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The Overview Effect of Out-of-Body Experiences: Broader Implications

Updated: Jan 1

Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), the English Astronomer, said in 1948 that "Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available… a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose". In fact, the power of such a vision and foresight was unleashed after astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 mission, who circled the moon, took an earthrise photograph of the Earth from lunar orbit in December 1968 (Picture-1). The picture was credited with inspiring the environmental movement. Indeed, the photograph occasioned a profound shift upon ourselves by providing an insight into the big picture of it all, leading to an ontological awakening and changing the focus of our egocentric narrative. But if a simple picture suddenly seemed to spread a newly found self-awareness, interest, and care about protecting Earth's natural environment, one may wonder what the psychological impacts would be if someone really saw Earth's reality from orbit.

 

Apollo-8 Mission - Earth over the horizon of the moon

Apollo 8 Mission - Earth over the horizon of the moon (NASA)


This new map of reality was, in fact, overshadowing a new inner reality, which, over thirty years ago, the author Frank White called the "Overview Effect"—a term meant to encapsulate the transformative mental shift that occurs when observing Earth from the vantage point of space, whether in orbit or during a lunar mission. White studied astronauts who had viewed Earth from this perspective showing they consistently experienced a profound alteration in how they perceive themselves, Earth, and the future. White highlighted the experience of the astronauts led to an inner realization that others often only grasp intellectually: they deeply felt experiences of unity with nature and a connection to everyone else back on Earth, understanding that our planet functions much like a natural spacecraft hurtling through space in high velocity, understanding we are, in essence, members of a crew aboard "Spaceship Earth".

 

While astronaut studies have equally shown that those who have experienced such sentiments had lower levels of anxiety and depression after returning to Earth with mental health benefits lasting years, the boundary-shattering sense and global interconnectedness experienced by these astronauts can be seen to culminate into the ineffable awe of experiencing a "letting go" of oneself and allowing one to transcend the sense of separation with things. And while this realization has often come with a deep interconnectedness with Earth, it has been seen to lead to sentiments of cosmic dimensions. A perspective put into words by the experience of Edgar Mitchell (1930-2016), an astronaut of the Apollo 14 mission (Picture-2), who said his overview experience was: "an explosion of awareness, an aha! A wow!" (White, 1987, pp., p. 39) and describing it as the realization: "that the molecules of [his] body, and the molecules of the spacecraft, and the molecules in the body of my partners were prototyped and manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. And that was an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connectedness" … "accompanied by an ecstasy, a sense of "Oh my God," "Wow," "Yes," an insight, an epiphany" (Hunt, 2015, p. 73).


Edgar Mitchell - Apollo 14 Mission

Edgar Mitchell (1930-2016), Apollo 14 mission

 

Echoing Sir Fred Hoyle's vision that "once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available... a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose", could we propose that OBEs during exo-projections—providing a view of Earth from space—might unleash a similarly powerful and transformative psychological impact? Or lead to a similar historical and societal impact? Can it lead us to a new sense of ecological understanding? Could this perspective herald a ground-breaking shift in our ecological understanding and consciousness? Not only a new ecology about our relations with other organisms and our physical surroundings but also how we, as evolving organisms, behave with one another and adapt to change on this planet. Would that make us better at understanding there is a certain unity and coherence to it all? Could we emerge from these experiences with a new sense of global responsibility, global consciousness, and citizenship? Indeed, if a single overview effect leads to a profound restructuring of the mind and its perception of Earth and life, certainly, the shift must be similar for those who experience OBEs seeing Earth from a similar vantage point of space.

 

There is no doubt that during exo-projections the simplest flight towards the stratosphere and upper lawyers of Earth become a mind-blowing event which can, in many ways, be related to the experience of the "overview effect" experienced by astronauts in space. After all, in such experiences, we experience conditions similar to the ones experienced by astronauts, floating in space without suit or gear, without any limitation to our vision, looking below and beyond in a conscious state, lucid as one can be reading these lines—an experience that is not only transformational in many ways, but most of all because, like the experience of astronauts, it renews our sense of fraternity by leading to the same effects and understanding that we are one interconnect species in a fragile ecosystem.


Having experienced these fundamentally mesmerizing exo-projections many times, I can truly say that such experiences blast our anthropocentric emotions, shattering the straight-jacked perceptions of cultural brainwashing. Certainly, it has for me. How it can be different for anyone else? To echo Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, such experiences lead to the inner realization of the folly of human conceits such as geographical separation, showing us Earth has really no divide, no linear subdivision that would entail a natural racial order and prevalence. They provide us with a clear awareness against the historical and political myopia inciting extreme nationalism and divisions. Such experiences provide insight into how such ideas have limited us to become competing tribes, subjugating our inner ethos and misrepresenting the certainty we are only one species, with only one real citizenship and a simple goal of transcendence on Earth—a condition leading to a deeper understanding of human ecological interdependence, empathy and love.

 

But OBEs do not only lead to building such perspectives; they insight a profound modification of your ontological perceptions, upgrading over time every aspect of your understanding of life. They do so not by stirring beliefs but by scaling our experiences and ideas to new levels of perspective—consequently minimizing cultural, national, tribal and racial conflicts and differences that are ill-conceived in the face of the increased expression of a consciousness experiencing a reality that becomes more and more boundless and leading to a sense of oneness with the universe without time and centric geography where individuals begin to perceive life not as isolated entities but as integral parts of a vast, interconnected whole. A condition leading one to cultivate a form of empathy and understanding that is profoundly unifying and encourages a worldview where the well-being of others, including the planet, becomes as important as one's own.


In essence, OBEs offer a pathway to transcend egocentric views and embrace a more inclusive and compassionate understanding of existence. They invite us to step beyond the narrow confines of individualistic thinking and experience a reality where we become more deeply connected to each other and the world we inhabit. This expanded consciousness has the potential to reshape not just individual lives, but also the collective human experience, steering us towards a more empathetic, unified, and sustainable future.


More so, once OBEs become more experienced by humanity, they will set loose the power of new perspectives and ideas. Then, instead of building walls, we will build connecting perspectives that will bridge old and completely outdated divisions. They will birth new lenses and new lines of sight, scaling up our place in the universe as part of a more global, more universal citizenship in the cosmos.


We can do this.

 


PhD Candidate,

MSc. Neuroscience,

Sleep Consciousness Researcher

 

REFERENCES

 

Hunt, A. N. (2015). Traces of Transcendence: C. S. Lewis and the Ciphers of Being. Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal, 9(1), 47-74.

White, F. (1987). The overview effect : space exploration and human evolution. Houghton Mifflin.

 

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