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INTERVIEW WITH APOLLO 14 ASTRONAUT DR. EDGAR MITCHELL
by
Bill Bruzy

 

            Born in humble, yet auspicious, circumstances Dr. Edgar Mitchell traversed worlds, both physical, and metaphysical, to an extent few of us can dream of.  Born in Hereford Texas he later moved with his family to Roswell New Mexico.  That small desert town held an unusual history and synchronicity for Dr. Mitchell.  As a boy he remembers witnessing the flash from the worlds first atomic bomb test at the Trinity test site 70 miles across the mountains from his home.  Robert Goddard, the father of US. rocket science lived near him and his families ranch was close to the site of the alleged UFO crash in 1947.  Quite a neighborhood to grow up in.
            Dr. Mitchell took to flying early on, soloing his first aircraft at age 14.  After getting a degree in Industrial Management from Carnegie Mellon University in 1952 he joined the Navy, became a Naval Aviator and eventually a test pilot.  With two degrees in Aeronautics, one from the Navy Postgraduate School and one from M.I.T. and his flight experience he qualified for the Astronaut program at NASA and was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 14.  He walked on the moon in 1971.
            During his return flight from the moon Dr. Mitchell had a life changing experience, an epiphany.  To quote Dr. Mitchell, “I experienced an ecstasy of unity.  I not only saw the connectedness, I felt it and experienced it sentiently.  The restraints and boundaries of flesh and bone fell away.”  The same experience is described by Patanjali as Nirvikakpa samadhi, the deepest enlightenment.
            After returning to earth Dr. Mitchell retired from NASA.  He founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences which does research in to the nature of consciousness. 
            His new book, “The Way of the Explorer” is a blend of autobiography and exposition.  He explains the progress of his work for the last twenty years and discusses a “Dyadic Model” of reality which doesn’t take sides between science and religion, the measurable and the mystic, but rather shows their correspondence and connection in the “learning’ universe in which we live.

 

Bill
            I wanted to start out with a curiosity I have.  I’ve wandered around your boyhood hometown of Roswell New Mexico and found it to be a very unusual place.  You grew up around Robert Goddard, a rocket scientist, the Trinity explosion of the first atomic bomb test and the alleged UFO crash in Roswell happened near your families ranch.  How do you frame that for yourself?

Dr. Mitchell
            Not as strange but intriguing and synchronistic as I look back on it.  Pleased that I had that opportunity.  I’m sure it shaped, particularly with my early military career, a lot of my attitudes.  I’ve never been one to glory in war.  I was always hoping my service was helping bring an end to, or make obsolete, that military necessity.

Bill
            Did you actually see the flash from the Trinity shot?

Dr. Mitchell
            Yes.  We saw the flash across the mountain.  It was a long ways away but sixty, seventy miles is nothing with those sorts of things.  We happened to be across the Capitan Mountains on the east side.  White Sands is on the west side.  It was a clear flash.  I remember very vividly.

Bill
            As a lunar module pilot on Apollo 14 you were one of the dozen men privilege to walk on the moon.  Returning from the moon you had an experience which profoundly effected you.  What was that?

Dr. Mitchell
            The easiest way to say it is “mountain top experience.”  Getting out of the trees and looking at the forest.  The insight that came with it, since I was very well schooled in my sciences and also my religious upbringing, was our story about ourselves just wasn’t complete. 
            The idea of needing to re-ask those questions that human beings have asked since time began: who are we?  how did we get here?  where are we going?  and why?  We needed some new answers.  That was the insight.
            What sparked me so much as I thought about ourselves as an organism, a biological entity, was, how did nature provide for epiphany’s, for insights?
            The awsomeness of just being a human in this cosmos and going to the moon, being one of the first people to look back on the planet from a distance, just the awsomeness of being alive in this cosmos and not understanding it, or recognizing that understanding was very primitive, that was a wild experience for me.
            It just opened all those questions that just begged answers.  I had to start figuring out what does all this mean?

Bill
            It changed your life profoundly when you got back.  You took steps in your personal life and left NASA and you founded the Institute for Noetic Studies.  Your outer life changed.  How did your inner life change after your epiphany?

