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Edgar Mitchell: Science and the Study of Consciousness

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Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut & founder of Institute of Noetic Sciences, is one of the few people to have walked on the moon. While returning to earth, Mitchell experienced an epiphany that both changed his life, and caused him to re-consider the scientific paradigm’s methodology for studying consciousness.

In his dialogue with Walter Link, we learn more about Edgar’s Mitchell’s epiphany in space, and consider the science of consciousness – are our current paradigms adequate for studying consciousness, which is at the root of all human experience?

Watch the full episode ‘Edgar Mitchell: An Astronaut’s Epiphany on Sustainability & Consciousness’ HERE.

Edgar Mitchell - GlobalLeadership.TVWalter Link: So Edgar you have been to the moon and  back and had an experience that was extraordinary and life-changing for you. Tell me about what was it really that happened there?

Edgar Mitchell: As we were coming back, I had the realization that perhaps the story of ourselves as told by our science was incomplete and perhaps flawed. And the story of ourselves as told by our religious traditions

were archaic and perhaps flawed. And that maybe now that we were spacefaring, beginning to be a spacefaring civilization, we had to re-ask these questions all over again from a modern point of view.

I had the realization that perhaps the story of ourselves as told by our science was incomplete and perhaps flawed.

That was the experience I had coming back, accompanied by a sense of ecstasy and enjoyment, beauty of looking at the heavens from that perspective. And this sense of ecstasy and sense of well-being continued all the way home, whenever I had a chance away from duties to look out the window and contemplate the magnificence of the universe itself from that point of view.

Walter Link: So what have you discovered since about the limitation of science and the limitation of the traditional religious views and possible new views about reality?

Edgar Mitchell: When I got back I immediately wanted to try to understand what was this experience of ecstasy and overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and joy at seeing the heavens like that. I could find nothing in the science literature, and I could find nothing in the religious literature. So I turned to some anthropologists and paleontologists over at the local university and asked them to help me, if they could find it.

Edgar Mitchell Studies Map

Edgar Mitchell Studies Map

And they came back a short time later and said they had found in the Sanskrit of ancient India, 5000 years or so ago, a description that might fit what I was talking about. And I said, what is it? They said, it’s called samadhi. I said, well, what does that mean? And they said, it means to see things as they appear to the eyes but experience them internally, viscerally and emotionally as ecstasy and and joy and wonder. And a sense of oneness with everything.

And that was the point. I had experienced a sense of unity, of oneness with the universe itself. And I realized from my training at MIT and Harvard when I got my PhD and studying astronomy there that our understanding is that the matter in the universe is created in star systems. The stars are furnaces for creation of matter.

In a sense we can say we are star dust. And that sense of oneness with all of this, everything is star dust, it’s made from star systems. And that was a part of this sense of ecstasy.

In a sense we can say we are star dust. And that sense of oneness with all of this, everything is star dust, it’s made from star systems. And that was a part of this sense of ecstasy. But the great benefit of that is the fact that when I came back I then started looking at different cultural systems and realized that this concept of samadhi or oneness was inherent in every system.

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MODERN SCIENCE AND SEPARATENESS

Walter Link: Why is it so difficult for us to experience that and to live [the sense of oneness]? Why do we have such a deep impression of separation and difference?

Edgar Mitchell: In my opinion this goes back at least 400 years to the beginnings of what is called modern science, Newtonian science. And it began with the philosopher René Descartes, a member of the church, a high-ranking member of the church, who wrote a paper in the sixteenth century that essentially said, body-mind, physicality-spirituality belong to two different realms of reality that don’t interact.

That paper was accepted and promulgated and it had the enlightening effect of getting the Spanish Inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals of Europe at that time, so they quit burning them at the stake for disagreeing with the church. As long as they stayed away from subjects of mind and consciousness which were considered subjects for religion.

What happened is that science arose at that point as strictly a materialist concept – only concerned with the interactions of matter at a physical level.

And so what happened is that science arose at that point as strictly a materialist concept – only concerned with the interactions of matter at a physical level. And we lived, and science are arose and has developed for 400 years around that concept. Until the end of the nineteenth century when, coming together of Max Planck, and the greats of the early twentieth century, Einstein and so forth.

And Einstein made the discovery, or promulgated the idea that the whole question of what is light, a particle or a wave, depends on the measurement or the experiment that you do with it. And so if you did it one way it looked like a particle and the other way it looked like a wave. That was essentially the beginning of quantum mechanics.

Walter Link: So meaning that if you look at it one way, we are separate. And if you look at it the other one we are one?

Edgar Mitchell: Exactly.

Walter Link: And underlying is whether we are separate or one, we are always connected?

Edgar Mitchell: That’s right, exactly. And the whole point was, Max Planck at that same period discovered, promulgated, what’s called blackbody radiation. The fact that all matter emits and reabsorbs energy in the form of particles or waves or both. And that served as the basis, with the later developments, that turned into what is called quantum physics.

And although throughout most of the twentieth century academic physics has not wanted to embrace this connection, it is nevertheless, it’s demonstrated that it is true and that the Cartesian duality of 400 years is utterly false. That mind-body do interact. And we have the psychic areas and the physical areas of mind-body interaction and we can understand it in ways that simply weren’t understandable 100 years ago.

 

Watch the full episode ‘Edgar Mitchell: An Astronaut’s Epiphany on Sustainability & Consciousness’ HERE.

 

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