What space travel could do for the minds of the masses

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I recently read an article on dailygalaxy.com (“Space Euphoria: Do our brains change when we travel in outer space?”) that revealed a significant number of astronauts who have travelled into outer space have experienced what could be called a “spiritual awakening.”

According to the article, upon seeing the Earth from a distance, many astronauts undergo a profound cognitive shift. They experience the planet and everything on it as a single, interconnected whole. Their revelation even causes them to see the connection between the Earth and everything else in the universe. Some contend that this kind of shift in perception could only be otherwise experienced through a psychedelic hallucination or years spent meditating in a Buddhist monastery.

For most of us, it’s hard to even imagine what this feeling could be like. The vast majority of people won’t get to visit outer space; right now, it’s the domain of a privileged few, and that’s a shame. When I read that those astronauts had been affected so profoundly by their experience, it made me think that this kind of perspective shift shouldn’t be so exclusive. After all, where are we going? We’re constantly embroiled in violent conflict over territory and dwindling resources — what kind of a future do we have?

On somewhat of a side note, there has been concern (purely speculative at this point) that maybe it’s not wise for earthlings to make themselves known via the broadcasts we’re beaming out into space. The reasoning behind this is that since the rule of all life on Earth seems to be all about species fighting for domination over one another, that same rule might apply to any other living things in the universe. We wouldn’t want the Klingon Empire to know we’re here, would we? 

But if leaving one’s planet has had such a drastic cognitive effect on the few people who’ve experienced it, maybe it will change anyone else who tries it. Space travel is perhaps the next crucial step in any intelligent species’ evolution.

Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, now Quebec’s Scientific Representative to the U.S. and a co-chair of UVic’s 50th anniversary honorary cabinet, has said, “When you’re in orbit, you do not see the world in the normal North-South-East-West way that you do when you look at a map or an atlas. The Planet is our home, irrelevant of who we are, what we do for a living, where we were born, what language we speak, what colour we are. It doesn’t matter — we all share the same giant spaceship, and you cannot see the artificial boundaries that we have invented on Earth. From space, it is clear that we are all in this together.”

At some point, humanity is going to have to rise above its petty squabbles and materialism and strive towards a higher purpose. What grander purpose could there be than to explore space, find other worlds and deepen our understanding of the universe? Even though I can see the reasoning behind some people’s belief that we should “solve our problems at home” before putting too much emphasis on space travel, I think now more than ever we need to get out into space. Imagine if there were more space stations, or even a permanent moon base, and there was enough enthusiasm and capital to get a lot more people out into space. We definitely need more people, a lot more people, coming home to Earth enlightened.


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