In 1632, in the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo Galilei brought to support the theory of heliocentrism the belief that "If you could see the earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon."
In 1968, more than three centuries later, the U.S. Apollo 8 space mission reached the orbit of the Moon. This was not the occasion when astronauts landed on our satellite for the first time – the moon landing would not occur until a year later – but something surprising happened nonetheless.
At one point in the live telecast astronauts Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders turned the camera around and framed the Earth, implicitly confirming what Galilei had said. The resulting shot, dubbed Earthrise, is believed to be one of the most significant photographs in human history.
During the Apollo 8 mission, for the first time three human beings observed our Planet from space, feeling profound emotion at the beauty and fragility of Earth, a blue pearl lost in the infinity of the universe.
Returning from the mission and approaching the atmosphere, the experience of the Apollo 8 astronauts got more intense. Before their eyes unfolded expanses of cyclones and disturbances, but also cities lit up in the night, coral reefs and northern lights - the same view that, decades later, astronauts on the International Space Station still observe today.
In 1987, author and philosopher Frank White gave a name to the specific feeling of wonder one experiences when observing Earth from space: the Overview Effect.
What is the Overview Effect?
The term "Overview Effect" defines the cognitive change in perception felt by astronauts and cosmonauts during space missions.
Despite never having experienced space exploration firsthand, White collected interviews with 29 astronauts in a volume titled The Overview Effect. The vast majority of astronauts witnessed a disruptive change in perspective during a space voyage.
Such a radical experience changes the perception of our planet forever. The statements collected by White mostly emphasize the sense of unity and interconnectedness among living beings, the need to appreciate and care for our "home."
Astronaut Jim Lovell, a member of the aforementioned Apollo 8 mission, points out how, from the Moon, Earth looks like "a great oasis compared to the great vastness of space," while cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov perceives the planet as "our home that had to be defended like a sacred relic."
From above, the boundaries and barriers that define life on Earth are invisible. In the holistic view that determines the Overview Effect, our planet reveals all its magnificence and, at the same time, all its fragility.
Pale Blue Dot
Space probes reach distances that for the moment are still unthinkable for astronauts: the images they manage to capture show the Earth as a small, fragile sphere packing all life known to date, "hanging" in sidereal space, wrapped in a thin atmosphere layer that protects it from the external environment.
In 1990, astronomer and author Carl Sagan successfully got the Voyager 1 space probe to turn its camera around and take a photograph of Earth from as far as 6 billion kilometers away before leaving the Solar System.
In the resulting shot, dubbed Pale Blue Dot by Sagan himself, our planet is nothing more than an imperceptible speckle, less than a pixel wide, lonely and microscopic-looking in space, bathing the Sun's reflection off the probe's camera.
In his 1994 text of the same name, Sagan reflects on this very shot, which elicits an indirect, amplified version of the Overview Effect:
"The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."
The smallness of our planet in the vastness of space simultaneously amazes and frightens observers.
The need to create a planetary society with a united will to protect and give a future to this "pale blue dot" in space, preserving the environment and transcending social boundaries and barriers, becomes evident and imperative.
In space with Virtual Reality
So far less than 600 people in the history of mankind have been able to directly experience the Overview Effect by observing the Earth from space. Even the most significant shots, in their two-dimensionality, do not come remotely close to the holistic, all-encompassing experience these people have been privileged to experience.
Advances in technology in the field of Virtual Reality (VR), however, are giving an increasingly broader audience the opportunity to experience the Overview Effect through immersive experiences.
Virtual Reality technology, due to its controllability and ability to provide a sense of presence, is a unique medium for designing and developing publicly accessible experiences.
Virtual Reality experiences inspired by space exploration, especially when combined with sound effects and mindfulness practices, have been shown to elicit a deep emotional response of wonder and awe in the audience. In other words, if you want to experience the Overview Effect, you don't have to be an astronaut nor do you have to wait to become a space tourist.
Overview Effect: a radical change in perspective
The Overview Effect shows that a change of mindset often stems from a radical change of perspective. By shifting from the individual to the universal, from the singular to the collective, rising above the boundaries and barriers of everyday life, we rediscover what makes us human.
Bringing this mindset into business processes is the first step in ensuring the creation of truly empathic products and services.
For years, Neosperience has been guiding companies through digital transformation with an ecosystem of empathic technology solutions that meet and anticipate the needs and wants of the customer base.
We help companies innovate their business strategies with a data-driven approach, giving them the strategic key to build the present and future of their company in the marketplace.
Neosperience at Futura Expo 2022
Neosperience believes in the potential of VR technology, which up until today has only been partially exploited by brands in order to deliver truly immersive experiences.
After winning projects that opened up the potential of Virtual Reality in the e-commerce field, we brought our Overview Effect experience to Futura Expo, the event dedicated to a vision of the future in which Man, Nature, Environment and Economy coexist in harmony.
From Sunday, October 2 to Tuesday, October 4, visitors to Futura Expo 2022 have been able to experience a Virtual Reality experience simulating Earth observation from space by means of Oculus Quest 2 visors at our booth.
With this choice we set out to demonstrate that Virtual Reality is not a "stylistic exercise," nor a fad destined to be soon supplanted, but rather a useful tool to offer new points of view to people and allow them to experience situations that are out of this world.