Eclectic Spacewalk #1 - The "Overview Effect"
The psychological effect of seeing the Earth from Space. Four Pillars: The Void, Fragile Atmosphere, No Borders, & a Unified Planetary Protection Society
|Nicholas McCay||Jul 8, 2019|
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Table of Contents:
The “Overview Effect”—
A Unified Planetary Protection Society
Putting the OE Four Pillars & Morality Together
Websites & Groups
Reading Time: 15-20 minutes
The “Overview Effect”—
Abstract: The overview effect is a cognitive shift experienced by astronauts while seeing Earth from outer space.
Let’s start with a quote from Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space & the first man to orbit the Earth, both in 1961.
"What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth...The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots...When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth's light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black."
The cosmonaut’s observation, “I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth's light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky…” jumps out to me as one of the first truths that any human has discovered or experienced from space. Satellite launches with camera equipment like that which produced the below image had occurred previously, but Gagarin going into space was grade-A information from a primary human source - and literally from out of this world.
With Gagarin’s 108-minute orbit of Earth, the Human Spaceflight Age had officially begun. Within 5 years we were able to upgrade the first picture of Earth from space (the one above) to the first picture of Earth from the Moon (the one below).
When Michael Collins (that Michael Collins who stayed in the Command Module as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to step on the moon) saw the Earth floating in infinity he immediately linked the perspective with the possibility of a fundamental mass psychological change. He mentions that all other humans, and especially political leaders, are cursed by the availability heuristic of not knowing what the Earth looks like from space, or outside the membrane, or “god mode.”
“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of, let's say 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. The all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.”
Gagarin and Collins sum up the enormity and sheer grandeur of our home planet in hinting at what has been called the Overview Effect. The term was coined in 1987 by space writer Frank White in his book called The Overview Effect - Space Exploration and Human Evolution. Basically it is a shift of awareness that happens when an astronaut looks at Earth from outer space. Wikipedia puts it as such:
“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.”
From now on in this essay, the Overview Effect will be written as OE. There are many interpretations of the entire OE matrix of meaning, but a useful framework for this essay is breaking down OE into four pillars: The Void, Fragile Atmosphere, No Borders, and A Unified Planetary Protection Society.
Tiny, fragile ball of life, "hanging in the void"
Imagine traveling to space as Carl Sagan described it. “Head out from the Earth in any direction you choose, and—after an initial flash of blue and a longer wait while the Sun fades—you are surrounded by blackness, punctuated only here and there by the faint and distant stars.”
Our home planet, Earth, is a cosmic oasis in the death desert of space. We are a lonely and rocky planet among the stars, while the completely enveloping enormity of space feeds each human a large slice of humble pie. Wonder and awe being the foundation of philosophy, Humanity is thus catapulted into asking and answering just how extraordinary we are. One of my favorite philosophers, Alan Watts, puts it this way: “And then more so, when this so-called insignificant little creature has inside his skull a neurological contraption that is able to center itself in the midst of these incredible, expansive galaxies and start measuring the whole thing. That is quite extraordinary!”
Carl Sagan convinced NASA to turn Voyager’s cameras around to take a photo of Earth. The picture below was taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft while it headed out of the solar system to intergalactic space. (Where it is now?)
The size of the slice of humble pie that humans were offered on that day is still being calculated. We were confronted with a paradigm shift of consciousness for individuals and the world community, and that is not hyperbole.
“"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there -- on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."— Carl Sagan, "Pale Blue Dot," 1994”
What were you doing on July 19th, 2013?
I was celebrating my 25th birthday, and, to be honest, I’m not sure exactly what transpired that day. But then again, I actually do know what I was doing in some sense because my photo was taken by the Cassini spacecraft. And so did you, if you were one of the humans or other forms of life on Earth that day. The photo below marked the first time that Earthlings knew they were about to get their close-up from interplanetary distances.
"We can't see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19, 2013" said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Cassini's picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth."
From the above photos, you can really get the sense that Earth is a tiny ball of rock “hanging in the void.” You can begin to see the first pillar of OE, The Void, take shape.
Shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere
Study the photo below for a moment. It was taken at the beginning of this decade (2010) from the International Space Station. Other than the Moon the most defining element is the visual juxtaposition of the viewer from Earth and Space, with the atmosphere as the contrasting line. Take special note of the thinness of the atmosphere, as you can tell where Earth ends and the blackness of space begins. Truly “paper-thin.”
