Out of Body

 


OBE - Out Of Body Experience 4

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What is the physiology of OBEs?

Clearly there are similarities between OBEs and dreams. In both we experience a world in which imagination plays a great part and we can perform feats not possible in everyday life. But the OBE differs in many important and obvious ways from what we have called an ordinary dream. For a start, it usually occurs when the subject is awake, or at least if drowsy or drugged, not sleeping. Second, the imagery and activities of an OBE are usually much less bizarre and more coherent than those of an ordinary dream, and most often the scenery is something from the normal environment rather than the peculiar setting of dreams. Third, OBEers are often adamant that their experience was nothing like a dream. Finally, there is the great difference in the state of consciousness. Ordinary dreams are characterized by very cloudly consciousness at best, and are only recognized as dreams on waking up.

But these differences are not enough. You may argue that in a lucid dream both the imagery and the state of consciousness are much more like those in an OBE. So perhaps the OBE is a kind of lucid dream occurring in the midst of waking life. One way to find out might be to determine the physiological state in which the OBE takes place. Such a finding can only be made by means of laboratory experiment; but first we need to catch an OBE in the laboratory.

Observing an OBE in the laboratory setting is not easy. Most people who have an OBE have only one, or at most few, in a lifetime. Capturing an OBE requires a special kind of subject, one who is both able to induce an OBE at will, and willing to be subjected to the stress of being tested. Fortunately there are such subjects.

One of the first to be tested was a young girl called Miss Z., by Charles Tart who studied her OBEs [Tar68]. Her OBEs all occurred at night. She used to wake up in the night and find herself floating near the ceiling. With Miss Z. as subject Tart initially wanted to test two aspects of the OBE: first, whether ESP could occur during an OBE, and second what physiological state was associated with the experience. Altogether, Miss Z. spent four non-consecutive nights sleeping at the lab.

During her first night Miss Z. had no OBEs. During the second night she woke twice and reported that she had been floating above her body. During the first experience Miss Z. had not yet fallen asleep when the OBE occurred, and the EEG showed a drowsy waking pattern followed by waking when she told Tart about the experience. All the time the heart rate had been steady and there were no REMs. Then at 3.15 a.m. Miss Z. woke up and called out 'write down 3.13.' Apparently she had left her body and lifted up high enough to see the clock on the wall. At that time the EEG showed various patterns but predominantly theta and alphoid activity. There were few sleep spindles (a feature of the EEG pattern in certain stages of sleep), no REMs, no GSRs (galvanic skin response) and a steady heartbeat.

On the third night Miss Z. had a dramatic OBE. She seemed to be flying, and found herself at her home in Southern California, with her sister. Her sister got up from the rocking chair where she had been sitting and the two of them communicated without speaking. After a while they both walked into the bedroom and saw the sister's body lying in bed asleep. Almost as soon as she realized that it was time to go, the OBE was over and Miss Z. found herself back in the laboratory. Tart was not able to contact the sister to check whether she had been aware of the visit, but the physiological record showed that there was mostly alphoid activity with no REMs and only a couple of minutes of Stage 1, dreaming sleep, with REMs.

The last night was in some ways the most exciting, for on that occasion the subject was able to see an ESP target provided; but the EEG record was obscured by a lot of interference. Tart described it as somewhat like Stage 1 with REMs, but he added that he could not be sure whether it was a Stage1 or a waking pattern.

Amongst all these confusing and changeable patterns, some certainty does emerge. In general the EEG showed a pattern most like poorly developed Stage 1 mixed with brief periods of wakefulness. For this subject at least OBEs do not occur in the same state as dreaming. Tart would have liked to have continued working with Miss Z. but this proved impossible as she had to return to Southern California.

However, Tart [Tar67] was able to work with another subject, Robert Monroe, well known from his books. Monroe was monitored for nine sessions with EEG and other devices. In this environment Monroe had difficulty inducing an OBE. Electrodes were clipped to his ear, and he found them very uncomfortable. During all the time that he was trying to have an OBE his EEG showed a strange mixture of patterns. There was unusually varied alpha rhythm, variable sleep spindles, and high voltage theta waves. On the whole Tart concluded that Monroe was in Stages 1 and 2 and was relaxed and drowsy, falling in and out of sleep. His sleep pattern was quite normal and he had normal dream periods and sleep cycle.

During the penultimate session Monroe managed to have an OBE. Tart concluded that Monroe's OBEs occurred in the dreaming state; but this idea presented him with a problem. Monroe claims that for him, dreaming and OBEs are entirely different. Tart finally concluded that perhaps the OBEs were a mixture of dreams and 'something else.' This 'something else' might, he thought, be ESP.

