Saturday, April 16, 2011

Out of Body Experience - Commentary on NPR Science Friday Feature

"Scientists have used tricks of the brain to change how people see themselves, even getting research subjects to accept a third arm as a 'real' part of their bodies. Henrik Ehrsson, author of an article about the work in the journal PLoS One, discusses why" in National Public Radio's Science Friday.

Many have cited this research as evidence that the out-of-body experience is illusory. The illusion of seeing your own body from a distance is a nice virtual-reality trick and makes for an interesting study - but this is not a study on OBE. During OBE, the individual can actually feel as if they "project" from the body, with a number of sensations often associated to this "take off," and they actually feel like they are in a different body. They do not always look back at the physical body. If they did, it would not mimic the motions of the body they are currently perceiving, as it would be motionless and in a practically vegetative sleep state. Also, OBE's and NDE's have been documented in congenitally blind individuals and it typically takes place when the eyes are shut and the body is practically asleep, as aforementioned.

Clearly, Dr. Ehrsson's team is composed of highly competent and creative neuroscience researchers, but they do necessarily not know what is an out-of-body experience; it is not clear whether they have read the available scholarly and anecdotal literature describing the phenomenology. This is a good example of why scientists interested in this subject must have their own experiences. There are safe, reliable methods for inducing OBE's on a periodic basis, enabling ground-breaking research.

Even when you figure electromagnetic or other induction of OBE experiences (assuming it even is an OBE which involves a whole complex of phenomenology), it does not prove that the OBE is an illusory experience; else sight and other senses would be said to be illusory and without any objective basis as well. On the other hand, there are interesting studies suggesting consciousness can operate and make observations at a distance or when the brain is virtually inactive, during OBE's, Near-Death Experiences, or remote viewing. Despite a number of successful studies, this is not proven "beyond a shadow of a doubt" and it is not widely accepted -- but enough data is out there to warrant open-minded investigation.

In a related study led by University of Kentucky's Kevin Nelson, sleep paralysis was found to be correlated to out-of-body experience - a finding that comes as no surprise to the OBE practioner and previously identified in a research survey by Nanci Trivellato, MSc and Wagner Alegretti of International Academy of Consciousness. Correlation, however, is not causation. Not every OBE is associated with sleep paralysis. Not every sleep paralysis episode results in an OBE. Sleep paralysis does occur some times when an individual has a spontaneous or will-induced OBE. Even when an OBE is triggered by physical stimulus, it does not invalidate the OBE as a multidimensional or extraphysical phenomenon. Once again, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. Have your own experiences! IAC's award-winning training, such as the Consciousness Development Program, is available around the world.


Nelson Abreu, B.S. Electrical Engineering, is a scholar at International Academy of Consciousness - Florida Educational Center and contributing author of Filters & Reflections: Perspectives on Reality (ICRL Press 2009).