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Space Euphoria: Do our brains change when we leave Earth?

017In February, 1971, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell experienced the little understood phenomenon sometimes called the “Overview Effect”. He describes being completely engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness. Without warning, he says, a feeing of bliss, timelessness, and connectedness began to overwhelm him. He describes becoming instantly and profoundly aware that each of his constituent atoms were connected to the fragile planet he saw in the window and to every other atom in the Universe. He described experiencing an intense awareness that Earth, with its humans, other animal species, and systems were all one synergistic whole. He says the feeling that rushed over him was a sense of interconnected euphoria. He was not the first—nor the last—to experience this strange “cosmic connection”.

Rusty Schweikart experienced it on March 6th 1969 during a spacewalk outside his Apollo 9 vehicle: “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change…it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.” Schweikart, similar to what Mitchell experienced, describes intuitively sensing that everything is profoundly connected. Their experiences, along with dozens of other similar experiences described by other astronauts, intrigue scientists who study the brain. This “Overview Effect”, or acute awareness of all matter as synergistically connected, sounds somewhat similar to certain religious experiences described by Buddhist monks, for example. Where does it come from and why?

Space tourist Dennis Tito describes the euphoria he experienced in space...

Andy Newberg, a neuroscientist/physician with a background in spacemedicine, is learning how to identify the markers of someone who hasexperienced space travel. He says there is a palpable difference in someone who has been in space, and he wants to know why. Newberg
specializes in finding the neurological markers of brains in states of altered consciousness: Praying nuns, transcendental mediators, and others in focused or "transcendent" states.

Newberg can actually pinpoint regions in subjects' gray matter that correlate to these circumstances, and now he plans to use his expertise to find how and why the Overview Effect occurs. He is setting up advanced neurological scanning instruments that can head into space to study--live--the brain functions of space travelers. If this Overview Effect is a real, physiological phenomenon—he wants to watch it unfold.

On the 40th anniversary of the famous ‘Blue Marble’ photograph taken of Earth from space, Planetary Collective presents a short film documenting astronauts’ life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from the outside – a perspective-altering experience often described as the Overview Effect.
The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.
‘Overview’ is a short film that explores this phenomenon through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect. The film also features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment.

Newberg's first test subject will not be an astronaut, but rather a civilian. Reda Andersen will be leaving the planet with Rocketplane Kistler. She says, that as one of the world's first civilian space adventurers, she is more than happy to let Andy scan her brain if it can help unlock the mystery. Why do astronauts all seem to experience a profound alteration of their perceptions when entering space, and will it happen for Rita and the other civilian explorers as well?

After decades of study and contemplation about his experience, Ed Mitchell believes that the feeling of “oneness” with the Universe that he and others have experienced is a consequence of little understood quantum physics.

In a recent interview with writer Diana deRegnier of American Chronicle, Mitchell explains how the event changed his life and his entire perspective on the world and how each of us fits into the grand scale of the cosmos.

“Four hundred years ago. the philosopher Rene Descartes came to the conclusion that physicality, spirituality, mind and body belonged to different realms of reality that didn't interact. Now, that served the purpose to get the Inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals so they could disagree on material things with the church and without the fear of being burned at the stake. So that ended that, but it did cause, for four hundred years, science to consider consciousness and mind a subject for philosophy and religion and not a subject for science.

Now, one of the things that happened, in the 1940s, was the mathematician, physicist, Norbert Wiener (MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for the first time really defined information as the negative of entropy, and entropy as the idea of the universe is running down and wastes energy. But, Wiener defined information as the negative of entropy, and that's wonderful but it didn't go far enough.”

Mitchell says that in an attempt to fill in some of the missing gap, the 2008 revised edition of his book The Way of the Explorer explores the largely ignored science of human consciousness. Using what he calls the “dyadic model” he outlines the “two faces” of energy. “Instead of being two separate things, it's the energy as the basis of our existence in matter. And, it’s the basis of our knowing and information,” Mitchell explains.