One of the next subjects to be tested in this way was Ingo Swann. In several experiments at the ASPR [OM77] Swann was attached to the EEG equipment while he sat in a darkened room and tried to exteriorise, in his own time, and to travel to a distant room where ESP targets were set up. He did not fall asleep and was thus able to make comments about how he was getting on. After some months of this type of experiment Swann suggested that he might be able to leave his body on command and so he was arranged to receive an audible signal to tell him when to go, and when to return. Apparently he succeeded in this effort, which meant that OBE and other times could easily be determined and compared.

During the OBE periods, the EEG was markedly flattened and there were frequency changes, with a decrease in alpha and increase in beta activity. While these changes took place, the heart rate stayed normal. These findings are rather different from those with previous subjects in that Swann seemed to be more alert during his OBEs. Perhaps this just confirms what was learned from case studies, that the OBE can occur in a variety of states. But perhaps most important is that in no case so far did there seem to be a discrete state in which the OBE took place. There were no sudden changes in either EEG or autonomic functions to mark the beginning or end of the OBE. Any changes were gradual; unlike dreaming, the OBE does not seem to be associated with a discrete physiological state.

The one other subject who has taken part in a large number of OBE experiments is Keith ('Blue') Harary. The experiments in which his physiological state was measured were carried out at the Physical Research Foundation [Mor73, HJH74, JHHLM74, MHJHR78]. The findings were different again from those of previous studies. Here there were no changes in EEG. The amount and frequency of alpha were the same in OBE and 'cool down' periods and there were only slightly fewer eye movements in the OBE phases. These measurements alone show that Harary was awake and that his OBEs did not occur in a sleeping, dreaming or borderline state.

Other measures did show a change. Skin potential fell, indicating greater relaxation, and it was this measure which provided the best indicator that an OBE had begun. Both heart rate and respiration increased. These changes are surprising because they imply a greater degree of arousal; the opposite of the finding from skin potential. So in some ways Harary was more relaxed, but he was also more alert.

Great differences between subjects tend to obscure any clear pattern in the states, but in all this confusion it is clear that the start of an OBE does not coincide with any abrupt physiological change. There is no discrete OBE state. The OBE does not, at least for these subjects, and under these conditions, occur in a state resembling dreaming. The subjects were relaxed, and even drowsy or lightly asleep, but they were not dreaming when they had their OBEs.

What are near-death experiences and are they some kind of OBEs?

Much publicity has recently been given to research on near-death experiences (NDEs), experiences of those who survive a close encounter with death. More people now survive close brushes with death. The near-death experience has been defined as the 'experiential counterpart of the physiological transition to biological death' [Sab82]: it is the record of conscious experience from the inside rather than the outside, from the point of view of the subject rather the spectator.

Raymond Moody [Moo75, 77] interviewed many people who had been resuscitated after having had accidents and he then put together an idealized version of a typical near-death experience. He emphasized that no one person described the whole of this experience, but each feature was found in many of the stories. Here is his description:

A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himself outside of his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval.

After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a 'body,' but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before -- a being of light -- appears before him. This being asks him a question, non-verbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return. He is overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love, and peace. Despite his attitude, though, he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives.

Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so. In the first place, he can find no human words adequate to describe these unearthly episodes. He also finds that others scoff, so he stops telling other people. Still, the experience affects his life profoundly especially his views about death and its relationship to life.

The parallel between this kind of account and many OBEs is clear. There is the tunnel traveled through as well as the experiences of seeing one's own body from outside and seeming to have some other kind of body, and the ineffability is familiar. One is tempted to conclude that in death a typical OBE, or astral projection, occurs, and is followed by a transition to another world, with the aid of people who have already made the crossing, and that of higher beings in whose plane one is going to lead the next phase of existence. Although Moody's work gave a good idea of what dying could be like for some people, it did not begin to answer questions such as how common this type of experience is.

After Moody there have been studies by cardiologists Rawlings and Sabom. The most detailed research has been carried out by Kenneth Ring, a psychologist from Connecticut [Rin79, 80]. From hospitals there he obtained the names of people who had come close to death, or who had been resuscitated from clinical death. Almost half of his sample (48%) reported experiences which were, at least in part, similar to Moody's description. Of Ring's subjects, 95 per cent of those asked stated that the experience was not like a dream (the same result appears in Sabom): they stressed that it was too real, being more vivid and more realistic; however some aspects were hard to express, as the experience did not resemble anything that had happened to them before.

