Travel in the Spiritual Worlds
Reductionist Arguments Explaining Neath-death Experiences (NDEs) and OBEs
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Providing a scientific explanation for the phenomenon of near-death experience has been a difficult challenge for scientists ever since data in the form of NDE testimonials started appearing in the mid 1970's. Some of the scientific arguments against the validity of NDEs (i.e., that they are only hallucinations) are also applicable to out-of-body experiences in general since out-of-body experiences are an important component of most NDEs.

When examining the Near-death experience, we might first ask the question, "Why did the NDE concept emerge when it did?"

One explanation is that prior to the 1970's, ambulances were little more than transport services whose personnel had little knowledge of emergency medicine. The result of this was that most serious injuries resulted in the death of patients before they reached the hospital or shortly thereafter. The medical art of resuscitation was in its infancy, and the well known role of the Emergency Medical Technician did not yet exist. Thus, few patients came back to describe their near-death experiences. The large amounts of data necessary to develop the NDE concept probably came into being as a result of improvements in emergency medicine.

As NDEs became better known, psychologists, physiologists, and neurologists began looking for ways to account for NDEs using physical and medical explanations. Reducing complex psychological phenomena to simpler material laws and processes is a primary occupation of scientists. This reductionist methodology has not always been successful in other scientific disciplines as we describe on the The Limits of Scientific Reductionism page but it is routinely employed when people have experiences that appear to involve the supernatural.

The goal is to explain away the supernatural, and reduce it to physical causes such as brain chemistry (neural noise, hypoxia, etc.), psychological states (wish fulfillment or reliving the birth trauma), and sociological factors (religious fantasies based on social conditioning). The scientist's refusal to accept supernatural explanations for natural phenomena has in general been very advantageous for society, and resulted in many of the advances in material comfort that we see today. Their skepticism is therefore something to be praised and makes a valuable contribution to the world we live in.

However, when it comes to investigating the events and experiences which occur on the borders of life and death, their standard assumptions and methodologies become somewhat problematic. As with scientific attempts to describe the origins and fundamental makeup of matter or how objects behave as they approach or reach the speed of light, seemingly implausible or contradictory claims lead to questioning the basic premises of science when investigating borderline or liminal areas.

The more recent interest in quantum computing where qbits are entangled and act as a single entity even when separated by dozens or millions of miles represents a big challenge to quantum physics. The notion that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light seems to be violated when a change in one of a pair of entangled bits instantaneously changes the state of the other though they may be (theoretically) light years distant from one another. Such instant "communication" across long distances may require a rethinking of much of quantum physics theory.

a Scientists are in a difficult position with respect to explaining NDEs. If they attempt to provide theories which are based on anything other than hard science i.e, brain chemistry and function, they lose credibility in their profession and will be ignored. If they fail to provide explanations of a complex and deeply meaningful experience that happens to literally millions of people as they near death, they lose credibility with the public at large, and seem weak and unresponsive to the needs of those who wish to explain such experience.

Such areas of investigation as understanding Near-death experience, perinatal (near-birth) experience, the infinitely fine strings that are supposedly responsible for gravitational attraction between objects (string theory), or the basic structures of subatomic matter all seem to defy the clear explanations and rational analysis that are so fruitful in the other more common domains of scientific inquiry.

Because NDEs contain so many elements, a number of different complementary explanations are needed to account for this complexity. But in most cases, each explanation focuses on only one element of the NDE and ignores the others. Such explanations use the divide and conquer approach to weaken the overall NDE concept by reducing one of its component parts to physical causes. But scientific attempts to subdivide and explain the individual elements of what is clearly a complex syndrome of related phenomena indicate that scientists are resigned to the fact that their efforts to date at developing a more comprehensive explanation have largely failed. They seem to be reduced to explaining a complex system by examining a small portion of the data available and filtering out or ignoring the rest. Such an approach is not promising but it seems to have been accepted as the only research methodology available to them.

