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Neuroscience or paranormal? What does research has to say about Out-of-Body Experience

Is Out-of-Body Experience real or is it 'all in the mind'? Lets have a look at what research and science has to say about this.

August 26, 2020
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  • Science
  • Biology

  • Ever had a sensation of being outside of your physical body? Ever looked at the luminescence at the end of the tunnel? Or maybe floated in air over your body and looking at yourself from upside? This is what we call an Out of Body Experience (OBE). Over the recent years, this intriguing and compelling topic diverted the attention of scientists towards itself. Before we move further, let's talk about what an OBE actually is.

    It is an experience in which a person feels as if he has left his physical body and views himself form another perspective. Such experience includes escape of consciousness from one's body. In OBE a person feels like floating in air and looking at the world with birds eye view and all this feels real to that person and he is sure that he is not dreaming or fantasizing it. According to a survey, about 10% of the total population have at least once encountered OBE.

    Scientists are still researching that whether the consciousness really leaves the body or not. OBE occurs spontaneously and usually don't last longer. Sometimes Out of Body Experience is induced willingly known as Astral Projection which is esoteric and spiritual practice in which the consciousness is intentionally sent to travel in astral plane. The idea of astral projection is very controversial and scientists are still working on it.

    Robert Monroe was the first one to do comprehensive research on OBE after experiencing this himself. When he first felt his consciousness leaving the body, he thought of it as some mental illness and consulted doctor who assured him that he was healthy. Robert decided to meet his psychiatrist friend who told him to study Eastern religion in which he may find what he was looking for. He tried to experience it again and again and wrote about his various OBE's in his book Journeys Out of the Body. Monroe named the floating body as "second body". He experienced the part of environment which couldn't be seen from the physical body perspective. Robert died in 1995 but provoked the fascination about this topic.

    Some neuro scientists think of Out of Body Experience as a result of vestibular system damage. The vestibular system is the inner part of ear concerned with the maintenance of balance and vision. It is also connected with brain and helps to detect a person's position in space. The patients suffering from vestibular system damage often report dizziness. In fact, a French neuro scientist Christophe Lopez collaborated with Maya Elzière, a vestibular specialist for a research. Out of 210 patients who reported dizziness, 14% claimed that they encounter Out of Body Experience, contrarily 5% of perfectly healthy participants reported it.

    According to these figures obtained by the research, it is shown that vestibular disorder can cause OBE, but this experience is also encountered by healthy people. Hence it is wrong to say that vestibular disorder is the sole cause of Out of Body Experience. As Lopez himself said, “We believe out-of-body experiences might be a combination of several factors”.

    Near Death Experience (NDE) is also a form of OBE, in which the persons usually report feelings like walking in a tunnel, looking at luminescence at the end of tunnel, meeting God and angels etc. For example, the case of Jazmyne Cidavia-DeRepentigny, who reported having Near Death Experience while operation. She said,

    I must say that this experience was quite unsettling to say the least. I was floating over my body. I could see and hear everything that was being said and done. I left the room for a short while and then returned to where my body lay. I knew why I died. It was because I couldn't breathe. There was a tube down my throat and the medical staff did not have an oxygen mask on my nose. I had also been given too much anesthetic.

    Another major cause of Out of Body Experience is stress, trauma, depression or anxiety. A person with mental health problems is more likely to undergo OBE as compared to a person with stable mind. Panic attacks can also induce Out of Body Experience. OBE's can also occurs spontaneously just before waking up or going to sleep. Sometimes, OBE's happen during daily activities like walking, running, cooking etc. A 36-year-old Police officer reported OBE during her first night of duty. She said,

    When I and three other officers stopped the vehicle and started getting [to] the suspect … I was afraid. I promptly went out of my body and up into the air maybe 20 feet above the scene. I remained there, extremely calm, while I watched the entire procedure – including watching myself do exactly what I had been trained to do.

    Some other medical conditions which results in induction of OBE are migraines, cardiac arrest, epilepsy, sleep paralysis, Bipolar disorder, brain injuries etc. People under effect of anesthesia and people using hallucinatory drugs also encounter Out of Body Experience. During brain tumor removal surgery, the clinically dead patient Pam Reynolds claimed to have experienced Out of Body Experience and explained the procedure happened during the surgery. She said that she witnessed all this during her OBE.

    Another phenomenon of OBE is the "gravity-induced loss of consciousness". This phenomenon is mostly common in astronauts and pilots. Gravitational forces induce Out of Body Experience in pilots. Such case was reported by Col. Dan Fulgham. He said,

    I was there. But I, like, wasn't there. I was floating. I was looking at myself from outside of myself.

    Even G-LOC can cause spatial disorientation during commercial flights hence increasing the risk of aviation accidents. Such disorientation can also be an effect of fatigue, low lights, stress etc.

    Out of Body Experience do not pose any threat to health. However, you might feel dizziness after such experience. Some people report lack of focus and disoriented, but these effects are temporary. Most of the people who undergoes OBE feels emotional distress and some find it as spiritual experience.

    Seeking medical help is not necessary in spontaneous Out of Body Experience if not followed by some serious medical conditions such as severe headaches, seizures, loss of consciousness and suicidal thoughts. However, in mental disturbance case, one can consult a psychiatrist.

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    About Author

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    Hasaan Arshad

    Managing Editor

    Hasaan Arshad is the Managing Editor at Fiction Bytes, an aspiring publication and technology journalism website. He is an undergraduate Computer Science student. He is a tech enthusiast and most of his life has revolved around technology and gadgets. He also loves watching films and playing video games.


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