The Overview Effect

Interesting article on the little-discussed effect that seeing the Earth from space seem to have on the human psyche, called “the overview effect”:

“No amount of prior study or training can fully prepare anybody for the awe and wonder this inspires,” wrote space shuttle astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan. It’s “one of the deepest, most emotional experiences I have ever had,” said NASA astronaut Gene Cernan. “You realize that on that small spot, that little blue and white thing, is everything that means anything to you,” said Apollo 9 astronaut Russell Schweickart. “All of history and music and poetry and art and death and birth and love, tears, joy, games, all of it on that little spot out there.”

In 1987, this phenomenon was given a name: the Overview Effect. Here’s how it’s defined by the Overview Institute:

[The Overview Effect] refers to 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, the astronauts tell us, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide us 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.

As space exploration and direct experience with outer space becomes a more and more common thing in the coming decades, I anticipate these experiences of awe and their effects on our humanity to become more and more of a thing in art.

In Madness, Rack, and Honey, poet and essayist Mary Ruefle discusses this, or something similar to this, and its possible effects on art and poetry, in the essay “Poetry and the Moon,” one of the most beautiful essays in one of the most beautiful essay collections I have ever read. Perhaps this is a preview of where we will go, collectively (see it here on Google Book):

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