Saturday, March 28, 2020

"We're All in this Together": Part Four

"You can't see the boundaries over which we fight wars, and in a very real way, the inhabitants of this Earth are stuck on a very beautiful, lovely little planet in an incredibly hostile space, and everybody is in the same boat."

---Former Astronaut Don Lind, in The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution.

"We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented ... all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other."

---Pope Francis, delivering the Urbi et Orbi address to an empty St. Peter's Square (NPR, 3/28/20)

As I have mentioned in earlier blog posts on this subject, the message that "We're all in this together," or "We're all in the same boat," is something of a mantra by astonauts when they return home after seeing our planet from space and in space. From orbit or the moon, they experience the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and realize that we cannot ignore this connection. It is real and it has real implications. This is the essence of the Overview Effect.

The message is coming through to us with great clarity now that we are threatened by the coronavirus. It's ironic that we have difficulty absorbing the information from our fellow human beings, but an invisible co-inhabitant of the planet has gotten through to us loud and clear.

The astronaut mantra has now become everybody's mantra, from Pope Francis to People magazine. Although there have been tensions between countries and even among the various states in the US, it has been heartening to see how people have come together to face this crisis and to "row together," in the Pope's words. We can only hope that some of the spirit of unity persists once we move to a more "normal" system state at some point in the future.

Similarly, the global lockdown that has reduced travel dramatically has had an impact that can be seen clearly by satellites in Earth orbit. As just one example, the pollution that represented a major health hazard in China not long ago, is noticeably absent in pictures taken from space during the pause that has emerged in response to COVID-19:

As we know after centuries of experience, war is something to be avoided. However, there are moments, like this one, when it is necessary. As with any conflict, though, the lessons learned are almost as important as achieving the necessary victory.

What are we learning from this battle? How will we use it to forge a better future on Earth and in space?

Copyright, Frank White, 2020, All Rights Reserved

Stay Safe.Stay Strong.Stay Connected  

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

"We're All in this Together": Part Three

I asked my good friend and colleague Felix Hoch to review my previous two blogs on the topic, "We're All in this Together." He did so and said his only disagreement was with the notion of the virus as the "immune system of the planet," because, as he put it, "seeing humanity as a plague further promotes a mindset of separation. I experience it more as a balancing move of the biosphere that has huge potential to facilitate and initiate global coherence in the noosphere."

As is always the case, Felix's words are full of wisdom. I hesitated using the term "immune system of the planet" because I do not see humanity as a plague and I do not want to promote a mindset of separation. However, that was the phrase that came to mind and engendered the writing of the blog post, so I had to be honest and share it as the starting point for my thinking.

In this post, let's use Felix's phrasing that it is a "balancing move of the biosphere" and understand that it has great potential for how we view the future. In particular, I am encouraged that the astronauts' experiential understanding that "we are all in this together" is also becoming experiential for surface dwellers. The number of people repeating that phrase is growing rapidly and I have now heard it said by the Surgeon General of the United States, Bernie Sanders, CNN's Anderson Cooper, and Vice President Mike Pence. (People with quite diverse world views, as we know.)

Moreover, "One World In Dialogue," a great online gathering place for what I would call "overview thinking," is sponsoring a global meditation on 3/29/20 titled "We're All in This Together:"

Coming full circle, we have this excellent article that concludes with exactly the same sentiment from astronaut Jessica Meir:

If the reality of the Overview Effect, which astronauts understand so well and have been striving to communicate for so many years, now permeates global society, then this very difficult and---for many of us---tragic period, will leave humanity and the Earth with something of tremendous value.

Copyright, Frank White, 2020, All Rights Reserved

Stay Safe.Stay Strong.Stay Connected 

Friday, March 20, 2020

"We're All in this Together": Part Two

When you go above the planet, what you see is a system that is highly connected and interwoven.

Former astronaut Sandy Magnus, in The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution

At the outset of this post, I want to be clear that I am not dismissing the tragic human suffering and loss of life we are experiencing during this crisis as unimportant or as a good thing. Nor am I ignoring the economic stress all of us are experiencing. I am saying, however, that the lessons we draw from this moment are very important to our future and the future of the planet.

In an earlier version of this post, I talked about a phrase had come unbidden into my mind: “The virus is the immune system of the planet.” I supposed that happened because there have been so many discussions of human immune systems and their role in fighting off COVID-19.

One of my friends and colleagues (Felix Hoch) gently suggested a different metaphor (see "We're All in this Together" (Part Three) and I think he was right. Also, I have just begun listening to an Audible version of an excellent book, Viruses, Plagues, & History, by Michael B. A. Oldstone, and I would change the phrase to "A virus is once again changing history." This is not the place to go into detail about Oldstone's thesis, but it gives the reader an "overview" of the struggle between humans and viruses over the centuries and the insight that our future is always affected by each skirmish, one way or another.

