Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Lucid Dreaming, Out-of-Body Experiences & Astral Projection (1)

This article concentrates specifically on out-of-body experiences (OBEs). 

I initially intended to upload one single Blog post dealing with both OBEs and astral projection (AP), but it seems more logical and practical to break down the subject into more manageable articles, dealing with different aspects separately so I can cover them in more depth.

So, why am I posting articles on OBEs and AP?

As a Lucid Dream Researcher and general Oneironaut, I am constantly drawn into debates - some individually and others as part of online conversations - about my belief and experience of out-of-body experiences (OBEs) and astral projection (AP). 

I have mentioned elsewhere on this Blog, and will state it again in this article: I do not believe in OBEs or AP. I think these phenomena occur as part of the dream process and people interpret them differently, based on their own perspectives. The one thing with OBEs and APs is that they only seem to happen to people who already have some degree of belief in their existence - a form of confirmation bias. Many lucid dream researchers state that the difference between OBE/AP is that the dreamer experiences them as an actual occurrence in which their mind is awake, but they are not actually dreaming, whereas in a lucid dream, the dreamer must always be consciously aware they are experiencing a dream. I do not believe in the existence of a consciousness which can exist outside of my physical brain/body; a soul or an astral body which can separate from my physical body. I do not believe that the brain/mind/consciousness are separable. The notion that the brain/mind are separate entities is known as Cartesian Dualism, which is a view sanctioned and espoused by the Catholic Church as well as other religions. The alternative view - held by many humanist atheists like myself - in known as Monoism - a belief that the brain is responsible for all our mental activity and our consciousness. Western scientists tend to ascribe to monoism, but describe the brain and mind in different terms to reflect the idea that the brain is the physical locus for the operations of the mind and the mind emerges from the operations of the brain. 

I am not a religious or spiritual person, but because I have a deep passion and academic interest in dreaming and lucid dream, it is often wrongly assumed that I am also a believer in/practitioner of OBEs/APs, as if these things are all intrinsically interlinked. 

Lucid dreaming is a phenomena which has been empirically proven - with OBEs and APs, the position is a little more vague and open to scepticism. I thought I would write some articles about these phenomena to investigate how they compare and contrast to lucid dreaming and also the amount of empirical proof there is for their existence, outside of the easily-found anecdotal evidence from spiritual people who are inclined to accept the possibility without questioning - or just have a personal investment in their belief which means they will not move from their starting position. 

My aim is not to convince anyone or try to persuade them that my view is the right one. It is simply to address the subject matter in a coherent and detailed way because I have previously discussed it in piecemeal and ad hoc ways when the debate has arisen in the middle of a different conversational topic (loosely linked to lucid dreaming).

Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs)
An OBE is typically described as the sensation of the body floating outside of the physical body, and sometimes the ability to look down on the physical body from outside it (autoscopy). The term was first introduced into popular culture in George M N Tyrrell, Apparitions (1943) and later adopted by researchers such as Celia Green and Robert Monroe. The use of 'OBE' as a term was initially used as an alternative to 'belief-centric' labels such as astral projection, soul travel or spirit walking.

Research has found that OBEs can be triggered by sleep deprivation, dissociative/psychedelic drugs, brain traumas, near death experiences (NDEs), dehydration and electrical stimulation of the brain. Some people claim to be able to deliberately induce an OBE and it is estimated at 1/10 people will experience what they perceive to be an OBE at least once in their lifetimes. Scientists commonly tend to categorise OBEs as dissociative states/conditions caused by psychological or neurological factors.

