One in ten people have an out-of-body experience at some time in their lives, they are often part of the near-death experience. Those who have experienced OBEs sometimes claim to have observed details which were unknown to them beforehand.
In some cases the phenomenon appears to occur spontaneously; in others it is associated with a physical or mental trauma, use of psychedelic drugs, dissociative drugs, or a dream-like state.
Many techniques aiming to induce the experience deliberately have been developed, for example visualization while in a relaxed, meditative state. Studies from 2007 have shown that experiences somewhat similar to OBEs can be induced by direct brain stimulation. Some of those who experience OBEs claimed to have willed themselves out of their bodies, while others report having found themselves being pulled from their bodies (usually preceded by a feeling of paralysis). In other accounts, the feeling of being outside the body was suddenly realized after the fact the experiencers saw their own bodies almost by accident. The out of body state often occur’s during the borderline stage’s between REM sleep and arousal when sleep paralysis may persist and dream imagery may mingle with sensory input.
Some neurologists have suspected that the event is triggered by a mismatch between visual and tactile signals. They used a virtual reality setup to recreate an OBE. The subject looked through goggles and saw his own body as it would appear to an outside observer standing behind him. The experimenter then touched the subject at the same time as a rod appeared to touch the virtual image. The experiment created an illusion of being behind and outside one's body. However, both critics and the experimenter himself note that the study fell short of replicating "full-blown" OBEs.
Types of OBE
OBEs are sometimes reported to be preceded by and initiated from a lucid dream state, though other types of immediate and spontaneous experience are also reported. In many cases, people who claimed to have had an OBE reported being asleep, on the verge of sleep, or already asleep shortly before the experience. A large percentage of these cases referred to situations where the sleep was not particularly deep (due to illness, noises in other rooms, emotional stress, exhaustion from overworking, frequent re-awakening, etc.). In most of these cases, the subjects then felt themselves awake; about half of them noted a feeling of sleep paralysis.
Another form of spontaneous OBE is the near death experience (NDE). Some subjects report having had an OBE at times of severe physical trauma such as near-drownings or major surgery. In the case of motor vehicle accidents, they are able to recall the accident as if observing it from a location outside the vehicle or seeing themselves go through the window of the car but from their original seated position.
Along the same lines as an near death experiences, extreme physical effort during activities such as high-altitude climbing and marathon running can induce OBEs. A sense of bilocation may be apparent, with both ground and air-based perspectives being experienced simultaneously.
Induced Consciously controlled and pre-meditated OBE methods (examples of which are widely available in many popular books on the subject) are also reported. Some people have attempted to develop techniques to induce OBEs.
Falling asleep physically without losing wakefulness. The "Mind Awake, Body Asleep" state is widely suggested as a cause of OBEs, voluntary and otherwise. Thomas Edison used this state to tackle problems while working on his inventions. He would rest a silver dollar on his head while sitting with a metal bucket in a chair. As he drifted off, the coin would noisily fall into the bucket, restoring some of his alertness. OBE pioneer Sylvan Muldoon more simply used a forearm held perpendicular in bed as the falling object. Salvador Dali was said to use a similar "paranoiac-critical" method to gain odd visions which inspired his paintings. Deliberately teetering between awake and asleep states is known to cause spontaneous trance episodes at the onset of sleep which are ultimately helpful when attempting to induce an OBE. By moving deeper and deeper into relaxation, one eventually encounters a 'slipping' feeling if the mind is still alert. This slipping is reported to feel like leaving the physical body. Some consider progressive relaxation a passive form of sensory deprivation.
Waking up mentally but not physically. This related technique is typically achieved through the practice of lucid dreaming. Once inside a lucid dream, the dreamer either shifts the subject matter of the dream in an OBE direction or banishes the dream imagery completely, in doing so gaining access to the underlying state of sleep paralysis ideal for visualization of separation from the body.
Deep trance, meditation and visualization. The types of visualizations vary; some common imageries used include climbing a rope to "pull out" of one's body, floating out of one's body, getting shot out of a cannon, and other similar approaches. This technique is considered hard to use for people who cannot properly relax. One example of such a technique is the popular Golden Dawn "Body of Light" Technique.
