I’ve explored the circumstances and effects of looking at the Earth from space several times on this blog. In “Two Self Portraits”, I compared two different snapshots of Earth, and in “Gifts from the Sky“, I wrote about the first photograph of earth from space, and what it reveals about the darker origins of the space program, and our particular evolutionary moment. In both, I was actually circling around a concept that, at the time of writing, I didn’t know had a name. It’s called the Overview Effect, and roughly speaking, it’s the profound experience of shifting perspectives that occurs when a person views the planet as a singular whole for the first time, likened by some to the state of euphoria experienced by monks in deep meditation or me eating baklava in Istanbul. As the following documentary illustrates, however, at least some of the astronaut corps have experienced it, and though their interpretations range from intellectual to spiritual, the tenor of what they take away from it seems to have a common thread. There we are, on Spaceship Earth, our only one. Overview, a new short documentary by Guy Reid, a member of Planetary Collective, is excellent: thought provoking and moving, and very well shot. Set aside 20 minutes, and check it out. I can’t tell for sure, never having been in space, but the way some of these astronauts talk about it, it reminds me of similar feelings of astronomy-related euphoria I have felt, for example, watching a meteorite strike the earth. And consider the following passage from this post, describing something that sounds awfully close to the Overview Effect, but from an earthly vantage point:
Humans are to be forgiven for sticking to the flat-earth hypothesis for so long (though now it’s a pig-headed to persist in this heresy.) The idea of standing upright on the giant sphere does strike us as somewhat counterintuitive. Though I have to admit that sometimes, during long observing sessions under a clear sky studded with stars, planets, the band of the Milky Way sprawling from horizon to horizon, and the zodiacal light rising like a aurora in the pre-dawn eastern sky, I have had the distinct feeling that not only was I on a sphere, but that I was also falling into the sky. No drugs involved, I promise, just a shift in perspective from hours of watching the sky slowly change around me. It was dizzying and incredibly illuminating, and represents for me one of my biggest achievements as an astronomical observer: actually feeling the reality of the our vantage point. The correct words for that emotional cocktail is delight and awe. If our armed forces could drop that from the sky instead of bombs, we’d win every heart and mind in sight.