The closest I have had to what could be termed an 'OBE' on popular definitions, is when I experience a 'false awakening' after inducing sleep paralysis (part of WILD induction of lucid dreaming), While I am inducing the sleep paralysis for WILD, I feel sensations of floating out of my body, although if I fight the onset of sleep paralysis, my body immediately returns to normal. Often when I initiate a WILD lucid dream, I experience a false awakening - the mistaken belief that I have awoken in my bedroom, when in fact I am still asleep and dreaming. Because I have experienced false awakenings throughout my life (naturally, without any attempt to induce a lucid dream or sleep paralysis), I am often lucid, or able to perform a reality check to confirm. I am able to get out of bed, which some people - who are not aware they are in a false awakening - interpret at the separation of an astral body from their physical body. I have never experienced autoscopy - whenever I am in the lucid false awakening state and have looked back to where I was laying in bed, there is nothing there, and my dream body' is not separate from my perception of my physical body. This may be because my subconscious does not project this vision in my dream, due to my strong  belief that OBEs/autoscopy are just elements of the dream, not actual experiences. 

Indeed, spontaneous OBEs tend to occur just before the onset of sleep, often just preceding a lucid dream state. Usually, these spontanous OBEs occur when the sleeper was not in a deep sleep and was on the borderline of wakefulness. The experience is often accompanied by the feeling of sleep paralysis, although in the majority of cases, the sleeper reports that they perceived themselves as being completely awake. This is one of the main differences between reported OBEs and lucid dreams: in the lucid dream state the dreamer is always aware they are asleep and dreaming, which is what defined a lucid dream. In an OBE, the dreamer is often mistakenly convinced that they are awake and not dreaming. 

So, the OBE experience is more 'vivid' than a normal dream state. It is accompanied by feelings of a floating or pulling; a sense of vigour and energy; vibrations; paralysis; and hearing loud noises. Lynne Levitan and Stephen LaBerge suggest that the phenomenon may be caused by the same conditions as sleep paralysis and are associated with the WILD Technique for inducing lucid dreams, although they refute the assumption that OBEs are a form of lucid dream in themselves (Faraday (1976). They conducted some studies and published the results of their research in the journal article, Levitan & LaBerge, 'Other Worlds: Out-of-Body Experiences & Lucid Dreams (1991) NightLight 3(2 - 3), a publication by The Lucidity Institute, which can be accessed by clicking on the red text link.

Astral Projection
The topic of AP (astral projection) will be covered in more depth in a separate article, as promised, but it is relevant to mention this phenomenon here also. Astral projection is the paranormal interpretation of OBEs which suggest the existence of one or more 'astral planes' and the ability of the non-physical 'astral body' to visit these alternative planes of existence, which are beyond the physical. These planes are often referred to as spiritual or etheric planes and can only be experienced if the astral body is able to exit the physical body.

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs)
An NDE is another form of OBE and is experienced during trauma - such as drowning or major surgery. The NDE is characterised by strong subjective experiences of leaving the physical body, and may be linked to visions of religious or dead figures, transcendence of the ego and crossing of spatial-temporal boundaries. NDEs share some common traits: feelings of being dead, but in a state of peacefulness and painlessness; sensations of floating outside and above the physical body (and sometimes autoscopy) visions of a tunnel, lights and God-like entities; hearing non-physical sounds (i.e. sounds not witnessed by persons in close proximity to the physical body of the person experiencing the NDE); having their life reviewed ('whole life flashing before their eyes'); and a reluctance to return to their physical body and normal life. 

OBEs are sometimes accompanied by a sense of bilocation (also known as 'multilocation') which is when it feels like the body is in two different places at once. Bilocation features in many different spiritual, mystical or religious practices, such as Hinduism, Occultism/Magic, New Age, Paganism, Shamanism, Christian and Jewish Mysticism and early Greek philosophies. It is defined as a 'psychic' or 'miraculous' ability. Research has shown that OBEs may occur spontaneously in people who undertake strenuous and demanding physical activities such as high altitude climbing and marathon running. This is often experienced as the sensation of simultaneously observing and feeling events from both the ground and air. 

Induction of OBEs
Drugs/chemicals such as LSD, DMT, MDMA and Ketamine have been linked to increased chances of a person experiencing an OBE. 

