The Overview Effect, A Catalyst for Systems Change (Part IV)

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By Christine PX Tan

Read Part I Here, Read Part II Here, Read Part III Here

A Planetary Level Paradigm Shift

While the Overview Effect acts to change the paradigms of the individuals who experience it, how does this translate into paradigm shifts at a societal, country, and planetary level?

"Whole societies are another matter. They resist challenges to their paradigm harder than they resist anything else … So how do you change paradigms? … In a nutshell, you keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm, you keep speaking louder, and with assurance from the new one, you insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don't waste time with reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded."

- Donella Meadows19

Part Two and Three of this series discussed how the Overview Effect can be a powerful tool for systems change by transforming our paradigms towards ones that help us better manage our complexity. However, the nuance within this is that while individual behavior is a necessary component of system-level change, some critical threshold needs to be crossed to result in the system-wide adoption of a new behavior or paradigm. Thresholds can't be crossed without individuals willing to move first. But, it also doesn't mean that just a few individuals choosing a new norm is sufficient for system-wide adoption. However, the types of individuals who choose to evolve first and what they continue to do within the system matter.

How does democratizing access to space relate to such systems change? And, how would the transformation of single individuals result in a global-level shift in beliefs and behavior?

As Nicole Stott beautifully described in this interview with the Executive Director of Space for Humanity, Rachel Lyons, the trip to space should act as a stepping stone to continuing to use what we have gained from the experience. At an individual level, we have seen the transformative power of the Overview Effect in motivating one to take action here on Earth. We witness this in how Nicole Stott, a veteran NASA astronaut with two spaceflights, one spacewalk, and 104 days living and working in space, founded the Space for Art Foundation, which creatively combines the awe and wonder of her spaceflight experience with her artwork to inspire everyone’s appreciation of our role as crewmates here on spaceship Earth.20 We also observe this in how Ron Garan, a NASA astronaut who spent 178 days in space, traveled more than 71 million miles during 2,842 orbits of our planet and accomplished four spacewalks. Ron continues to champion his “orbital perspective” message to create a cleaner, safer, and more peaceful world, from representing Manna as one of ten global innovators in the field of water purification to his role as advisor to the social business movement.21

Such meaningful stories make clear how the impact of the trip to space for an individual does not stay insulated from the world around them. Democratizing access to space will allow for the emergence of more ripples, where the insights gained from the Overview Effect are propagated in the environments they are embedded in. In doing so, the transformation experienced by single individuals can become amplified into paradigm shifts throughout society and our whole planet.

One of the most inspiring organizations working to create such ripples is Space for Humanity. With the world's first Citizen Astronaut Program, Space for Humanity aims to send open-minded change makers and leaders from across the world to space. After experiencing the Overview Effect, those who have gained this new shift in worldview will be scattered far and wide, amplifying this planetary-level awareness into all corners of Earth. They will continue to propagate the Overview Perspective from here on Earth, in places of visibility and action. As such, these individuals will be integral in pushing the tipping point of our entire planet towards a global-level cultural shift sculpted from the new paradigms we have been gifted from space.

And 20 years from now, as Rachel Lyons, the Executive Director of Space for Humanity, beautifully envisioned on the Dear Life Podcast, the dream is that we will have the first leaders who profoundly understand and behave from the context of our whole system and the true interconnectedness we share.

Imagine with Us

"If our values shift to things like the preservation of life, love, and wellbeing of humans and our planet — and this is what S4H is working to fundamentally address — the structures that are built on top of it will also begin to shift. This is what we are working to address. A shift in perspective that will ultimately cause behavior, relationships, and systems to change accordingly."

- Rachel Lyons22
We often try to imagine a world where we live in harmony as opposed to in tension with nature and others beyond ourselves - a world that cares for all and is compassionate to all. I believe that such a future is synonymous with a world where we have deeply internalized and live based on the lens of seeing our spaceship Earth as one whole and us being parts of this shared system. To imagine that would then also be to imagine a planet where we all embody, live, and breathe the Overview Effect.

The mission of sending more citizen astronauts to space will not only amplify the Overview Effect throughout the world but also make possible the creation of a new world upon which the values of the Overview Effect are its foundation. The profound view of our one Earth can shift our beliefs away from the ones driving the inequalities and suffering in our flawed systems, and toward new paradigms that can transform our existing systems into ones that truly work for all.
As a closing to this series on how the Overview Effect is a catalyst for systems change, I invite you to imagine with us:
What would a world where the Overview Effect is widely embodied look like, from individuals to government leaders, whole institutions, and more? What could our societies of the future become if they were designed with our interconnectedness in mind? Importantly, how can we create a world which honors and celebrates the beauty of our complexity on this one awe-inspiring planet we share?

I would love to hear your ideas here. Let's amplify the Overview Perspective here on Earth together.

Footnotes
19 Meadows, D. (1999)Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. The Sustainability Institute.

20 Nicole Stott. Space for Humanity. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2022,

21 Ron Garan. Space for Humanity. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2022,

22 Bubna, V. (2020, October 27). Rachel Lyons: Shaping the future of humanity in space. Modern Diplomacy. Retrieved April 28, 2022
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