More recently, a noted neurologist has published a comprehensive work on his efforts to understand NDEs using the latest methods and theories. Our critique of his efforts can be found on the page A Critique of a Noted Neurologist's Efforts to Reverse-engineer NDEs .

Here are some common explanations for the elements of NDEs followed by some reasons why these explanations seem implausible or inadequate. The first set of explanations are physiological or medical explanations, and the second set are psychological explanations.

Physiological or Medical Explanations for NDEs

The NDE euphoria is caused by hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain)

The euphoria associated with an NDE is said to come from lack of oxygen to the brain. Such euphoria is identical with the pleasant sensation we experience sometimes when fainting. The most common reason that this occurs is a medical situation known as orthostatic hypotension. Here, a sudden change in the position of the body (such as getting out of bed too quickly) causes dizziness or fainting due to a lowering of blood pressure in the brain.

However, the euphoria associated with fainting usually lasts at most a few seconds before leading to complete loss of consciousness. NDE victims many times describe a kind of euphoria of "being in a quiet and peaceful space" initially after leaving the body. However, this euphoria usually lasts for longer periods, and does not lead to unconsciousness. Such experience is usually followed by the "tunnel experience" or observing the events occurring around the body in what many times appears to last a period of minutes.

The other type of euphoria associated with NDEs is most common when encountering the "being of light" and it also appears to last up to several minutes, and does not lead to unconsciousness. Instead, it leads to the "past life review". In both cases, the NDE euphoria experience differs in both duration and in what follows from the normal experience of hypoxia.

The question also arises as to why most people who have a temporary lack of oxygen to the brain as in the case of those who faint from an intense experience of horror, pain, or fear (neurogenic shock) do not experience NDEs. Shock or the lack of perfusion of oxygen to the brain is very common in many medical situations but is not associated with NDE-like experience at all. For instance, patients who sustain a great deal of blood loss but do not stop breathing also have brains that are starved for oxygen. NDEs are not associated with such situations. It is only when the heart stops beating and breathing stops and the body appears to be dead that NDEs occur. This simple observation calls the hypoxia-related theories into question.

Finally, the experience of fainting (in my own experience) is a state where normal perception (sight, balance, vision) is blurred and a floating sensation overtakes the fainting person. The person usually blacks out and falls to the ground as the experience occurs. The detailed analysis, memory, and clarity of perception that occurs during most NDEs seems to be very much at odds with this blurred state which borders on unconsciousness.

The NDE euphoria is caused by the of secretion of endorphins (natural analgesic or pain-relieving chemicals secreted by the body during physical trauma)
Euphoria which is traceable to the secretion of endorphins is an unusual explanation, because at least some endorphins are often "local anesthetics", and not systemic ones. They are associated with specific trauma local to the injured part of the body. However, if they were released in sufficient quantity and get into the bloodstream to affect the entire body (the so-called runner's high is an example), they could lead to an anesthetic high which might be responsible for the NDE's euphoria. However, as explained previously, euphoria is only one of many elements of an NDE. Explaining one component of the NDE is a long way from explaining the entire NDE.

Also, many forms of injury which might result in death (drowning, fast acting allergic reactions, or taking an overdose of drugs, for instance) are not generally associated with specific injuries that would be likely to release endorphins because they are not associated with trauma or over-stressing the body with extreme exercise. Yet NDEs are associated with such medical events. This seems to indicate that endorphins are not the sole cause of euphoria in NDEs. Again, this simple observation seems to call all the endorphin-related arguments into question.

The NDE tunnel vision is caused by hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain)
Jet fighter pilots experience "tunnel vision" as they gradually lose consciousness as a result of blood draining from their brains because of the extreme gravity forces generated during flight. Their peripheral vision darkens and blurs while the circle of vision becomes smaller as the pilot nears unconsciousness. However, the pilot still perceives the material world during this experience. The central area of vision that remains still shows the cockpit gauges and the horizon.