“A setting last quarter crescent moon and the thin line of Earth's atmosphere are photographed by an Expedition 24 crew member as the International Space Station passes over central Asia. 4 Sept. 2010.”
Did you know how important Earth’s atmosphere is for maintaining life as we know it?
We are constantly bombarded by every ray in the spectrum, including cosmic, gamma, x-ray, and ultraviolet; we are also threatened by solar flares by our giant star, the Sun; and we work constantly to keep the cold and vacuum of space at bay.
What would happen if Earth suddenly lost its atmosphere?
“The Earth's magnetic field protects the atmosphere from loss due to solar radiation. Possibly a massive coronal ejection could burn off the atmosphere. A more likely scenario is atmospheric loss due to a massive meteor impact. Large impacts have occurred several times on the inner planets, including Earth. Gas molecules gain enough energy to escape the pull of gravity, but only a portion of the atmosphere is lost. If you think about it, even if the atmosphere ignited, it would only be a chemical reaction changing one type of gas into another. Comforting, right?” - Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.
Here's a breakdown of what could be expected via Dr. Helmenstine on ThoughtCo.com:
“It would be silent. Sound requires a medium to transmit waves. You could feel vibrations from the ground, but you wouldn't hear anything.
Birds and planes would fall from the sky. Although we can't see air (except clouds), it has mass that supports flying objects.
The sky would turn black. It's blue because of the atmosphere. You know those pictures taken from the Moon? The Earth's sky would look like that.
All unprotected plant and animal life on the Earth's surface would die. We can't survive long in a vacuum, which is what we'd have if the atmosphere suddenly vanished. It would be much like being "spaced' or shot out of an airlock, except the initial temperature would be higher. Eardrums would pop. Saliva would boil. But, you wouldn't die instantly! If you held your breath, your lungs would pop, which would be the quickest (albeit most painful) death. If you exhaled, you'd pass out in about 15 seconds, and die in around 3 minutes. Even if you were handed an oxygen mask, you wouldn't be able to breathe. This is because your diaphragm uses the pressure difference between the air inside your lungs and outside your body to inhale.
Let's say you have a pressure suit and air. You'd live, but you'd get a massive sunburn on exposed skin because the Earth's atmosphere is what filters solar radiation. It's hard to say how much trouble you'd be in from this effect on the dark side of the planet, but being in direct sunlight would be severe.
The rivers, lakes, and oceans would boil. Boiling occurs whenever vapor pressure of a liquid exceeds external pressure. In a vacuum, water readily boils, even if the temperature is warm. You can even test this yourself.
Although water would boil, the water vapor would not fully replenish the atmospheric pressure. An equilibrium point would be reached where there would be enough water vapor to prevent the oceans from boiling off. The remaining water would freeze.
Eventually (long after surface life died), solar radiation would break atmospheric water into oxygen, which would react with carbon on the Earth to form carbon dioxide. The air would still be too thin to breathe.
The lack of atmosphere would chill the Earth's surface. We're not talking absolute zero cold, but the temperature would drop below freezing. Water vapor from the oceans would act as a greenhouse gas, raising the temperature. Unfortunately, the increased temperature would allow more water to transition from the sea into the air, likely leading to a runaway greenhouse effect and making the planet more like Venus than Mars.
Organisms that need air to breathe would die. Plants and land animals would die. Fish would die. Most aquatic organisms would die. However, some bacteria could be expected to survive, so losing the atmosphere wouldn't kill all life on Earth. Chemosynthetic bacteria wouldn't even notice the loss of atmosphere.
Volcanoes and geothermal vents would continue to pump carbon dioxide and other gasses out to add to the water. The most significant difference between the original and new atmosphere would be the much lower abundance of nitrogen. Earth could replenish some nitrogen from meteor strikes, but most of it would be lost forever.”
“Bright swaths of red in the upper atmosphere, known as airglow, can be seen in this image taken from the International Space Station.”
Our atmosphere is our best protection from the death of space. We are digging our own graves if we do not recognize the importance of our Fragile Atmosphere, the second pillar of the OE.
National boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important
This is the first color photo of the entire Earth, taken by the experimental NASA communications and weather satellite, ATS-3, in November of 1967. You can see the South American continental landmass is predominantly featured, global weather patterns, along with the first and second OE pillars: The Void and Thin Atmosphere.
The next thing you see and realize is the third pillar of OE - there are no borders. There are definitely geographical barriers, but there are no man-made lines denoting countries’ borders like on a globe or map. That is an interesting thought paradox that only will intensify when you see the below 1972 photo from the Apollo astronauts that made headlines around the world as the “Blue Marble.”