One of Ring's most interesting findings concerned the stages of the experience. He showed that the earlier stages also tended to be reported more frequently. The first stage, peace, was experienced by 60% of his sample, some of whom did not reach any further stages. The next stage, of most interest to us here, was that of 'body separation,' in other words, the OBE. Thirty-seven per cent of Ring's sample reached this stage and what they reported sounds very similar to descriptions of OBEs. Not all the 'body separations' were distinct. Many of Ring's respondents simply described a feeling of being separate or detached from everything that was happening.

Ring tried to find out about two specific aspects of these OBEs. First he asked whether they had another body. The answer seemed to be 'no': most were unaware of any other body and answered that they were something like 'mind only.' There was a similar lack of descriptions of the 'silver cord.' We can see that an OBE of sorts forms an important stage in the near-death experience.

After the OBE stage comes 'entering the darkness' experienced by nearly a quarter of Ring's subjects. It was described as 'a journey into a black vastness without shape or dimension,' as 'a void, a nothing' and as 'very peaceful blackness.'

For fifteen per cent the next stage was reached, 'seeing the light.' The light was sometimes at the end of the tunnel, sometimes glimpsed in the distance but usually it was golden and bright without hurting the eyes. Sometimes the light was associated with a presence of some kind, or a voice telling the person to go back.

Finally there were ten per cent experiencers who seemed to 'enter the light' and pass into or just glimpse another world. This was described as a world of great beauty, with glorious colors, with meadows of golden grass, birds singing, or beautiful music. It was at this stage that people were greeted by deceased relatives, and it was from this world that they did not want to come back.

A completely different kind of analysis was applied by Noyes and Kletti [Noy72, NK76] to accounts collected from victims of falls, drownings, accidents, serious illnesses, and other life-threatening situations. They emphasized such features as altered time perception and attention, feelings of unreality and loss of emotions, and the sense of detachment. They found that these features occurred more often in people who thought they were about to die than in those who did not. This fitted their interpretation of the experiences as a form of depersonalization (i.e., the loss of the sense of personal identity or the sensation of being without material existence) in the face of a threat to life; that is as a way of escaping or becoming dissociated from the imminent death of the physical body.

Two other aspects have yet to be dealt with. First, there is the absence of any trips to 'hell.' Neither Moody nor Ring obtained any accounts of hellish experiences. However, cardiologist Maurice Rawlings [Raw78] has suggested that the reason for there being no such reports is that although patients may recall such hellish experiences immediately afterwards, they tend to forget them with time. In other words, their memories protect them from recalling the unpleasant aspects. According to Rawlings it is only because they have been interviewed too long after the brush with death that all the experiences are reported as pleasant. It does seem to be the 'good' side of experiences which makes the greater impact.

Another feature which needs mention is the 'life review.' It has often been found that a person close to death may seem to see scenes of his past life pass before him as though on a screen, or in pictures. Ring found that about a quarter of his core-experiencers reported a life review, and that it was more common in accident victims than others.

The general effects of undergoing an NDE are of two kinds: philosophical and ethical. The main philosophical changes are in attitudes towards death and afterlife. Sabom's figures are extremely interesting in this respect: he asked those who had and those had not had an NDE when unconscious whether there was any change in their views of death and the afterlife. Of the 45 who had not had any conscious experience, 39 were just as afraid of death as before, 5 more afraid and 1 less afraid; while of the 61 with an NDE none were more afraid, 11 just as afraid and 50 less afraid. The patterns were similar concerning belief in an afterlife: of the non- experiencers, none had any change of attitude; while of the experiencers, 14 found their attitude unchanged and 47 stated that their belief in the afterlife had increased [Sab82]. Ring found a correlation between loss of fear of death and what he called the core experience, broadly that with a positive transcendental element in it. Moody comments that there is remarkable agreement about the 'lessons' brought back from NDEs: 'Almost everyone has stressed the importance in this life of trying to cultivate love for others, a love of a unique and profound kind' [Moo75]. And he adds that a second characteristic is a realization of the importance of seeking knowledge, of not confining one's horizon to the material.

A number of reductionist physiological explanations have been advanced to account for NDEs: the two most common are 'cerebral anoxia' and 'depersonalization'. Cerebral anoxia accounts for the experience by saying that it is a hallucination due to an oxygen shortage in the brain. We have seen that such 'hallucinations' frequently turn out to correspond to the physical events actually occurring -- can the NDE therefore be labelled a hallucination? Perhaps it can, but certainly not as a delusion. Ring and Moody both point out that patterns of experiences are no different when there is clearly no shortage of oxygen. Noyes starts by pointing out that none of the subjects can really have been dead if they were resuscitated, so that their reported experiences cannot be taken as 'proof' of survival of consciousness. Moody never actually states such a position, but rather confines himself to asserting that the experiences have a suggestive value; even if for the subjects themselves the experience is proof.