OBEs can be mentally induced, much like lucid dreams - and works on the same basis as the Mind Awake/Body Asleep paradox required for initiating a lucid dream using the WILD Technique. This is one of the reasons I suggest an OBE is simply a dream state very similar to what would be a lucid dream - if the dreamer was consciously aware of being asleep and dreaming. OBE practitioners such as Sylvan Muldoon (1903 - 1969); inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931); and Surrealist artist Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989) - who used the phenomena as part of his paranoiac-critical method for inspiring his art - all describe the induction of an OBE state in similar ways to those who induce lucid dreams via WILD Technique. The induction of OBEs - like WILD lucid dreams - involves remaining at the borderline of the waking/sleep state, which can cause trance-like experiences and the feeling of leaving the physical body. 

This may be because the Mind Awake/Body Asleep paradox required for inducing OBEs and WILD lucid dreams is a form of passive sensory deprivation. Some induction techniques, such as the Golden Dawn 'Body of Light' Technique (The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a 19th century organisation devoted to the occult, mysticism and paranormal phenomena), use meditation and visualisation methods (also used in WILD Technique for lucid dreaming) to bring about the OBE.

The following is a list of the ways in which OBEs can be mechanically induced:
  • Brainwave synchronisation - audio/visual stimulation. Usually by binaural beats which can induce specific brainwave frequency/activity. The Monroe Institute found evidence that the 'body asleep' brainwave (4 Hz - Theta brainwaves) was linked with OBEs. Others have suggested the 'mind awake' (13 - 38 Hz - Beta brainwaves) are capable of causing OBEs. These changes in brainwave frequency - which are also used to induce lucid dreaming, both at home and in sleep laboratories - are usually combined with other induction methods. 
  • Sinusoidal wave pulses have been shown to induce OBEs. This effect is compared to the phenomena where certain drum patterns used by Native Americans led to heightened receptivity to experiencing an OBE, when other brain entrainment methods were also in use.
  • Magnetic stimulation of the brain - i.e. use of the 'God Helmet' which was developed by Michael Persinger and Stanely Koren to determine the effect of temporal lobe stimulation on creativity and other mental processes.
  • Direct stimulation of the vestibular cortex in the brain.
  • Electrical stimulation of the temporoparietal junction, an area of the brain which is linked to the experience of OBEs.
  • Sensory deprivation through the use of flotation tanks or pink noise which create intense distortion of spatial and temporal reference points. 
  • Sensory overload which involves the use of light forms of torture which encourage the brain to shut itself off from sensory input.
  • Strong G-Force.
  • Equipment which has an effect on proprioception (individual perception)

Paranormal Theories & Explanations
From my personal experience of discussing OBEs with those who claim they experience them, either spontaneously or through induction, it seems that everyone explains them in terms of parapsychology and/or spiritualism, rather than psycho-physiological or medical/neurological causes. The vast majority - if not all - of those who have discussed their OBEs/astral projection with me are interested in lucid dreaming, and typically have some form of spiritual/mystical belief, tending to see the brain/mind issue from the dualistic perspective which supports their personal experiences. I cannot recall a single person who has described an OBE to me and then suggested (or accepted) a psychological or neurological reason for the experience. However, many of the OBE scenarios I have been told could easily have been mistaken false awakenings as they compare to my own experienced of the latter. 

Therefore amongst practitioners of OBEs, the main explanation for the phenomenon seems to be paranormal, spiritual or mystical.

Those who treat OBEs as a parapsychological phenomena - or from an Occultist perspective - disagree that there are physical explanations for OBEs. They suggest that a soul, spirit or subtle body can detach from the physical body and visit distant locations. During the era of popular Victorian Spiritualism, OBEs were known as 'travelling clairvoyance' and Frederic Myers (1843 - 1901) described them as a 'psychical excursion'.

In a study by Edmund Gurney & Frank Podmore, Phantasms of the Living (1886), the authors described cases of OBEs occurring. These studies were heavily criticised by members of the scientific community because the anecdotal reports relied upon lacked any evidential substantiation. 