“But it was this 1972 photograph of Earth taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts that garnered the most notice and is forever enshrined as the best-loved "Blue Marble" photo. (Note: We're showing the true original photograph, with the South Pole on top. For publishing, NASA reversed the image to conform to certain cultural norms.) What might be less well known is that the picture almost never was.” - The Week
“We've heard from some readers who thought that the first updated "Blue Marble" photo was of the same region of the planet as the 1972 image. That's not the case. The Apollo 17 crew took a photo, left, which extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. There is heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere, while the coastline of Africa is visible. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast. The image taken on July 6, 2015, center, was of the other side of the planet and North and Central America are most clear. On July 29, a third "Blue Marble" image, right, was released that shows Africa front and center. Central Europe is toward the top of the image with the Sahara Desert to the south.” - New York Times
So tell me again why we have national borders?
Because a bunch of old, probably white, probably European, men wrote some lines down quartering off space from each other as “theirs.” The only nationalism anyone should be a fan of is an ironic food superiority from where you are from over everywhere else in the world. (For instance, a hearty & soulful southern USA breakfast is better than anything and is my death row meal. Fight me in the comments over your food nationalism and/or death row meal lol) The conflicts that divide people become less important and mainly about misunderstandings, lack of correct & causal information, and ultimately the demonizing of “The Other.”
Zachary Cudney gives us encouragement in how to see the world “anew” without borders:
“I encourage you to not look at the world as a rigid puzzle of pieces snapped into place, but a dynamic, shifting, evolving network of people and ideas, languages and beliefs, ethnicities and cultures, all connected and unaffected by imaginary lines. I encourage you to acknowledge this connectivity by identifying first and foremost not as [a] citizen of a town or nation, but as a citizen of the world. Finally, I encourage you to be open to diversity, to reject separation, and to always place more of an emphasis on the lines that connect us than the lines that separate us.”
No Borders becomes the third pillar of the OE.
The need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this "pale blue dot"
The photo below, called “Earthrise,” is one of the most influential photos ever taken. The photo was taken on Christmas Eve 1968 by Apollo 8 astronauts orbiting the moon.
It apparently did not have an immediate impact, but its philosophical significance sunk in over years after NASA put it on a stamp and Time & Life magazine highlighted it as an image to be remembered by history. “It gained this iconic status,” astronaut Bill Anders said. “People realized that we lived on this fragile planet and that we needed to take care of it.”
We have upgraded from the image above to the one below in less than 50 years. Renewed awe is desperately needed in today’s tumultuous and overwhelming times.
“On Feb. 1, 2014, LRO pitched forward while approaching the moon's north pole allowing the LROC Wide Angle Camera to capture Earth rising above Rozhdestvenskiy crater (112 miles, or 180 km, in diameter).”
“The difference in image quality between the Apollo 8 Earthrise image, left, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Earthrise image, right, is due, in part, to the much higher data rate available for LRO’s communications. LEMNOS will provide another order of magnitude improvement over current data rates.”
What is a Unified Planetary Protection Society (UPPS)?
Climate change within this century is going to create refugees like never before. We have to drastically change attitudes towards immigration, geography, and culture sharing. With new technology such as Artificial Intelligence, Gene Modification, and 3D-printing allowing individuals to rival entire countries or regions in influence, the need for a global perspective to deal with this increase in complexity becomes vital. And it won’t come easy, as Marshall McLuhan said with his prescient quote: “Every new technology necessitates a new war.”
A UPPS would HAVE TO include the other “Overview Effect” truisms of Earth with no borders, only being protected by a thin atmosphere, all while hanging in a void at the very minimum.
I am not trying to pontificate and say that I have all the answers as to how we all live in harmony and sing “Kumbaya.” Far from it. I completely understand that different cultures have different ways of viewing the world, and the associated values that each embraces. However, we can all agree that some cultures are better than others on specific metrics. So how do we all get on the same ULTIMATE or “meta” metric, and what underlying values are associated with that? Well again, it would be incredibly ignorant for me to say I have any idea of what that would be, but everything comes back to the Overview Effect being the foundation because of that being our *most* ultimate view of our world.
Seeing the different Earthrise photos lights a curiosity firestorm inside every human. They immediately have to grapple with the photo’s true meanings and implications, leading us to the need to create the fourth pillar of OE, a Unified Planetary Protection Society.
