In my book Future Minds I wrote about how physical spaces can impact our thinking. I used examples ranging from ancient cathedrals to mountains, but the one I like best is about the Earth as seen from the moon. Here’s part of the passage from my book.
In 1968, William Anders, Frank Borman and James Lovell spent three days travelling to the moon and were the first humans in history to glimpse its dark side. On the fourth lunar orbit, on Christmas Eve, the crew of Apollo 8 saw something else that had never been seen before. It was an Earthrise. A fragile blue planet rising optimistically above an inhospitable lunar landscape.
Instinctively recognising that this was a significant event, William Anders grabbed a camera and took some photographs. These pictures effectively started the environmental movement back on Earth in the early 1970s and prove, to me at least, that external stimuli can influence our thinking and that attitudes and behaviours that we assume are fixed can be influenced by what is around us.
This view of the Earth has now been experienced many times by astronauts but its effect is undiminished. In fact there is a now condition called the overview effect that refers to the state of heightened consciousness that astronauts experience when they look back at the Earth from a great distance away. Out in space there is a lot of space and this can change your mind.
So what? Well for one thing the image we associate with this event is incorrect. The image that we all know and love and is currently a page on Wikipedia is a fake. The astronauts never saw this. What they actually saw was this…
Huh? The explanation for this has to do with how our brains deceive us. Our brains like things they’ve seen before. The term ‘cognitive bias’ partly describes this. Once we have formed a view about something, or have an idea in our head, our brains work subconsciously to find evidence to support this view or idea.
Moreover, our brains work subconsciously to filter out any idea, view or data that undermines or contradicts this too. So in the case of the Earthrise, our brains are conditioned to accept sunrises and moonrises that are vertical – that broadly go up and down. We can’t quite cope with a situation where it’s horizontal or right to left. So consciously or subsciouinessly we have edited the image of the Earth rising above the moon so that it more readily reflects our view of ‘reality’
Interesting, don’t you think?