In regard to our current situation, our species has been pushing the Earth really hard in the past 200 years. Our population has grown almost exponentially, which in turn has required greater energy use, destruction of natural habitat, and continuing challenges to the carrying capacity of the planet.

Experts and activists alike have been warning of dire consequences if we don’t reverse course, reduce the use of fossil fuels, drive our different kinds of cars, use the land differently, fly less, and so on. We have indeed changed our behavior to some extent, and the messages of the astronauts about the Overview Effect have been important in that regard. However, we have resisted bold and dramatic proposals to change course.

Suddenly, in the space of a week, consider what has happened. Our entire global civilization has ground to a halt. We are not driving, we are not flying, we are not using as much energy. We are moving to alternatives that were there along, implementing telemedicine, online learning, and working from home. All of this is an inconvenience for us humans, but if you consider it from the Earth’s point of view, it’s very healthy. It is giving the planet breathing room. So the virus is not good for human health, and the pause has not been good for the economy, but the lessons learned from the pause could be good for the planet and ourselves.

At this point, of course, the virus is our enemy. We have the right to self-defense and our species is mobilizing for a war, World War III if you will. However, the virus can also be our teacher. What will we learn from this period of intense combat? When COVID-19 is defeated (and it will be) will we go back to our old behaviors, pushing Spaceship Earth to the max, expecting it to adjust to us, rather than behaving like its astronauts and taking good care of it?

One very good thing has already come of this crisis, which is a level of human unity and cooperation in the face of a common enemy, the kind of thing people have imagined would be the response to an attack by aliens from outer space. Suddenly, everyone is repeating the mantra that "We're all in this together." That is not just a cliche, it is the absolute truth and it should guide our actions even when we are not in a crisis.

Will we maintain today's connection and collaboration when the enemy is no longer pushing us to do so?

Copyright, Frank White, 2020, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 15, 2020

"We're All In This Together" Part One

"You looked down and you could see how incredibly thin the Earth's atmosphere is and realize the if we pollute it, we all breathe it together, and if we are so dumb as to start a thermonuclear war, we all go together; there is no lifeboat, and everybody is in it together."

Former Astronaut Don Lind, in The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution

Having interviewed 41 astronauts for my work on the Overview Effect, I have heard one thought expressed frequently, which is: "We're all in this together." By this, the astronauts mean that when you look at the Earth from orbit or on a lunar mission, you see that it is a whole system in which everything is interconnected. There are no borders or boundaries, and whatever happens in one part of the planet will eventually have an impact on the rest of the world. 

I have thought about this sentiment and quoted it often. I have also cited it in arguing that we need to adopt "Overview thinking" if we are going to tackle the multitude of challenges that face humanity as we move through the universe on our own Spaceship Earth.

While my listeners usually nod and agree with this idea, I know that it is still somewhat abstract because the global problems we are discussing rarely seem immediate. However, all that has changed with the arrival of COVID-19. As I have listened to the radio and watched television coverage of the pandemic I have frequently heard the comment that "We're all in this together." Most recently, the Surgeon General of the United States said it during an interview, Bernie Sanders repeated something like it in his debate with Joe Biden, and Vice President Pence affirmed it in a press conference.

Suddenly, we realize experientially what we know intellectually: COVID-19 has no interest in borders or boundaries and considers all of this planet its habitat. COVID goes wherever it wants to go and does whatever it wants to do. It does not care whether you are an actor, the wife of a prime minister, a government official, a healthcare worker, a plumber, or a retiree. As far as COVID is concerned, your body is a place for it to visit without asking permission. Homo sapiens has absolutely no immunity or defense against this invader and all that our very best medical people can do is support us through it and hope our immune systems are strong enough to resist the attack.

We are strong people and we have overcome many challenges in the past. I feel confident we will do so once again. My hope is that we will learn some lessons from this situation and adopt "Overview thinking" as the norm and not in response to the crises that will surely face us in the future.

Copyright, Frank White, 2020, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Brian Barnett's review of The Cosma Hypothesis

Brian Barnett, founder and CEO of Solstar Space Company, is one of the original "Overviewers," having read the first edition of The Overview Effect shortly after it was published. He was kind enough to write a review of The Cosma Hypothesis on Amazon, and I am sharing it here:

I read Frank White's Overview Effect way back in 1988. The Overview Effect was, and still is, the most important book ever written in our generation about how space travelers are changed upon returning to Earth. Those who have flown in space and have seen our beautiful blue planet hanging in the midst of the vast darkness of space feel different about how humanity sits vis-a-vis the universe. White's Cosma Hypothesis takes the Overview Effect even further out into the universe. He is the most important writer tackling this incredibly deep topic---he is one of a kind. I think with Cosma he is onto something.

