, perhaps some on Mars that we can utilize for our own uses here. It’s rather clear that we’ve got to do something differently — and going into space and learning to utilize these resources, to think differently about ourselves, is vital right now.

Undoubtedly we will go on to Mars in due course, provided we don’t blow ourselves up with our stupidities in the short run. That’s a possibility, too.

What effect is quantum science having on the scientific comnunity’s understanding of consciousness and holism?
EM: It’s starting to catch hold, and in large measure it’s because we’re starting to understand that much of what we have talked about in ancient mythology and mystical experience and so forth can pretty well be modeled within the world of quantum physics. That’s a 20th century phenomenon also.

Perhaps people need to understand some history here. Rene Descartes, in the late 16th, early 17th century, postulated that body, mind, physicality and spirituality belonged to different realms of reality that didn’t interact. On a positive side, it got the Inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals and they quit burning them at the stake for disagreeing with the Church.

The downside was that for 400 years, science has grown up, has arisen and developed as a purely materialist concept and avoided the subject of mind and consciousness, leaving it to the realm of religion. Only with the founding of quantum science in the early part of the 20th century have we realized that the Cartesian Duality is wrong, that body, mind, physicality do interact and they’re interrelated.

Most 20th century academic physicists, and academia as a whole, simply did not want to touch the subject of consciousness. We have seen psychology grow up, and we’ve seen the development of neurophysiology and other much more sophisticated science, but only in the recent years have the tools of quantum mechanics been applied to anything representing human scale size.

It was a dogma throughout most of the 20th century that quantum science only applied to subatomic matter, and we now know that not to be true. One of the major discoveries was Quantum Holography. I have been a strong proponent of helping people understand that during the last decade or so, as it lies at the very bottom of how we know anything. Let me give a couple examples to get that point across.

We call our intuition our sixth sense, but in reality it would be called our first sense, because it’s rooted in quantum nature of reality. It was around long before our solar system and our planetary system were even formulated or even organized. It is at the basis of how our normal sensing works. So instead of being our sixth sense or even — using the parapsychological term — “extrasensory perception,” it’s not. It’s at the basis of our perception, and that’s the quantum world.

This is helping us to understand exactly how the quantum world interacts with our scale size, and as a result what we’re starting to see is a quantum biology, it being applied in biology and cosmology and a host of other sciences, because it does really pertain to how we know. It really helps bring epistemology, which is how do we know what we know, out of the realm of philosophy and brings it into the realm of science.

I’ve been very involved in this quantum holographic formalism and helping to explore it as explanatory of the very root of our perceptual capabilities. It is postulated, for example, that this very basic entanglement, at the quantum level, at the level of subatomic matter, is really a part of quantum mechanics. Entanglement can best be understood as this: When subatomic matter is in a process together, subsequently the subatomic particles go apart from each other and go across the universe. When they do this, they will remain entangled. That means if you do something to one, the other one responds immediately, instantaneously.

Let’s postulate that as the most basic act of awareness or knowing that we can demonstrate in science. I postulate that that is the very basis of why we’re conscious at all, that it is this relationship at the quantum level as matter evolves into more complex form, including plants and animals and living substance and ourselves, that this area of consciousness as an awareness becomes more and more complex.

That also explains our interconnection as human beings.
EM: Exactly! And that’s the most fundamental part. It shows that everything is interconnected in this way.

About this quantum holographic formulism that we talk about, the ancients had a term in the mystical tradition called the Akashic Records, which was suggestive that nature didn’t lose it’s experience, that the information accumulated was available forever. The quantum hologram is a mechanism to explain this concept of the ancients of the Akashic Records. It also explains Rupert Sheldrake’s work among animals [his theory of morphic fields and morphic resonance, leading to a vision of a living, developing universe with its own inherent memory].

What sense do you have about how the populace is responding to the changes taking place in their lives right now, in and around them?
EM: I think we have two things going on. We have what is happening as a result of the current administration in our country, which I think has taken us in a totally wrong direction, postulating totally wrong things. But I also see an undercurrent — and perhaps the Indigo Children are another aspect of this — that’s moving in the right direction that I thought was really predominant during the last 35 years since I started Noetics. So we do see quite a few people bucking the tides. At the moment, however, the political system, in my opinion, is going in the wrong direction.

What advice do you have for the average person to not only survive these times, but to thrive in the midst of this transformation?
EM: Our success and our understanding is that all beings are right inside, the deeper we go inside ourselves. There’s a saying that Unity uses that I have always liked: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We all have to be a part of this. We have to be the initiator. We can’t wait.

There’s an old saying, “We can mess it up and God cleans it up.” I haven’t noticed a deity of any sort cleaning up our messes. We’re going to have to do it ourselves, particularly since we have created most of these problems just by the genius and creativity that we’ve expressed and experienced here in this modern period. We’ve done it, and we’ve got to straighten it out.

Understanding is becoming aware of the fact that civilization itself is in trouble and we have done it by overpopulating the planet, and by moving toward self-service and greed. These sort of things are directly the wrong approach. We have to learn that service to the greater good is the greatest satisfaction. That idea is at the basis of all the great traditions dating back into history. When you get inside yourself – and you really find that deep inner peace that’s rooted in love — then you can’t live a life that we see being manifested in the large parts of the world right now.

