The Overview Effect

Ask any astronaut what the most awe-inspiring thing they observed in space and you will be surprised. It is not the utter blackness of outer space punctuated by brilliant points of light that never twinkle. It is not the moonrise or sunrise over the earth, it is in fact, the earth.  Astronauts who are sufficiently awed are said to be subject to the “Overview Effect” which is a cognitive shift in awareness caused by seeing firsthand the earth from outer space.

Whether from low earth orbit or on lunar missions, the earth viewed from space is seen as a fragile, tiny ball suspended in the vast void of space. The atmosphere that supports all of life on the planet is seen firsthand as paper-thin. National boundaries and the thousands of conflicts that divide people cannot be observed. “and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this ‘pale blue dot’ becomes both obvious and imperative.”

The International Space Station has a clear dome facing the earth where off-duty astronauts can experience circumnavigation of the entire planet in 88 minutes. From 220 miles up, the problems of humankind seem to be pointless and petty while the need to protect “this fragile earth, our island home” becomes imperative.

The are projects underway in many nations aimed at getting children to see what the astronauts see. I just wonder if we could all see a little more of what God sees, would we be more forgiving, more tolerant, more supportive, kinder, and more patient? Or would we retreat into our very small, personal worlds of complaints, criticisms, fears, and bigotry? Maybe if we can get more of our children to see the world the way God sees it, they will become a little less human and a bit more divine.


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