Dr. Mitchell
            In the beginning there was burning curiosity about what all this meant.  Friends opened the door to J. B. Rhines work in parapsychology at Duke University which I was uncomfortable with.  However the more I read the more I realized here were well educated, sincere, people of integrity looking at a very controversial but serious issue.
            I did enough work myself to see that this stuff seemed to be true.  If it was true than our science was ignoring something vitally important to the question of what are we?  Really?  What is our universe about?
            Our religions had said all along these things are very real they just happen to be supernatural.  I said no, this isn’t supernatural.  This is natural stuff.  My inclinations to intellectual curiosity poured over into those realms.  It was an ineluctable impulse that I wasn’t going to put down.

Bill
            I’m curious, since I’m a counselor and deal a lot with people’s emotions I’m curious about your emotional training as a pilot, that maybe it helped open you to epiphany.  One of the things that made you successful as a pilot was feel and intuition.  You talked about diving away from North Korean fighters by instinct and watching the tracer bullets go where your cockpit might have been had you not acted with trust of feelings.  You were very in touch with feeling.
            At the same time you talked about having to suppress emotion because you had to get on with the tasks at hand.

Dr. Mitchell
            You raise an interesting point.  The word instinct is the best word to use for those experiences.  It wasn’t done with conscious awareness of doing something.  It was done with unconsciously being in touch with one’s instincts.  I was using inner experience obviously but I didn’t know anything about it.
            It was only after bringing the rational mind to bear on the non-rational did the pieces start to come together.  The word instinct doesn’t work anymore actually, intuitive is a better word now. 

Bill
            But you had already bridged the gap between the unconscious and the conscious by allowing your unconscious to reach to the flight controls of an aircraft.

Dr. Mitchell
            Yes, but I would never have described it as that.  Being a science and engineering Ph.D. those words were not in the lexicon.  Looking back, all of the great thinkers and innovators of the world used their intuition.  Archimedes, Einstein, all of them used their intuition.  But science denied the reality of intuition or thinks it’s just a mechanical thing.

Bill
You’ve said that you are a researcher and that research is your spiritual practice. 

Dr. Mitchell
            I am now convinced that it’s the integration of the rational and the non-rational, the logical and the intuitive, the left brain and the right brain, bringing them together in a coherent holistic pattern that is the key to the next step in evolution.
           
Bill
            Which leads us to your “Dyadic Model” that you discuss in the book.  You talk about a correspondence between the physics of the external world and, now I’m paraphrasing a bit but, the physics of the internal world.  What is the model?

Dr. Mitchell
            Let me lead into it.  First of all we all agree there has been a gulf between our scientific experience and our religious experience.  We can trace that back to Descartes in the western world.  Science is concentrated on the third person, or objective experience and pretty much ignored the intuitive experience, the mystical.  The other side is the first person experience of the right brain, the religious.
            It turns out they are both right, and they are both wrong.  Science has to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a totally objective experience.  It all is rooted in the first person subjective experience.  We arrive at objectivity by consensus.
            On the other hand the mystic has to recognize that the insights he or she arrives at are not absolute reality.  They are simply information that must be interpreted. 
            It is failing to do those two things, in each camp, that have kept science and religion apart, that have kept the rational and intuitive from operating smoothly together.
            The Dyadic Model is an attempt to bring those worlds together by simply acknowledging that there is a universe and in our universe we know about it.  We exist and we know.  Those are really quite amazing things.  The Dyadic Model is based upon those two things. 
            Quantum physics tells us our existence is, fundamentally, organized energy.  Everything is organized out of energy, an abstract concept.  And our knowing is based upon information.  Which is just patterns of energy.  Descartes was flawed in his conclusion that mind and matter are two fundamentally different things.
            All existence is based upon energy and all knowing is based upon patterns of energy (information), that is the relationship that pulls it together.  Everything our sensory mechanisms tell us about, everything our intuition is about is information.  Everything.  What we perceive in the world is not reality but rather patterns of energy that we give meaning to.

Bill
            So we actually inhabit both sides of the duality constantly.  Intellectually we’ve been arguing for hundreds of years which side is going to win?

