Reflections on Rereading The Overview Effect, Part 1

Written by Alex Howerton on Monday, 11 June 2012. Posted in Overview Effect

Some events seem to change the world instantaneously, like the very first small, beeping satellite soaring overhead, or a wall that has divided a country for decades being torn down overnight. Yet in most cases, these events are the fruition of ideas that have incubated in our collective consciousness for years, even decades. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are dramatic events, but are ultimately the end product of slow, even imperceptible movement in the underlying plate tectonics. In the end, it is the gradual, inevitable build-up of tensions that finally releases vast, unstoppable power and transformation of the environment.

One such idea is the Overview Effect. It has been 25 years now since Frank White wrote this brilliant, insightful work, looking into our immediate future as well as scanning far more distant horizons. While this idea ultimately has the power to permanently and positively change our collective worldview, it is currently little known amongst the general populace, even a quarter-century later.

I am envious of Frank’s patience and even temperament. If I had written this book, I would yell to anybody who would listen, "Can’t you see how brilliant I am? Why don’t you pay attention?"  But not Frank. I have been working closely with him and others to launch the Overview Institute, and I am continually amazed at Frank’s calm demeanor and laid-back approach. It is as if he is confident in the inevitability of the coming paradigm shift, and he is under no pressure to hurry it along faster than its natural rate. He seems to view it as being like a glacier, which will eventually, dramatically, sweep before it everything in its path.

I believe Frank can adopt this attitude because he knows he’s right. Not right, as in "Ha ha, I’m right, you’re wrong," but right as in, "This is the natural course of things. This is as it should be." Because he knows the advancement of humanity into the cosmos is a multi-generational affair, and he is playing his significant yet tiny part in pushing the paradigm forward. He knows that all he has envisioned, in broad outline, will come to pass.

Which brings up a complementary idea to the Overview Effect in space. That is the Overview Effect in time. We are on a journey that began countless eons ago, and we do not stand at the pinnacle of human development, but are wayfarers, stewards, along the way. Human culture exhibited its first unmistakable flowering in the Aurignacian period, 40,000 years ago. If we imagine ourselves standing at the midpoint of a human journey that will extend at least 40,000 years into the future, it is staggering to try to conceive what can be achieved in that timeframe.

In that sense, we are one of the most fortunate generations, standing at the fulcrum of time, just before we ascend into the heavens in earnest. And I don’t mean that only in general, but very specifically -- now is the fulcrum. Recently SpaceX successfully launched the first private resupply mission to the International Space Station. That is the beginning of the true, unstoppable journey outward.

So now is the perfect time to re-read The Overview Effect. In following posts, I will share my reflections on specific themes and ideas found in the book, as they relate to our current conditions, 25 years after its initial publication, and as they also relate to the Overview Effect as it unfolds in time. The journey is just now, continually, and always, beginning.

About the Author

Alex Howerton is a Business Development Consultant with American Aerospace Advisors Inc. Alex has been researching the commercial space industry for over 16 years. He started publishing "Space Available: The Space Investors’ Report" in 1992, and was its publisher, editor and principal author until 1995, when it was acquired by Countdown Magazine.

Alex has written two books on space development. Free Space: Real Alternatives for Reaching Outer Space (Loompanics, 1995) is an assessment of the then current private space initiatives. Project Avalon (Space Available Press, 1998) is a science fiction novel exploring the ramifications of private space development and the potential consequences to society of not moving swiftly enough to create a space-faring civilization. He was formerly a Business Development Manager of Space Training at NASTAR Center.

Comments (1)

  • Frank White

    Frank White

    21 July 2012 at 11:15 |

    Fascinating. It is very interesting to see your thoughts on the book, 25 years after it was published, I also find the Overview Effect of time to be an idea with great potential.

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