Competing Visions (4)

January 13, 2017 at 5:51 am by Frank White

I was very involved in the Space Studies Institute (SSI) and my work with the space settlement movement led directly to the discovery of the Overview Effect.

The great benefit of SSI was that they wanted input from everybody, not just scientists and engineers. O'Neill envisioned a space settlement as a community of human beings who would do everything that people on Earth did, including writing poetry and novels, and debating political and economic issues.

After trying unsuccessfully for years to find a way into space exploration with a degree in the social sciences, I found that SSI welcomed me and was interested in my "human systems theory" about space settlement. I delivered my first major paper on space exploration and development at the SSI conference in 1981. It was called "Understanding Space Settlements as Human Systems," and it was well received.

At some point in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I took the plane flight that changed my life. I was pretty much obsessed with space settlements at this point, and as the plane flew west from Boston, I was thinking about what it would be like to always live off the Earth. At the same time, I was staring out the window and noticing how seamless everything appeared to be. There were no borders and boundaries between the states, like the maps to which we have grown so accustomed. Everything appeared to be seamless and whole.

I had other insights that are described in my book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution. The key for our purposes here is that I realized the following: "Everyone living in an O'Neill space settlement will always have an overview of the Earth. They will always know that the planet is unified and is a whole system. They will take for granted insights that we have struggled to attain for centuries."

At that moment, I called this experience "the Overview Effect" and set out to determine if it offered a valid hypothesis about the future of space exploration and development.

(To be continued)

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and