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William Shatner is probably the most famous astronaut in the world. But of course, he’s not an astronaut. He is an actor. The 91-year-old Canadian has been an icon since playing Captain Kirk in the original star trek series, which debuted in 1966.
But Captain Kirk, uh, William Shatner, did going to space – last year, aboard a capsule piloted by Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin. Shatner details his experiences in his new memoir go boldly.
“I was crying,” Shatner told NPR. “I didn’t know why I was crying. I had to go somewhere and sit and think, what’s happening to me? And I realized I was grieving.”
Although he’s not sure what to expect, Shatner didn’t predict this. He had delighted in space travel and had thought about it for almost 60 years, but did not think he would be overwhelmed with sadness or go through “the strongest feelings of grief” he had. never felt. .
There’s a name for what Shatner felt: it’s called the “big picture effect.” The term was coined by space philosopher Frank White in his 1987 book of the same name.
“The bird’s-eye view effect is a cognitive and emotional shift in a person’s awareness, consciousness, and identity when viewing the Earth from space,” White told NPR. “They are remote and they see the Earth…in the context of the universe.”
This context was what struck Shatner the most.
“It was the death I saw in space and the life force I saw coming from the planet – the blue, the beige and the white,” he said. “And I realized one was death and the other was life.”
According to White, anyone who travels through space experiences a “big picture effect” – an emotional or mental reaction strong enough to disrupt that person’s prior assumptions about humanity, Earth, and/or the cosmos. Everyone’s overview effect is unique to them, but there are reactions that are more common than others.
White has interviewed more than 40 astronauts and says Shatner’s response is typical. “People often cry when they see Earth from space for the first time,” he said.
“I cried for the Earth because I realized it was dying,” Shatner said. “I signed my book, go boldlyto my great-grandson, who is now three years old – soon to be three – and in the dedication, say that it is they, these young people, who will reap what we have sown in terms of the destruction of the Earth.”
Astronauts often return with a greater distaste for war
After traveling in space, astronauts better understand how precious and delicate the Earth is. Many astronauts report that they were aware of climate change and global warming, but became much more sensitive to the subject after traveling in space.
White said an astronaut told him the biggest lesson they learned from space travel was “the difference between intellectual knowledge and experiential knowledge.”
“I saw more clearly than I, with all the studying and reading I’ve done, the slow, choppy death of the Earth and us on it,” Shatner said.
“It’s a very small pebble with an air of onion skin around it. That’s how everything is fragile. It’s so fragile. We’re hanging by a thread… we’re just hanging .”
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Although we’re just hanging out, Shatner adds that we hang out together.
“We are entangled with each other,” he said, decrying the conflicts between human beings. “We have a war…the stupidity of it all is so obvious.”
Like Shatner, astronauts often return from space more convinced of the interdependence of humanity. According to White, space travelers return to our planet with “a greater distaste for war and violence, and a desire to do something to improve life on the surface, for they have seen the truth of our plight. “.
And while the truth may not be pretty, a more universal perspective can only help reconnect our long-disconnected species. White says astronauts are returning more eager than ever to be part of the solution, so that humanity can, one day, live long and prosper.