The common factor underlying all the physiological explanations of the NDE is the attempt to avoid the prima facie interpretation of the experience as an OBE. Sabom concludes that this hypothesis is the best fit with the data, while Ring concludes that 'there is abundant empirical evidence pointing to the reality of out-of-body experiences; that such experiences conform to the descriptions given by our near-death experiencers; and that there is highly suggestive evidence that death involves the separation of a second body -- a double -- from the physical body' [Rin80].

Just as many different interpretations have been presented for all aspects of the near-death experience. The most important of them have been usefully summarised by Grosso [Gro81]. Most people seem to agree that the near-death experience presents remarkable consistency varying little across differences in culture, religion, and cause of the crisis; what is in dispute is why there should be such a consistency. Rawlings steeps all his findings in the language of Christianity, involving heaven and hell and the possibility of being saved. Noyes interprets NDEs in terms of depersonalization; Siegel in terms of hallucinations, and Ring, within a parapsychological-holographic model. But broadly speaking there are two camps. On the other side are those who see the near-death experience as a sure signpost towards another world and a life after death; on the other, those who have, in various different ways, interpreted the experience as part of life, not death, and as telling us nothing whatsoever about a 'life after life.'

Is the OBE some kind of mental illness?

If the OBE is to be seen as involving psychological processes, rather than paranormal ones, we need to look at what those processes could be. Let us begin with a psychiatric approach and ask whether the OBE, or anything like it, is found in any mental illness.

Noyes and Kletti likened near-death experiences to the phenomenon of depersonalization. Related to depersonalization is derealization, in which the surroundings and environment begin to seem unreal and the sufferer seems to be cut off from reality. Depersonalization is the more common of the two, and involves feelings that the person's own body is foreign or does not belong. He may complain that he does not feel emotions even though he appears to express them, and he may suffer anxiety, distortions of time and place, and changes in his body image, and the subject may seem to observe things from a few feet ahead of his body. His conscious 'I- ness' is said to be outside his body. The patients characterize their imagery as pale and colorless, and some complain that they have altogether lost the power of imagination.

This description does not sound like that of someone who has had an OBE or a NDE. There are distortions of the environment and alterations in imagery in OBE and NDE experiences, but it seems that imagery typically becomes more bright and vivid, colorful and detailed, rather than pale and colorless. There are changes in the emotions -- but rather than a perishing of love and hate, many OBEers report deep love and joy and positive emotions. The phenomena of derealization and depersonalization do not in the least help us to understand. Any small similarities are outweighed by overwhelming differences.

One syndrome specifically involving doubles is the unusual 'Capgras syndrome.' A person suffering from this illusion may believe that a friend or relative has been replaced by an exact double. Since this double is like the real person in every discernible way, nothing that the 'real person' says or does will convince the patient otherwise. In this way the patient can avoid the guilt he feels at any malicious or negative feelings towards a loved one. From even this very brief description it is obvious that this illusion bears no resemblance to the OBE.

More relevant may be the kinds of double seen in autoscopy, literally 'seeing oneself.' Although the OBE is rarely distinguished from autoscopy in the psychiatric literature, other distinctions are made instead. The main distinction is that OBE involves feeling of being outside the body while autoscopy usually consist of seeing a double. Some people see the whole of their body as a double; some see only parts, perhaps only the face. There is an internal form in which the subject can see his internal organs; and a cenesthetic form in which he does not see, but only feels the presence of his double. There is even a negative form in which the subject cannot see himself even when he tries to look into a mirror.

An entirely different way of looking at autoscopy is through the physical problems with which it is sometimes associated. One of these is migraine, the most obvious symptom of which is the debilitating headache. During, before or after the pain some migraine suffers apparently experience autoscopy. In any case, a number of examples of people who have suffered both migraine and a simultaneous experience of either autoscopy or an OBE, does not prove any particular kind of connection between the two.

Are people who have greater imagery skills more likely to have OBEs?

