Book Review: “The Way of the Explorer” by Edgar Mitchell
In my quest to absorb every available memoir of the 24 people who have flown to the Moon, I recently completed Edgar Mitchell’s The Way of the Explorer. We know Mitchell for his two EVAs on the Moon as lunar module pilot of Apollo 14 in 1971, but we also know him somewhat more controversially for the projects he became involved with following his experience with the overview effect in cislunar space.
Following his experience on Apollo 14, Mitchell explored the worlds of spirituality and parapsychology through his own Institute of Noetic Sciences, and partook in an effort to bring related phenomena to the attention of mainstream science and its laboratories. In the book, which is less of an Apollo memoir and more of a philosophical and scientific treatise (though still containing a compelling description of his stay on the Moon), he communicates the history behind his involvement in these pursuits, and justifies them in a much more well-explained way than a brief interview or essay possibly could. It affords a better understanding of not only Edgar Mitchell, but also the “mystic” world that some people seem to experience firsthand.
As a preface to the substance of this review, to my knowledge I have experienced neither an ESP phenomenon nor a parapsychological one. In much the way that Mitchell addresses in his contextualization of modern attitudes towards these concepts, I generally accept abnormal oddities or strange synchronicities to be merely subconscious musings and coincidences that are likelier to occur than they seem at face value. Therefore, I approached The Way of the Explorer with inherent doubt, but withheld my disbelief to the best of my ability.
That being said, Mitchell’s endeavors and beliefs towards mysticism are no longer strange to me, having heard his own explanation for them. Unlike the way some people remember his interests and dedication to them, Mitchell himself does not claim to be a mystic, nor does he insinuate that his experience on Apollo 14 separates him from others on Earth who share the same worldview he got to understand from a firsthand perspective. The true focus of his musings and relationships with people like Uri Geller or Norbu Chen was centered on a fascination with not only who those postulated the theories of quantum physics and the visible universe, but also those who challenge the subsequent logic and assumptions that these theories necessitate at the broad, unconscious sociocultural level. As a result, The Way of the Explorer does not read like a paranormal story or a Coast to Coast: AM show, but rather like an extremely well-written philosophical treatise featuring an exploration of the history of science, and its relationship to popular attitudes and criticisms of people who consistently display abilities that should not be possible.
This exploration into the power of brain and living matter’s relationship with quantum mechanics seems to echo Mitchell’s personal experience with the overview effect, Frank White’s definition of an aspect of what has been called “savikalpa samadhi” by Indian and Hindu philosophers for centuries. Though Mitchell had been interested in ESP and parapsychology for years, this experience on his way back from the Moon in which he understood firsthand the oneness of space was an ability that his worldview up to that point could not have enabled him to experience. It is these types of experiences and abilities-in-thought that interest Mitchell.
However, he makes clear that he would not take claims of mysticism or ESP prowess at face-value. Scientific skepticism remained in him until he personally experienced the claims of the individual, at which point, in the cases presented in the book, he did what he could through the Institute of Noetic Sciences or his own connections to get these people into a laboratory for proper experimentation, including blind studies and other accepted methodologies. Mitchell stays with his belief that the “supernatural” must be entirely natural and normal. Ultimately, in The Way of the Explorer, no broad-base paradigm shifting discoveries in this scientific capacity are presented, though some smaller strides that were made are explained in proper detail, with a lengthy bibliography of both scientific and unscientific sources.
Perhaps the most gripping section of the book is the section expounding upon Mitchell’s dyadic model of events. In this theory, it is posited that events are the result of the creation and collision of dualities. Another fantastic inclusion in the book is somewhat meta: challenging how the interpretation or observation of an event can affect the actual the event itself, with quantum physics serving as a model.
Overall, I recommend The Way of the Explorer to the spaceflight reader, especially to those who enjoy science, philosophy, or sociology. Whether you place validity in Edgar Mitchell’s beliefs or not, and I myself am not yet entirely on board, his pursuits were (and are) worthwhile. Exploration does not have to be limited to physical places, science, or art. The true way of the explorer is to never turn down an adventure into what is not yet known.
Cover image - The Way of the Explorer cover, courtesy of the Author.
Mitchell, Edgar D., and Dwight Arnan Williams. The Way of the Explorer: An Apollo Astronaut's Journey Through the Material and Mystical Words. 3rd ed. Buenos Aires: Richter Artes Graficas, 2006.