Trying to understand the cosmos –– and humanity's place in it –– can be life-altering. A number of astronauts have stated that they returned to Earth with a different viewpoint on human existence. Some report this comes from the lofty view; others say it results from feeling the fragility of life so close to the infinite void of the universe just outside their spacecraft. Author Frank White dubbed this beyond-the-planet perspective the "overview effect."
But traveling to space may not be the only way to achieve a state of higher consciousness, according to Grammy-nominated musician Grace Potter, a self-avowed science and space enthusiast. Potter recently told Space.com that she experiences "a sense of universality" while performing with her band on some of the world's largest stages. [Grace Potters' 3 Phases to Cosmic Enlightenment | Video]
Potter, a singer-songwriter who plays keyboards and guitar, has fronted her band The Nocturnals since 2002. The group has stacked up an impressive flight list of powerful indie rock songs. Potter has also recorded and performed with others, notably The Rolling Stones, Kenny Chesney and Gov't Mule. Her latest album, "Midnight" is a solo project, which fires its thrusters in a decidedly pop direction.
Potter is touring a number of large East Coast venues through December 2015. The tour art and design reference quantum theory and astrophysics.
Potter believes that she keenly feels the combined enthusiasm in a room filled with people focusing on a musical performance as an energy source. "It's beyond what one person can do," she said, adding that it takes "the audience, the band members, the sound system and the technology and production to make it sound beautiful."
Taking it to an existential level, Potter said, "It all leads back to the heartbeat of us as humans, trying to make sense of this crazy life that we are trying to grind through." Smiling, she added, "and sometimes trying to float through." [Rocker Grace Potter Mixes Space, Science and Music on Instagram (Video)]
Eyes to the skies
White — author of "The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution" (AIAA, 1987) — postulates that those who "have participated imaginatively in the great adventures [of space travelers] are also affected psychologically."
Similarly, Potter speaks of the quickening pace of scientific discovery and, more specifically, the imagery now being delivered by the confluence of telescopes and computers.
"Humans don't believe things until we can see them; that's why these visuals are phenomenal," she said, referring to Hubble Space Telescope imagery. "It is making everyone step back, take a breath and say, 'We are really getting somewhere now.'"
Potter noted that such visual conformations of the cosmos are "constant and beautiful reminders of just how lucky we are to live on this planet, where it's not just livable, [but] it's ideal, in this moment in time."
Significance vs. insignificance
As White was crafting his book, several astronauts spoke with him about "perceptions of themselves, their world and their future being profoundly affected" by space travel. Potter seems to echo their sentiments as she speaks of the duality of humanity's existence.
"We are all just the tip of a pinprick of the millions of things that had to happen in order for us to be here," she said. "It really does create a sense of significance and insignificance all at once."
She likens this powerful shift of perspective to that which drives her chosen profession, saying, "It is really what music is all about."
While simply listening to music may never be as empowering as looking at our planet from orbit or the moon, Potter hopes she can produce a lasting, perspective-shifting altered state of consciousness for her listeners — one they can experience with their boots firmly planted on the ground.
Follow Steve Spaleta and Dave Brody on Twitter: @SteveSpaleta and @DavidSkyBrody. Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Space.com.