OBEs might be expected to be more frequently experienced by people with the most highly developed skills of conceiving mental images if the experience is one constructed entirely from the imagination. Irwin [Irw80, 81b] was interested in whether OBEers differ from other people in terms of certain cognitive skills or ways of thinking, including imagery. He found 21 OBEers and to these he gave the 'Ways of thinking questionnaire' (WOT), the 'Differential personality questionnaire' (DPQ) and the 'Vividness of visual imagery questionnaire' (VVIQ). For each he compared the scores of the OBEers with those expected from studies of larger groups of the population.

The imagery questionnaire a self-rated measure of vividness of just visual imagery. The scores of these few OBEers were unexpectedly found to be lower than normal, and significantly so. It seems that they had less, not more, vivid imagery than the average. The next test, the WOT, aims to test the verbalizer-visualizer dimension of cognitive style. Irwin's OBEers obtained scores no different from the average. So there was no evidence that OBEers are either specially likely to use visualization or verbalization.

Although not directly relevant to the subject of imagery, the results of the DPQ were interesting. One of the various dimensions of cognitive style which it measures is 'Absorption.' This relates to a person's capacity to become absorbed in his experience. For example, someone who easily becomes immersed in nature, art or a good book or film or a computer game, to the exclusion of the outside world, would be one who scored highly on the scale of 'Absorption.' Irwin expected OBEers to be higher on this measure and that is what he found. His OBEers seemed to be better than average at becoming involved in their experiences.

Are OBEs some kind of hallucination?

There is no single accepted definition of hallucinations and it is not clear just how they relate to sensory perception, illusion, dreams and imagination. However, let us define an hallucination as an apparent perception of something not physically present, and add that it is not necessary for the hallucination to be thought 'real' to count. Into this category come a wide range of experiences occurring in people, not suffering from any mental or psychiatric disturbance. Visual imagery may occur just before going to sleep (hypnagogic), on first waking up (hypnopompic) or they may be induced by drugs, sensory deprivation, sleeplessness, or severe stress. They may take many forms, from simple shapes to complex scenes.

Although it is possible to have an hallucination involving almost any kind of imagery, it has long been known that there are remarkable similarities between the hallucinations of different people, under different circumstances. Hallucinations were first classified during the last century during a period when many artists and writers experimented with hashish and opium as an aid to experiencing them. In 1926 Kluver began a series of investigations into the effects of mescaline and described four constant types. These were first the grating, lattice or chessboard, second the cobweb type, third the tunnel, cone or vessel, and fourth the spiral. As well as being constant features of mescaline intoxication in different people, Kluver found that these forms appeared in hallucinations induced by a wide variety of conditions.

In the 1960s, when many psychedelic drugs began to be extensively used for recreational purposes, research into their effects proliferated. Leary and others tried to develop methods by which intoxicated subjects could describe what was happening to them. Eventually Leary and Lindsley developed the 'experiental typewriter' with twenty keys representing different subjective states. Subjects were trained to use it but the relatively high doses of drugs used interfered with their ability to press the keys and so a better method was needed.

A decade later Siegel gave subjects marijuana, or THC, and asked them simply to report on what they saw. Even with untrained subjects he found remarkable consistencies in the hallucinations. In the early stages simple geometric forms predominated. There was often a bright light in the center of the field of vision which obscured central details but allowed images at the edges to be seen more clearly, and the location of this light created a tunnel-like perspective. Often the images seemed to pulsate and moved towards or away from the light in the center of the tunnel. At a later stage, the geometric forms were replaced by complex imagery including recognizable scenes with people and objects, sometimes with small animals or caricatures of people. Even in this stage there was much consistency, with images from memory playing a large part.

On the basis of this work Siegel constructed a list of eight forms, eight colors, and eight patterns of movement, and trained subjects to use them when given a variety of drugs (or a placebo) in controlled environment. With amphetamines and barbiturates the forms reported were mostly black and white forms moving aimlessly about, but with THC, psilocybin, LSD and mescaline the forms became more organized as the experience progressed. After 30 minutes there were more lattice and tunnel forms, and the colors shifted from blue to red, orange to yellow. Movement became more organized with explosive and rotational patterns. After 90 - 120 minutes most forms were lattice-tunnels; after that complex imagery began to appear with childhood memories and scenes, emotional memories and some fantastic scenes. But even these scenes often appeared in a lattice-tunnel framework. At the peak of the hallucinatory experience, subjects sometimes said that they had become part of the imagery. They stopped using similes and spoke of the images as real. Highly creative images were reported and the changes were very rapid. According to Siegel [Sie77] at this stage 'The subjects reported feeling dissociated from their bodies.'

