Science

Frank White’s Cosmic Reflections on the “View Effect” and Humanity’s Connection to the Earth

Ever since Frank White’s seminal book on the “view effect” found its way into the hands, minds and minds of readers in 1987, the term has increasingly become iconic to explain the very human condition associated with space travel.

Following the publication of this influential work—The View Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution—White added to his collection of space traveler stories a work based on his initial perception of the internal cognitive shift in human consciousness that can manifest itself in vision. Earth from space.

It is clear that there is a downside to the survey effect. Apparently, this subsurface feeling is ready to prepare people not only to go back to the Moon, but also to Mars, and then to much more distant places.

On the subject: Earth from space: ‘Sightseeing effect’ could help troubled country, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says

Space.com sat down with the space philosopher to talk about the origins, current and future implications of the survey effect, and his view that the Human Space Program is the central project that will involve all of us in this process. become “citizens of the universe”.

Space.com: How did you get the original idea for the overview effect?

White: The inspiration that gave me this term came while I was at Princeton with Gerard O’Neill at the Space Research Institute. I thought about living permanently in an ideal community and what it would be like to see the Earth in the sky every day.

Space.com: Based on this understanding, how did this expression get stuck in your head?

White: I flew across the country and looked out the window. It just occurred to me that people in the future will always have an idea of ​​the Earth. They will see where everything is interconnected and connected. They will experience the review effect. That was the origin of the idea.

Frank White, author of The Viewing Effect, an influential book on the human condition when looking at the Earth from afar.

Frank White, author of The Viewing Effect, an influential book on the human condition when looking at the Earth from afar. (Image credit: Frank White)

Space.com: And at that moment, were you motivated to talk to NASA astronauts?

White: I was talking to NASA and asked them if I could interview all the astronauts. They didn’t think it was possible, but they promised two astronauts if I came to Houston. They also offered to interview retired astronauts, which I never thought about. So I started interviewing astronauts. I confirmed the hypothesis that there is something unique about seeing the Earth from a distance. But to my surprise, this was not common. So the hypothesis has changed a bit.

Space.com: Speaking of the view effect, what happened then?

White: The first public use of the term was on a poster of mine in 1985 at a poster session at the Space Research Institute. The first real explanation of this term was in the first edition of the Survey Effect in 1987. I was lucky enough to get a contract with Houghton Mifflin to write a book. By that time I had 16 interviews with astronauts and data for my hypothesis that something was going on there.

Cover of the fourth edition of The Survey Effect, featuring an astronaut hovering in space above the Earth.

Cover of the fourth edition of Frank White’s The Survey Effect. (Image credit: Multiverse Publishing (2021))

Space.com: What was the first reaction to the book?

White: There was one bump in the road. It was my first book and it was called The Review Effect. The acquisition editor really understood the book. He said that this was the first justification for space flight that seemed convincing to him. But later he came back and said marketers say we can’t call it the “Overview Effect”, no one will know what that means. He asked me if I had a reserve title. I was so grateful that they published the book, I would have done anything.

I told him that I use the term “citizens of the universe” a lot, and he moved on. Later, he came back to me, after a couple of weeks or a month, and informed me that the marketers had actually read the book. They said, obviously, that the title is “Review Effect”. And I said great. I just don’t believe the book would have had such an impact if it wasn’t for the title The Review Effect.

Space.com: Have you continued doing interviews since then?

White: I had a return trip to Houston in 2019. I interviewed 10 astronauts, some retired, some active. Three of them were actually on the International Space Station at the time of the interview. I noticed that the active astronauts may have been a bit more expansive in how they described their experiences. You could say that you have more emotions than previous active astronauts. At the time, perhaps they were a little more focused on the science and technology side of the mission.

Also, perhaps because the review effect has become a well-known concept. Astronauts understand that there is another aspect of space flight, namely feelings and emotional responses.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Ann McClain and Nick Hague aboard the International Space Station during an interview with Frank White. White sits in front of a television screen showing an interior view of the ISS.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Ann McClain and Nick Hague aboard the International Space Station during an interview with Frank White. (Image credit: Frank White)

Space.com: The review effect sounds almost like a medical diagnosis. Why do some succeed and others don’t?

White: In my interview with Edgar Mitchell [Apollo 14 astronaut, the sixth man to walk on the moon] he and I talked about the difference between low earth orbit and the moon. He agreed that when you go to the Moon, there is a difference in that you get a more universal perspective by viewing the universe and Earth in the context of the universe. His openness to experience gave him an extraordinary result. He insisted that everyone who went [to the moon] actually had the same experience of the review effect… but then it was processed and interpreted through individual worldviews, individual stories. For Mitchell, his experience was so profound that I called it “Universal Insight.”

Space.com: So the farther away from Earth and the longer you’re away, the stronger the impact? If so, what about William Shatner’s Blue Origin suborbital flight and how did he describe his experience?

White: It was a short flight and they didn’t get very far. And yet I’ve had people email me and tell me that Shatner experienced the review effect. His mind was blown. I think Shatner confirmed what Edgar Mitchell was saying. I don’t think he knew what was going to happen. I think Shatner was open to this experience. I don’t believe there is anything automatic about it, how powerful the experience is.

Space.com: Can you do vision effect training?

White: This brings us to the commercial side of space travel. There is a big difference between the first astronauts, professional astronauts and the people who fly now. They ride with the intention of gaining experience. Most of them have heard of the review effect. They’re waiting for him… and the mission has a different profile, if you will.

I work with Space for Humanity. They are preparing their citizen astronauts for this experience. They are expected to return and apply the experience to the project on Earth. We’re going to learn how to prepare people to be open to experience.

Frank White at NASA's Johnson Space Center, the home base for survey effect interviews.

Frank White at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the home base for survey effect interviews. (Image credit: Frank White)

Space.com: How effective could the vision effect be for future human missions to Mars?

White: In space flight we are talking about continuous changes in consciousness. The view of the Earth from orbit or the Moon was the first stage. Looking at Earth from Mars is what I call the “Copernican perspective,” the awareness of being part of the solar system. The earth will become a point of light. You will not see continents and oceans on Earth. I think you could call it an extension of the view effect.

Space.com: And then there’s the promise of interstellar travel.

White: Identity is a big part of it in the sense that as you go further and if you don’t plan on coming back, your affinity with the earthling will change. You will have a different idea of ​​who you are. There are analogies here on this planet. We are a migratory species. People migrated from one place to another, not planning to return to where they came from. Thus, their identification changes from a citizen of one country to a citizen of another.

Space.com: Perhaps contact with other stellar people could be a learning moment related to the view effect?

White: Certainly a key moment in human evolution will be the confirmation of contact with aliens, whether through SETI, direct contact or otherwise. This could be a very beneficial interaction because they may know much more about the universe than we do. This can be a very positive moment. It is important to approach this with hope, not fear.

To follow Frank White’s ongoing work, go to https://frankwhiteauthor.com/ (will open in a new tab).

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