The Way of the Explorer: An Apollo Astronaut's Journey Through the Material and Mystical Worlds
A telephone interview with Dr. Edgar Mitchell about the 2008 revised edition of his 1996 book, "The Way of the Explorer" yields details from his life story, the dyadic model a proposed model of reality in language for the scientifically-challenged, and Mitchell's spirituality.
The interview began: With me today is Dr. Edgar Mitchell, former astronaut and the sixth man to walk on the moon. As an introduction, I would like to read what Warwick Associates publicity consultants say about Dr. Mitchell.
'In February, 1971, as Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell hurtled earthward through space, he was engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness. He intuitively sensed that his presence 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.'
'In [Dr. Mitchell's book of 1996, revised 2008], Mitchell, founder of [the Institute of] Noetic Sciences, traces two remarkable journeysone through space and one through the mind. Together they fundamentally alter how we understand the miracle and mystery of being, and ultimately reveal mankind's destiny.'
deRegnier: Thank you for being with me, Dr. Mitchell.
Mitchell: It's a pleasure being with you. Thank you very much.
deRegnier: You're welcome.
As I said in my email to you earlier this week, I found your life story to be most illuminating, especially your childhood. I could see how your family's influence and principles presented a thread that continued throughout the book. Would you like to tell us about your childhood?
Mitchell: Sure. My family was in the agricultural and cattle business, and as farmers. As pioneers they went west after the Civil War when it was still very open territory in the 1870s. And so, a great deal of self-reliance and personal integrity and making things work on your own was required. That's the life I grew up with, and I think it has served me well, because it engendered self-responsibility.
deRegnier: One of your neighbors when you were growing up and moved to Roswell, New Mexico was Robert Goddard.
Mitchell: Oh yes, that was quite interesting that Dr. Goddard was our neighbor. We didn't know him personally, but we did know that he lived there. And, though I never met him, I did meet Mrs. Goddard years later after he'd passed on and after my space flight. We became acquainted at that time.
deRegnier: Was that inspiration for your interest in space?
Mitchell: Not particularly. Actually, my interest in space only came much, much later when Sputnik went up. It was only when we actually started to investigate space physically with the rockets and the Soviets. I was, at that point, a Navy pilot in the Korean War and coming back to test pilot duty in the United States when Sputnik went up. Then I realized that here was a new frontier where humans could be right behind robot space craft in due course. And I thought that would be a good thing to do. So I changed my career path at that point to follow that.
deRegnier: Very interesting.
That your family made sacrifices for your education and that your family and teachers recognized that you had special qualities that needed to be fostered in that way intrigued me.
Mitchell: My family was very supportive and they did believe in education. And they made sure that I had the opportunities to get a good education. So I did go off to an eastern technical school, now called Carnegie Mellon, but it was called Carnegie Institute of Technology back in those days, to get an engineering education.
deRegnier: You knew that you that you wanted to be an engineer and an educator at a very early age. I didn't know what an engineer was at an early age.
Mitchell: I had a very fine physics teacher in high school who was quite an influence on me. Also, my father was a very bright man although he was not college-educated because of the depression and tough times at that point. But my father and mother both insisted that I get a good education and made it possible to do that.
I'm going to skip now to the focal point of your book, which is the dyadic model. I'm going to switch to that because it seems that it is a very important element of what you want to communicate with the book. Can you explain it to us in lay-person terms for the scientifically-challenged?
Mitchell: Yes, in a very simple statement: Four hundred years ago. the philosopher Rene Descartes came to the conclusion that physicality, spirituality, mind and body belonged to different realms of reality that didn't interact. Now, that served the purpose to get the Inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals so they could disagree on material things with the church and without the fear of being burned at the stake. So that ended that, but it did cause, for four hundred years, science to consider consciousness and mind a subject for philosophy and religion and not a subject for science.
Now, one of the things that happened, in the 1940s, was the mathematician, physicist, Norbert Wiener (MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for the first time really defined information as the negative of entropy, and entropy as the idea of the universe is running down and wastes energy. But, Wiener defined information as the negative of entropy, and that's wonderful but it didn't go far enough.
So what my dyadic model does, [relates to] Einstein's energy is the basis of matter. We know that if we take matter apart and explode matter, we find energy. And that energy is the basis of matter. But if we go a step further, we live in a universe where intelligence and knowing is important, and how do we know anything, well, information. And, information at its most basic definition is just patterns in energy.
So the dyadic model says that energy has two faces. Instead of being two separate things, it's the energy as the basis of our existence in matter. And, it´s the basis of our knowing and information. And that's the simplest way to explain it.
deRegnier: And how does that affect our consciousness, or how does the consciousness affect that model?
Mitchell: First of all, it gives a consistent way of looking at this and we needed that. But we had not had, in science, a definition of consciousness. The only definition of consciousness from the dictionary is that at its basic level it is awareness. Consciousness means to be aware, and then we have different levels of consciousness depending upon how complex the substance is. It has been demonstrated many times over in laboratories that basic awareness is demonstrable at the level of plants, at simple bacteria, at simple life forms.
This is done with Faraday cages. It's shown that this information at this deep level, at the quantum level, can transcend electromagnetic theory. And, now we're getting into quantum physics and we don´t want to go there at this point. But it's a very fundamental notion that awareness is at the very basis of things.
And we have a consciousness that is not only is aware, but we can think about our thinking and that is a much higher level of consciousness than we find at the level of plants and animals.
deRegnier: Has our level of consciousness changed as we've evolved?