In 1927, Theosophist, Arthur Powell (1882 - 1969) described OBEs as the 'subtle body' separating from the physical body, which was similar to later theories advanced by Robert Crookall in 1961 and 1965. 

In 1936, Muldoon stated that OBEs were linked to the 'etheric body'. Ernesto Bozzano (1938) gave similar support, in his theory that OBEs were the result of bilocation between the etheric body and the physical body, which was in turn used as an explanation by occultist writers, Ralph Shirley (1938), Benjamin Walker (1977) and Douglas Baker (1979). James Baker (1954) stated that OBEs occur when the 'mental body' enters a 'inter-cosmic region'.

However, the paranormal interpretation of OBEs has not been embraced by all parapsychologists. Gardner Murphy (1961) claimed that OBEs were not far removed from the terrain of general psychology and could be increasingly explained without recourse to the paranormal. 

In April 1977, a female patient ('Maria') of the Harborview Medical Centre, Seattle, USA, claimed that she experienced an OBE during which she left her physical body and floated outside the hospital. She later told her social worker (Kimberly Clark) that she had 'seen' a tennis shoe on a third-floor window ledge on the north side of the building. Clark, who published the account in 1985, went to the stated location and observed the presence of the tennis shoe. This example has been used in parapsychological literature to 'prove' the existence of OBEs. In 1996, Hayden Ebbern, Sean Mulligan & Barry Beyerstein visited the hospital to investigate the report. They placed a tennis shoe in the exact location Maria and Clark had described and found that it was clearly visible from within the building, and specifically by a patient lying in a bed positioned as Maria's would have been. They also found that the shoe was visible from outside the building and suggested that Maria may have heard a comment about the shoe and incorporated it into her OBE, which was accepted as 'truth' by parapsychologists as a result of naivety and wishful thinking.

Psychological Theories & Explanations
Psychology and cognitive science explain OBEs as being a dissociative experience caused by psychological/neurological factors, some of which have been described above. Instead of seeing OBEs are paranormal or spiritual, psychologists typically suggest an OBE is similar to a dream or altered state of consciousness. 

Here are a few of the dominant psychological theories:
  • Charles Richet (1850 - 1935) states that OBEs are a form of dream which involve the brains imagination and memory processes. 
  • James Hyslop (1854 - 1920) saw OBEs as a phenomenon which occur when the subconscious mind dramatises certain images, creating the strong impression that the person is in a different location. 
  • Eugen Osty (1930) claims OBEs were nothing more than a product of the imagination - like a dream. 
  • Schmeing (1938) describes OBEs in terms of psycho-physiological explanations.
  • George Tyrrell (1953) claims that OBEs are hallucinatory constructs which relate to the subconscious levels of the personality.
  • Donovan Rawcliffe (1959) holds that OBEs were linked with psychosis and hysteria - this link between mental health and OBEs was also found by Horowitz (1970) in relation to body image and Whitlock (1978) in relation to depersonalisation.
  • Nandor Fodor (1895 - 1964) & Jan Ehrenwald (1974) assert that OBEs are a defence mechanism designed to deal with the threat of death - an imagined and delusional confirmation of immortality and the possession of a soul which is independent of our physical body.
  • Donald Hebb (1904 - 1985) & Cyril Burt (1998 - 1971) explain OBEs in terms of body image and visual imagery.
  • Graham Reed (1923 - 1989) states that an OBE may be a stress reaction to a painful life event, such as the loss of a loved one.
  • John Palmer (1978) claims that OBEs are a response to a body image change which poses a threat to personal identity.
  • Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996) & Barbara Honeggar (1983) suggest that OBEs may represent a 'rebirth fantasy' or a reliving of the birth process.
  • Susan Blackmore (1978) states that OBEs are a hallucinatory fantasy, characterised by imaginary perceptions, perceptual distortions and delusional perceptions of self (such as possessing no physical body). This view is shared by Ronald Siegel (1980)
  • Myers, Austrin, Grisso & Nickeson (1983) suggest that fantasy-proneness and OBEs are linked and that experiencing an OBE may be more likely if the person has a 'fantasy prone personality'. A study conducted by Gow, Lang & Chant (2004) found that subjects who experienced OBEs were more fantasy-prone and displayed a greater belief in the paranormal.
  • Harvey Irwin (1985) claims that OBEs involve attentional cognitive processes and somatic sensory activity and he developed a theory of cognitive personality constructs, known as 'psychological absorption' in which the subject becomes entirely absorbed within their own mental imagery and fantasy. OBES in this respect, are characterised by autoscopy, mental dissociation and depersonalisation.
  • Stephen LaBerge (1985) describes OBEs in terms of lucid dreaming using the WILD Technique and suggests it shares characteristics of sleep paralysis (see above).
  • David Hufford (1989) links OBEs to 'false awakening' or 'nightmare waking experiences' which are accompanied by sleep paralysis ('cataplexy') and hypnagogia. 
  • Terrence Hines (2003) claims that OBEs may be spontaneously induced by stimulation of the brain and may be caused by temporary minor brain malfunctions.
  • Bunning & Blanke (2005) suggest that OBEs are due to functional disintegration of lower-level multi-sensory processing and abnormal higher-level processing at the temporoparietal junction. Some research has shown that OBEs may relate to mismatches between visual and tactile signals.
  • Alejandro Parra (2009) found that OBEs may relate to cognitive-perceptual schizotypy. 
  • Richard Wiseman (2011) claims that OBE research into psychological explanations for the phenomena does not provide evidence for the paranormal, nor the existence of a soul. 
  • Jason Braithwaite (2011) links OBEs to neural instabilities in the temporal lobes of the brain and errors in the body's sense of self. In 2013, he and his colleagues reported that OBEs may be caused by a temporal disruption in the multi-sensory integration processes.