Brainwave synchronization via audio/visual stimulation. Binaural beats can be used to induce specific brain wave frequencies, notably those predominant in various mind awake/body asleep states. Binaural induction of the "body asleep" theta brain wave frequencies characteristic of dreaming REM sleep was observed as effective by the Monroe Institute (and corroborated by others). Simultaneous introduction of "mind awake" beta frequencies (detectable in the brains of normal, relaxed awakened individuals) was also observed as constructive. Another popular technology uses sinusoidal wave pulses to achieve similar results, and the drumming accompanying native American religious ceremonies is also believed to have heightened receptivity to "other worlds" through brainwave entrainment mechanisms.
Magnetic stimulation of the brain, as with the God helmet developed by Michael Persinger.
Electrical stimulation of the brain, particularly the temporoparietal junction (See below).
Sensory deprivation. This approach aims to encourage intense disorientation by removal of space and time references. Flotation tanks or pink noise played through headphones are often employed for this purpose. OBEs have been reported by those practicing sense-depriving forms of BDSM such as extreme bondage (mummification).
Sensory overload, the opposite of Sensory deprivation. The subject can for instance be rocked for a long time in a specially designed cradle, or submitted to light forms of torture, to cause the brain to shut itself off from all sensory input. Both conditions tend to cause confusion and this disorientation often permits the subject to experience vivid, ethereal out-of-body experiences. This tends to happen when the subject believes he or she is in a particular position, whereas his or her actual body is either rocking in a cradle actively, or still lying down. Consciousness suddenly transfers to the mental body.
OBEs induced with drugs are sometimes considered to be hallucinations (i.e., purely subjective), even by those who believe the phenomenon to be objective in general. There are several types of drugs that can initiate an OBE, primarily the dissociative hallucinogens such as ketamine, dextromethorphan (DM or DXM), and phencyclidine (PCP). It has also been reported under the influence of tryptamine psychedelics including dimethyltryptamine (DMT) from ayahuasca. Salvia divinorum has been known to produce symptoms in which the user is said to be able to leave their bodies and travel to many places at once. Many users also claim that they feel as if their "soul" falls out of their body.
Methamphetamine has also been known to cause OBEs, not in itself but through lack of sleep. It has been reported that it felt like the person was talking above and behind them and, being under the influence of the drug, had no idea what was happening.
Galantamine is a Nootropic that can increase the odds of success when using along with Out-of-body experience or Lucid dream induction technique.
Perceptions of environment
OBEs tend to fall into two types, categorized by Robert Monroe as Locale 1 and Locale 2 experiences.
In Locale 1 experiences the environment is largely consistent with reality; other common labels for this form are etheric, ethereal or RTZ (Real Time Zone) projections. The onset of this type can be frightening as intense physiological sensations may be perceived, such as electrical tingling, full body vibrations and racing heartbeat. Confusion is common in spontaneous Locale 1 experiences; the person can believe he has awakened (or died) physically and panic can be caused by the realization that ones limbs appear to be penetrating other objects.
Locale 2 experiences are less overtly physical in nature and have much subjective overlap with lucid dreaming. The subject is immersed in unrealistic worlds, modified forms of reality exhibiting physically impossible or inconsistent features. Bright and vivid colours are a common feature of this form. Robert Bruce considers this type of OBE to be an Astral Projection.
Artist's depiction of the separation stage. Though motion is perceived, paralysis is still evident.
An archetypal, classical OBE unfolds through perceptually distinct stages.
Withdrawal stage: Conscious interaction with the physical environment ceases. Attention is elsewhere, with sensory inputs going unnoticed; the body is on auto-pilot. Sleeping is an example of this stage.
Cataleptic stage: Movement is totally impaired. Alternative sensory information may suddenly seem present, such as intense vibrations, noises and sight through closed eyelids.
Separation stage: With effort, the perceptual viewpoint can be pulled away from the physical body location. Still subject to intense sensation, pull back towards the body obstructs progression.
Free movement stage: Beyond a certain radius, movement becomes unimpeded, with control increasing markedly. Visual and mental clarity can vary greatly, from barely functional to exceptional. Re-entry stage: Perceived need to return increases, leading either to voluntary reversal of separation or extremely fast involuntary snap-back. Alternatively, a transition to waking or sleeping may occur. You may feel a pressure as your soul  reenters your body.
In practice, the absence of one or more of the classical stages is not unusual. Some (notably Robert Monroe) have claimed these stages become considerably less applicable with extreme familiarity with OBE, eventually finding just a deliberate mental shift to the feeling of the state equivalent. Monroe likened this to tuning a radio away from one station and towards another, and termed the process "phasing".
