Our Consciousness Journey
Astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s epiphany of oneness inspired him to explore the frontier of inner space: human consciousness. Forty years later, Mitchell’s research institute and Pathways readers are still blazing trails.
Moon dust floated throughout the command module as the Apollo 14 astronauts piloted the spacecraft into a slow spin, exposing all sides of the Kitty Hawk to the sun’s rays and pointing its five rotating windows toward a luminous, blue-andwhite planet. Settling in for the three-day flight home, Captain Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, shifted his thoughts toward the expansive view outside the spacecraft and reflected on the lunar mission’s accomplishments.
“This wasn’t the achievement of an individual, a space agency, or even a country,” Mitchell wrote in his autobiography, The Way of the Explorer: An Apollo Astronaut’s Journey Through the Material and Mystical Worlds. “This was, rather, the achievement of our species, our civilization. Life had come a long way since it first sprang from the Earth’s rock and water.”
What happened next, when the veil of moon dust settled in the cabin as the command module hurtled through the heavens at 36,300 feet per second, would catapult Mitchell into a previously unimaginable frontier of scientific exploration: human consciousness.
The Earthrise Epiphany
“What I experienced during that three-day trip home was nothing short of an overwhelming sense of universal connectedness. I actually felt what has been described as an ecstasy of unity. It occurred to me that the molecules of my body and the molecules of the spacecraft itself were manufactured long ago in the furnace of one of the ancient stars that burned in the heavens about me. And there was a sense that our presence as space travelers, and the existence of the universe itself, was not accidental, but that there was an intelligent process at work. I perceived the universe as in some way conscious,” wrote Mitchell.
By the time the red-and-white parachute safely splashlanded the Kitty Hawk in the Pacific Ocean, Mitchell’s life had been transformed into a game of pick-up sticks. “Within a few days my beliefs about life were thrown into the air and scattered about,” he wrote. “It took me 20 years to pick up the sticks and make some kind of sense of it all.”
The undeniable wholeness of the earth dangling in infinite space entered into the world’s psyche in the nowfamous photos entitled “The Blue Marble” and “Earthrise.” In Earthrise: How We First Saw Ourselves, British historian Robert Poole writes that NASA was unprepared for the paradoxical reaction the photos of earthrise provoked. “Rather than turning people’s eyes on a future in space, it refocused them on Earth…. Fifteen months later came the first Earth Day and the start of an ‘eco-renaissance’ devoted to preserving and protecting ‘Spaceship Earth.'”
While many of Apollo’s astronauts reported deeply spiritual experiences upon seeing their home planet from outer space, it was Mitchell who followed through on his earthrise epiphany with a commitment to investigate his insight of wholeness and consciousness by leaving NASA and its astro-futurist vision in 1972 for the unchartered frontier of inner space. In 1973, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, IONS: a new era’s mission control for inner space exploration. “Noetic,” from the Greek nous, means “inner wisdom, direct knowing, or subjective understanding.”
The Launch of Inner Space Exploration
In the beginning, Mitchell wrote, his commitment to exploring inner space and human consciousness with all the rigor of a trained scientist was hampered by the initial public desire to deify him and his moon-walking colleagues. “Frivolous connections were made between the fact that 12 men walked on the moon and that there were 12 disciples of Jesus. Furthermore, I wore a beard at the time and the absurdity seemed to expand to the messianic realm. So I shaved the beard.”
Mitchell set out to question the foundational constructs of materialist science, but quickly discovered the way forward began with questioning his own. “I came to recognize the effects of my own belief system and the powerful
role of enculturated belief systems in general; I needed to reexamine accepted thought with new eyes.”
Embracing his heretical hunch fully, Mitchell decided that “the story of ourselves as told by science—our cosmology, our religion—was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description. What was needed was a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming.”
Challenging the scientific orthodoxy of the time— historically, a death sentence for most institutions and academics—the initial results of IONS’ first decade produced more questions than answers:
- Does consciousness exist beyond the human brain?
- Is it true that everything is interconnected at some subtle level?
- How does the body really heal?
- What are human beings capable of?
The first decade also saw inroads into the holistic health sphere, with IONS sponsoring a conference on the new field of psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California and publishing the instantly popular Health for the Whole Person: The Complete Guide to Holistic Medicine. The inner-space adventure was just beginning.