The person having an NDE, however, perceives light at the end of a tunnel, not material reality. The experiences have in common that the individual has a circular visual field, but they differ both in what the visual field contains (image versus light), and how the visual field changes. While the jet pilot gradually sees the visual field decrease in size to a smaller and smaller circle, the NDE experiences described by those who have had the experience do not mention this gradual narrowing over time. Instead, the field starts out as a pinpoint or small circle, which may or may not increase in size during the "tunnel experience". It generally does not decrease in size. In some cases, the light at the end of the tunnel gradually grows to engulf the individual as he or she nears the end of the tunnel. The tunnel experienced during an NDE is usually 3-dimensional and surrounds the individual while the pilot experiences a narrowing of the visual field but not a "tunnel".

Thus the analogy comparing the tunnel-vision caused by hypoxia, and the NDE tunnel falls short. There are more differences than similarities in comparing the two kinds of tunnel experiences.

The "neural noise" concept is another theory which claims to explain the NDE tunnel experience
Noise (neural or otherwise) is by its nature random, and contains no usable information. "Noise" is how one scientist-researcher explains the experience of the NDE tunnel. Whether the tunnel is composed of sound with a circular light in the distance, or is just a black vibrating corridor in space, the tunnel experience is reduced to random noise produced by a faltering nervous system.

What is unusual, however, is that this tunnel leads somewhere. It leads to another space, or a being of light, or a talk with dead relatives.

The "neural noise" raises similar questions to the hypoxia theory when it tries to explain the tunnel experience.

We may ask the question why the random noise of a dysfunctional nervous system does not lead to complete unconsciousness? Instead, it seems to lead to a different kind of consciousness during the NDE.

If the nervous system is so damaged as to bring about disorientation and random perceptions of a tunnel of light, why is such degraded experience followed by complex detailed past-life reviews and meaningful coherent conversations with beings of light? Why is this noise so symptomatic of a nervous system in crisis many times followed by a dramatic improvement in the patient's mental condition?

Such dramatic improvements in the brain's condition seem unlikely after such a shock yet they happen repeatedly. The failure to answer such questions casts considerable doubt on the "neural noise" theory.

Also, "noise" is by its nature random which means it does not follow any prescribed pattern. The tunnel experience presents a repeating and very definite pattern which means that the term "noise" is not well chosen.

The naturally-occurring chemical DMT causes hallucinations during NDEs

A more recent argument suggested by David Luke and other researchers is that the substance DMT increases in the brain as a person nears death (and thus during an NDE) and causes hallucinations. This endogenous or naturally produced psychedelic chemical causes complex visions of robot people, clowns and jesters, "little people" from Celtic folklore, intelligent insect beings, etc. when taken in sufficient quantities. These beings are sometimes described as more real than material experience and are capable of complex interactions and intelligent conversation.

However Luke notes that people who ingest DMT almost never have discussions with deal relatives and friends. They also do not have life reviews or come to a barrier where they are told to go back to life and that they are not ready to die.

Also DMT often causes visions containing intense geometric patterns which are unknown in NDEs. DMT users sometimes report being experimented upon in strange ways similar to what occurs in alien abductions which is not a feature of NDEs. These among other difference present a fairly strong argument that the chemical DMT is not responsible for NDEs.

Psychological Explanations for NDEs

NDEs are religious hallucinations caused by Freudian wish-fulfillment fantasies (Freud thought these infantile longings were the basis for all religious experience)

The general notion that all elements of NDEs (and all religious visions) are simply hallucinations is pervasive among psychologists. One common theory is that religious hallucinations are especially likely to occur in adults who are familiar with religious views of heaven. They are more likely to project these views into a dream state or fantasy during an NDE.

Freud said that wish-fulfillment fantasies and dreams were common in people, and religious experience could be reduced to such fantasies in less functional adults. These individuals could not satisfy their desires in the real would and so retreated into an infantile world of fantasy where religion promised them eternal happiness. His theories are defined in his book titled The Future of an Illusion.