OBEs & Neurology

There are several physiological explanations for OBEs. OBEs have been induced by stimulating parts of the brain - for example, one study by De Ridder et al (2007) showed that it was possible to simulate an OBE by stimulating the right superior temporal gyrus in a patient. Positron-emission tomography was used by the researchers to identify the regions of the brain affected by this stimulation. The OBE was categorised as an 'OBE-like experience' because the subjects had either never experienced an OBE before, or described the experience in way which lacked the same clarity as normal OBE reports. The subjects were therefore nor qualified to authenticate the experimentally-induced OBE as being an actual OBE. 

Blackmore argues that OBEs occur when the person loses contact with the sensory input from the body whilst remaining conscious. The person maintains a sense of possessing a body, even though no sensory input is perceived from the physical body. The perceived environment may also resemble the actual physical (waking) environment that the person inhabits, but this perception does not come from the senses either. Instead it is a projection of the brains ability to vividly recreate convincing realms, even in the absence of sensory information. This account corresponds to my own experience of false awakenings and lucid dreams induced through the WILD Technique which involve the Mind Awake/Body Asleep paradox. 

HJ Irwin (1985) noted that OBEs tend to occur in situations of very low or high arousal. Celia Green (1968) found that out of 176 subjects, up to 75% were lying down when they experienced an OBE and 12% had considered themselves to be asleep at the point of onset. By contrast, a very small number of her subjects reported experiencing an OBE when under conditions of maximum arousal - such as involvement in a traffic accident, a dangerous fall or childbirth. McCreery (1997) suggests that this paradox may be explained by reference to the fact that sleep may supervene as a reaction to extreme stress or hyper-arousal. He claims that OBEs under conditions of either complete relaxation or hyper-arousal are a form of 'waking dream' or the intrusion of Stage 1 sleep into the waking consciousness.

Olaf Blanke Studies
Olaf Blanke of Switzerland, conducted a series of studies into OBEs. he found that it was possible to reliably induce states which are very similar to OBEs by stimulating a region of the brain known as the right temporal-parietal junction (TPJ) which is where the temporal lobe and parietal lobes of the brain meet. Blanke was able to show that OBEs are associated with lesions in the right TPJ region and can be elicited by applying electrical stimulation to this area of the brain in patients with epilepsy. The subjects of his studies experienced complex somatosensory responses (perception of transformation of the limbs) and vestibular responses (displacement of the entire body). 

