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Science

Astronaut shares the profound 'big lie' he realized after seeing the Earth from space

This change in perspective could change humanity.

earth, overview effect, ron garan

Our home, from space.

Sixty-one years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to make it into space and probably the first to experience what scientists now call the "overview effect." This change occurs when people see the world from far above and notice that it’s a place where “borders are invisible, where racial, religious and economic strife are nowhere to be seen.”

The overview effect makes man’s squabbles with one another seem incredibly petty and presents the planet as it truly is, one interconnected organism.


In a compelling interview with Big Think, astronaut, author and humanitarian Ron Garan explains how if more of us developed this planetary perspective we could fix much of what ails humanity and the planet.

Garan has spent 178 days in space and traveled more than 71 million miles in 2,842 orbits. From high above, he realized that the planet is a lot more fragile than he thought.

“When I looked out the window of the International Space Station, I saw the paparazzi-like flashes of lightning storms, I saw dancing curtains of auroras that seemed so close it was as if we could reach out and touch them. And I saw the unbelievable thinness of our planet's atmosphere. In that moment, I was hit with the sobering realization that that paper-thin layer keeps every living thing on our planet alive,” Garan said in the video.

“I saw an iridescent biosphere teeming with life,” he continues. “I didn't see the economy. But since our human-made systems treat everything, including the very life-support systems of our planet, as the wholly owned subsidiary of the global economy, it's obvious from the vantage point of space that we're living a lie.”

It was at that moment he realized that humanity needs to reevaluate its priorities.

“We need to move from thinking economy, society, planet to planet, society, economy. That's when we're going to continue our evolutionary process,” he added.

Garan says that we are paying a very “high price” as a civilization for our inability to develop a more planetary perspective and that it’s a big reason why we’re failing to solve many of our problems. Even though our economic activity may improve quality of life on one end, it’s also disasterous for the planet that sustains our lives.

It’s like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Actor William Shatner had a similar experience to Garan's when he traveled into space.

"It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered," Shatner wrote. "The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna … things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind."

“We're not going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality,” Garan said.

However dire the situation looks from the surface of Earth, the astronaut has hope that we can collectively evolve in consciousness and wake up and embrace a larger reality. “And when we can evolve beyond a two-dimensional us versus them mindset, and embrace the true multi-dimensional reality of the universe that we live in, that's when we're going to no longer be floating in darkness … and it's a future that we would all want to be a part of. That's our true calling.”


This article originally appeared on 12.16.22

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Scientists tested 3 popular bottled water brands for nanoplastics using new tech, and yikes

The results were alarming—an average of 240,000 nanoplastics per 1 liter bottle—but what does it mean for our health?

Suzy Hazelwood/Canva

Columbia University researchers tested bottled water for nanoplastics and found hundreds of thousands of them.

Evian, Fiji, Voss, SmartWater, Aquafina, Dasani—it's impressive how many brands we have for something humans have been consuming for millennia. Despite years of studies showing that bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water, Americans are more consuming more bottled water than ever, to the tune of billions of dollars in bottled water sales.

People cite convenience and taste in addition to perceived safety for reasons they prefer bottle to tap, but the fear factor surrounding tap water is still a driving force. It doesn't help when emergencies like floods cause tap water contamination or when investigations reveal issues with lead pipes in some communities, but municipal water supplies are tested regularly, and in the vast majority of the U.S., you can safely grab a glass of water from a tap.

And now, a new study on nanoplastics found in three popular bottled water brands is throwing more data into the bottled vs. tap water choice.

Researchers from Columbia University used a new laser-guided technology to detect nanoplastics that had previously evaded detection due to their miniscule size. The new technology can detect, count and analyze and chemical structure of nanoparticles, and they found seven different major types of plastic: polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

In contrast to a 2018 study that found around 300 plastic particles in an average liter of bottled water, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January of 2024 found 240,000 nanoplastic particles per liter bottle on average between the three brands studied. (The name of the brands were not indicated in the study.)

As opposed to microplastics, nanoplastics are too small to be seen by microscope. Their size is exactly why experts are concerned about them, as they are small enough to invade human cells and potentially disrupt cellular processes.

“Micro and nanoplastics have been found in the human placenta at this point. They’ve been found in human lung tissues. They’ve been found in human feces; they’ve been found in human blood,” study coauthor Phoebe Stapleton, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy told CNN Health,

We know that nanoplastics are making their way into our bodies. We just don't have enough research yet on what that means for our health, and we still have more questions than answers. How many nanoplastics does it take to do damage and/or cause disease? What kinds of damage or disease might they cause? Is whatever effect they might have cumulative? We simply don't have answers to these questions yet.

That's not to say there's no cause for concern. We do know that certain levels of microplastic exposure have been shown to adversely affect the viability of cells. Nanoplastics are even smaller—does that mean they are more likely to cause cellular damage? Science is still working that out.

According to Dr. Sara Benedé of the Spanish National Research Council’s Institute of Food Science Research, it's not just the plastics themselves that might cause damage, but what they may bring along with them. “[Microparticles and nanoparticles] have the ability to bind all kinds of compounds when they come into contact with fluids, thus acting as carriers of all kinds of substances including environmental pollutants, toxins, antibiotics, or microorganisms,” Dr. Benedé told Medical News Today.

Where is this plastic in water coming from? This study focused on bottled water, which is almost always packaged in plastic. The filters used to filter the water before bottling are also frequently made from plastic.

Is it possible that some of these nanoplastics were already present in the water from their original sources? Again, research is always evolving on this front, but microplastics have been detected in lakes, streams and other freshwater sources, so it's not a big stretch to imagine that nanoplastics may be making their way into freshwater ecosystems as well. However, microplastics are found at much higher levels in bottled water than tap water, so it's also not a stretch to assume that most of the nanoplastics are likely coming from the bottling process and packaging rather than from freshwater sources.

The reality is, though, we simply don't know yet.

“Based on other studies we expected most of the microplastics in bottled water would come from leakage of the plastic bottle itself, which is typically made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic,” lead author Naixin Qian, a doctoral student in chemistry at Columbia University, told CNN Health. “However, we found there’s actually many diverse types of plastics in a bottle of water, and that different plastic types have different size distributions. The PET particles were larger, while others were down to 200 nanometers, which is much, much smaller.”

We need to drink water, and we need to drink safe water. At this point, we have plenty of environmental reasons for avoiding bottled water unless absolutely necessary and opting for tap water instead. Even if there's still more research to be done, the presence of hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics in bottled water might just be another reason to make the switch.

Image from YouTube video.

What is your biggest regret?

"Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh."

—Henry David Thoreau

No one escapes this world without a regret or two.

Time and time again, when we hear the final regrets of the dying, they're not about wishing they'd made money or worked more hours.

They're almost always about wishing they had the self-confidence to pursue their dreams or the time to stay in touch with loved ones.

community, culture, honesty, collaboration, art

Here are some thoughts on the subject.

Image from YouTube video.

Recently, A Plus in partnership with Strayer University's Ideal Year Initiative, put up a chalkboard on a New York City street and asked passersby to write down their biggest regrets. The people who wrote on the blackboard were from different walks of life, but their regrets were alarmingly similar.

Watch the full video below:

This article first appeared on 9.16.17

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