A Planetary Perspective: The Overview Effect
Apollo 8 traveled to the moon in 1968 and recorded some of the first images of the Earth ever captured. People were shocked to see the whole planet surrounded by empty space with its large swaths of blue water, and green and brown landmasses with swirls of clouds. Seeing our world as a whole, dynamic system of tremendous complexity in one view left the astronauts with a profound respect and awe they did not have before. They went to the moon to make observations about it, but came away with a new perspective on our planet.
In fact, some didn’t have satisfying words to describe what they had experienced. One of the astronauts who walked on the moon in 1971, Edgar Mitchell, had extra time to look out the space craft’s windows while working. He saw the Earth, Sun, moon and space all at the same time repeatedly. He was quite struck by this new perspective and once back on Earth, tried to search within both scientific and religious literature to find references to it. He found nothing, and then enlisted the help of a local university to do its own searches. The university staff came back several weeks later saying that had found the word Savikalpa samādhi that describes the experience of seeing with the eyes, but feeling ecstasy in the body and having a sense of total unity. (One a side note, Mr. Mitchell is the founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, where Shift Network founder Stephen Dinan used to be employed. It is also the site of the current Shift Network offices.)
The Overview Effect is described as a cognitive shift that happens when astronauts observe the Earth from space. They see oneness, fragility, vast beauty and great complexity, to put it simply.Their sense of wanting to protect the planet and its many species from harm is heightened and believe this enhanced respect would also develop in others who had seen what they did. Most of us will never experience space travel, and so the direct Overview Effect experience is not available to us. However, we can look at the photographs and film footage to get at least some sense of what those astronauts experienced, and listen to their important stories.
The person who created the Overview Effect term is Frank White, who works with a non-profit organization called the Overview Institute, which strives to incorporate the planetary view within the multitude of cultural perspectives around the world, so we can understand we are all connected, and that sustainability is not something to be successfully practiced in a patchwork, uncoordinated fashion by separate groups of people in different nations. He also wrote a book about the subject, and writes for their blog. The institute recently facilitated the creation of a film to help share the planetary perspective with the world using media and the Web.
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