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The Overview Effect: we live in a Pale Blue Dot

A Cognitive shift as a driver to break away from anthropocentrism in order to embrace a Planet Earth Mindset

This article was published first on Medium on Jan 22, 2020.

One of my believe for a planet Earth Mindset is based on the impact on our minds by the Earthrise in 1968, the Blue Marble in 1972, and the Pale Blue Dot in 1990, named “Overview Effect”, which is considered a cognitive shift in awareness from philosophers and scientist.

This insight started with the the Apollo 8 mission. In 1968, three NASA astronauts became the first humans to orbit the Moon, they also captured a photograph of Earth from space that forever changed the way we saw ourselves. It is documented in this beautiful film: Earthrise: The story of the photo that changed the world

In recent years, the journal of Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, launched a publication about the impact of the “Overview effect: Awe and Self-Transcendent Experience in Space Flight”. In terms of perspective and identity, it states:

"Although feelings of awe and self-transcendence associated with the overview effect are episodic, astronauts’ experiences may sometimes settle into long-term changes in personal outlook and attitude involving the individual’s relationship to Earth and its inhabitants. These changes seem primarily to entail greater affiliation with humanity as a whole, as well as, in Mitchell’s words, an “abiding concern and passion for the well-being of Earth".

And as part of the research’s conclusion:

"Awe and self-transcendence are among the deepest and most powerful aspects of the human experience; it should come as no surprise that they emerge as we gaze upon our home planet and our whole world comes into view".

Based on the positive impact on human consciousness, people around the world have studied the overview effect in order to have a more kind approach to planet earth.

Worldwide Institutions like the Overview Institute are also working on bringing this kind of space experiences to the world. David Beaver, the co-founder of the Overview Institute has beautifully stated:

"As you go into your mind in a contemplative way, the sense of the living reality of the planet becomes obvious. You become more in tune with the natural word".

"This is very akin to the direct perception that the astronauts have, so it is not wonder that many people likened the Overview Effect to a spiritual or meditative experience, although it is not exactly that. It is a cognitive shift, that very often can produce a kind of meditative experience".

Small organisations like Living Alive are also sharing the benefits of the awe philosophy of the overview effect on people to local audience. I was immersed in one of their “Awe” workshops in recent years. Their work is fundamental to the contribution of awareness:

"Central to all that we do is the recognition that humans are part of nature, inextricably linked to the extraordinary planet we find ourselves on, and that allowing ourselves to be AWED by this fact can be a real power for positive change. Our commitment is to be awake, aware and alive to how we might best support the cultural emergence of a new, more regenerative way of thinking and being in the word".

The cognitive shift in awareness produced by the Overview effect give us a level of consciousness that help humans to break away from the anthropocentrism realm we are living in current times. According to Jonathan Padwe :

… “anthropocentrism can refer to the point of view that humans are the only, or primary, holders of moral standing. Anthropocentric value systems thus see nature in terms of its value to humans” …

This cognitive shift gives as a powerful insight that avoid us to internalise the feeling that we are the centre of things, to avoid thinking that human beings are the most important entity in the universe.

And that takes us to the term Cognitive shifting:

Cognitive shifting is the mental process of consciously redirecting one’s attention from one fixation to another. A cognitive shift or shift in cognitive focus is triggered by the brain’s response and change due to some external force.

This cognitive shift takes us to see humans as part of nature, as part of a whole entity. Humans are just one small part of the web of life, as Frijof Capra explained in his popular book.

The human consciousness has evolved through thousands of years to the point of having the opportunity to see themselves as just a small part of an entity we have named universe.

That vision to see the planet earth in its entire magnitude, give us the thoughts to question every aspect of our life, our life’s philosophy, our relationship with others beings and with nature. Who am I? Why am I here? These can be the more profound questions we can asked ourselves in the realm of a Planet Earth Mindset.

It is in this realm that we can also assimilate the knowledge of indigenous cultures that has cultivated the connectedness to nature, to the web of life, for thousands of years.

And it is in above statement, that I think about those indigenous groups that have already had a mindset of interconnectedness with life on Earth. How is that possible they have kept that mindset for thousands of years ?

We can have a long discussion about the reasons, but I will focus on the culture of those indigenous groups and the scientific paradigm that see nature as a collection of parts. That paradigm has given us our current separation between mind and matter and our increasingly specialised, detached sciences of today. Those sciences that have brought reductionism to the planet.

It is no wonder that indigenous groups, that have been isolated from that world that represents the Scientific reductionism paradigm, have a more holistic view of their interaction with nature.

It is the holism that indigenous groups have internalised as part of their culture that has kept them living in harmony with nature for millennia.

Daniel Christian Whal has beautiful written:

“Indigenous wisdom from all over the world held the Earth as sacred and saw our role as caretakers, guardians or stewards of the regenerative cycles by which Nature produces abundance that can be shared by all life.

It has been a long journey back to such wisdom, having judged such cultures mistakenly as “primitive” in the days when scientific and technological “progress” made us feel like the masters of rather than integrally dependent on life as a planetary process”.

So, as the majority of humanity live in a world of reductionism, it is necessary to see the cognitive shift of the overview effect as not only an opportunity to embrace a more humble approach to life and nature, but also to acknowledge that there are already other humans like those indigenous groups whose life’s philosophy is in harmony with the rhythms of the planet earth.

So again, we need also to learn from those indigenous insights. We, as humans who live in a reductionism world, need also a shift over and learn to understand the indigenous cultures in their own setting, as it is states in the definition of indigenous psychology:

"the scientific study of human behaviour or mind that is native, that is not transported from other regions, and that is designed for its people".

For me, contemplating Planet Earth as a whole entity, means to come back to our roots as human beings, embracing the indigenous philosophy of life as a critical part to our relationship with that whole entity. A cognitive shift that humans can assimilate after meditating during this insightful external force, that can influence us to change as a global community to live in harmony with nature.

And talking about change, I finish with the words of Arkan Lushwala, a rare indigenous bridge of the global north and south, carrying spiritual traditions from the Andes in his native Peru as well as being adopted and initiated by the Lakota people of North America:

“It is time to change, and if we do not change, something stronger than us is going to do it for us.”

This article was published first in on Medium Jan 22, 2020.

The Overview Effect is one of the cognitive shifts I am presenting as part of a Planet Earth Mindset.