The major problem with the infantile fantasy approach is that NDEs hardly resemble notions of Christian or Jewish heaven. Saint Peter, Christ, Moses, pearly gates, harp music, and angels with wings are entirely absent (with the exception of a very few who believe that the being of light is Christ or another religious figure in spite of the fact that this being possesses none of the appropriate physical attributes).

This is not to say that NDEs are inherently non-Christian. After all, Christ is the "light of the world". It may be that the common anthropomorphic elements associated with the Christian heaven (such as angels with wings) are like outer husks that during the NDE become transparent to a deeper, esoteric core. The person experiencing the NDE then perceives both a heavenly light and the luminous, compassionate beings that are the genuine angels that underlie the mythic image of angels that we see described in the Bible.

However if we look at the NDE experience literally, it might be more appropriate for a believer in Vedanta (a philosophical form of Hinduism) with its emphasis on spiritual light. But, in general, attempts to present NDEs as projections of a common Christian or Jewish heaven seem a fruitless endeavor that is destined to failure.

We will note that Freud viewed all mystical experience as regressive and infantile, and thus reduced one of the highest goals of religious mankind to the longings of a child retreating into a fantasy world in an attempt to escape the painful adult world.

A more general criticism is the social conditioning argument that states that NDE imagery and experience is based on cultural factors and memories, and therefore a projection of previous experience. People, like poets, often use metaphors to attempt to describe NDE experience.

Dr. Woollacott, a neurologist studying NDEs, notes that an "attempt to describe any experience will prompt us to draw from our cultural background. That doesn't make our experience invalid." She also states that metaphor "seems to be the only way a person who has experienced consciousness without an anchor to the physical body can communicate such an occurrence". (Infinite Awareness, Marjorie Hines Woollacott, Roman and Littlefield, 2015, pps. 99, 100). It is a "universal function" of metaphor to communicate that which is difficult to explain or understand, and the fact that all metaphors are derived from a given culture and language does not make the experience they attempt to describe into a cultural artifact or projection.

The NDE's euphoria is based on a memory in the womb of peace and satisfaction of the fetus (Romain Rolland believed that euphoric feelings associated with religious experience could be traced to the "oceanic feeling" of the experience of the fetus in the womb. NDEs contain such euphoria and the memory of womb consciousness may be the source of this euphoria).
A theory related to Freud's psychological theory states that the blissful component of the NDE is explained by a memory (as opposed to a fantasy) of the happiness and peace of the "oceanic feeling" experienced by the fetus floating in the womb prior to birth. Romain Roland, a contemporary of Freud, believed that this memory accounted for the joyous sense of oneness with the universe experienced by mystics.

We will note here that there is some evidence to show that the womb is anything but a silent place. Any pregnant women with a stethoscope can listen and conclude for herself that though the womb may be ocean-like, it is certainly not a silent ocean. The notion that peace and quiet go together and depend on each other does not seem to be supported by the sensory environment of the fetus in the womb. The idea that the womb was peaceful seems to have been based largely on the fact that the fetus had all of its desires met through the sustenance supplied by the umbilical chord, while remaining warm and secure in the womb. But it is an open question whether being without desire is truly a state of happiness. The act of becoming satisfied after being hungry or in need may bring a temporary state of happiness but being continuously satisfied may be described more accurately as a state of peace or detachment rather than the joy associated with an NDE.

As for mystical oneness being associated with a memory of the womb, very few NDEs involve this complete feeling of mystical transcendence even though many NDEs contain lesser feelings of happiness and joy. We will therefore not attempt to account for mystical phenomena in our discussion of NDEs.

The "tunnel experience" during NDEs is caused by the re-experience of the birth trauma (the tunnel is the birth canal, the light at the end is the external world, and the doctor is the being of light)
Carl Sagan's theory of reliving the birth trauma seems false based on even the most naive analysis. A child going through the birth canal would be completely blind with his or her eyes pressed against the vagina during the entire birth process. Only when the head emerged would the child see anything at all. The "light at the end of the tunnel" experience during the NDE would not exist for such a child during childbirth. The tunnel is sometimes described as a rocking and shaking corridor through which the individual moves during an NDE, but the individual is said to fly at great speed through such a space. The child in the birth canal moves or slides extremely slowly and under extreme pressure. The birth trauma memory analogy is very tenuous.

