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Researchers explore causes of out-of-body experiences

For most of us out-of-body experiences are strictly the realm of science fiction, yet many people still claim to have experienced them. The cause for these feelings of detachment is not known, but that's exactly what a group of European scientists scientists are trying to figure out.

The term "out-of-body experience" is described by the researchers as a feeling of corporeal detachment and looking at your body from a distance.  Two sets of researchers claim they've devised experiments that come close to replicating an out-of-body experience. The findings from the study are reported in this month's issue of Science Magazine (subscription required).

Researchers believe this feeling is a result of our normal sensory systems of touch, sight and vision becoming disconnected under stress. Dr. Kevin Nelson, a researcher into near-death phenomena, who wasn’t involved in the research says, “[the new research] shows that the integration of various sensory modalities is important for retaining our sense of where our body is, of where our self is in that body,"

Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institure in Stockholm, Sweden set up his study using volunteers equipped with 3-D goggles used to view real-time 3-D footage of themselves seen from six feet behind where they were actually sitting. Ehrsson would use a plastic rod to touch the real chest and the back of the participant, without the participant seeing him touch their chest.

This technique allowed participants to feel the touch on their chest, but they could only see Ehrsson's hand moving behind their back, which produced the feeling that they were sitting at a location behind their body.

Ehresson also swung a hammer at the point where participant believed their body to be. This created the illusion that the distant version of the participant’s body was going to be hit. Sensors placed on the skin of participants showed increase in sweat production indicating that they felt the threat of being hit was real, which showed that they believed the virtual body to be their own.

A second team led by Bigna Lenggenhager and Olaf Blanke, both from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, set up a similar experiment where participants donned video-display goggle while standing in front of a camera. In one experiment participants saw a view of their back, which was computer enhanced to become 3-D. Participants then were stroked on their back with a highlighter pen at the same time they saw their virtual back being stroked. Participants reported that the sensation felt like it was coming from the virtual back, not their real back, making them feel the virtual body was their own.

After the stroking the participant was blind folded, moved back from where they were originally standing and told to return to their previous position. The participants typically were not able to return to the correct spot where they were originally standing, but advanced to the spot where their virtual body was located. This again points to participants believing that the virtual body was actually their own.

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Where do I need to...
By Le Québécois on 8/28/2007 2:01:05 AM , Rating: 2
...sign to be enrolled in one of those "out of body" studies. I'm all for helping science advancement, especially when it involve something like this :).

RE: Where do I need to...
By deeznuts on 8/28/2007 3:16:11 AM , Rating: 2
Don't ask me how I know, but you can achieve OBE with a tank of Nitrous ...

RE: Where do I need to...
By Chris Peredun on 8/28/2007 9:09:18 AM , Rating: 3
That just sounds like a waste of bottled torque to me. And assuming you don't detonate your engine, you can get just as giddy from the end result.

(Yes, I'm aware that medical and automotive nitrous aren't identical.)

RE: Where do I need to...
By feraltoad on 8/28/2007 5:37:09 AM , Rating: 5
Sign me up too! "After the stroking the participant was blind folded" I normally have to pay 500 bucks for a similar routine!

on some games you just press "P"
By Visual on 8/28/2007 5:36:46 AM , Rating: 3
this is cool - when they finish their research, anyone would be able to play life in third person view.

By StonedAgain on 8/28/2007 5:46:33 AM , Rating: 2
What did this article make everyone think of first? Obviously ketamine lol. Yet no one mention of it or John Lilly, disppointing.

By tcsenter on 8/28/2007 6:30:16 AM , Rating: 5
I'm not sure these studies really add anything to the wealth of perceptual and cognitive studies conducted over the past 50 years that have very successfully induced numerous forms of sensory and perceptual confusion or disorientation; visual and cognitive illusions, synesthesias, agnosias, and disjointed proprioception. The double-mirror trick is age-old and accomplishes much the same effect without the use of sophisticated virtual reality goggles. IMAX, anyone?

I'm also not sure what extraneous stimulus has to do with a phenomenon that by all accounts is purely intrinsic. I can kick someone in the head and marvel at his brain injury, but that doesn't shed much light on brain injuries resulting from completely intrinsic causes. These studies demonstrate "a" cause of sensory and perceptual confusion, not "the" cause. Neat, to be sure, but a bit misguided in their relevance to OBE.