Putting the OE four pillars & morality together
Other researchers have ideas - to some extent at least - of what type of values are more beneficial than others for the betterment of all humans.Oliver Scott Curry has come up with 7 moral rules that unite humanity. Curry’s group studied 600 ethnographic accounts of ethics sources from across 60 societies. The universal rules of morality are:
Help your family
Help your group
Defer to superiors
Divide resources fairly
Respect others’ property
“The authors reviewed seven “well-established” types of cooperation to test the idea that morality evolved to promote cooperation, including family values, or why we allocate resources to family; group loyalty, or why we form groups, conform to local norms, and promote unity and solidarity; social exchange or reciprocity, orwhy we trust others, return favors, seek revenge, express gratitude, feel guilt, and make up after fights; resolving conflicts through contests which entail “hawkish displays of dominance” such as bravery or “dovish displays of submission,” such as humility or deference; fairness, or how to divide disputed resources equally or compromise; and property rights, that is, not stealing.”
Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University critiques Curry’s paper by saying that a definition of morality is far from a consensus. “Is it about fairness and justice, or about “maximizing the welfare of sentient beings?” Is it about delaying gratification for long-term gain, otherwise known as an intertemporal choice—or maybe altruism?”
“Bloom also says that the authors of the Current Anthropology study do not sufficiently explain how we make moral judgments—that is, the roles that reason, emotions, brain structures, social forces, and development may play in shaping our ideas of morality. While the paper claims that moral judgments are universal because of “collection of instincts, intuitions, inventions, and institutions,” Bloom writes, the authors make “no specific claims about what’s innate, what’s learned, and what arises from personal choice.”
So are there universal rules of morality for Earthlings, or does it constantly change due to culture and timing? We don’t know yet and we may never know, but just by asking the question - we begin to address that enigma in some small way. I would say there are three things that you can do to put all of this together dealing with the past, the present, and the future.The goal we should be striving for as a species is a multidisciplinary approach - using processes found from people in global real-world scenarios for the advantage of all - for symbiotic equilibrium between The Cosmos, Earth, Life, Humans, Tech, and the Unknown! We are All One anyway you slice it.
Present: Experience the “Overview Effect”
The goal we should be striving for as a species is a multidisciplinary approach - using processes found from people in real world scenarios all over the world for the advantage of all - for symbiotic equilibrium between The Cosmos, Earth, Life, Humans, Tech, and the Unknown! We are All One anyway you slice it.
"The Overview Effect has become a symbol of unity on planet Earth," Frank White told Vice. "But I am concerned that we will lose that unity as we move out into the solar system if we don't think about what we're doing, and come up with a new philosophy, or metaphor, or systematic approach to space exploration."
Currently, the Overview Effect, and its four pillars of The Void, Thin Atmosphere, No Borders, and a Unified Planetary Protection Society, is not only my personal favorite, but I believe the most needed and most valuable heuristic in seeing the world.
It is the cornerstone for Eclectic Spacewalk and my personal psychology. I hope this essay successfully makes the case for the “Overview Effect” to be a part of yours moving forward.
1) The Overview Effect - Space Exploration and Human Evolution
“Using interviews with and writings by 30 astronauts and cosmonauts, Frank White shows how experiences such as circling the Earth every 90 minutes and viewing it from the moon have profoundly affected our space travelers' perceptions of themselves, their world, and the future. He shows how the rest of us, who have participated imaginatively in these great adventures, have also been affected psychologically by them.”
2) The Overview Effect: Awe and Self-Transcendent Experience in Space Flight
“Viewing the Earth from space has often prompted astronauts to report overwhelming emotion and feelings of identification with humankind and the planet as a whole. In this article, we explore this experience, known as the “overview effect.” We examine astronaut accounts of the overview effect and suggest existing psychological constructs,such as awe and self-transcendent experience, that might contribute to a psychological understanding of this experience. We argue that the overview effect suggests directions for future research on altered states of consciousness in new contexts, with potential implications for better understanding well-being in isolated, confined, extreme (ICE)environments such as space flight.”
1) The Space Show with Guest Frank White
“Frank and I spent considerable time talking about his new book which focused on creating or developing a space philosophy for exploration and settlement to influence how we do space going forward. Several times during the our program Frank talked about how his space ideas have evolved from a concept of "just doing it" regarding getting into space to now making sure we "do space right!”
2) Deepak Chopra interviews Anousheh Ansari
“Space. The final frontier. And maybe, a place we will soon call home. Join me for a perspective shifting adventure outside our atmosphere with the first, and only Iranian Astronaut to go to space, Anousheh Ansari. What can we learn by looking at ourselves from the outside? How do we connect to a universal consciousness? And who exactly do we earthlings think we are? The answers may be right in front of you.”