Also, individuals delivered by Caesarean section appear to have NDEs just as people delivered via the vaginal method. So the "tunnel experience" cannot be explained by a birth memory since, with this type of birth, the child is lifted out of the womb and never passes through the vaginal "tunnel".

Sagan goes further by explaining that the being of light is a doctor or nurse which attends the birth and first holds the child when it is born. Reading descriptions of this being of light and equating him with a doctor or midwife is quite difficult to imagine.

Drugs as an Explanation for NDEs

The web page http://www.skepdic.com/nde.html repeats a common theme that if a drug is capable of producing some of the elements of an NDE, the NDE must be the direct result of changes in brain chemistry caused by the drug. The web page states:

According to Dr. Karl Jansen, ketamine can reproduce all the main features of the NDE, including travel through a dark tunnel into the light, the feeling that one is dead, communing with God, hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, strange noises, etc. This does not prove that there is no life after death, but it does prove that an NDE is not proof of an afterlife.
The previous sentence is a very strong statement and is also highly dubious.

For instance, the history of people claiming that they communed or talked with God, beings of light, or non-physical entities is vast and plays a large role in many of the world's religions. Mediums and Shaman have talked to disembodied entities for centuries, and have been an important part of cultures from ancient Greece to Tibet to modern day America (with its interest in such religions as Theosophy, Scientology, and the Spiritualist movements). Many Shamans have used drugs to enhance their vision. Dr. Jansen's claim that he knows that none of the people under the influence of ketamine are talking to such entities has no basis in fact. His belief that such claims are obviously false reveals more about his own presuppositions about the way the world works than it does about what is actually happening with his subjects. Dr. Jansen has softened his claim about the unreality of drug-related experience over the years, but his earlier position is still a popular one in and out of the scientific community.

Note that the above statement does not say that all or even some of these experiences occur to one individual or that those that do occur appear in a prescribed sequence as often happens in an NDE. It only says that at least one of the above experiences can occur to a single individual under the influence of the drug. Ketamine certainly does not cause NDEs to occur though it appears to sometimes cause the dissociation where the mind separates from the body in a way that appears similar to what occurs in many NDEs.

It also does not talk about the content of the hallucinations under ketamine influence. Why is it that during NDEs, such "hallucinations" consist of swimmers seeing themselves drowning. Why do people with allergic reactions in their home or children hit by cars while riding bicycles see themselves flying through space following ambulances to emergency rooms? Why do people in hospitals repeatedly watch themselves being given CPR (See: Near-Death Experience for detained examples)?

The scientific answer to such questions brings us back to the projection of fantasy worlds and social conditioning arguments but, as stated earlier, if the mind is so good at creating hallucinations of accident scenes, hospital rooms, and operating room procedures (places and activities that are unfamiliar to most people except perhaps through television), why is the same mind so bad at creating hallucinations of God the Father, angels, Saint Peter, Moses, and heaven (concepts very familiar to Christian, Jews, and even most non-Christians in the United States)?

The fact that a specific drug can cause "hallucinations" is not a new or unusual discovery. Therefore, the importance of ketamine research depends on the quality and contents of the hallucinations and their similarity to the NDE experience if they are to help researchers understand near-death experience better.

Without precise statistics, it is difficult to know the contents of the hallucinations of patients under ketamine influence but I suspect that their subject matter does not mimic the complex, detailed, and highly structured kinds of out-of-body experiences of people who have NDEs. Dr. Jansen, so far as I am aware, does not claim that they do this either.