A better way of identifying the cause is your basic neurobiology and neurophysiology research. Medical science has known for more than 30 years that these "experiences" are tightly correlated with sleep or substantially lesser consciousness (i.e. near-death), psychotropic substances and brain tumors aside. Nobody reports having OBE, alien abductions, or 'channeling' spirits when mowing the lawn or washing the dishes. Its almost exclusively when they are asleep, laying down as to sleep or rest, or when unconscious.

There is a fairly well-defined medical model for this already - narcolepsy - which I was diagnosed with at the age of 31. Narcolepsy is a disorder of REM sleep, characterized by REM sleep intruding into semi-wakeful or semi-cognitive states. Put another way, the REM area of the brain 'turns on' when its not supposed to. This can cause hypnagogic (or hypnopompic) hallucinations, with or without sleep paralysis. See:

However, sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations are not always related to narcolepsy, nor is narcolepsy always accompanied by them. They can be caused by some other conditions or pathology, in addition to many healthy persons who experience them very infrequently.

What's with the corner image?
By borowki on 8/28/2007 4:23:15 AM , Rating: 2
I hope the experience they're talking about isn't one of a alien baby popping out of your body!

By James Holden on 8/28/2007 5:03:36 AM , Rating: 2
Lol i totally kept thinking that when I read "out of body experience"

I didn't even realize the editor must have thought that too given the thumbnail.

A good poop gives me an out of body experience
By PAPutzback on 8/28/2007 7:48:46 AM , Rating: 1
That's all I got.

By INeedCache on 8/28/2007 8:05:29 AM , Rating: 2
I think that's enough, as that about sums it up.

By SweatyNipples on 8/28/2007 1:29:06 AM , Rating: 2
It is better explained in Scientific American Magazine here:

Want an out of body experience?
By jtemplin on 8/28/2007 8:03:23 AM , Rating: 2
Just smoke a potent extraction of salvia. I don't recommend it, due to the likelihood of a white knuckle terror trip (my personal experience...) but if out of body is what you want, give it a go. Another short acting hallucinogenic substance is DMT. Two quotes from the Erowid effects page:

Load Universe into Cannon. Aim at Brain. Fire

"[The feeling of doing DMT] is as though one had been struck by noetic lightning. The ordinary world is almost instantaneously replaced, not only with a hallucination, but a hallucination whose alien character is its utter alienness. Nothing in this world can prepare one for the impressions that fill your mind when you enter the DMT sensorium."

This story
By Vanilla Thunder on 8/28/2007 10:40:22 AM , Rating: 2
makes me wanna go home and watch Flatliners.


By dgelman on 8/28/2007 11:08:12 AM , Rating: 2
Have a listen at the exceptional Radiolab show avaiable at the link below:

It details how the OOB (out of body) experience that jet pilots can experience was tracked down through recreation in a lab setting.

a lot about OBE
By CvP on 8/28/2007 1:44:25 PM , Rating: 2

it contains some journals/research papers. nice read...sometimes freaky.

By SilthDraeth on 8/28/2007 5:02:56 PM , Rating: 2
Experiences by applying electrical stimuli to a certain part of the brain. The subjects reported that they where floating above their body and could see themselves.

I guess, this is a different approach, than having your skull open and a 9 Volt attached...

By Coca Cola on 8/29/2007 12:26:27 AM , Rating: 2
Wow dude...I'm freaking out are freaking out man (echo) man man

Yet another naturalistic explanation...
By Dactyl on 8/28/07, Rating: -1
By deeznuts on 8/28/2007 3:13:59 AM , Rating: 2
How many people believe in God, and how many experience out of body experiences? I don't think the number of people who believe in God because of OBE are that numerous.

The article discussing this on Arstechnica doesn't take such a a "supernatural" approach.

That's in part why we're fascinated by out-of-body experiences, which generally happen only in cases of neural stress, such as strokes, epileptic seizures, and drug abuse.

Here is another excerpt:
Scientists have known for a while that it's possible to play on the differences between the visual and proprioceptive senses to create what's called "proprioceptive drift." An example cited in one of the papers is the "fake hand illusion." Allowing someone to view a rubber hand that's being stroked by a feather at the same time their real hand is stroked causes them to begin to identify the fake hand as their own.

RE: Yet another naturalistic explanation...
By sqrt1 on 8/28/2007 5:55:36 AM , Rating: 2
Actually I think you will find most of the out-of-body experiences are the domain of atheist beliefs.

(I can't easily think of any theist beliefs that involve out-of-body experiences)

By GoatMonkey on 8/28/2007 3:46:39 PM , Rating: 2
Heaven is pretty much an out-of-body experience. Not exactly the same thing though, I guess.

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