The Overview Effect

On the 24th December, 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders took one of the most iconic photographs of all time.  The photo, known as Earthrise, depicts our planet rising above the lunar horizon as the first crewed spacecraft circumnavigated the Moon.

Even today, 50 years later, this beautiful photograph is still very moving. In part this is due to the stark composition and contrast. But more than this, Earthrise forces a potent, altered perspective for the viewer. We see our planet for what it really is; a tiny, fragile, lonely blue rock engulfed by the blackness of the cosmos. Former International Space Station astronaut, Nicole Stott, called this perspective “a beautiful reality check of who and where we all are, together in the universe.”

This ‘reality check’ has had a profound effect on many of the astronauts who have witnessed the view of earth from outer space. In fact, space historian, Frank White, coined the term ‘overview effect’ to describe the permanent cognitive shift that many astronauts have reported. The overview effect is characterised by an increased sense of empathy for and connectedness to all other life on earth, and a greater sense of the ‘big picture’.

Back at home, Earthrise contributed to catalysing the modern environmental movement and gave rise to a growing global sense of responsibility to protect our planet.

In all of our lives, from time to time, we experience our own version of the overview effect. Sometimes it’s a major personal event that shakes our lives and other times, perhaps, it’s a conversation with a trusted friend or a random moment of insight. When that happens, we need to be as mindful and grateful as possible in the experience. The gift of perspective is one of the greatest gifts of all.

 

Published by

David Bott

Hi, I'm David Bott, Associate Director of the Institute of Positive Education in Australia.

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