The OBE may or may not be followed by other experiences which are self-reported as being "as real" as the OBE feeling; alternatively, the subject may fade into a state self-reported as dreaming, or they may awake completely. The OBE is sometimes ended due to a fearful feeling of getting "too far away" from the body. Many end with a feeling of suddenly "popping" or "snapping" and sometimes a "pulling" back into their bodies; some even report being "sucked back" into physical form. A majority describe the end of the experience by saying "then I woke up". However it's worth noting that even those who describe the experience as something fantastic that occurs during sleep, and who describe the end of the experience by saying "and then I woke up", are very specific in describing the experience as one which was clearly not a dream; many described their sense of feeling more awake than they felt when they were normally awake. One compared the experience to that of lucid dreaming, but said that it was "more real".
The phenomenology of an NDE usually includes additional physiological, psychological and transcendental factors beyond those of typical OBEs (Parnia, Waller, Yeates & Fenwick, 2001). Near-death experiences may include subjective impressions of being outside the physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of ego and spatiotemporal boundaries. Typically the experience includes such factors as: a sense of being dead; a feeling of peace and painlessness; an out-of-body experience; a tunnel experience (the sense of moving up or through a narrow passageway); encountering people of Light; God-like figures or similar forces; being given a "Life review", and a reluctance to return to life.
Studies of OBEs
The first extensive scientific study of OBEs was made by Celia Green (1968). She collected written, first-hand accounts from a total of 400 subjects, recruited by means of appeals in the mainstream media, and followed up by questionnaire. Her purpose was to provide a taxonomy of the different types of OBE, viewed simply as an anomalous perceptual experience or hallucination, while leaving open the question of whether some of the cases might incorporate information derived by extrasensory perception.
Previous collections of cases had been made by Dr Ernesno Bozzano (Italy) and Dr Robert Crookall (UK). Crookall approached the subject from a spiritualistic position, and collected his cases predominantly from spiritualist newspapers such as the Psychic News, which appears to have biased his results in various ways. For example, the majority of his subjects reported seeing a cord connecting the physical body and its observing counterpart; whereas Green found that less than 4% of her subjects noticed anything of this sort, and some 80% reported feeling they were a "disembodied consciousness", with no external body at all.
In 1999, at the 1st International Forum of Consciousness Research in Barcelona, International Academy of Consciousness research-practitioners Wagner Alegretti and Nanci Trivellato presented preliminary findings of an online survey on the out-of-body experience answered by internet users interested in the subject; therefore, not a sample representative of the general population.
1,007 (85%) of the first 1,185 respondents reported having had an OBE. 37% claimed to have had between two and ten OBEs. 5.5% claimed more than 100 such experiences. 45% of those who reported an OBE said they successfully induced at least one OBE by using a specific technique. 62% of participants claiming to have had an OBE also reported having enjoyed nonphysical flight; 40% reported experiencing the phenomenon of self-bilocation (i.e. seeing one's own physical body whilst outside the body); and 38% claimed having experienced self-permeability (passing through physical objects such as walls). The most commonly reported sensations experienced in connection with the OBE were falling, floating, repercussions e.g. myoclonia (the jerking of limbs, jerking awake), sinking, torpidity (numbness), intracranial sounds, tingling, clairvoyance, oscillation and serenity.
Another reported common sensation related to OBE was temporary or projective catalepsy, more commonly known as sleep paralysis. The sleep paralysis and OBE correlation was later corroborated by the Out-of-Body Experience and Arousal study published in Neurology by Kevin Nelson et al. (2007). Also noteworthy, is the Waterloo Unusual Sleep Experiences Questionnaire that further illustrates the correlation.
The University of Manchester has conducted yet another OBE survey. The psychologists at U. of Manchester are investigating the idea that out-of-body experiences, commonly thought of as paranormal phenomena, may in fact have their roots in how people perceive and experience their own bodies.
William Bulham, an author on the subject, has conducted an informal but informative online survey as well.
Neurology and OBE-like experiences there are several possible physiological explanations for parts of the OBE. OBE-like experiences have been induced by stimulation of the brain and by using cameras to fool the mind into thinking that the body is somewhere it is not. OBE-like experience has also been induced through stimulation of the posterior part of the right superior temporal gyrus in a patient. Positron-emission tomography was also used in this study to identify brain regions affected by this stimulation. The term OBE-like is used above because the experiences described in these experiments either lacked some of the clarity or details of normal OBEs, or were described by subjects who had never experienced an OBE before. Such subjects were therefore not qualified to make claims about the authenticity of the experimentally-induced OBE.
