Edgar Dean Mitchell
point for it because I figured there would be–that humans would be right behind robots. And that’s what I want to do. This took nine years, and I finally selected in 1966.
David: Can you briefly describe the mystical experience that you had when you viewed the Earth from space, and how did that experience effect your perspective on science and spirituality?
Edgar: Sure. Okay, let’s set the stage for that a little bit. Remember, my job was lunar module pilot. That meant that I was primarily responsible for the lunar spacecraft, and the lunar surface activities, which I took the lead role in for this mission. Alan Shepard was our commander, of both spacecrafts. Stuart Roosa was the expert in the command module. I was presumably the expert in piloting the lunar module and on the surface activities. So when that was complete, and we were on the way home, it kind of relieved me of responsibility, after having completed my task successfully.
Like other lunar module pilots, I had the opportunity to be a little bit more of a tourist on the way home, with a well-functioning space craft, and a chance to look at the heavens–the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, and galaxies. And you have to realize that we were oriented perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic–the plane which contains the the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon–and we were rotating in order to equalize the thermal balance on the spacecraft. In other words, we were flying one direction, and our spacecraft was oriented perpendicular to that direction in what’s called barbecue model, so that it continues rotation. And every couple of minutes you’d get to see the Sun, the Earth, the Moon, the Heavens, and that was a pretty wild experience.
When I earned my Ph.D. I studied star formation and, presumably, how galaxies formed, as we understood it at that time back in the Sixties. I suddenly realized that the molecules of my body, the molecules of the spacecraft, and those of my partners, had been prototyped in some ancient generation of stars. And, okay, that was nice intellectual knowledge, but all of a sudden it hit me at the gut, and–wow–those are my molecules. It became personal.
I could see the stars, see the separateness of things, but felt an inner connectedness of everything. It was personal. It was wild. It was ecstatic. And it made me ask myself, well, what kind of a brain-mind-body is this that reacts to this vision, this sighting? What is this? What’s going on here? Well, it took awhile to figure that out after I got back, but essentially that was the insight. And it made me realize that our story of ourselves as told by science was probably incomplete, and maybe flawed. And that our story of ourselves as told by cultural cosmology, rooted in religion, was archaic and certainly flawed–particularly since each culture had its own story for a different cosmology.
It occurred to me that the difference between a scientific cosmology and our cultural cosmology was because we really didn’t understand what consciousness is. We hadn’t really answered the question, who are we, and how did we get here? And that, as a new, budding ET civilization, maybe we needed to ask that question again. Even though every culture, every generation since the beginning of time, has pondered that issue. But now we’re a space-faring civilization, maybe we need to re-look at it.
So that was the event. That was the circumstance. That was the challenge. And this feeling of bliss, ecstasy, and insight continued when I wasn’t working, which was a good portion of the time on the way home. Even though we had a few experiments to perform, and a few things to do, it was mostly just riding home in a well-functioning spacecraft. So there was plenty of time to be touristy. That was the experience, and that’s the background. When I came back I started doing research, even though I had to finish my duty with Apollo 16. I was then rotated to back-up crew on Apollo 16, and I had to go through that cycle. But in the meantime I was doing research, and trying to understand what this experience in space was.
It took me a long time. I couldn’t find anything in the scientific literature pertaining to it, so I started delving into the mystical literature on consciousness. Very shortly thereafter I found–in the Sanskrit of ancient India, and rooted both in Hinduism and Buddhism–the concept called “samadhi”. And a particular type of samadhi, Savikalpa-Samadhi, which is where you see things in their separateness, and experience them viscerally, and inwardly, in their unity. The sense of unity of all things, accompanied by an ecstasy or bliss. And I realized that was precisely the description of what had happened to me in space. I continued to do further research, and realized that, in one form or another, these types of transcendent experiences are described and present in the mystical tradition of every culture. From the Aboriginal cultures of the Bushmen in Africa, and the South American peoples, to the shamans of Tibet, and throughout the world, there’s something akin to what we’re describing in the literature, or in the folklore.
We call that type of experience the “esoteric” experience. It’s tough describing it. It’s almost indescribable. It’s an ineffable experience. But, nevertheless, we try to describe it. We explain it to our friends, and to writers who are requesting it, like yourself. And let’s call that the “exoteric”. The explanation of the esoteric we call the exoteric, and the exoteric equates to religion. In other words, all of our religions are based on such insightful, esoteric experiences by great people in history–Jesus, Buddha, some would say Zoraster, Moses perhaps. And in those traditions you’d describe that experience as a mystical experience, touching the face of God, and so forth. Being more of a philosopher-scientist, I asked the question, what’s going on here? And I realized that we couldn’t answer that question until we really understood the answer to the question, what is consciousness? Why is it here? How is it here? Where did it come from?
So my approach for thirty years has been to work on what is the cosmology of consciousness, with the notion that our cosmology, our description of ourselves, will forever remain incomplete until we answer that question. And that’s what I’ve been about for thirty years with the Institute of Noetic Sciences. We founded it around that to investigate that question. And for most of those years I’ve believed that when we really bring principles of quantum entanglement to bear on the issue, we’ll make progress. And that’s what I’ve been doing in recent years.
David: What type of relationship do you see between gravity and consciousness?
Edgar: Well, you’ve touched on something that seems to be very important, and may be the connecting link here. There’s other people pushing on that too. I didn’t know that until recently. Brendan O’Regan (who was an aide to Buckminster Fuller shortly before I met him) and I were discussing precisely that issue of pushing to understand consciousness. And we both agreed that, probably, when we understand gravitation, we will understand consciousness and vice versa. I think the major connection that we can point to right now is that both seem to be non-local phenomena. That’s the obvious one.
And this is problematic, since, according to Einstein’s Special Relativity, presumably, signals or influences can not travel faster than than the speed of light. But all of the evidence for gravitation, or perhaps thought, seems to suggest that isn’t true. What other influences of nature respond non-locally? That remains to be seen, but certainly these two are problematic. I have a whole thick book here of essays on instantaneous action at a distance–pros and cons–and, I mean, we still haven’t resolved that issue in physics. We haven’t found the graviton, that is presumably the mediator for gravitation. And there’s a number of writers that insist that evidence shows that planets instantaneously know the presence of other matter, but we don’t know how that propagates. It’s hard to understand, and it seems likely to involve quantum resonance–resonance at the quantum level–which is right on the frontier of our research.
David: Have you ever been in one of John Lilly’s isolation tanks?
Edgar: Yes. Not necessarily any one created by John Lilly, but I’ve been in isolation tanks, and it’s a wonderful experience.
David: Was the shift in consciousness that you experienced floating in the isolation tank in any way similar to what you experienced being in the weightlessness of space?
Edgar: I don’t find it particularly different. I mean, I don’t need that to get into this state of consciousness, but you can. That’s a good tool. Since my initial experience in space, I have recreated the Savikalpa-Samadhi experience many,