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.”

Over the next three decades…

The Institute has systematically investigated the nature of consciousness with scientific rigor and from numerous perspectives, contributing to an ongoing paradigm shift that recognizes the essential role consciousness plays in our human evolution.

Significant projects conducted or supported during IONS’ formative years include

  • Research on mind-body interactions and healing, psychoneuroimmunology, spontaneous remission, bioenergetics,and the nature of the “healing response”
  • Laboratory studies of extended human capacities, including precognition, gut feelings, extrasensory perception, and remote viewing
  • Anthropological fieldwork on dream sharing in the Amazon and on claims of reincarnation around the world
  • Systematic analysis of the core metaphysical assumptions underlying the dominant model of reality

Our research has been conducted in collaboration with an exemplary group of frontier researchers and visionary scholars from institutions throughout the world, including:

* California Pacific Medical Center * The University of California
* Harvard Medical School * The University of Pennsylvania
* Stanford University * The Google Foundation
* Cambridge University * The Max Planck Institute
* Oxford University * The United Nations

Recognizing that our work only has impact to the extent that it becomes known, we’ve communicated the results of our research to a worldwide audience through

  • Publication of numerous papers and articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals
  • Public education by way of conferences and lecture series
  • Scholarly presentations at scientific conferences, universities, and forums
  • The Heart of Healing: A six-hour prime-time television documentary and ten-part video series and book with Time-Life
  • Numerous books, including Psychic Exploration by Edgar Mitchell; Higher Creativity, Global Mind Change, and Creative Work by Willis Harman; Waking Up by Charles Tart; and Spontaneous Remission: An Annotated Bibliography by Brendan O’Regan and Carlyle Hirshberg
  • Our well-respected publications, including the Noetic Sciences Review and its redesigned successor, Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness
  • Supporting a global network of community groups that discuss and investigate “noetic” topics

Recent Accomplishments…

We have learned much about the nature of human consciousness and its role in shaping both personal and collective reality and have applied those findings across a broad range of initiatives:

Investigation of the role of intention in healing – Through both laboratory and clinical studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), individual donors, and private foundations, we’ve conducted basic science research and controlled trials on the impact of compassionate intention on wound healing and other physiological changes.

Contributions to health education – In 2005 IONS published Consciousness and Healing: Integral Approaches to Mind Body Medicine, a book and DVD that are now part of the curriculum in medical, nursing, and health programs throughout the country.

Studies on how consciousness transforms – A decade-long series of studies on transformations in consciousness across diverse traditions and individuals has yielded peer-reviewed articles, the award-winning book Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life (with accompanying DVD), and a model of the transformative process that has been presented in workshops worldwide.

Leading-edge publications – We published the groundbreaking 2007 and 2008 Shift Reports, which provided a meta-perspective on human social evolution while drawing from a cross-section of scientific fields of study. In 2008 we launched Noetic Books, our award-winning book imprint, which has published six titles to date and sold more than 100,000 copies.

Online media archive – The Institute has amassed one of the largest archives in the world of audio/video and print material related to consciousness, instantly accessible to members via our comprehensive website.

Establishment of a transformational learning center – In 2000 the Institute moved to a beautiful 200-acre campus in Northern California to become a center of gravity for the transformational community. The EarthRise Retreat Center provides space for thousands of retreat, conference, and workshop attendees each year, while hosting dozens of organizations, including Heartmath, Gannett Health Care Group, the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, Tamalpa Institute, Latinoamérica, Nine Gates Mystery School, and Monroe Institute, along with such esteemed workshop leaders as Jean Houston, Ralph Metzner, Jim Garrison, and Michael Harner. In 2008, IONS retired the debt on this land.

National Media Coverage – The Institute’s work has been featured on Oprah, ABC, NBC, PBS, and Discovery Channel and in USA Today, the New York Times, Wired magazine, and the Los Angeles Times, among many others. Most recently it was the subject of a special report on NPR’s All Things Considered and ABC’s Prime Time as part of international coverage of IONS and noetic science being featured prominently in Dan Brown’s bestselling new mystery, The Lost Symbol.

Who We Are Today…

The Institute of Noetic Sciences continues to bring the rigor and discernment of science together with the wisdom of direct inner experiences to improve the quality of life on our planet. Our firm belief is that at the nexus of these two ways of knowing, what we call the “noetic sciences,” lie answers to many of the major problems facing our global society, as well as the keys to realizing our highest potentials. Our vision is an optimistic one. Through the bridging of objective science with ancient wisdom traditions, we hold that the work we are doing today will contribute to the foundation of a more sustainable worldview for the future—one that acknowledges our essential interconnectedness, honors multiple ways of knowing, and recognizes that from education to economics, health care to the environment, and business to science, consciousness matters.

Our mission is to advance the science of consciousness and human experience to serve individual and collective transformation. In service to this mission, IONS is dedicated to maximizing the impact of our research, education, communications, and community programs by

  • Investigating the science of consciousness through frontier explorations into extended human capacities, consciousness and healing, and worldview transformation, often in collaboration with colleagues at major research and medical centers throughout the world.
  • Catalyzing new directions in the exploration of consciousness and its applications by engaging in field formation, by stimulating scholarship and professional development of emerging young minds, and by seeding the broader field of the noetic sciences through small grants, internships, awards, and a fellows program.
  • Synthesizing the best research on consciousness from many disciplines and providing open access to this information through our online searchable meditation and spontaneous remission bibliographies, Web programs on transformation and compassionate intention, and one of the largest archives of interviews, articles, and media on consciousness-related topics in the world.
  • Translating our work into tool-building and educational programs that reach targeted audiences, including our worldview literacy program for youth, continuing education programs for health professionals, lifelong learning programs at our retreat center, and public programs both on and off campus.
  • Engaging with and facilitating collaboration among a worldwide community of members, community groups, scientific colleagues, traditional wisdom keepers, transformational leaders, change agents, and the general public through our website, publications, teleseminars, conferences, workshops, and retreat center.