History of the Institute of Noetic Sciences


History of the Institute of Noetic Sciences

Edgar Mitchell

Photo ©2009 Susan Lambert. All Rights Reserved.


The vision for creating the Institute of Noetic Sciences came in 1971. Nations throughout the world had galvanized around the exciting frontiers of space exploration. The potential for scientific understanding of our planet and beyond seemed unlimited to a pragmatic young U.S. Navy captain named Edgar Mitchell; indeed, a mission to the moon on Apollo 14 was his “dream come true.” Space exploration symbolized for Mitchell what it did for his nation: a technological triumph of historical proportions, unprecedented mastery of the world in which we live, and extraordinary potential for new discoveries. What Mitchell didn’t anticipate was a return trip that triggered something even more powerful. As he watched the Earth float freely in the vastness of space, he became engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness. That moment, for Mitchell, was an epiphany, and it sowed the seeds of his next mission, which he described as follows:

“To broaden the knowledge of the nature and potentials of mind and consciousness and to apply that knowledge to the enhancement of human well-being and the quality of life on the planet.”

To that end, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973. Noetic, from the Greek word noetikos, means “inner/intuitive knowing.”

As a physical scientist, Mitchell had grown accustomed to directing his attention to the objective world “out there.” But the experience that came to him while hurtling through space led him to a startling hypothesis: Perhaps reality is more complex, subtle, and inexorably mysterious than conventional science had led him to believe. Perhaps a deep understanding of consciousness (inner space) could lead to a new and expanded view of reality in which objective and subjective, outer and inner, are understood as equal aspects of the miracle and mystery of being. In his words:

“I realized 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.”

View a 20-page PDF of the Noetic Post: A 40th Anniversary special edition, celebrating the history of the first 40 years of IONS and the organization's achievements. For the most recent updates, view the 2017 Annual Report.