“We had not had, in science, a definition of consciousness. The only definition of consciousness from the dictionary is that at its basic level it is awareness. Consciousness means to be aware, and then we have different levels of consciousness depending upon how complex the substance is. It has been demonstrated many times over in laboratories that basic awareness is demonstrable at the level of plants, at simple bacteria, at simple life forms.

This is done with Faraday cages. It's shown that this information at this deep level, at the quantum level, can transcend electromagnetic theory. And, now we're getting into quantum physics and we don´t want to go there at this point. But it's a very fundamental notion that awareness is at the very basis of things.”

Mitchell believes that perhaps both the theologians and scientists have missed the mark.

“All I can suggest to the mystic and the theologian is that our gods have been too small; they fill the universe. And to the scientist all I can say is that the gods do exist; they are the eternal, connected, and aware Self experienced by all intelligent beings.'

In response to DeRegnier questioning whether or not Mitchell believes in the idea of God, he responds that while he does not believe in the traditional “grandfather figure” version of God, “we do have great mystery about what is the origin of the universe, how it came to be. There's a great deal of question as to whether the big bang is the correct answer to the way the universe arose, and under what auspices and conditions. I don't think we have the full answers to that yet. Hopefully in due course we'll be able to find a much better way to describe all this.”

But while Mitchell does not claim to know how to perfectly interpret his experience, he is certain that it was a glimpse into a largely ignored reality: People, places and things are all more closely connected than they sometimes appear. He also mentions the need for better stewardship of our precious planet.

“The great thinker Buckminster Fuller, philosopher, now deceased but for a goodly portion of the twentieth century, pointed out at the beginning of our space exploration that we are the crew of ‘space ship earth’. But we 're a crew of mutiny and how can you run a space ship with a mutinous crew?”

..........................Posted by Rebecca Sato


Space Will Make You Cranky and Euphoric

Think you have what it takes to endure a five-month stay in orbit? Be prepared to go through some psychological changes. According to nearly a decade of Russian observations and a 1993 report on human adaptation to long-duration space flight, it all breaks down like this:

Stage One: Welcome to microgravity! You’ll spend the first phase of your journey adjusting to a cramped environment, an upset stomach, headaches and space motion sickness. According to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, you’ll also experience a 26 percent drop in sleep efficiency, with greatly reduced REM (rapid eye movement) time. In other words, you may experience dream deprivation. Expect to feel uncomfortable and sluggish with your work. Luckily for you, most space flights keep some seriously effective medications on hand to wake you up in the “morning” and put you down at “night.”*

Stage Two: According to “Space Psychology and Psychiatry” by Nick Kansas, you’ll probably hit your stride about six weeks into the mission. For up to an estimated six additional weeks, you’ll experience “complete adaptation.” Enjoy it while it last.

Stage Three: Sometime between week six and week 12, you can expect things to get a little moody aboard the old space station. Russian observations found that a number of the symptoms were linked to boredom and isolation. You become hypertensive, irritable and less motivated. Expect to fly off the handle whenever a crew member drifts into your personal space or borrows your iPod without asking. You can also expect increased sensitivity to loud noises, changes in musical preferences, exhaustion, sleep disturbances and loss of appetite. It should come as no surprise that this sometimes results in an “accusation of negative personality traits.”

Stage Four: Finally, toward the very end of your stay in orbit, you can expect to experience “excitation, agitation and lack of self control.” It’s sort of a culmination of stage three, with the added anticipation of finally returning to Earth. But then there’s one final possible symptom: prevailing feelings of euphoria.

The Overview Institute: Declaration of Vision and Principles

A Critical Time

We live at a critical moment in human history.  The challenges of climate change, food, water and energy shortages as well as the increasing disparity between the developed and developing nations are testing our will to unite, while differences in religions, cultures, and politics continue to keep us apart.  The creation of a “global village” through satellite TV and the Internet is still struggling to connect the world into one community.   At this critical moment, our greatest need is for a global vision of planetary unity and purpose for humanity as a whole.

