The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from outer space (Wikipedia reference) The term and concept were coined in 1987 by Frank White, who explored the theme in his book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution.
Since 1987, there’s been a recently series of interviews done at the Johnson Space Center with a new group of Astronauts in a series that’s been produced called, “Down to Earth” (you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L6eqgnmlPo)
It is the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void”, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.
The thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don’t know. I don’t know to this day. I had a feeling it’s tiny, it’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s home, and it’s fragile. — Michael Collins, Apollo 11
Astronauts Michael Collins, Ron Garan, Rusty Schweikart, Edgar Mitchell, Tom Jones, Scott Kelly, James Irwin, Mike Massimino, Chris Hadfield, Sally Ride, and Anne McClain are all reported to have experienced the effect.
Frank White has authored or coauthored numerous books on topics ranging from space exploration to climate change to artificial intelligence. His best-known work, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, is considered by many to be a seminal work in the field of space exploration. A film called “Overview,” based largely on his work, has had nearly 8 million plays on Vimeo.
Since the first edition of his book on the subject was published in 1987, “the Overview Effect” has become a standard term for describing the spaceflight experience. The fourth edition of The Overview Effect, including original interviews with 31 astronauts, is scheduled for publication in 2019.
White considers himself to be a “space philosopher,” and has long advocated developing a new philosophy of space exploration. His book on this topic, The Cosma Hypothesis: Implications of the Overview Effect, has just been published. In it, he asks the fundamental question, “What is the purpose of human space exploration? Why has the evolutionary process brought humanity to the brink of becoming a spacefaring species?”
In the book, he shares the idea of “the Human Space Program” as a “central project” that will engage all of us in the process of becoming “Citizens of the Universe.”
Once you are done enjoying this episode, the hope is that you find yourself asking, “How can we bring the overview effect down to Earth? How can I use the Overview Effect to address inequality? Conflict resolution? How can we apply it to Psychotherapy? Basically, I hope this conversation inspires you to look at how we can be better humans, and look at things with a different perspective.
What the Overview Effect is from Frank’s own words:
“It’s a message from the universe via the astronauts and then through me. And it’s not a one-time message, it’s a continuing message.”
What is the Overview Effect? “I was searching for a way into space exploration without a technical bio. The moment the Overview Effect came to me was when I was flying across the country and looking out the window. I was obsessing about living off the planet, and I was looking down and I just had this idea that, gosh- if I lived in a place like this, I would see the Earth as a whole system and the connectedness and the unity of our planet and of ourselves would not be a discussion, it would just be obvious. When we landed, I was thinking, how can we pursue this? It didn’t start out with astronauts, it was about space settlements and space communities, and there were not any people I could interview [to speak about these things] so I interviewed astronauts as a proxy. I was thinking about it as something ordinary- there’s the Earth, from the sky. When I started talking to astronauts, they saw the Earth from a distance was extraordinary. So that shifted the dialogue for a bit and it’s been shifted for a while where people are far more focused on ‘how do we apply this to create a better life on Earth. How do we bring the overview effect down to Earth. And I’m glad. The overview effect is a theory yet to be proven in it’s original form.” –Frank White
Where to get your copy of the book, Overview Effect and more books by Frank White: https://www.amazon.com/Overview-Effect-Exploration-Evolution-Library/dp/162410262X
Where to find Frank White: www.FrankWhiteAuthor.com
“What I really want to do is to create a movement or support a movement that has the overview effect as it’s core philosophy…as it’s basic understanding of who we are, where we are in the universe, and that means supporting other people.” -Frank White on the Casual Space Podcast
Other podcasts with more Frank White and the Overview Effect:
NASA’s Houston, We Have a Podcast: Episode 107 https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/the-overview-effect