The Overview Effect then and now

Reading the late Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell‘s 1971 account1 of his overview effect from 50 years ago, and his thoughts on the nature of things regarding the human condition and planet Earth, I can’t help thinking about current events in the USA and worldwide. 

Mitchell presented three major alternatives for the future: 

As I pondered the matter and discussed it with concerned thinkers around the world, it became obvious that there are three major alternatives for the future, alternatives within man’s control:

1. To do nothing, in which case the prevailing dominant paradigm and resulting socioeconomic behavior will eventually result in a massive collapse of the world system. The survivors can then start to rebuild civilization.

2. To relinquish personal freedom of choice to a central world government with the expectation that a controlled and unified society, however tyrannical its leadership, is better than nonsurvival. 

3. To promote the process of metanoia, or a new awakening in which mankind can realize its self-produced dilemma and, through a change in awareness and an expansion of individual responsibility, reestablish the unity of man with man and with the environment. 

Now, fifty years later, we can observe these alternatives manifest as: 

1) Western consumerist capitalism as spearheaded by the USA (with, at least on paper, failing president Trump for his last few days)

2) Authoritarian surveillance society as exemplified by China

The third, which Mitchell calls Metanoia (after Wiliam James, C.G. Jung et al), a more ‘enlightened’ alternative, is yet to fully present itself on a level that would make a difference (even though the ‘underground currents’ have been around in various forms since the enlightenment if not time immemorial). There’s plenty of chatter about ‘a new awakening’ around the Internet, but recently most of it seems to revolve around hatemongers preying on confused people desperate about the global (or personal) situation at hand.  

Obviously the hunger for alternatives to options 1 and 2 grows fast and needs to be fed. Considering something like QAnon as a kind of example, it becomes clear we (humans) have quite a bit of growing ahead of us. QAnon and various related movements or ‘phenomena’ promise to provide, presenting themselves as ‘alternatives’ to unsustainable status quo. They congratulate you for ‘awakening’ and ‘doing your research’, only to tell you what you should see now that your eyes are open. 

Anyways, there’s a need, and a promise of awakening to a new consciousness for mankind, but what works for individuals may not apply for masses. The persisting herd animal tendencies still lure crowds to blindly follow new leaders no matter, how one-eyed they are as long as their voices hit the precise, familiar chords of promise and fear. 

Mitchell’s calling was to unite the research of outer space (science) and inner space (consciousness) that remain separate, often questioning each others relevance and even dismissing the other’s existence altogether. After his career with NASA, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences to advance his ideas. 

Only when man moves from this ego-centered self-image to a new image of universal man will the perennial problems that plague us be susceptible to resolution. Humanity must rise from man to mankind, from the personal to the transpersonal, from self-consciousness to cosmic consciousness.

Mitchell passed away in 2016, but the Institute of Noetic Sciences remains active. Recently, the Institute was involved in a project that aims to reproduce the Overview Effect in VR. And indeed, the Edgar Mitchell Overview Effect VR Experience can be found and experienced for free to all who have a VR headset (excluding myself at present). I wonder, though, will it ever feel the same as actually being out there?

Earthrise, taken on December 24, 1968, by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders.

ps. While taking a break for a cup of tea until posting this piece, I grabbed a random book to skim while brewing the tea. The book was Tape Delay – Confessions from the Eighties Underground, edited by Charles Neal. I opened the book at a random point, and got an article by The Hafler Trio in front of me:  “Metanoia – Theme for ‘Captured Music'”. Talk about syncronicity… but more about that another time.


  1. Essay “Introduction: From Outer Space to Inner Space” featured in Beyond UFOs: The Science of Consciousness and Contact with Non Human Intelligence, Volume 1, ed. by Hernandez, Klimo, Schild (Dr. Edgar Mitchell Foundation for Research into Extraterrestrial and Extraordinary Encounters, 2018), pp. 293-323, originally published in Mitchell: Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science (Putnam, 1974).

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