Gaia and “The Overview Effect”
I was sent a link to an important video clip that I would like to share with you because it contains many of the elements under discussion in The Chrysalis.
The video clip is entitled “Some Strange Things Are Happening to Astronauts Returning to Earth”. The video is about 20 minutes in length and you can link to it at
It’s one of the best presentations I’ve seen on the “cognitive shift” underway towards an integrative consciousness, but which is here called “overview effect”. Essentially, however, “integral consciousness” and “overview effect” mean the same thing — the integral worldview as Jean Gebser anticipated it in his book The Ever-Present Origin.
The video is very rich in meaning, not all of it completely transparent, however. The astronauts interviewed here did not experience that particular “awe” they mention for themselves alone, and not merely as representatives of particular nations or as agents of humankind more generally. Rather, it is the Earth itself, Gaia, that, in broader terms, first perceived itself in this way — as an integral whole — which is the essence of James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis.
It is for this reason, too, that you see one of my favourite philosophers, David Loy, interviewed in the context of the presentation. I’ve had occasion to mention Loy in the past and his “Buddhist” approach to sociology and history. The reasons for including Loy in this presentation are evident, for Loy takes a critical view of the false “separative” nature of human consciousness (ego or wego identity). And the “overview effect“, which effect is here the transfiguring and transformative experience of awe, is that profound feeling of connectedness to the Earth as a whole that overwhelms these astronauts. “Be true to the Earth!”, as Nietzsche once put it — Bleib der Erde treu! — becomes a self-evident imperative.
Nonetheless, their journey is also our journey. And the profound “cognitive shift” that is mentioned in a couple of places in the video to describe the “strange thing happening” is precisely what Gebser called the “mutation” in consciousness presently underway, and which is not mankind’s alone. The Earth also experienced itself as a whole through that consciousness and perception.
There are many interesting and significant parables in the video which, when properly viewed not just with the eyes alone, but with the “mind’s eye” or inner eye, is really a presentation about the psycho-dynamics informing this cognitive shift or mutation which is leading to the construction of a new “Weltanschauung” — world outlook or world image — as the German word expressively puts it. For the first time, in fact, it is a true “Weltanschauung“, and not a piecemeal, fragmentary, perspectivising view that mistakes its own mere perspective for “the world”. The experience and response of awe is precisely the overcoming of that perspectivising perception. The whole and the holistic (which is the holy) overwhelms and subordinates the partial and partisan view, which is the ego’s eye-view, and compels it to submit. This submission of the partial, the partisan, and the perspectivist is the meaning of “humility”.
One of the most interesting of these “parables” occurs at the beginning, with the fortuitous “backwards glance” which revealed the Earth as a whole. It was almost accidental, because the men involved had their faces turned outwards towards the planets and stars “beyond”, rather than towards the Earth. Yet it was the discovery of the Earth as “home” that turned out to be the most important consequence, as these astronauts make clear. It was simultaneously the discovery of themselves, the discovery of a new psychic resource and mode of perception, that is the key to understanding this video clip.
This, as a map of the psycho-dynamics of self-discovery or mutation, is the proper approach to viewing the video. Viewed in this way, you may participate intimately in that same process of self-discovery and mutation. You may experience this as a subtle mixture of awe and anguish. But that anguish serves a purpose, too. It is typically associated with birth. Awe and anguish, and humility, are often found together like this.