Friday, 20 July 2012

Out of Body Experiences

I thought "out of body experiences" are fairly common. At least I started having such experiences just after my father's death nearly 3 decades ago. So in my case it was brought on by trauma and I struggled with it over next few years till I learnt how to enter and come out of such a state. Those states earlier were accompanied by extreme horror till I made it into an entertainment just to escape! Being a scientist, ofcourse I looked for scientific explanations and I had first hand experiences too. May be I will blog it.

I just remember an incident. A colleague was talking about fantastic account of OBE in some book. So I asked, what of it? I have had it hundreds of times. He was so shocked and didn't ask me about my experiences at all. So much mystification goes on!

I was unaware of Open magazine article and the TIFR talk. But I was aware of Susan Blackmore's work because it matched with my conclusions.

I am aware of what they call siddhi etc associated with this state.

I had started collecting in one place what many writers have written about this state ( I have already put some by Dostoyesky and by Doris Lessing. I want to put some more by the same writers and also by Thomas Mann. ) My blog

Here is what I discovered on net and absolutely demystifying and true

Trick yourself into an out-of-body experience

Your mind isn’t as firmly anchored in your body as you think. Time for some sleight of hand
CLOSE your eyes and ask yourself: where am I? Not geographically, but existentially. Most of the time, we would say that we are inside our bodies. After all, we peer out at the world from a unique, first-person perspective within our heads – and we take it for granted.
We wouldn’t be so sanguine if we knew that this feeling of inhabiting a body is something the brain is constantly constructing. But the fact that we live inside our bodies doesn’t mean that our sense of self is confined to its borders – as these next examples show.

Sleight of (rubber) hand

By staging experiments that manipulate the senses, we can explore how the brain draws – and redraws – the contours of where our selves reside.
One of the simplest ways to see this in action is via an experiment that’s now part of neuroscience folklore: the rubber hand illusion. The set up is simple: a person’s hand is hidden from their view by a screen while a rubber hand is placed on the table in front of them. By stroking their hand while they see the rubber hand being stroked, you can make them feel that the fake hand is theirs (see diagram).
Why does this happen? The brain integrates various senses to create aspects of our bodily self. In the rubber hand illusion, the brain is processing touch, vision and proprioception – the internal sense of the relative location of our body parts. Given the conflicting information, the brain resolves it by taking ownership of the rubber hand.
The implication is that the boundaries of the self sketched out by the brain can easily expand to include a foreign object. And the self’s peculiar meanderings outside the body don’t end there.

Trading places

Ever wish you had someone else’s body? The brain can make it happen. To show how, Henrik Ehrsson at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues transported people out of their own bodies and into a life-size mannequin.
The mannequin had cameras for eyes, and whatever it was “seeing” was fed into a head-mounted display worn by a volunteer. In this case, the mannequin’s gaze was pointed down at its abdomen. When the researchers stroked the abdomens of both the volunteer and the mannequin at the same time, many identified with the mannequin’s body as if it was their own.
In 2011, the team repeated the experiment, but this time while monitoring the brain activity of volunteers lying in an fMRI scanner. They found that activity in certain areas of the frontal and parietal lobes correlated with the changing sense of body ownership.
So what’s happening? Studies of macaque monkeys show us that these brain regions contain neurons that integrate vision, touch and proprioception. Ehrsson thinks that in the human brain such neurons fire only when there are synchronous touches and visual sensations in the immediate space around the body, suggesting that they play a role in constructing our sense of body ownership. Mess with the information the brain receives, and you can mess with this feeling of body ownership.
Yet while Ehrsson’s study manipulated body ownership, the person “inside” the mannequin still had a first-person perspective – their self was still located within a body, even if it wasn’t their own. Could it be possible to wander somewhere where there is no body at all?

Into thin air

Your self even can be tricked into hovering in mid-air outside the body. In 2011, Olaf Blanke at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne and colleagues asked volunteers to lie on their backs and via a headset watch a video of a person of similar appearance being stroked on the back. Meanwhile, a robotic arm installed within the bed stroked the volunteer’s back in the same way.
The experience that people described was significantly more immersive than simply watching a movie of someone else’s body. Volunteers felt they were floating above their own body, and a few experienced a particularly strange effect. Despite the fact that they were all lying facing upwards, some felt they were floating face down so they could watch their own back (see “Leaving the body”). “I was looking at my own body from above,” said one participant. “The perception of being apart from my own body was a bit weak but still there.”
“That was for us really exciting, because it gets really close to the classical out-of-body experience of looking down at your own body,” says team member Bigna Lenggenhager, now at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Further support came by repeating the experiment inside an MRI scanner, which showed a brain region called the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) behaving differently when people said they were drifting outside their bodies. This ties in neatly with previous studies of brain lesions in people who reported out-of-body experiences, which also implicated the TPJ.
The TPJ shares a common trait with other brain regions that researchers believe are associated with body illusions: it helps to integrate visual, tactile and proprioceptive senses with the signals from the inner ear that give us our sense of balance and spatial orientation. This provides more evidence that the brain’s ability to integrate various sensory stimuli plays a key role in locating the self in the body.
According to philosopher Thomas Metzinger of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, understanding how the brain performs this trick is the first step to understanding how the brain puts together our autobiographical self – the sense we have of ourselves as entities that exist from a remembered past to an imagined future. “These experiments are very telling, because they manipulate low-level dimensions of the self: self-location and self-identification,” he says. The feeling of owning and being in a body is perhaps the most basic facet of self-consciousness, and so could be the foundation on which more complex aspects of the self are built. The body, it seems, begets the self.


  1. Your experiences are stunning, to say the least. The fact that you think it is fairly common makes me fall of my chair. You can come in and out of it at will? It seems to me that you do not appreciate what a treasure you have!

    Horror is a natural reaction, the first few times. But I wonder if you have had blissful feelings later.

    Sometimes it is not a good idea to write about it publicly. But you should note it down in private and try describing each incident in detail.

    After thinking about it, you may want to see how it works in controlled lab conditions. Or you may keep it to yourself.

    If it is a Siddhi, be aware of the propensity of the ego to misuse it.

    I perused the Susan Blackmore article before writing my blog post on OBE.

    Commenting on my blog should be easy. Did "Leave a comment" not work?

    God bless you.

  2. I am not an expert, I have read a bit what neuro biologists have written. In fact it took me a while to realize that I was having an OBE experience. It is a stage where your mind is awake but your body is asleep. I think the technical term is sleep paralysis. May be it is brought about by low BP. So you can understand why victims in an accident where are in a state of shock have such experiences. I had read a lot to try to understand what was happening to me and I had found some similarities to what is called temporal lobe epilepsy or some such.

    I don't know what is treasure about it. I have had more insights over various things through writing, and through dreams. Only twice I have voluntarily entered into that state of mind seeking information, once to meet...(I had experience very similar to what Ivan had in the extract from Dostoyevsky) But unlike in Ivan's case there were no long conversations and I just slapped him. Guess I am not as complicated as Dostoevsky's characters. The other time was to find how to deal with an attack of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Yes I cured myself completely but it took over a year. May be I will blog it sometime later.
    Yes psychological inflation is fairly common - eg I found it in Autobiography of a Yogi or in Gopi Krishna. Now I am in danger of being dubbed arrogant. I don't think OBE is a big deal. I have learnt more from certain dreams of mine than from these esoteric experiences.
    Of Course there are certain ethical issues involved which used to bother me a lot. Then I came across Doris Lessing's writings and I have given an extract here. Like Lessing, I found solace in sufism. I don't want to say much about religion, because I am mostly out of my depths, but I am learning may be very very slowly.