The Overview Effect and Language

November 28, 2011 at 4:11 am by Frank White

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that our language may be the biggest barrier to our understanding of who we are and where we are in the universe. In my most recent blog, I posited the idea that we see "space" as distant and unfamiliar when it is actually closer to us than places we routinely visit on Earth. In that blog, I suggested we use the term "Earthspace" for the region controlled by the Earth's gravity, "moonspace" for the region controlled by lunar gravity, and so on throughout the solar system. Using this nomenclature would be more descriptive than to call all of it "space."

Looking back, I think we could say that coining the term "The Overview Effect" was, in fact, an effort to create new language to describe the spaceflight experience. I think we could also say that it has been an effective way to give that experience a different context.

In reality, we are on a natural spaceship that is in motion around the sun, which is in motion around the galactic center. We know this intellectually, but our senses, and our language, tell us otherwise. Thus, we continue to speak of "sunrise" and "sunset." We know that the sun is not rising or setting, but rather that the Earth is rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun and this changes how we see the sun on a daily basis. But we still use the older terminology because it is familiar and is also consistent with what our senses tell us.

"Days" and "years" are not necessarily inaccurate terms, but they also are not descriptive of reality. What if we called a "day" a "rota" and a year a "rev?" So there would be 365 rotas in one rev. Instead of saying that an astronaut had spent 14 days in space, we would say he/she had spent 14 rotas in Earthspace.

Similarly, we talk about "going into space" when we are already in space, always have been in space, and always will be in space. It would be more accurate to talk about "evolving into the universe."

Some of these new words may not work. They may be too awkward to use effectively or to gain wide acceptance. However, I think the effort to invent a new spacefarers' language makes sense and I will continue to work on it in future blogs.