Mitchell: I would think so. I tend to agree with the classic notions that come right out of biology that we have evolved from a more primitive state and that from those lower animal states, from which we came, that we have progressively evolved in our ability to utilize consciousness, to utilize thought and intelligence as we have learned more about our universe. Both on earth and as in the 19th and 20th centuries, and now the 21st century, we´ve been able to look out into the heavens with very powerful instruments and to find our place in the universe in totally new ways.
deRegnier: Would you say that with the dawning of ritual and religion, was that when there came a change in consciousness?
Mitchell: No, I would say there was a whole host of developments associated with that. The inventing of writing is one. Spoken language is another. And then the development of all this helps the brain to evolve and to utilize and to start to take on different characteristics.
I don't consider myself enough of an evolutionary biologist to speak coherently about all of this, but it's very clear that in the evolutionary process that's taken place in the last several thousand years as we have evolved language, and written language in particular, and from the Greeks forward learned to think in more logical terms.
deRegnier: What do you see as our responsibility with this consciousness? For example, do we have a responsibility to morality?
Mitchell: Of course, what comes along with living is learning to develop everything that goes with our consciousness. We have to think about morality. We have to think about rightness. We have certainly learned to accept the notion that we're all created out of the same thing. And that's one of the things quantum physics has shown us. Particularly, what the space experience has shown me was that when we understand that the matter in our bodies and in everything (all matter is created in the star system, the heavy matter created in the furnace of stars) we start to realize that that is the basis of our very existence. And when we start to realize we are interconnected in this way it helps you see things in a different way.
deRegnier: It certainly does. In your writings, in the epilogue of the revised edition of the book and in other writings I've seen, you talk about sustainability. What can you tell us about that?
Mitchell: Well, if we looked at our modern period, for the modern period I consider from the mid part of the nineteenth century on, about the 1850s, 1860s on, we have had an enormous increase in the use of our science and our technology such that every measure of human activity is found to be growing exponentially. It's very clear that exponential growth, which means that the rate of change is increasing as well as change itself. That exponential growth cannot continue indefinitely in a finite space. And, our little earth here is a finite space.
And, we see that from the beginning of the middle of the nineteenth century, every measure of human activity has increased exponentially. For example, at the end of the nineteenth century there weren't even 3 billion people on earth, but now, at the end of the twentieth century going into the twenty-first century, we have over 6 billion on earth. We have a rate of increase of population that has increased markedly.
Our invention and creativity with new technologies has exponentially increased too. What this is telling us is that we simply cannot continue this. That the population increase, the consumption patterns, what we're doing to our environment is not sustainable.
The great thinker Buckminster Fuller, philosopher, now deceased but for a goodly portion of the twentieth century, pointed out at the beginning of our space exploration that we are the crew of space ship earth. But we 're a crew of mutiny and how can you run a space ship with a mutinous crew. We're spending so much time killing each other, destroying our environment, over-populating. We're well aware that the edible fish of the sea are destined to be gone by the middle part of the twenty-first century unless we learn to curb our lifestyle, and to change our behaviors and patterns to a more sustainable green let's call it a green and sustainable pattern of living.
In the last chapter before the Epilogue, you speak to theologians and scientists on the issue of God. Are you willing to give away the ending?
Mitchell: Well if you want to read it that's fine. It's just the universe is so utterly magnificent as we're starting to understand it. I think that our older notions of a deity and the causality and the origins of the universe are probably wrong, and that we have to rethink all of this. But it's still a magnificent universe that we live in and it's our task to understand it. But mostly our notions of understanding have to be revised, and in many cases what we've been saying is totally wrong.
deRegnier: I will read what you said: 'All I can suggest to the mystic and the theologian is that our gods have been too small; they fill the universe. And to the scientist all I can say is that the gods do exist; they are the eternal, connected, and aware Self experienced by all intelligent beings.'
So you do believe in the idea of God?
Mitchell: Well, it depends on how you want to define that. We all have different beliefs in how the universe began and what are the basic causal factors. In so-called Abrahamic religions, it gives us to a grandfather figure God, and that isn't an analogy I can support. I don't believe that is correct. But we do have great mystery about what is the origin of the universe, how it came to be. There's a great deal of question as to whether the big bang is the correct answer to the way the universe arose, and under what auspices and conditions. I don't think we have the full answers to that yet. Hopefully in due course we'll be able to find a much better way to describe all this.
deRegnier: You are a scientist and you believe in God. You don't find
Mitchell: Let's not misinterpret what I say.
deRegnier: Oh, okay. Excuse me.
Mitchell: The old notion, the notion coming out of Abrahamic religions of the grandfather figure God, the beingness. I don't support that notion.
deRegnier: [I didn't mean to imply that Dr. Mitchell supported the traditional definition of God.] But you support a notion of something?
Mitchell: Well, we have to ask a question of how did we get here? What's this universe all about? What's our relationship to it? And humans have been asking that question forever. We still don't have a final answer to what is this nature of the universe we live in and how did it come to be. And part of that involves the question of a deity. I think the answer is still to be found.
deRegnier: So you think it's an important question that has not been answered and that should be continued to be asked. Okay, thank you.
There is so much more in the book that we could talk about. As you can tell by my questions it was difficult to narrow them down to this time limit. I thank you so very much and I just want to ask is there any parting comment you´d like to make?
Mitchell: Thanks very much for inviting me and I'm pleased to have been with you this morning.
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