The parallels between the drug-induced hallucinations and the typical spontaneous OBE should be obvious. Not only did some of the subjects in Siegel's experiments actually report OBEs, but there were the familiar tunnels and the bright lights so often associated with near-death experiences. There was also the 'realness' of everything seen; and the same drugs which elicited the hallucinations are those which are supposed to be conducive to OBEs.

There have been many suggestions as to why the tunnel form should be so common. It has sometimes been compared to the phenomenon of 'tunnel vision' in which the visual field is greatly narrowed, but usually in OBEs and hallucinations the apparent visual field is very wide; it is just formed like a tunnel. A more plausible alternative depends on the way in which retinal space is mapped on cortical space. If a straight line in the visual cortex of the brain represents a circular pattern on the retina then stimulation in a straight line occurring in states of cortical excitation could produce a sensation of concentric rings, or a tunnel form. This type of argument is important in understanding the visual illusions of migraine, in which excitations spread across parts of the cortex.

Another reasonable speculation is that the tunnel has something to do with constancy mechanisms. As objects move about, or we move relative to them, their projection on the retina changes shape and size. We have constancy mechanisms which compensate for this effect. For very large objects, distortions are necessarily a result of perspective, and yet we see buildings as having straight wall and roofs. If this mechanism acted inappropriately on internally generated spontaneous signals, it might produce a tunnel-like perspective, and any hallucinatory forms would also be seen against this distorted background.

In drug-induced hallucinations there may come a point at which the subject becomes part of the imagery and it seems quite real to him, even though it comes from his memory. The comparison with OBEs is interesting because one of the most consistent features of spontaneous OBEs is that the experiencers claim 'it all seemed so real.' If it were a kind of hallucination similar to these drug-induced ones then it would seem real. Put together the information from the subject's cognitive map in memory, and an hallucinatory state in which information from memory is experienced as though it were perceived, and you have a good many of the ingredients for a classical OBE.

But what of the differences between hallucinations and OBEs? You may point to the state of consciousness associated with the two and argue that OBEs often occur when the person claims to be wide awake, and thinking perfectly normally. But so can hallucinations. With certain drugs consciousness and thinking seem to be clearer than ever before, just as they often do in an OBE. An important difference is that in the OBE, the objects of perception are organized consistently as though they do constitute a stable, physical world. But such is not always the case; there are many cases which involve experiences beyond anything to be seen in the physical world.

Consideration of imagery and hallucinations might provide some sort of framework for understanding the OBE. It would be seen as just one form of a range of hallucinatory experiences. But (and this is a big but) if the OBE is basically an hallucination and nothing actually leaves the body, then paranormal events ought not necessarily to be associated with it. People ought not to be able to see distant unknown places or influence objects while 'out of the body'; yet there are many claims to such an effect.

What are the features of OB vision?

In the late 1960s Charles Tart began the first laboratory tests with subjects who could have OBEs voluntarily [Tar67, 68]. In addition to his physiological research he also tested subjects' ability to see a target hidden from their normal sight. His first subject, Miss Z., was tested in a laboratory where a target was placed on a shelf about five and a half feet above the bed where she lay. The target was a five-digit number prepared in advance by Tart and placed on the shelf. Miss Z. slept in the laboratory on four occasions. On the first she had no OBE; on the second, she managed to get high enough to see the clock, and on third night she had an OBE but traveled elsewhere. However, on her fourth and last night she awoke and reported that she had seen the number and it was 25132. She was right on all five digits which has a probability of only one in 100,000 of being right by chance.

Tart himself seemed reluctant to conclude that it was paranormal. Tart's second subject was Robert Monroe, who came to the laboratory for nine sessions, but he was only able to induce an OBE in the penultimate session, and then he had two. During the first of these OBEs he seemed to see a man and a woman but not to know who or where they were. In the second he made a great effort to stay 'local' and managed to see a technician, who was supposed to be monitoring the apparatus. With her he saw a man whom he did not know was there and whom he later described. It turned out that this was the husband of the technician, who had come to keep her company. Since Monroe did not manage to see the target number, no real test of ESP was possible.

In 1971 Karlis Osis began to plan OBE research at the American SPR. One of the first subjects to be tested there was Ingo Swann, who went to the laboratory two or three times a week where Janet Mitchell tested him to see whether he could identify a target placed out of sight. A platform was suspended from the ceiling about 10 feet above the ground and divided into two. On either side of a partition various objects were placed and Swann was asked to try to travel up to see them. The reason for the partition was to see whether Swann would identify the correct target for the position in which he claimed it to be. Bright colors and clear familiar shapes seemed most successful and glossy pictures or glass did not work well for the experimental purposes.