In neurologically normal subjects, Blanke was able to prove that conscious experience of the self and body being in the same location at the same time relies on multi-sensory integration in the TPJ and he was able to analyse activation of the TPJ in healthy subjects and how their perspectives related to reports by persons who experience spontaneous OBEs.

Arzy et al conducted a follow-up study which showed that the location and timing of brain activation depended on whether mental imagery is performed with mentally embodied/disembodied self location. With embodied location, there was activation of an area of the brain called the extrastriate body area (EBA), but under disembodied conditions (so, OBEs), there was an increased activation of the TPJ. 

This leads to the conclusion that the TPJ is responsible for spatial awareness/location of the self, and when normal processes are interrupted, an OBE may be experienced. 

In August 2007, Blanke published an article in Science which suggested that the conflicting visual-somatosensory input in virtual reality could result in a dislocation or disruption of the spatial unity between the self and the body. During 'multi-sensory conflict' a subjects felt that a virtual body seen before them was their actual body and 'mislocalized' themselves towards the virtual body, to a position which was outside of their own bodily borders (so, comparable to an OBE). This study indicates the potential for empirically analysing spatial unity and bodily self-consciousness using multi-sensory and cognitive processing of bodily information. 

Henrik Ehrsson Studies
In August 2007, Henrik Ehrsson at the Institute of Neurology, University College, London (now at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden) published his research in Science, which demonstrated the first empirical method for inducing an OBE in healthy subjects. The subjects were seated in a chair and wore two head-mounted video displays, with two small screens over each eye, which show two live videos which are filmed using two cameras positioned side-by-side, two metres behind the subject's head. The video from the camera on the left is presented on the left-hand display and the video from the camera on the right is presented on the right-hand display. The subject experiences this as one 'stereoscopic' (3D) image - of their own back as viewed from the perspective of  'someone' (the cameras) sitting behind them. The researcher then stands beside the subject (in their view) and uses two plastic rods to simultaneously touch the subject's chest (out of view) and the chest of an illusionary body (so, just below the lens of the camera, where the 'chest' would be if the camera were a person). GThe subjects confirmed they had experienced sitting behind their physical body and viewing it from that location - so viewing themselves from the position of the cameras. 

Both Ehrsson and critics of his study stated that the experiment, which created the illusion of the wakeful subject seeing themselves from outside their physical body, fell short of inducing a 'full-blown OBE'. Similar to earlier studies which induce sensations of floating outside the body, Ehrsson's experiment failed to explain how a brain malfunction may cause an OBE. 

Other OBE Studies
The earliest collections of OBEs are attributed to Ernesto Bozzano (Italy) and Robert Crookall (UK). 

Crookall was a spiritualist and collected his OBE reports from niche newpapers, such as the Psychic News, which has led to some critics suggesting that this may account for a large degree of bias in his work. The majority of his cases report the presence of a cord connecting the astral/spirit body and the physical body, whereas Celia Green reports that less than 4% of her subjects experienced the presence of the 'cord' with 80% of them reporting disembodied consciousness or no external body at all. 

Green was the first researcher to undertake an extensive scientific study into OBEs, in 1968. She collected more than 400 written accounts from subjects reporting to experience OBEs, whom she recruited via appeals appearing in the mainstream media, followed up by questionnaires. Her aim was to establish a taxonomy of the different types of OBEs commonly experienced. She classified OBEs as an anomalous perceptual experience or hallucination, but left the question of extra-sensory perception open.