English psychologist Susan Blackmore suggests that an OBE begins when a person loses contact with sensory input from the body while remaining conscious. The person retains the illusion of having a body, but that perception is no longer derived from the senses. The perceived world may resemble the world he or she generally inhabits while awake, but this perception does not come from the senses either. The vivid body and world is made by our brain's ability to create fully convincing realms, even in the absence of sensory information. This process is witnessed by each of us every night in our dreams, though OBEs are claimed to be far more vivid than even a lucid dream.
Irwin pointed out that OBEs appear to occur under conditions of either very high or very low arousal. For example, Green found that three quarters of a group of 176 subjects reporting a single OBE were lying down at the time of the experience, and of these 12% considered they had been asleep when it started. By contrast, a substantial minority of her cases occurred under conditions of maximum arousal, such as a rock-climbing fall, a traffic accident, or childbirth. McCreery has suggested that this paradox may be explained by reference to the fact that sleep can supervene as a reaction to extreme stress or hyper-arousal. He proposes that OBEs under both conditions, relaxation and hyper-arousal, represent a form of "waking dream", or the intrusion of Stage 1 sleep processes into waking consciousness.
Van Lommel studies
The first clinical study of near death experiences (NDE's) in cardiac arrest patients was by Pim van Lommel, a cardiologist from the Netherlands, and his team (The Lancet, 2001),Of 344 patients who were successfully resuscitated after suffering cardiac arrest, approximately 18% experienced "classic" NDE's, which included out-of-body experiences. The patients remembered details of their conditions during their cardiac arrest despite being clinically dead with flatlined brain stem activity. Van Lommel concluded that his findings supported the theory that consciousness continued despite lack of neuronal activity in the brain. Van Lommel conjectured that continuity of consciousness may be achievable if the brain acted as a receiver for the information generated by memories and consciousness, which existed independently of the brain, just as radio, television and internet information existed independently of the instruments that received it.
Skeptic Michael Shermer's interpretation of Van Lommel's study, that it demonstrated that the mind was not separate from the brain, has been criticised by Deepak Chopra and also by Jay Ingram of the Canadian Discovery Channel. Ingram commented: "[Shermer's] use of this study to bolster his point is bogus. He could have said, 'The authors think there's a mystery, but I choose to interpret their findings differently'. But he didn't. I find that very disappointing.
Olaf Blanke studies
Research by Olaf Blanke in Switzerland found that it is possible to reliably elicit experiences somewhat similar to the OBE by stimulating regions of the brain called the right temporal-parietal junction (TPJ; a region where the temporal lobe and parietal lobe of the brain come together). Blanke and his collaborators in Switzerland have explored the neural basis of OBEs by showing that they are reliably associated with lesions in the right TPJ region and that they can be reliably elicited with electrical stimulation of this region in a patient with epilepsy. These elicited experiences may include perceptions of transformations of the patient's arm and legs (complex somatosensory responses) and whole-body displacements (vestibular responses).
In neurologically normal subjects, Blanke and colleagues then showed that the conscious experience of the self and body being in the same location depends on multisensory integration in the TPJ. Using event-related potentials, Blanke and colleagues showed the selective activation of the TPJ 330–400 ms after stimulus onset when healthy volunteers imagined themselves in the position and visual perspective that generally are reported by people experiencing spontaneous OBEs. Transcranial magnetic stimulation in the same subjects impaired mental transformation of the participant's own body. No such effects were found with stimulation of another site or for imagined spatial transformations of external objects, suggesting the selective implication of the TPJ in mental imagery of one's own body.
In a follow up study, Arzy et al. showed that the location and timing of brain activation depended on whether mental imagery is performed with mentally embodied or disembodied self location. When subjects performed mental imagery with an embodied location, there was increased activation of a region called the "extrastriate body area" (EBA), but when subjects performed mental imagery with a disembodied location, as reported in OBEs, there was increased activation in the region of the TPJ. This leads Arzy et al. to argue that "these data show that distributed brain activity at the EBA and TPJ as well as their timing are crucial for the coding of the self as embodied and as spatially situated within the human body."
Blanke and colleagues thus propose that the right temporal-parietal junction is important for the sense of spatial location of the self, and that when these normal processes go awry, an OBE arises.
In August 2007 Blanke's lab published research in Science demonstrating that conflicting visual-somatosensory input in virtual reality could disrupt the spatial unity between the self and the body. During multisensory conflict, participants felt as if a virtual body seen in front of them was their own body and mislocalized themselves toward the virtual body, to a position outside their bodily borders. This indicates that spatial unity and bodily self-consciousness can be studied experimentally and is based on multisensory and cognitive processing of bodily information.