In the epilogue of the newly revised fourth edition of your important book, The Way of the Explorer” you make this statement: “We must act rapidly to bring our human penchant for viewing material abundance as a panacea for happiness under control.” Can you elaborate on why this is a concern of yours?
EM: It’s because of exactly these notions of sustainability — and my feeling at this moment and the evidence suggesting that our growth, our population explosion, our resorting to trying to think that happiness is created by material abundance, is prevalent in too much of the world. This is taking us in the wrong direction. We need to find this older message, this message that has been around forever, the message that the great mystics and great teachers of all time have talked about.

Unfortunately, religions have become a part of the problem instead of part of the solution. We have fought our wars in the name of God, questioning whose God is the best God and whose exploration of this deeper reality is the best explanation. That defies everything that this deeper reality teaches.

In your book you mention that popular New Age aphorisms such as “think only positive thoughts” and “create your own reality” don’t entirely hit the mark.
EM: There is some truth in them, but not total truth in them. You have to look broader than that. One way of saying that is that there is an objective reality beyond our mind. A way to think of this in a philosophic sense is to look between the two great extremes: the idealist philosophy that says mind and consciousness is the only thing and that matter is simply an illusion, or a Maya, the product of mind; and the other extreme, a strict materialist determinism, which says that mind and consciousness is a secondary phenomenon of the collision of matter.

Those two diametrically opposed concepts are both flawed, in my opinion. The answer to the nature of our existence is somewhere in the middle, and that, of course, is what we’re looking for: how to see ourselves in a new picture of ourselves and understand the questions that humans have asked forever, “Who are we, how did we get here, where are we going, and what’s the nature of this reality that we’re in?”

Which led to your creation of the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
EM: Right, to bring the tools of science and to recognize that the flaw in the Cartesian Duality and to bring the tools of science to look at this question of mind and consciousness and to explore it using the tools of science — instead of saying, as has been the tradition for 400 years, that consciousness is not a proper subject for science to look at.

What does the Institute mean to you personally?
EM: It is an effort to help in this transformation that we’re talking about, toward. the short value systems, insights and actions. Right now, the mission of the Institute has progressed toward aiding and assisting and understanding personal, cultural, and societal transformation for exactly the reasons we’re talking about here.

And on the other side of that is a newer effort, a different effort, a parallel effort, that I have undertaken having to do with the quantum hologram and the fact that we need new energy resources. There is a new organization called Quantrek, which is involved in the deeper, hard sciences of that effort, and parallel to what the Institute is doing with its transformation work.

In the midst of all the external chaos on the planet, how do you maintain a sense of optimism?
EM: Because I have trust that we humans can resolve the problems that we have created. There is a Sanskrit saying that I subscribe to and I like very much, that “God sleeps in the minerals, awakens in plants, walks in the animals, and thinks in Man.” I believe we have these capabilities. It doesn’t mean that we will use them. Our future is not assured here. It’s not clear that we will survive our own folly, but we have a rare opportunity to do that if we listen and see the messages that nature is showing at us right now, that the finiteness of our own resources and our own planet are showing us right now.

If we heed that message and recognize that there is a way out of this — and that it resides within us and in our capabilities to utilize the genius and the understanding and the knowledge that we have acquired and can acquire — then we’ll be fine.

I believe humans on earth are a part of a universal community of intelligent life, that we’re connected with beings who live in other galaxies. What is your sense of this and how it fits into the future for humankind?
EM: I have been privileged to be briefed and to know that we have been visited. I do not have first hand experience in this regard, but I have been on investigating teams and I have been briefed by insiders who do know. Yes, we have been visited and it appears that our visitors are prepared to help us if we allow them. It is a benign contact, however there are those who think that we also have been visited by those who do not wish us well, but I can’t speak to that. I just know we have been visited, and I believe that we’re being observed, and perhaps we can be helped in a crucial time if we’re ready for that.

Whether it’s only conspiracy theory or not, I don’t know, but some people suspect that governments like ours may have advanced weaponry in space. Is that something to be concerned about?
EM: At the moment I have no knowledge of this and I think I’m pretty knowledgeable. We do not have advanced weaponry in space. We have the capability to have put weaponry in space, and that would be a mistake. At the moment, the best we really can do in space, or should be doing in space, is to use it for an observation platform, because we’ve learned a lot about ourselves from technology in space, and we will learn more by doing it and utilizing the space environment for some of our advancement. Of course, it has to be done with the proper mindset and the proper perspective, and that is in service for the greater good.

As a lifelong scientific and mystical and spiritual explorer, how does the concept of God fit into the universe?
EM: Well, in the sense of the traditional notion of God, coming out of Christianity and Islam and the Abrahamic religions, I do not hold with that concept of a God or deity. In that concept, I’m agnostic. Okay, I don’t know the answer, let’s find the answer.

I think of the universe as the body of God, and the creative capability we see and can exhibit as the mind of God. I will use this phrase to describe our system, that it’s a creative, intelligent, self-organizing, learning trial-and-error, interactive, non-locally interconnected evolutionary system.

Are we getting any closer to understanding the meaning of life?
EM: I think so. I think our science is a marvelous tool. Of course it has its politics, its failings, its mistakes, like all other human endeavors, but I think the methodology of our science — using it to postulate and to use the proper approach of creating falsifiable hypotheses and then testing them to see if they ring true, and then progressing by finding the anomalies to our theoretical structure, and then improving our theoretical structure to take care and test the anomalies — is the way to go, because that helps us discover what the all about and our relationship to

For more information on Dr. Edgar Mitchell and his projects, please visit, or

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Tim Miejan
Tim Miejan is a writer who served as former editor and publisher of The Edge for twenty-five years. Contact him at [email protected].


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