British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle said, “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available... a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” It was 1948. It took twenty years to get there. But what we saw was much more than the incontrovertible fact that the world is not flat. What we saw was ourselves reflected back to us.
Apollo 8 went to the moon in 1968. They didn't land, but they did circle the moon. The astronauts had a camera with them, and at some point one of them said they were going to turn it around and show audiences the earth, which he did. That was likely the very first image of a planet hanging in space many saw.
Author Frank White wrote The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution in 1987. In the book, he described how this is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it.
Philosopher David Loy says the event brought about an unexpected self-awareness, of how the images gave us a new perspective. How awe creates this transcendence of separation between self and what is happening and at that moment, we create inter-connectedness.
The astronauts' mission was the moon, they were not thinking about the perspective they would gain by looking back at the earth. What they saw was the Big Picture, how Earth is a planet. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.
Experiences transform us
Like the astronauts on that mission, we start with an idea of what the experience will look like, then when we are nose to nose with it and are able to be with that moment, we come to appreciate how much more there is to it as reality. The narrative about seeing the Earth come alive from above makes for a fascinating thought experiment -- what if we could see the beauty in our lives through that kind of perspective while maintaining self-awareness?
The first account stories highlight the importance of being reflective as we go through experiences to connect what we learn from books and manuals with the reality of experiencing it.
Overview is a beautiful documentary created on the 40th anniversary of the famous ‘Blue Marble’ photograph taken of Earth from space by Planetary Collective. The short film presents “astronauts’ life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from the outside – a perspective-altering experience often described as the Overview Effect.”
‘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.
With our recent focus on life on Mars, we forget to think that we already live in space. The Overview Effect is a cognitive shift that very often can produce a meditative experience -- a realization of how we are one with everything, and everything is inter-connected.
Watch the full documentary below.