At the first International Forum of Consciousness Research in Barcelona, Spain, 1999, two researchers from the International Academy of Consciousness Research, Wagner Alegretti & Nanci Trivellato presented their preliminary findings on OBEs, which resulted from an online survey of 1,185 internet users who were interested in the subject matter. However, this 'study' was criticised on the basis that it did not use a sample which was representative of the general population. Of the subjects, 85% reported experiencing an OBE; 37% claimed to have experienced 2 - 10 OBEs; and 5.5% claimed to have experienced more than 100 OBEs. Of the subjects who experienced OBEs, 45% reported successfully inducing the experience using a specific induction technique; 62% stated they had also experienced a non-physical flight; 40% stated they experienced self-bilocation/autoscopy; and 38% stated they experienced self-permeability (the ability to pass through solid objects, such as walls). The most commonly reported sensations included floating, falling, repercussions such as myoclonia (jerking awake), sinking, numbness, intracranial sounds, tingling, clairvoyance, oscillation and serenity. 

Another common sensation was temporary of projective catalepsy - which is associated with the state of sleep paralysis. The correlation between sleep paralysis and OBEs was found in Kevin Nelson et al, 'Out-of-Body Experience & Arousal', Neurology (2007), a study which found that people who experience OBEs are also likely to suffer from sleep paralysis. This link was also established by the Waterloo Unusual Sleep Experiences Questionnaire and the work of Richard Buhlman. Both Buhlman's survey and a study by Twemlow, Gabbard & Jones, 'The Out-of-Body Experience: A Phenomenological Typography Based on Questionnaire Responses' The American Journal of Psychiatry (1982) found that up to 85% of subjects who claim to experience OBEs also report hearing loud noises, commonly known as 'exploding head syndrome' (a form of auditory hynagogic hallucination) during the onset of the OBE. 

'Miss Z' Study

In 1968, American parapsychologist Charles Tart conducted a 4-night study in his sleep laboratory using a subject known as 'Miss Z'. Miss Z was attached to an EEG machine and a 5-digit code was placed on a shelf above her bed. On the first 3 nights, Miss Z said she was unable to see the code during an OBE, but on the fourth night, was able to correctly state the 5 numbers. This study has been criticised heavily by psychologist James Alcock (1981) due to its poor controls and the failure to video record the experiment. Martin Gardner (1989) argued that the study is not evidence for the existence of OBEs and suggested that Miss Z waited until Tart was himself asleep, then stood up (with the EEG electrodes still attached) and peeked at the number code on the shelf. This was the same view of Susan Blackmore (1986) who stated that the EEG machine recorded a pattern of interference in Miss Z's brainwave activity which suggested she had climbed up to look at the code on the shelf.

AWARE Studies
In 2001, Sam Parnia, Assistance Professor of Medicine at the New York State University, Stony Brook, investigated OBEs by placing figures of suspended boards, facing the ceiling, but not visible from below. He would be conducting the study using subjects in medical resuscitation - i.e. persons who underwent a NDE (near-death experience) and claimed to float out of their physical bosy towards the ceiling during the NDE. This was intended to prove that only persons who are able to actually leave their physical body and float towards the ceiling could directly identify the targets; if an OBE is a simply psychological phenomenon, the subject not be expected to correctly identify the target figure. Philosopher, Keith Augustine, who critiqued Parnia's study claims that all identification experiments have produced negative results (i.e. fail to prove the existence of an OBE where the subject left their physical body). British Psychologist. Chris French said that none of the survivor subjects in this study experienced an actual OBE.

In Autumn 2008, 25 British and US hospitals began participating in a study by Parnia and Southampton University, known as the 'AWARE Study' - 'AWAreness during REsuscitation'. This study followed the research of Pim van Lommel, a Dutch doctor and researcher of NDEs. The study analyses the NDE in 1,500 survivors of cardiac arrest and determines whether subjects without a heartbeat or brain activity can have OBEs. The experiment uses hidden targets, placed on a shelf, out of view from below. If none of the subjects can identify the hidden target, then this suggests that OBEs in which the subject claims to have floated out of their physical body are nothing more than illusions or false memories. 