Michael Persinger studies
Michael Persinger has undertaken similar research to Olaf Blanke using magnetic stimulation applied to the right temporal lobe of the brain, which is known to be involved in visuo-spatial functions, multi-sensory integration and the construction of the sense of the body in space. Persinger's research also found evidence for objective neural difference between periods of remote viewing in two individuals thought to have psychic abilities. Persinger undertook his research on Sean Harribance and Ingo Swann, a renowned remote viewer who has taken part in numerous studies. Examination of Harribance showed enhanced EEG activity within the alpha band (8–12 Hz) over Harribance's right parieto-occipital region, consistent with neuropsychological evidence of early brain trauma in these regions. In a second study, Ingo Swann was asked to draw images of pictures hidden in envelopes in another room. Individuals with no knowledge of the nature of the study rated Swann's comments and drawings as congruent with the remotely viewed stimulus at better than chance levels. Additionally, on trials in which Swann was correct, the duration of 7 Hz (alpha band) paroxysmal discharges over the right occipital lobe was longer. Subsequent anatomical MRI examination showed anomalous subcortical white matter signals focused in the perieto-occipital interface of the right hemisphere that were not expected for his age or history.
In August 2007 Henrik Ehrsson, then at the Institute of Neurology at University College of London (now at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden) published research in Science demonstrating the first experimental method that, according to the scientist's claims in the publication, induced an out-of-body experience in healthy participants. The experiment was conducted in the following way:
The study participant sits in a chair wearing a pair of head-mounted video displays. These have two small screens over each eye, which show a live film recorded by two video cameras placed beside each other two metres behind the participant's head. The image from the left video camera is presented on the left-eye display and the image from the right camera on the right-eye display. The participant sees these as one "stereoscopic" (3D) image, so they see their own back displayed from the perspective of someone sitting behind them. The researcher then stands just beside the participant (in their view) and uses two plastic rods to simultaneously touch the participant's actual chest out-of-view and the chest of the illusory body, moving this second rod towards where the illusory chest would be located, just below the camera's view. The participants confirmed that they had experienced sitting behind their physical body and looking at it from that location.
The experiment fits a three-point definition of the out-of-body experience (OBE). The OBE as reported in spontaneous cases can be phenomenologically more complex as commented in Slate and elsewhere.
Dr. Sam Parnia – University of Southampton study
In the fall of 2008, 25 UK and US hospitals began participation in a 3 year study, co-ordinated by Dr. Sam Parnia and Southampton University. Following on the work of Van Lommel in the Netherlands, the study aims to examine near-death experiences in 1,500 cardiac arrest survivors and so determine whether people without a heartbeat or brain activity can have documentable out-of-body experiences.
OBE Training and Research Facilities
The 9-meter sphere laboratory known as the Projectarium at International Academy of Consciousness (IAC) Campus in Evoramonte, Portugal is the first modern building designed specifically to facilitate out-of-body experience. The Monroe Institute's Nancy Penn Center is another campus specializing on out-of-body experience induction. The Center for Higher Studies of the Consciousness in Brazil is another large OBE training facility.
Olaf Blanke's Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience has become a well-known laboratory for OBE research. Lab facilities include a 192-channel EEG platform and a Virtual-Reality EEG platform allowing to record from 256 scalp electrodes during full immersion in virtual reality.
Historically, the first laboratory research on OBE was conducted by The End of Materialism author Dr. Charles Tart at University of California - Davis in the 60's, whose research papers are available online.
Astral projection is a paranormal interpretation of out-of-body experience that assumes the existence of one or more non-physical planes of existence and an associated body beyond the physical. Commonly such planes are called astral, etheric, or spiritual. Astral projection is often experienced as the spirit or astral body leaving the physical body to travel in the spirit world or astral plane.
Evidence for objective reality of projection on to the etheric plane (a near-copy of the physical plane) is sometimes suggested when people, such as patients during surgery, describe OBEs in which they see or hear events or objects outside their sensory range (for instance, Pam Reynolds reported experiencing an OBE during brain surgery and described a surgical instrument she had not seen previously, as well as conversation that occurred while she was under anethesia).
Skeptics such as Susan Blackmore have disputed whether anything leaves the body during an OBE.
Alice in Wonderland syndrome
Hallucinations in the sane