Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, who was part of the Apollo 14 space crew that flew to the moon in 1971, died last Thursday, February 4, just seven hours before the 45th anniversary of his landing the lunar module Antares on the surface of the moon. Dr. Mitchell was the 6th of one dozen human beings who have stood on the moon.
Standing on the surface of the moon looking back at Earth catapulted him into a state of spiritual transformation. "I realized there was a higher intelligence in the universe," he told me in the first of several interviews.
Returning to our planet, he left NASA to found the Institute for Noetic Sciences (www.noetic.org), an organization dedicated to scientific research into mysteries of the mind and the nature of consciousness.
In his bestselling book The Way of the Explorer: An Apollo Astronaut's Journey through the Material and Mystical Worlds, Mitchell connected the dots between outer space, inner space, evolution, and global consciousness.
In the B.I. (Before Internet) era, and way before "to google" became a verb, a journalist tracked down an interview subject by reading newspaper clippings and wire service stories and calling the reporters who wrote the initial stories to request contact information. You worked a telephone trail of someone who knew someone who worked with someone who could provide you with an introduction or mailing address and phone number. With persistence and patience, you followed the leads until eventually you spoke to someone who could provide you with an address and phone number for the person whom you wished to interview. That was how I found Edgar Mitchell. It took several months and two letters of introduction before I was invited to his home in West Palm Beach.
After setting up my notepad with pre-written questions and pushing the red record button on both tape recorders -- I was trained to bring back-up gear just in case -- the unthinkable happened. Both of the cassette recorders stopped working simultaneously just as Dr. Mitchell had launched into his unified field theory of physics.
It was imperative that I not lose the thread of conversation. Twenty years in newsrooms had trained me well in dealing with technical snafus at inopportune moments so I switched to taking notes while maintaining eye contact.(I call it 'subliminal multitasking.') Yet apparently something about me did not inspire confidence. I don't know whether he thought I was young, or whether he thought that as a journalist I didn't have the scientific background to follow him, but he stopped in mid-sentence and leaned over sharply, so that his head was directly over the pad and pen and he was staring sternly into my eyes.
"Young lady," he said. "Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?"
Of course I didn't. But as a student of Buddhism, I understood the concept of duality: light and darkness are two sides of one universal truth which correlated with what Dr. Mitchell was explaining. Quick save: I paraphrased. The sixth man to walk on the moon sat up straight, looking astonished.
"You do get it!" he said.
I sneaked a peek at my notes and grabbed a couple of his key words to paraphase so as to reinforce his impression that yes, I understood. It worked. Somehow, he was satisfied. It was, and remains, one of the most intimidating moments of my journalism career.
Two hours later, I left with a full notebook and just a wee tiny knot in my stomach. What if I had made a mistake while taking notes? After all, this was quantum physics and it needed to be accurate. I asked him if he would mind reviewing his quotes for accuracy and would he be willing to sign a publisher' release stating that he had willingly given me an interview. No one was more surprised than me when he sent back the release with a note saying there were no corrections and offering to write a blurb.
Some 20 years after our first interview, Dr. Mitchell appeared on my webtalkradio show, The Sixth Sense with Dr. Laurie Nadel. He was promoting a new edition of Way of the Explorer and I couldn't help reminding him of our first encounter when he somehow didn't think I was smart enough to understand what he was saying. He laughed, politely said he remembered, and asked, "Isn't it time we started calling intuition "the FIRST sense?"
Mitchell: In the last few years of work, I've fairly and adequately demonstrated and convinced most of us, if not all, that our intuitive world and our basic communications is rooted in the quantum world, and the nonlocal quantum world has been around a lot longer than we have or longer than our solar system has. I'd say we should call our intuition our first sense just because of that.
Question: When we're talking about the nonlocal world, are we really talking about what existed before the beginning of time or space-time, as we understand it?
Mitchell: That's the interesting thing. Although we really discovered it in science and started to codify it in the 20th Century, the physicists have insisted that the quantum world really only pertained to subatomic matter and did not pertain to our scale-sized matter. And that turned out just to be wrong.
It is a subatomic property, but it also influences our world as well. And it's rooted right in our information systems. So, quantum information is really at the basis of our learning or our knowledge base, and it is responsible for our so-called intuitive processing.
Picking up on our previous conversations about the intuitive process, I referred to the Webster's dictionary definition as "the spontaneous knowing of something without the conscious use of reason." Sometimes, the source of that information can be explained through information we have acquired through our five physical senses over the years. I suggested that intuition is a form of cognition and in agreeing, Mitchell took it further.
Mitchell: The way I'd like to frame that, Laurie, is that what we get in is information.
And that forms your basis for how we think, and that still, when we interpret information, we have to interpret what it means. We do that on the basis of our previous experience, and our knowing, and our education, and what we learned on mamma's knee, and so on, and so forth.
Question: When we're talking about receiving information from nonlocal sources or unknown or spiritual sources, how is that different, or is it different?
Mitchell: Well, I guess I have to say that the primary properties that we're talking about here in the quantum world are called entanglement, coherence, and nonlocality, and resonance. And how we get information back is through resonance, and it's this nonlocal thing that Einstein objected to, and we really don't understand how it works at all. Yet, because it says that essentially, that particles that are ever in process together, even if they go across the universe from each other, subsequently they maintain an instantaneous correlation. It's that instantaneous part that Einstein calls "spooky action at a distance. "We really still don't have a good model for how that works, but we know it does. It's right at the basis of the root of knowing anything, except to prove we can make a good case for it as the basis for all of our sensory mechanisms and mathematical modeling.