The Overview Effect

For more than four decades, astronauts from many cultures and backgrounds have been telling us that, from the perspective of Earth orbit and the Moon, they have gained such a vision.  There is even a common term for this experience:  “The Overview Effect,” a phrase coined in the book of the same name by space philosopher and writer Frank White. It refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.  From space, the astronauts tell us, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide us become less important and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.  Even more so, many of them tell us that from the Overview perspective, all of this seems imminently achievable, if only more people could have the experience!

Communicating the Overview Effect

Thus far, this unifying Overview Effect has been experienced by only a handful of space explorers, some 500 to date.  Moreover, it has proven quite difficult for them to communicate more than just a portion of this potentially revolutionary experience to their listeners, despite their best efforts.  Recent advances in cognitive science strongly suggest that these difficulties are directly related to the limitations of conventional media in communicating the rich and perspective altering experience of space.  We will work with leading researchers as guides to the best media tools and strategies to overcome this challenge to communicating the Overview Effect.

Two Recent Advances

Two recent advances are about to dramatically change this limitation. The first is the advent of a commercial space industry that will soon begin taking tens of thousands of people into the near-space environment, far enough to grasp some aspects of the Overview Effect.  Zero-gravity flights will make this effect of space travel available to many more.  This is only the beginning of the historic human evolution into space, and the resulting transformations of human culture and consciousness as we become a space-faring culture.

The second major advance is the rapid maturation of high-definition digital media, from the internet-connected desktop to three-dimensional simulation media and virtual reality.  These new technologies, together with other forms of art, media, entertainment and education will soon provide new and more powerful tools to immerse Earthbound audiences in a close approximation of the space environment and potentially bring the Overview Effect to many millions around the globe.

The Current Marginalization of The Overview Effect

However, at this critical moment, the reality, significance, and relevance of the Overview Effect to the current problems facing humanity is seldom mentioned, and its potential contribution is largely underestimated and seldom promoted.  Because of this marginalization of the space experience in world affairs:

  • • The new commercial space access industry is largely seen as the sole province of wealthy entrepreneurs and space enthusiast millionaires.
  • • The Overview Effect, while intuitively valid to many, is often marginalized as a philosophical, metaphysical or aesthetic epiphany, not the fundamental perspective-altering experience that both astronauts and scientists suggest that it is.
  • • Space simulation art, media and entertainment are often seen, even by some leaders of the new space movement, to be merely marketing tools or entertainments rather than necessary forms of pubic space awareness.
  • • Those social leaders who are deeply concerned with the critical issues of our time, such as the environment, energy, international relations and many more, often see the new space movement as a diversion of attention, resources, and energy from solving those very problems, rather than potentially one of the greatest tools for galvanizing world support and the will for solving them.


The Intention of the Overview Institute

For these reasons, the undersigned individuals, formally known as The Overview Group, have come together to create The Overview Institute with the purpose of both researching and informing the world of the reality, nature, and potential of the Overview Effect.  We will also promote and support widespread experience of it, through direct space travel, and newer, more powerful and more publicly available space art, multi-media and education.  We will encourage artists, educators, entertainment creators, and simulation media designers and technologists to consider the rich potential of integrating the Overview Effect into their work as well as the opportunity to play a role in bringing space experiences to the world.  And, just as important, we will network with world social leaders in all those areas most likely to benefit from the Overview Effect, both directly experienced and through space media.

An Announcement and an Invitation

We are making both an announcement and an invitation.  First, we are announcing today our intent to form The Overview Institute as a nonprofit organization (and that we will be seeking 501(C) (3) status) in order to receive grants from foundations and corporations.  We would ask for the support of members of both of these sectors as we grow and develop The Institute.

We would also like to extend an invitation to leaders in our four agenda areas of Space, Science, Media, and the Humanitarian Services to join with us to strengthen our expertise, global reach, and positive effect in each of these fields.  Through these efforts, we declare our interdependence with one another, the planet as a whole, and the cosmos.
Sign the declaration









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