The Overview Effect: How Traveling in Space Would Improve the State of the Planet
The famous “Earthrise” picture. Credit to NASA
Since the first image of Planet Hearth seen by humans in the far 1968, taken by the Apollo 8 mission, much has happened.
Now, race to space belongs to the past. Maybe. Nowadays, at least up there, missions are multinational and they are supposed to be in the interest of the whole humanity, expression of its longing to enlarge borders and knowledge. They are close to getting self-funded, as space tourism takes off, bringing to space a few billionaires at crazy prices.
What is nowadays more multinational than the International Space Station? And which flag a joint mission will plant on the next planet it will land on?
Definitely, we need to develop an earth consciousness and a planet flag, happy that artists and designers are already thinking about both.
And… here it is an interesting side effect of the walk in the space immensity.
You get to see the Earth.
Having a glance at the planet as a whole is an unforgettable experience not only because of its beauty as a blue marble ball on a black screen but really because of this “wholeness” which is easily missed when looking at it from the surface as we tiny humans are used to doing.
People having this experience experimented with the so-called overview effect. In the words of astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, as quoted by Raya Bidhshari, <<seeing Earth from space causes one to “develop an instant global consciousness…” >>.
Not only you realize how small you are, but also how trivial are many political issues, how shortsighted most of political ed economic choices, how silly the conflicts. You start thinking about how better we could all live on this beautiful planet as a brotherhood of men and women. Borders disappear, blue and green triumph in their beauty, cities glow like lights in the night, in the same way, no matter the continent they are in.
From space, the increasing phenomenon of nativist populism so well described by Eirikur Bergmann appears really as an “infantile disease” due to the lack of perspective. I quote Einstein, here, to be compassionate towards those who, for cultural heritage or traumatic experiences miss the big picture. I am sorry for them. I am less sorry for those speculating on the fears nourished by separation and conflict to gain a bunch of votes. Not sure, yet, where to put the blurring line between the two fields. Anyway, I would send all of them to space (don’t take me wrong, with a return-ticket).
The overview effect has been described in the book by Frank White in 1987, in the movie Overview by the Planetary Collective and it is the subject at the core of the Overview Institute.
I will copy here part of the article by Raya BidhShari, which expressed these concepts beautifully, a few years ago, on the SingularityHub:
A Cosmic Perspective
What the overview effect leads to is a cosmic perspective. It is recognizing our place in the universe, the fragility of our planet, and the unimaginable potential we have as a species. It involves expanding our perspective of both space and time.
Unfortunately, many world leaders today fail to take such a perspective. Most politicians have yet to develop a reputation for thinking beyond their term limits. Many have yet to prioritize long-term human progress over short-term gains from power or money.
What we need is for our world leaders to unite rather than divide us as human beings and to promote global, and even cosmic, citizenship.
What if every world leader and politician truly experienced the existential transformation of the overview effect? Would they still seek to become “momentary masters of fractions of dot”? Would they continue to build walls and divide us? Probably not. It is likely that their missions and priorities would change for the better.
Obviously, giving everyone a trip to space is impractical—that is, unless space tourism becomes cheap and effective. But there are other ways to promote the much-needed “big-picture thinking.” For instance, we must upgrade the kind of values our education system promotes and equip future generations with a cosmic mindset. We can continue to educate and engage the public on the state of our planet and the need to upgrade our morality in the grand scheme of things.
But there are even other ways. One exciting organization, called The Overview Institute, has developed a virtual reality program that will allow users to experience the overview effect. It is a scalable tool that will make the existential transformation of the overview effect accessible to many.
An Existential Awakening
In the words of Sagan, the image of Earth from space “underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.’
Experiencing the overview effect and developing a cosmic perspective is known to inspire more compassion for our fellow human beings. It stimulates a determination to successfully resolve all the problems we have here on Earth and focus on the issues that matter. It upgrades our consciousness, our values, and the kind of ambitions that we set forward for ourselves, both as individuals and as a species.
It is a powerful awakening of the mind and a fundamental redefinition of what it means to be human.
So, virtual reality could make the trick.
But we can move a step forward. If this cognitive shift is so helpful, why not moving the experience and the comprehension of it back in time, making it part of our educational programs starting from elementary schools wherever on the planet? It seems to be strategic to prepare kids for such a big thing as taking care of the planet where they happened to be born.