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The Similarities And Transformative Power of Psychedelics and Spaces Overview Effect

By Asim Janjua   ✺   Writing  ✺  Articles
  ✺   5 min read

Discover the profound similarities between the Overview Effect experienced by astronauts and the transformative impact of psychedelic experiences, both fostering deep empathy and a renewed interconnection with the natural world.

The Similarities And Transformative Power of Psychedelics and Spaces Overview Effect

Interstellar Empathy

The similarities and transformative power of psychedelics and spaces overview effect[1] reported by astronauts are unmistakably striking. Both experiences lead to a deep sense of empathy, compassion, oneness and connection with the natural world, fundamentally altering perceptions and priorities, sometimes for life.

What is the Overview Effect?

First coined by space philosopher and author Frank White in 1987, the Overview Effect describes a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit.

The sight of our planet, a vibrant blue dot suspended in the deep-black void, instills a profound sense of interconnectedness and fragility. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell of Apollo 14 eloquently described this experience: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.”

Researchers have characterized the effect as "a state of awe with self-transcendent qualities, precipitated by a particularly striking visual stimulus" (The overview effect: Awe and self-transcendent experience in space flight [2]). The most prominent common aspects of personally experiencing the Earth from space include the appreciation and perception of beauty, unexpected and even overwhelming emotion, and an increased sense of connection to other people and the Earth as a whole. The effect can cause changes in the observer’s self-concept and value system, and is described as transformative.

The Overview Effect stands as a remarkable discovery and insight, so much so that scientists have sought to recreate it for those on Earth through immersive virtual reality experiences, aiming to evoke the same sense of transformation.

For those of you accustomed to the mystical effects of natural and plant psychedelics (like the various forms of psilocybin or ayahuasca), the descriptions above of the astronauts' experience with the Overview Effect are unremarkably similar to those of psychedelic experiences, especially magic mushrooms (psilocybin). Whether taken at high or micro dose, a deep sense of benevolence and reverence for "inter-being" (interconnectedness) for living organisms pervades our every sense; something that you cannot go back on or unsee and stays with you long after your first journey. Perhaps forever, until death does us part.

Thich Nhat Hanh, with his love and reverence for the natural world, once said,

“You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.”

The statement reflects deep respect for the interconnectedness of all life, a wisdom that resonates with the very core of our being.

It is unlikely that Thich Nhat Hanh's insights were the result of psychedelic substances; rather, they were the fruits of his commitment to the practice of meditation. His journey to what he calls "inter-being" is a testament to the power of humans to transcendence. This level of enlightenment is no small achievement; it's a rare state that few attain, indicative of a life devoted to inner harmony.

For many of us, achieving such a inner connection with the cosmos may seem daunting, if not wholly unattainable. Yet, there is a path—a more accessible, and equally transformative experience—that doesn't require us to strap ourselves into a rocket or a lifetime in a meditative state, and embark on a journey of self-discovery and cosmic unity without ever leaving the ground.

Psilocybin, Nature’s Overview Effect

Psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in certain species of mushrooms, is known to induce experiences of unity and deep ecological awareness. Users often report feeling a sense of interconnectedness with all life forms, leading to a compassionate and empathetic perspective towards nature and existence. Psilocybin "opens the heart, quiets the mind, allowing you to see through the absurdities of your own predicament" (Ram Dass). It is a conduit for deep, inner connection.

When taken, one is jolted back to what can be best described as our essence. One sees through the fog of modernity, opinions, division, independence, and polarization as though looking at one's soul through a retina display, crystal clear, with a greater sense of truth that no man-made faith or religion can come close to. The renowned Terence McKenna, an ethnobotanist, encapsulates this very well: “Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third-story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing.”

Furthermore, the intersection of psychedelics, science, and spirituality is gaining traction in modern research, providing increasing evidence of the profundity of the experience. Studies at institutions like Johns Hopkins University have shown that psilocybin can produce significant and lasting changes in personal well-being and attitude. Dr. Roland Griffiths, a leading researcher in this field, notes, “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance.”

The Ripple Effect - From Self to Society

The implications of these experiences are far-reaching. When astronauts return to Earth, many are inspired to promote environmental protection and global unity. Ever since the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin, marveled at the planet from orbit in 1961. “People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it,” the Soviet cosmonaut said upon his return. A half-century later, ex-NASA astronaut José Hernández said that the view aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2009 turned him into “an instant tree-hugger.” Scott Kelly, an ISS astronaut, said, "From space, you realize how small and interconnected we all are. It's a perspective that can inspire us to be better stewards of our planet and work towards a brighter future.”

Similarly, those who have undergone psilocybin experiences often find a renewed sense of responsibility towards the environment and a heightened empathy for living beings. Musician Sting, in the documentary film "Have a Good Trip,” shared, “What the experience does is it presents you with the idea of mortality right there. It’s your own mortality, the mortality of the planet… that is the central issue of consciousness.” And Dr. Julie Holland, M.D., from doubleblindmag.com, said, “With psychedelics … there is this epiphany that everything is connected. That we’re all tiny little beings on a huge planet. If you pull back and see the big picture, you see that we are all one organism, interconnected or interdependent.”

From the far reaches of cosmos to the depths of our souls, the tales of cosmonauts, astronauts, and psychonauts resound with a singular, echoing truth — a truth that speaks of our innate unity, our shared essence. While the stars in space may lie beyond the grasp of many, our Mother Earth, in her boundless generosity, has bestowed upon us gifts aplenty amongst the forests and foliage. These plants beckon us, as away to reunite, to tenderize to one another with a heart devoid of bias, with a reverence that harkens back to our origins — before the allure of intellect veiled our innate wisdom. Let us awaken to the harmony that nature so profoundly envisages for us all, before we lose ourselves in the maze of our own making.

The Overview Effect and the psilocybin journey, though distinct, weave the same story: a narrative of unity, of life's interwoven fabric, and the sacred duty to cherish our planet. As we delve deeper into these mysteries, let us seek not just knowledge, but wisdom — wisdom in the form of actions. The journey ahead, is not outward but inward. It is within the quietness of our inner worlds that we find the light to guide us toward a future of empathy, connection, and environmental stewardship. A noble pursuit — to open our hearts wide to each other, and in doing so, reveal a path to a more united and compassionate existence.

Psychedelic Integration Toolkit

Download the free psychedelics toolkit. The three-step process of preparing for a psychedelic experience includes setting intentions, integrating the experience, and identifying potential obstacles.

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