After his OBE, Swann usually made drawings of what he had 'seen.' Although these drawings were far from perfect renderings of the original objects, they were similar enough that when eight sets of targets and respondes were given to an independent judge she correctly matched every pair; a result which is likely to happen by chance only once in about 40,000 times [Mit73].

The results of all these experiment were most encouraging. From Tart's results especially it seemed that although it was very hard for the subject to get to see the number, and that if the number was seen, it was seen correctly. Further research showed that OB vision could be just as confused and erratic as ESP has always seemed to be. For example Osis [Osi73] advertised for people who could have OBEs to come to the ASPR for testing. About one hundred came forward and were asked to try to travel to a distant room and to report on what objects they could see there. Osis found that most of them thought they could see the target but most were wrong. He concluded that the vast majority of the experiences had nothing to do with bone fide OBEs. This conclusion means that Osis was using the ability to see correctly as a criterion for the occurrence of a genuine OBE.

Much of the recent research on OBEs has been directed towards that important question; does anything leave the body in an OBE? On the one hand are the 'ecsomatic' or 'extrasomatic' theories which claim that something does leave. This something might be the astral body of traditional theory or some other kind of entity. Morris [Mor73] has referred to the 'theta aspect' of man which may leave the body temporarily in an OBE, and permanently at death. On the other hand there are theories which claim that nothing leaves. Some of these predict that no paranormal events should occur during OBEs, but the major alternative to consider here is that nothing leaves, but the subject uses ESP to detect the target. This concept has been referred to as the 'imagination plus ESP' theory.

This last theory is problematic. The term ESP is a catch-all, is negatively defined, and is capable of subsuming almost any result one cares to mention. How then can it be ruled out? And given these two theories, how can we find out which, if either, is correct? In spite of the difficulties several parapsychologists have set about this task. Osis, for example, suggested that if the subject in an OBE has another body and is located at the distant position, then he should see things as though looking from that position. If he were using ESP he should see things as though with ESP.

This general ideal led Osis to suggest placing a letter 'd' in such way that if seen directly (or presumably by ESP) a 'd' would be seen, but if looked from a designated position a 'p' would appear, reflected in a mirror. Following this idea further he developed his 'optical image device' which displays various pictures in several colors as in four quadrants. The final picture is put together using black and white outlines, a color wheel, and a series of mirrors. By, as it were, looking into the box by ESP one would not find the complete picture. To do so can only be achieved by looking in through the viewing window [Osi75].

Experiments with this device were carried out with Alex Tanous, a psychic from Maine. Tanous lay down in a soundproofed room and was asked to leave his body and go to the room containing the device, look in through the observation window and return to relate what he had seen. Osis recounts that at first Tanous did not succeed, but eventually he seemed to improve.

On each trial Tanous was told whether he was right or wrong and was thus able to look for criteria which might help to identify when he was succeeding. On those trials which he indicated he was most confident about, his results 'approached significance' on the color aspect of the target. Osis claimed that this aspect was most important for testing his theory because some of the colors were modified by the apparatus and would be very hard to get right by ESP. The next tests therefore used only a color wheel with three pictures and six colors. This time overall scores were not significant but high-confidence scores for the whole target were significant and in the second half of the experiment Tanous scored significantly on several target aspects, especially the one which Osis claimed required 'localized sensing.'

Blue Harary, who has provided so much interesting information about the physiology of the OBE, was tested for perception during his OBEs, but according to Rogo [Rog78c] he was only 'sporadically successful' on target studies and so research with him concentrated on other aspects of his experience.

Apart from all these experiments there is really only one more approach which is relevant to the question of ESP in OBEs and that is work done by Palmer and his associates at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. They tried to develop methods for inducing an OBE in volunteer subjects in the laboratory and then to test their ESP. One can understand the potential advantages of such a program. If it were possible to take a volunteer and give him an OBE under controlled conditions, when and where you wanted it, half the problems of OBE research would be solved. It would be possible to test hypotheses about the OBE so much more quickly and easily, but alas, this approach turned to be fraught with various problems.

First Palmer and Vassar [PV74a, b] developed an induction technique based on traditional ideas of what conditions are conducive to the OBE. Using four different groups of subjects in three stages, the method was modified to incorporate different techniques for muscular relaxation and disorientation. Each subject was brought into the laboratory and the experiment was explained to him. He was then taken into an inner room to lie on a comfortable reclining chair and told that a target picture would be placed on a table in the outer room.