Thanks, Brian!

(The Cosma Hypothesis is available in print, and on Kindle and Audible (

Blog: Copyright, (c), Frank White, 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Jeff Krukin's Review of The Cosma Hypothesis

Jeff and I have worked in space advocacy together for many years. Among other things, he is a founding member of the Overview Institute and is now active in NewSpace. He was kind enough to read and review The Cosma Hypothesis. Here is his review:

"Do you believe that space exploration is a waste of time and money because we have so many pressing problems on Earth?  Or, perhaps you support space exploration and settlement, yet are uncomfortable with the commercial aspects and potential for war in space.  In either case, a different perspective might help.  Frank White's new book, The Cosma Hypothesis:  Implications of the Overview Effect, takes an expansive look at how we human beings... our daily lives, our minds, our spirituality... are connected with the Universe (Cosmos).  Simply put, we are not separate from the Cosmos, and so the exploration and settlement of our solar system is not just something going on out there that has no impact on ourselves "back here."

"And I don't just mean the scientific and commercial benefits that will accrue to our societies and economies.  Think bigger.  Frank asks us to ponder how human activity in space not only impacts our own consciousness and self-awareness (The Overview Effect), but is essential for evolving the conscious intelligence (Frank calls this "contelligence") of the Cosmos itself.  Consider this passage from the book (p.55):  "As far as we know, new atoms are not constantly being created, so the evolution of the universe consists of these atoms being rearranged into increasingly more complex information processing systems.  The human brain is one of those systems."

"Finally, on a more practical note, Frank provides a plan for action with The Human Space Program project (not to be confused with any government's space program).

"Make sense?  You'll enjoy the book.  Sound crazy?  Read the book anyway, and see if it does something for you." 

Jeff Krukin
Earth-Space Commerce Advisors, LLC

(The Cosma Hypothesis is available in print, and on Kindle and Audible (

Blog: Copyright, (c), Frank White, 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Why We Need a Human Space Program (1)

“This first launch of a space system designed for humans, and built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership, is a revolutionary step on our path to get humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. NASA Press Release – March 2, 2019
There’s no question that humans, powered by a potent combination of private enterprise and public funding, are leaving the Earth and heading out into the solar system. But are we ready, both philosophically and pragmatically, for the challenges that lie ahead?
Consider this: for years, American cities and towns have celebrated Columbus Day on October 12 of each year. Recently, there has been a shift as municipalities abandoned Columbus Day in favor of “Indigenous Peoples Day.”
This would be a story in itself but something truly remarkable happened in 2018. Columbus, Ohio, named for the 15thcentury explorer, also abandoned him and adopted the new terminology. What happened? How did Columbus go from being a hero to being a villain? Did he do something wrong? No, he’s been dead for a very long time, so he couldn’t have done anything to alienate even his namesake city. In fact, our consciousness has changed because we have realized that he was a great exploiter as well as an intrepid explorer.
What if Columbus had set off across the Atlantic with a very different philosophy of exploration. Suppose he had anticipated the Prime Directive that was the foundation of the Star Trek franchise 500 years later?  What if noninterference in the evolution of other cultures had guided his actions in the so-called New World?
That was then, this is now, but there are remarkable similarities and the stakes are high.
We face choices today that will determine the trajectory of space exploration for decades to come as humanity migrates into the solar system. In fact, our future in space is really the human future. Our underlying philosophy about this great adventure matters because it will shape our behavior. So will Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos be seen as heroes or villains by our descendants in 500 years? A lot depends on how and why we go about it.
For example, we are about to see the advent of a new Space Age, when companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin will take anyone with the price of a ticket into space. Becoming an astronaut will no longer require that you have the “Right Stuff.”
·      Can we democratize space exploration, supporting trips for artists, scientists, clergy, global leaders, and the rest of us? Can we benefit from the Overview Effect – the experience of seeing the Earth without national boundaries? Can we see our home planet as a spaceship making its way through a universe that humanity is exploring more than it is exploiting? Having interviewed Sir Richard Branson for my book, The Overview Effect, I believe he wants to do just that, making space travel available to all and to the benefit of Earth. Earlier this year, the president of Virgin, speaking at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC, said:

“The more people that see the Earth from above, the more change you can make on Earth,”                                                     
·      How will we confront controversies that are looming on asteroid mining rights, space junk, militarization of space, and other important issues or should we just leave it as a “free for all?” 
·    Is space exploration primarily about making money, touting national prestige, or advancing the evolution of our species and the universe?

These aren’t theoretical debates about the future. We are making choices today that are creating our future. Will the advocates of space exploration today be seen as heroes by their descendants? The answer depends not on our rockets but rather on our decisions.

Copyright, Frank White, 2019, All Rights Reserved