Overview Effect

Weekly I/O#65

Overview Effect: Sudden and dramatic shifts in perspective can make the observer into a state of awe with self-transcendent qualities, especially for astronauts viewing Earth from space.

Article: Overview effect

Shifting one's perspective is a highly effective method for altering their perception, belief, and even behavior. This shift is exemplified by the phenomenon known as the "Overview Effect" reported by many astronauts. While viewing the Earth from space, they feel "a state of awe with self-transcendent qualities, precipitated by a particularly striking visual stimulus". This new perspective elicits overwhelming emotions and makes the astronauts appreciate the Earth's beauty more. William Shatner shared he felt overwhelming sadness when reflecting on his voyage into space on Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space shuttle on Oct. 13, 2021




A common experience closest to the overview effect is when one gazes out of an airplane window and observes the horizon. Everything below appears surreal and flattened, creating a two-dimensional perception. These random airport views evoke similar sensations too.

Virtual reality can also serve as a tool to induce immersive simulations that facilitate these perspective shifts. As noted in #29.4, Virtual Reality can make people empathize with the plight of refugees in the Syrian conflict by simulating sensory presentations.

Another example of such a shift in perspective is the statement the Earth is smoother than a billiard ball. Though the highest point on Earth (Mt. Everest) and the deepest point (Marianas Trench) are around 20 km apart, it is still relatively smooth compared to the Earth's diameter of 12,735 km. (There are debates regarding whether it is true, but we should understand that the Earth is much smoother than commonly perceived. Again, it can be a wrong but useful concept, as noted in #32.1 and #34.5.)

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