The stage of the induction consisted of nearly fifteen minutes of progressive muscular relaxation with the subject being asked to heard a pulsating tone both through headphones and speakers which served to eliminate extraneous noises and produce a disorientating effect. At the same time he looked into a rotating red and green spiral lit by a flashing light; this stage lasted a little under ten minutes. In the final stage he was asked to imagine leaving the chair and floating into the outer room to look at the target, but here several variations were introduced. Some subjects were guided through the whole process by taped instructions while other were simply allowed to keep watching the spiral while they imagined it for themselves. For some the spiral was also only imagined and for some there was an extra stage of imagining the target.

When the procedure was over the subject filled in a questionnaire about his experiences in the experiment and completed an imaginary test (a shortened form of the Betts QMI). Then five pictures were placed before him. One was the target, but neither he nor the experimenter with him knew which it was. When he had rated each of the pictures on a 1 to 30 scale, the other experimenter was called in to say which was the target.

One of the questions asked was, 'Did you at any time during the experiment have the feeling that you were literally outside of your physical body?' Of 50 subject asked this question 21, or 42%, answered 'yes.' As for the scores on the targets, overall scores were not significally different from chance expectation. When the scores were compared for the 21 OBEers and the others there was no significant difference between them. The OBEers did get significantly fewer hits than expected by chance, but this result difficult to interpret.

Palmer and Lieberman [PL75a, b] took the techniques a stage further. Forty subjects were tested, but this time they had a visual ganzfeld: that is, half ping-pong balls were fixed over their eyes and a light was shone on them so as to produce a homogenous visual field. Half the subjects were given an 'active set' by being asked to leave their bodies and travel to the other room to see the target, while the other half were given a 'passive set' being asked only to allow imagery to flow freely in their mind.

As expected more of the 'active' subjects reported having felt out of their bodies: 13 out of 20 as opposed to only 4 in the passive condition. The active subjects also reported more vivid imagery and more effort expended in trying to see the target, but when it came to the ESP scores both groups were found to have scores close to chance expectation and there were no significant differences between them. However, those subjects who reported OBEs did do better than the others and significantly so. This result is quite different from the previous ones and is the opposite of what Palmer and Lieberman predicted, but it is what one would expect on the hypothesis that having an OBE facilitates ESP.

Palmer and Lieverman put forward an interesting suggestion as to why more subjects in the active condition should report OBEs. Their idea is related to Schachter's theory of emotions, which has been very influential in psychology. This theory suggests that a person experiencing any emotion first feels the physiological effects of arousal, including such things as slight sweating, increased heart rate, tingling feelings, and so on, and then labels this feeling according to the situation as either 'anger,' 'passionate love,' 'fear' or whatever. In the case of these experiments the subject feels unusual sensations arising from the induction and then labels them according to his instructions. If he were told to imagine leaving his body and traveling another room he might interpret his feelings as those of leaving the body. Of course this suggestion has far wider implications for understanding the OBE than those relating to the evaluation of the results of these experiments.

In the next experiment Palmer and Lieberman tested 40 more subjects, incorporating suggestions from Robert Monroe's methods for inducing OBEs. The was no ganzfeld and instead of sitting in a chair the subjects lay on beds, sometimes with a vibrator attached to the springs. This time time 21 subjects reported OBEs; and, interestingly, these score higher on the Barber suggestibility scale, but they did not have better ESP scores.

In the final experiment in this series 40 more subjects were tested, 20 with ganzfeld and 20 were just told to close their eyes [Pal79a]. This time 13 in each group claimed to have had on OBE, but whether they did or not was not related to their ESP scores. This time EEG recording was also used, but it showed no differences related to the reported OBEs. All in all it seems that these experiments were successful in helping subjects to have an experience which they labelled as out of the body, but not in getting improved ESP scores or in finding an OBE state identifiable by EEG.

In an experiment designed to look at the effect of religious belief on susceptibility to OBEs, Smith and Irwin [SI81] tried to induce OBEs in two groups of students differing in their concern with religious affairs and human immortality. The induction was similar to that already described, but in addition the subjects were given an 'OBE-ness' questionnaire and were asked to try to 'see' two targets in an adjacent room. Later their impressions were given a veridicality score for resemblance to the targets. No differences between the groups were found for either OBE-ness or veridicality, but there was a highly significant correlation between OBE- ness and veridicality. This result implies that the more OBE-like the experience, the better the ESP.

All these experiments were aimed at finding out whether subjects could see a distant target during an OBE. Although the experimental OBE may differ from the spontaneous kind, a simple conclusion is possible from the experimental studies. That is, OBE vision, if it occurs, is extremely poor.

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