The overview effect is a cognitive shift reported by some astronauts while viewing the Earth from space. Researchers have described the effect as “a state of awe with self-transcendent qualities, precipitated by a particularly striking visual stimulus.” The most prominent common aspects of personally experiencing the Earth from space are appreciation and perception of beauty, unexpected and even overwhelming emotion, and a heightened sense of connection to other people and the Earth as a whole.
Michael Collins, a crew member on the Apollo 11 spacecraft (1969), said that “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.” Edgar Mitchell, who was aboard the Apollo 14 (1971), recalled, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a …’”
A student of mine asked me about the overview effect and suggested that space tourism might make people feel more connected to the Earth and to each other.
I can see why a trip to outer space and a view of the world from there would make one aware of the fragility of our (not so big) blue marble, and how we are all dependent on each other. From out there, it is easy to see that we are all breathing the same air, feeding on the same soil, and drinking the same water.
Still, I do not believe space travel would change much about the way we treat our planet because the people at the helm, those who call the shots, could not care less. In April, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, stated his opinion about such people in the most undiplomatic terms: “Some governments and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying.”
When you read this, you feel like taking politicians out to space, making them look down on Earth, as Edgar Mitchell suggested, and leaving them there to float until they change. But seriously, I do not think they will change, or even that they can.
Politicians care about one thing only: control. They cannot see or feel anything else. As long as they are alive, they want to be on top, and nothing else matters to them.
What can we do about it? I am not really sure. However, if enough people change their perception of life and realize that solidarity and mutual concern are more important than pride and power, perhaps politicians will change their views, as well. I do not think that they will change from within, but they just might realize that in order to stay at the helm, they must endorse such values as concern for others and compassion rather than vanity and self-absorption. In conclusion, we need a thorough educational process so we become not only human beings, but humane beings.
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