Question: Since you and I first met, I have spent a number of years, back and forth, in South America, studying with shamans in the Amazon, in the Andes, and several years in Brazil. They take these abilities of the mind for granted. They just start with the assumption that it's doable. You have looked into this and had some experience. How do you understand how people in shamanic traditions have learned how to transit, if you will, the barrier between physical consciousness and nonlocal or what they call "non-ordinary reality?"
Mitchell: I think the mystics, the shamans, the medicine men--whatever name a particular culture calls them--are steeped in that, and they've exercised those talents. We all have the talent, as you well know. But some people have it in greater measure, or at least, exercise it and rely upon it more than others do. Just like we have great musicians, ball players, or artists. Everybody is good at something. And this is just one of the things that the mystical traditions have emphasized.
Question: The French mathematician Blaise Pascal, one of the fathers of reason, wrote that there are two excesses: one is to exclude reason, and the other is to admit only reason. Even during the Golden Age of Reason, it seems that the great thinkers were more advanced with regard to understanding that there was intuition; that there are things that couldn't be completely explained through logic, and that even the great mathematicians of the Golden Age were conscious of something that seems to have gotten lost, as you say, in the last 400 years. Why do you think we have lost respect for intuition?
Mitchell: The fact is the great thinkers of all time have - whether they recognize it or not were using intuitive intelligence.
Question: In the last ten or 15 years, what kind of breakthroughs have you seen since the first printing of your book, "The Way of the Explorer?"
Mitchell: What has happened is this discovery of Dr. Schimpf in Germany called "the quantum hologram" has put real meat on the bones of intuitive knowledge in a mathematical mechanism to explain it.
Question: When "Sixth Sense" was published in 1990, there was a lot of skepticism and suspicion from the scientific community. Has that changed?
Mitchell: Oh, of course, and there still is skepticism and suspicion among scientists.
Question: From the way the audience is growing do you think there seems to be a need for intelligent questions and real information about what consciousness is and what intuition is?
Mitchell: Well, that is absolutely true. The fact is that we have now thousands of experimental data points, showing this connection as evidenced by Faraday's cage screening and the intuitive faculties and go right through it. (A Faraday cage is a small room that's lined completely with copper, which shields out any electromagnetic frequencies.) But see, our intuitive faculties and the so-called Twin Effect and all these other nonlocal effects that we now are starting to understand quite well, are quite adequately described by this property called the quantum hologram that Dr. Schimpf discovered in the mid-1990s. We've been developing that now for almost 15 years, and it's just showing us entirely new approaches to much about nature and science that we didn't have before.
Question: And what are some of the specific changes or insights that are different, that you're aware of?
Mitchell: the mathematical formulism that has arisen from that discovery is spawning a whole new look in so-called Quantum Biology, Quantum Cosmology, introducing macro scale quantum effects into many, many of our normally-explained processes, but explained with classical and Newtonian sciences. Now we are seeing that there's a quantum component to it, and that's really reshaping the face of medical, psychological, and biological sciences. What has come out of this work that you asked about is it demonstrates that evolution is a learning process, as Lamarque said in the early 1800s, not as a result of random mutations, as has been classical evolutionary dogma since Darwin. That means we're not prisoners of our genes. The whole process of learning is taking place all the time. Our cells are constantly learning and our DNA is constantly learning, as well.
Question: Wasn't it Jonas Salk who wrote that if we want to evolve as a species, we need to evolve as a more empathic species, more intuitive and connected? Isn't it true that if we only evolve from a kind of individualized, self-contained ego point of view, and we continue to be competitive, we have the capacity now--and presumably the potential--of being the first species ever to make ourselves extinct.
Mitchell: That's right. Unless we learn to get beyond that ego function--unless we learn to get past that, we have the means at our disposal--our weapons of mass-destruction and nuclear weaponry--to destroy all life on the planet. And if we don't learn to conquer the ego that's what we'll end up doing.
Question: How does cultivating intuition provide one of the keys for our species' survival?
Mitchell: Yes. We have reshaped the mission of noetic sciences at this point, to look primarily at the transcendental or the transformational experience that goes along with that, that is a part and parcel of the mystical traditions and the basis of religion. And what is exactly that transformational experience? Well, it's been around for a long, long time, and basically, it goes to the bottom of we're all interconnected, that we're all part of the same thing. We're all one, and need to have that understanding at a deep visceral level, as opposed to just an intellectual level. What that helps us do is get past this need for violence. The fact is that violence becomes abhorrent when you're in that state. We have to go that way if we're going to survive as a species.
At this moment, it's very obvious that civilization, as a whole--led much of it by the United States and the western industrial nations--is not on a sustainable path. We're the ones that created it, and we're going to have to fix it and change it. We've got to. Being green, which is important, it's part of it, but we have to do more than that because the planet that we're on, and our lifestyle, and our consumption habits, and so forth cannot sustain 6-1/2 billion people with lifestyle and consumption patterns of Western civilization.
With an intuitive sense of what's needed and cultivating these mind states of transcendence, we then begin to really live with a visceral awareness of ecology. Intuition serves the function of sustainable energy for us as humans. It is deeply fundamental to our existence.