Virtual reality technology is opening up new ways for us to connect and new worlds for us to explore. Yet, one of its most valuable applications may be enabling us transcend ourselves.
There's a powerful phenomena called the "overview effect." Only a few of us have been fortunate enough to experience it. The term describes the psychological transformation astronauts go through when they gaze back upon the Earth from space. They become overwhelmed with a sudden wave of awe and deep emotion. Yet, the "overview effect" is far from a transitory feeling. It triggers a life-long cognitive shift in awareness.
Those that experience the "overview effect" adopt a new framing of reality and the self. They connect to a profound sense of oneness with the earth and its inhabitants. And from this sense of unity, divisions like national borders seem arbitrary and petty. The focus shifts from one's self as an individual, to one's self as part of the whole.
The experience is said to be indescribable - like the feeling of falling in love, or seeing one's newborn first child.
Given its significance, it seems cruel that the "overview effect" has been unattainable to the vast majority. Yet those barriers are falling. Soon it will be possible for anyone to immerse one's self into the experience through a VR headset.
SpaceVR is a "virtual space tourism company" that is working to make the "overview effect" available on tap. They're set to launch a high-resolution, 360 camera satellite into space. Through VR tech, its perch will become your vantage point. Your VR view will respond to your full range of head motion so you feel completely immersed in orbit. In theory, this will cause you to experience something practically identical to what astronauts experience looking out the window of the International Space Station.
As of August 8, 2016 SpaceVR signed a launch agreement with NanoRacks LLC to launch their first camera into Low Earth Orbit in June 2017. SpaceVR features broad support for different VR headsets and is currently taking pre-orders for a "virtual trip to space" for $35.
Because the "overview effect" has had such a powerful effect on individuals, it's exciting to imagine how it may inspire masses of people. One may reasonably speculate the result could be nothing short of revolutionary. And given the challenges we face in the world today, the timing is impeccable.
The Overview Effect: Awe and Self-Transcendent Experience in Space Flight
Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice 3(1):1-11 · March 2016