Dr. Mitchell
            That’s right.  We tried to say things exist and look at existence without interacting with it.  Newtonian science says you can look at the physical world and you don’t have to worry about the mind that’s looking.  Mind is independent of the physical world.  But mind is not independent of the physical world.  It is interactive with the physical world.  It’s an interactive system, not an independent linear system. 
            We used to say mind and matter were independent of one another and then ascribe things to supernatural deities discarnates, and so forth.  In reality it was the subtle working of our own inner self that was causing that. 

Bill
            You said mind and matter, body and spirit, are interconnected parts of a learning whole.  You talk about the idea of intentionality in the universe.  Say more about that. 

Dr. Mitchell
            If the universe, as our science has seen it, is deterministic, there is absolutely no room for choice.  The universe is determined by the movement of particles.  Classical science says that volition and choice is the grand delusion. 
            If we go to the mystical, the other side of our experience, our religions have said our choices are really small choices.  The big choices are made in heaven, by the deities.  The real power is beyond us.  Our choices are like the froth on the deep still ocean.  We can make little changes but we have to supplicate deity if we want big changes, big choices.  We call them miracles when that happens.
            What this model is saying is no, that’s not true at all.  Choice and volition is the way the universe is put together.  We’ve given that choice to the supernatural but it is natural.  It is a part of the process.  I am saying volition is the fundamental nature of the universe.
            The basic quality here is awareness and if you have volition, and awareness, it turns out that’s what you need for learning.  We appear to have a learning universe.  The natural universe is a learning universe.  Awareness and volition are part of a feedback loop, and that is a learning cycle.  And so, all of nature learns. 
            Darwin was wrong.  It’s not a random evolution it’s a learning evolution.  That fits the evidence a lot better than random mutation and random adaptation. 

Bill
            You had an epiphany returning from the moon and it changed how you lived your daily life on earth.  How does all this apply to how someone lives their daily life without such a grand experience to refer to?

Dr. Mitchell
            It’s exactly the same.  What happened to me on a grand scale happens to us every day in our life.  We have little epiphany’s, not necessarily big epiphany’s.  It’s the synthesis of information in new ways.  Look at it this way.  Meaning is internally generated information that connects our other experience and information together.  Growth is giving more complete and deeper meaning to the experiences in our life.

Bill
            So simply being aware leads to more connection and more meaning.

Dr. Mitchell
            Yes.  The more we experience, the richer becomes our meaning.  That’s what wisdom is all about.  Intelligence is organizing information.  Wisdom is applying value systems and priorities to experience.

Bill
            I want to get back to the physics for a moment.  You talk about Non-local connection.  It’s clear in quantum physics and it is also clear in psychic experience.  Non-local connection exists.  You talk about the zero point field as mediating connection.  What is the zero point field?

Dr. Mitchell
            The zero point field is the residual motion in the universe when matter is at absolute zero.  Stopped dead cold.  It’s the residual energy in free space.  It is the origin from which the universe arose.

Bill
            Is it a full nothingness?

Dr. Mitchell
            You can’t say that energy moving around is full nothingness but it is about as close to nothingness as we can imagine.

Bill
            How does this piece fit in?

Dr. Mitchell
            The potential underlying all matter was enough to create the universe.  Think of it this way.  All matter is sending out energy and taking in energy all the time.  Energy is best described as little sine waves bouncing all around and ...

Bill
            So wait, I think I’ve got it.  The zero point field is the substrate of connection of the universe.

Dr. Mitchell
            That’s right.  And through the field all particles are correlated.  Any particles that have ever been together are connected.  Well, if the big bang, the birth of the universe happened, everything was there and is still correlated, connected.
            So non-locality is for the physicists what interconnectedness is for the mystic.  You see this non-local correlation at the subatomic level correlated to intuition and resonance at the brain level.  That non-local correlation is nature’s fundamental management scheme.  So what we experience as inner feelings and interrelationships at our feeling level is precisely due to non-locality.

Bill
            So we have an experience of zero point field in us constantly.

Dr. Mitchell
            Right!  That’s what the samadhi experience is. 

Bill
            So you are saying this is a self aware universe.

Dr. Mitchell
            It’s a self aware universe.