Space, Science & Spirituality

Project Summary

Space, Science, and Spirituality is a two-year research project funded by The John Templeton Foundation involving collaboration among researchers from the ACTIVE Lab and the E2i Creative Studio/Media Convergence Lab at the Institute for Simulation & Training and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Central Florida, the Research Group on Bildakt and Embodiment at the Humboldt University (Berlin) and the Philosophy Department at the University of Memphis.

This project brings together a research team of scientists, philosophers, and scholars in the humanities to investigate, both theoretically and empirically, the effects of outer space travel on the inner space of experience. The project focuses on experiences of awe, wonder, curiosity and humility during space flight as reported by astronauts. We take our working conceptions of awe and wonder directly from an initial survey of these reports.

  • Awe: a direct and initial feeling when faced with something incomprehensible or sublime
  • Wonder: a more reflective feeling one has when unable to put things back into a familiar conceptual framework

Awe motivates wonder, and wonder has the potential to change one’s life. Our aim is to scientifically explore the connection between these experiences and being in the space environment, and to discover precisely what bodily and environmental conditions occasion such experiences.

The project investigates the nature of particular kinds of experience (classified as aesthetic, spiritual, or religious) reported by astronauts during space flight. We use a variety of methods, including empirical methods of psychology, neuroscience and simulation science, as well as phenomenology, hermeneutics, art history and image analysis. We will be using a simulated environment, the Virtual Space Lab (VSL) as an experimental test bed to investigate whether a simulated environment can produce experiences similar to those described by astronauts in space flight.

Our research involves:

  1. a hermeneutical and syntactical analysis of experiential reports by astronauts
  2. an art historical image analysis
  3. a comparative phenomenology of the various kinds of experiences had by astronauts in space and subjects in the VSL
  4. the embodied physiology and neurophysiology of these experiences
  5. the precise characteristics of the environments that occasion such experiences
  6. an account of how these factors are interrelated