Reclaiming the Overview Effect

Some of you out there–of a certain age–may have experienced some degree of the “Overview Effect” vicariously through the astronauts of the early 70s.

Some of them were permanently changed by what they saw from space. I was, too. I’d like to think the young people of our times could regain some of that positive cognitive shift that came from seeing earth whole and the sun as a star pegged against the black of space and not the blue of sky.

earth580What the Overview Effect creates is a new relationship between one man or woman-observer and the planet. In my own instance, seeing the Blue Marble from Apollo 17 in December 1972, I became planet-aware and self-aware at once.

I was expecting soon to have a family. Somewhere on the surface of that blue atmosphere that December day, underneath the clouds over Auburn Alabama was me. Somewhere on that blue-green ball my children would grow up. Everything they needed would come from inside the circumference of this floating rock, but only as long as we cared for it as our Source.

Most of us, if we ever possessed it, have lost this bond to Earth that comes from a perspective beyond ourselves, out of ourselves, so that we can see ourselves anew.

Awe is the energy of the Overview Effect. To stand in the face of something so unimaginably beautiful, so central to the grand story of every civilization that ever existed is to be overwhelmed by awe, and from that, to be struck silent in humility.

The planet from space stunned me, as a young man, for its lack of your-land my-land borders, national colors or any of the other school globe Earth features I had at some level considered as real features of the planet for twenty years.

There is no them and us in the Overview Effect. We all breathe the very same air, water our crops and animals from shared cloud, and suffer the same loss when a species is lost to our teeming numbers and massive footprint on Earth. That Blue Marble is the Human Commons.

So I’m rethinking this notion of “personal ecology.” Regaining the Overview Effect will be an early and important lesson in that ethical mindset. We will tell this story to every child. We will find the * very best surrogate presence (immersive videos and not Space Tourism flights) to take them “out there” to help them become soundly embedded back on in their personal landscapes.

Their sense of home will include their citizenship, their brother-and-sisterhood, with all of this astounding place under our very feet. Their center of importance will shift from ME to WE. The right relationship between our kind and our planet may not be irredeemably lost if we can recover the Overview Effect.

* Watch OVERVIEW. It’s a start.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Very well articulated Fred. Thanks for helping us at the Overview Institute ( share the message of the Overview Effect. After interviewing dozens of astronauts and reviewing many dozens of further astronaut statements, the essential driver seems to be the realization that we actually live on a Planet, not the bordered multi-colored globe of our schooling. Some of them have even stated that they realized that living on a planet had only been an “intellectual” idea until they saw it with their own eyes. One of your most interesting statements is “We will tell this story to every child.” I couldn’t agree more. We must. Thanks for the beautiful telling of the story

  2. David…Thanks so much for the supportive words about my recent blog post on “the overview effect.” A little encouragement goes a long way, the blog not having the reach it did prior to Facebook, while it continues it seems more urgent than ever to have discussions and understandings of who we are in our place in time and space.

    I only recently found this descriptor for a perspective-altering experience I had in the early 70s marveling at the “blue marble” photographs from the Apollo 17 mission.

    I am of the opinion that, if we tell the story well and train our own and our chidren’s senses and sensibilities adequately, we can benefit from the “overview effect” while standing on the ground of own places on Earth. I’d like to think we don’t have to actually spend the foot-pounds of force necessary to propel our bodies into Earth orbit for this.

    I am in the process of creating a piece (or several pieces) of writing that will use this paradigm shift experience to describe what I call “eco-empathy” and “a personal ecology.”

    My view is that we suffer a history of broken relationships, and also–in the case of such recent phenomena as the Overview Effect–have not grasped forward-looking paradigm-altering relationships that should change the way we live with nature and with each other in the Anthropocene.

    In “renaturing, relocalizing and gaining a personal ecology” we make it more likely that we can live in harmony with human and other-than-human creatures and be positive agents in sustaining the planet’s order.

    Thanks for the wisdom and vision that the Overview Institute brings to the table.

    THE WISDOM OF ONE PLACE: Why We Need to Know Where We Are : The New Nature Movement

    The Nature of Place: Fred First at TEDxFloyd – YouTube