In November 2014, Parnia reported his findings at a conference for the American Heart Foundation. None of the subjects had correctly identified the hidden targets and  only 2 of the 152 subjects reported any visual experiences at all, although one described events which were capable of verification. By 2014, the study was completed and submitted for peer-review for publication in a medical journal.  The results of the AWARE study were published in Resuscitation journal in October 2014. 

Amongst the subjects who reported a perception of awareness during resuscitation and completed further interviews with Parnia and his colleagues, 46% experienced a broad range of mental recollections (in relation to death) which were not compatible with the accepted definition/terms of a NDE. Some of these included fearful or persecutory experiences. Only 9% of the subjects reported experiences compatible with NDEs; and 2% experienced the levels of full awareness compatible with OBEs. These subjects had explicit memories of 'seeing' and 'hearing' events. One case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during the subjects's cardiac arrest. According to Parapsychologist, Caroline Watt, the one verifiable case reported during the Parnia study was not part of the objective test, because the subject did not actually fulfil the required task of correctly identifying the visual hidden target during his resuscitation, he instead correctly reported events happening in the hospital while he was being resuscitated, such as describing the defibrillator machine noise. However, this in itself was not concrete proof of anything, as it is likely that a large number of people are familiar with typical events in an emergency room from watching medical scenes in programmes/movies. 

The Nancy Penn Center at The Monroe Institute, Virginia, USA, is a facility which specialises in the induction of OBEs. Other facilities which specialise in OBE induction and research are the Center for Higher Studies of the Consciousness, in Brazil; the Projectarium at the International Academy of Consciousness, Portugal; and Olaf Blanke's Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Smith & Messier Study (2014)
Research by Canadian scientists at the University of Ottawa, has recently been conducted into the case of a female subject (a 24 year old Psychology graduate) who is able to experience OBEs at will. She reported that she developed the ability as a child and associated it with difficulties in falling asleep. In particular, she reported that if would often happen during 'sleep time' at pre-school, when she performed it as a distraction while bored and unable to take a nap like her classmates. These OBEs became less frequent as they continued into adulthood. She reported being able to see herself rotating in the air above her body, lying flat and rolling in the horizontal plane. Sometimes she would watch herself move from above, but was always aware of her motionless 'physical body' and experienced no particular emotions linked to these OBEs. She always assumed that everyone could do this.

This study, which was published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal (2014), terms OBEs as 'extra-corporeal experiences' (ECEs) and found that brain functional changes in this state were different from those observed in motor imagery. 

Smith & Messier used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to analyse the subject's brain. She is believed to be the first person observed who is able to experience OBEs at will, without suffering from any brain abnormalities. The researchers founds that there was a strong deactivation of the visual cortex. The brain was activated on the left side of the brain (are areas linked with kinesthetic imagery) and involved some areas which overlapped with the TPJ, which is the region of the brain associated with OBEs. There was also activity in the cerebellum, which was consistent with the subject's report of having the impression of movement during the OBE; and further other brain activity linked to the process of action monitoring. 

The researchers suggest that it may be a common incidence, which often goes unreported because people able to experience these OBEs assume they are normal and unexceptional. They also state that OBEs like these may be more common in childhood, but are not continued into adulthood without regular practice. You can read the full published journal article of Smith & Messiers, 'Voluntary out-of-body experience: an fMRI study' (2014) Frontiers of Human Neuroscience by clicking on the red text link.

In conclusion, I was sceptical before I wrote this article, and confused now I have finished this part of my research. I accept that OBEs are not confined to spiritual and mystical beliefs and that there are certain neurological states which are associated with this phenomenon, which can be tested in empirical studies. I tend to believe that OBEs are an experience which is either the same - or very similar - to those experienced in WILD lucid dreams and sleep paralysis, as I can use my own self-reported experiences in this regard to compare with other research by experts such as LaBerge, and this would suggest they are a psychological illusion akin to a lucid dream, as opposed to the actual detachment of the consciousness from the physical body. However, the latest, highly-publicised study by Smith & Messiers (2014) does raise more questions, which will hopefully be probed and answered in future research.

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