1) - Overview by Planetary Collective
“‘Overview’ is a short film that explores this phenomenon through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect. The film also features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment.”
2) Planetary by Planetary Collective
“We are in the midst of a global crisis of perspective. We have forgotten the undeniable truth that everything is connected. PLANETARY is a provocative and breathtaking wakeup call, a cross continental, cinematic journey, that explores our cosmic origins and our future as a species. PLANETARY is a poetic and humbling reminder that it's time to shift our perspective. PLANETARY asks us to rethink who we really are, to reconsider our relationship with ourselves, each other and the world around us - to remember that: we are PLANETARY.”
3) One Strange Rock by National Geographic/Netflix
“The extraordinary story of Earth and why it is special and uniquely brimming with life among a largely unknown but harsh cosmic arena; astronauts tell the story of Earth through unique perspectives.”
4) Earthrise Film by Go Project
“Earthrise tells the story of the first image captured of the Earth from space in 1968. Told solely by the Apollo 8 astronauts, the film recounts their experiences and memories and explores the beauty, awe, and grandeur of the Earth against the blackness of space.
This iconic image had a powerful impact on the astronauts and the world, offering a perspective that transcended national, political, and religious boundaries. Told 50 years later, Earthrise compels us to remember this shift and to reflect on the Earth as a shared home.”
5) Overview: A New Perspective of Earth by Benjamin Grant
“Inspired by the "Overview Effect" - a sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole - the breathtaking, high definition satellite photographs in OVERVIEW offer a new way to look at the landscape that humans have shaped. Benjamin Grant, creator of the Instagram project Daily Overview from which the book is inspired, discusses how the project and book came about.”
Honorable Mention Videos:
Websites & Groups:
1) The Overview Institute
“For these reasons, the undersigned individuals, formally known as The Overview Group, have come together to create The Overview Institute with the purpose of both researching and informing the world of the reality, nature, and potential of the Overview Effect. We will also promote and support widespread experience of it, through direct space travel, and newer, more powerful and more publicly available space art, multi-media and education. We will encourage artists, educators, entertainment creators, and simulation media designers and technologists to consider the rich potential of integrating the Overview Effect into their work as well as the opportunity to play a role in bringing space experiences to the world. And, just as important, we will network with world social leaders in all those areas most likely to benefit from the Overview Effect, both directly experienced and through space media.”
2) The Daily Overview
“Daily Overview was inspired by, and derives its name from, an idea known as the Overview Effect. This term refers to the sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth from outer space. They have the chance to appreciate our home in its entirety, to reflect on its beauty and its fragility all at once. That’s the cognitive shift that we hope to inspire…
As a result, the Overviews (what we call these images) focus primarily on the places and moments where human activity — for better or for worse — has shaped the landscape. Each Overview starts with a thought experiment. We consider the places where man has left his mark on the planet and then conduct the necessary research to identify locations (and the corresponding geo-coordinates) to convey that idea.”
“SpaceVR is a transformative virtual experience that has the power to evolve planetary consciousness and solve global issues. We have pioneered a multi-sensory, virtual experience that takes you on voyage to the vast skies of Earth’s orbit while in a zero-gravity float tank. Our stellar team is working on launching the world’s first virtual reality camera satellite in the history of humanity. Join our mission! We believe in exploration that empowers.”
4) Space for Humanity
“In July 2019, Space for Humanity will be re-opening individual applications for an all-expenses-paid journey to experience the Overview Effect - a cognitive shift in worldview that occurs to astronauts when they experience the Earth from Space. We will partner with all available launch providers to offer global citizens sub-orbital spaceflights.”
5) Space Adventures
“Space Adventures wants as many people as possible to experience what it is like to live in space, to circle the Earth, or travel beyond Earth orbit. In the next ten years, our clients will have a choice as to what vehicle to fly to space on, and will be able to choose from multiple different destinations. By providing newly available space experiences and improving existing ones, Space Adventures will continue to lead the private spaceflight industry that it began in 2001 with the flight of the world’s first space tourist, our client Dennis Tito.”
6) Virgin Galactic
“We are a part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, and with our sister companies – The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit – we are developing and operating a new generation of space vehicles to open space for everyone.
We are comprised of hundreds of dedicated and passionate professionals, united in creating the world’s first commercial spaceline. Our mission – to be the spaceline for Earth – means we focus on using space for good, while delivering an unparalleled customer experience.”
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