The people of planet Earth would be wise to raise their cosmic consciousness prior to contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, a new study shows.

“The scientific community now accepts to some degree that this contact may occur in the next 50 to 100 years,” writes Gabriel De la Torre, a clinical neuropsychologist and human factors specialist at the University of Cádiz in Spain.

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“Consequently, we are becoming more concerned about this possibility and its aftermath … Certainly the topic of contact with extraterrestrial civilizations raises a number of questions that are not easy to answer,” De la Torre writes. “We estimate that this type of event will have not only a social effect, but also on both consciousness and biology as well.”

De la Torre surveyed 116 college students from Spain, the United States and Italy about their religious beliefs, familiarity with astronomy and the Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence, or SETI, programs,  and other factors including attention and perception.

The results showed several aspects affect awareness of space.

De la Torre points out that more than 100 years ago Canadian psychiatrist Richard Bucke described “cosmic consciousness” as “a new evolution step beyond self-consciousness.”

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“According to Bucke, by virtue of self-consciousness, man is not only conscious of trees, rocks, bodies of water, and his own limbs and body, but he also becomes conscious of himself as a distinct entity apart from all the rest of the universe.

“Further, by means of self-consciousness, man becomes capable of treating his own mental states as objects of consciousness. The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is, as its name implies, a consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe,” De la Torre writes in a study published in the journal Acta Astronautica.

“A certain level of achievement of cosmic consciousness is needed for successful contact, in our opinion. We do not understand cosmic consciousness as a special mystic-state achievement, but as a conscious perception of reality”  beyond the effects of fear, religion, denial, etc., he writes.

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“Some individuals, small groups of people or scientists, may actually possess the required level of awareness to be involved in an event such as contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, but we need to further analyze the current global awareness level as a species.”

But how would we accomplish that?

“I would say we need more education,” De la Torre wrote in an email to Discovery News.

“Do you know of the ‘overview effect’ many astronauts have talked about?,” he asked, referring to the reported shift of perception astronauts and cosmonauts have experienced as a result of orbiting Earth.

Author Frank White coined the term in his 1987 book, “The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution,” which was based on interviews and writings of 29 astronauts and cosmonauts.

“I think we need something similar but here on Earth,” De la Torre said. “But maybe we still have old problems we need to solve.”