Jeff Bezos Faces Down “The Overview Effect” In Space

Space travel famously makes astronauts feel bonded with humanity. But I’m not sure it works on billionaires

Jeff Bezos, by Daniel Oberhaus, 2019
“The Earth’s limb”, by NASA

I guess you would call [it] a feeling of brotherhood … You looked down and you could see how incredibly thin the Earth’s atmosphere wis and realize that if we pollute it, we all breathe it in, and if we are so dumb as to start a thermonuclear war, we all go together; there is no lifeboat, and everybody is in it together.

You look back “home” and say to yourself, “That’s humanity, love, feeling, and thought.” You don’t see the barriers of color and religion and politics that divide this world. You wonder, if you could get everyone in the world up there, wouldn’t they have a different feeling — a new perspective?

… a feeling of universality, or the commonality of human beings … I came back with a real interest in people, a humanist or behaviorist attitude, you might say.

Any person who has been in space values his own place on Earth in a new way. He begins to think more, and his thoughts become broader and his spirit kinder.

“Astronaut Scott Kelly in the cupola”, NASA
A space-station drawing by Rick Guidice for NASA from the 1970s

You think about what you’re experiencing and why. Do you deserve this, this fantastic experience? Have you earned this in some way? Are you separated out to be touched by God, to have some special experience that others cannot have?

You know that the answer to that is no. There’s nothing that you’ve done that deserves that, and earned that; it’s not a special thing for you … You look down and see the surface of the globe that you’ve lived on all this time, and you know all those people down there and they are like you, they are you — and somehow you represent them.



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Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.