The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. 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…
By Frank White
Author, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution
Cofounder, The Overview Institute
Early in 2012, I heard from a group of filmmakers in the United Kingdom who wanted to make a documentary about the Overview Effect. When the Planetary Collective team told me their intentions, I decided to do all I could to help them. I contacted my colleagues at the Overview Institute and astronauts who had been part of my book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, and arranged for some of them to participate. It turned out to be a good thing to do.
The Planetary Collective team has done a wonderful job of communicating the feelings evoked by seeing our planet from orbit and the moon, viewing the Earth not only from space but in space. The Overview Effect is, first and foremost, a visual experience, and that is one of the reasons that this film is so critical at this moment in time.
“Overview” is part of a communications process that began years ago and will continue far into the future. The Overview Effect is a message from the universe to humanity that was initially communicated in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is a complex form of communication, and those of us at the Overview Institute discover nuances hidden within it each day. The astronauts and cosmonauts first received this message, and they have been passing it along to the rest of us ever since. Soon, thousands of new “astronauts” will be flying into Low Earth Orbit on commercial spacecraft, and they will begin transmitting the message as well. It would be fantastic if everyone on planet Earth could see and hear it.
The Overview Effect tells us that the Earth is an interconnected whole, of which human beings are a part. We are one species with one destiny, and as more than one astronaut has said, “We are all in this together.” We are the crew of a natural spaceship called Earth, which is hurtling through the universe at a high rate of speed. In a very real sense, all of us are astronauts, but we do not realize it because we normally do not experience it.
This is a critical moment for “Overview” to make its appearance. As so many people around the world have realized, humanity stands at a crossroads, and we will either choose to hear the message of the Overview Effect, or we will continue on a path that is destructive to ourselves and our planet.
Perhaps most concerning is that we might ignore the opportunities that are before us, both as individuals and as a species. We need thousands, even millions, of people to have a shift in worldview and identity, something the Overview Effect provides us. A constant theme of the astronauts is that they no longer identified with places on the Earth, but began to identity with the planet itself. Rather that being citizens of a town, city, state, or nation, they became “Citizens of the Earth.”
The experience of the Overview Effect has many implications. Among them are that we need to work together to create a planetary civilization and a Human Space Program that includes all nations and all people. The purpose would be to preserve our planet and undertake a peaceful and united exploration of the universe.
Our ultimate destiny is, of course, to see ourselves not only as Citizens of the Earth but also as Citizens of the Universe. The Overview Effect tells us that we have an amazing future ahead of us, if we will only choose it.
The release of this remarkable film called “Overview” opens wide the doors for a much wider audience to hear this vital message.
It is also the culmination of a journey that began some 30 years ago on a cross-country flight. I found myself looking down at the Earth and experiencing the interconnectedness of everything on the planet. At that moment, the term “Overview Effect” leapt into my mind.
After the flight ended, I resolved to write a book about the Overview Effect, and began interviewing astronauts to confirm that this phenomenon existed.
The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution came out in the fall of 1987, and we are now observing the 25th anniversary of that first edition. I hoped that the book would create a revolution in how we saw space exploration and its implications for life on Earth and human evolution.