Dr. Jansen does acknowledge some of the limitations in the present research on ketamine:

Unfortunately, the study in which persons who have had NDE's are given ketamine and asked to compare the two experiences has yet to be carried out, although the psychological effects of ketamine have been well documented in numerous clinical studies by anesthetists (see Domino, 1992). Information in the area of ketamine and NDE's remains largely anecdotal, and some of these references are necessarily to secondary sources. (Reference: http://leda.lycaeum.org/?ID=9260 )
The primary objection to Dr. Jansen's claim is that a drug capable producing such a wide variety of "side-effects" is probably not the primary cause of such effects but is more likely an ingredient in opening up a huge area of experience which is difficult to classify. The kinds of experience that results from such a drug appear to be more dependent on personality differences of the people taking the drug than on the drug itself. Similarly, trying to reduce the enormous range of LSD experience to simple categories like "psychotomimetic" (imitating psychosis) provides little insight into the effect of the drug because some people become "psychotic" while others remain lucid and rational under LSD influence. One stimulus (a drug such as LSD or ketamine) cannot be accurately said to "cause" dozens (and even hundreds) of different complex psychological effects which vary greatly from individual to individual.

Dr. Jansen's claims are nothing new. LSD experience can produce all the experiences (and a great many more) that are on his list for ketamine. Experimenting with a different drug and repeating similar claims about a range of experience associated with it does not in itself provide new information.

The above quote from skeptic.com is a good illustration of this kind of false reasoning which attempts to account for myriad effects which vary tremendously from individual to individual with a single drug stimulus.

Aldous Huxley's claims that certain drugs open the "doors of perception" thus removing the brain's normal filtering of perception is relevant here. The fact that certain drugs in certain individuals in certain situations permit expanded awareness (or psychotic episodes for that matter) does not mean that they are the primary cause of such awareness or episodes. They may simply remove the barriers to such experience which are normally present.

A similar approach postulates that the human unconscious is opened and made available to the conscious mind by the use of such drugs. Drugs such as ketamine and LSD merely provide access to huge areas of the mind that are normally unconscious rather than mechanically causing illusory perceptions to occur to the individual by altering brain chemistry. Stanislav Grof, the well-known LSD researcher, describes these areas as the "Realms of the Human Unconscious".

The Fundamental Incompatibility - A Tortured Body and an Ecstatic Spirit

The basic quality of consciousness usually described during NDEs is quietness, peacefulness, clarity, happiness, and wonder, accompanied by excellent memory. A crisis of the nervous system should be accompanied by confusion, disorientation, impaired consciousness, and vague or nonexistent memory. The many positive elements described during NDEs should not exist if the brain is in such a degraded state, if NDEs are only a by-product of brain states. Experiences of life-threatening sickness, weakness, shock, and trauma generally have no such positive elements associated with them. Shock or the lack of perfusion of oxygen to the brain is closely associated with a terrible "feeling of impending doom" in the literature. In psychological terms, trauma, danger, and injury may cause the individual to react strongly. These reactions are associated with adrenaline and the "fight or flight" reflex. They ready the individual for dynamic action and movement to increase the probability of survival in dangerous situations. This adrenaline-induced reaction of nervousness and high arousal is also inconsistent with the positive emotions of an NDE.

One powerful argument against the notion that NDEs are a physiological event based on brain impairment is that they consistently occur when the brain is most compromised. This is stated by Edward and Emily Kelly, researchers at the University of Virginia, where they conclude that clear mental processes are inconsistent with the impaired brain function that occurs during an NDE:

The most important objection to the adequacy of all existing psycho-physiological theories [of NDEs], however, is that mental clarity, vivid sensory imagery, a clear memory of the experience, and a sense that the experience seemed "more real than real" are the norms of NDEs even when they occur under conditions of drastically altered cerebral physiology. (Infinite Awareness, Marjorie Hines Woollacott, Roman and Littlefield, 2015, p. 99).

At bottom, it is quite well known that very sick or injured people do not feel at all well. It might therefore follow that the most profound elements of NDEs are not the result of the sickness or injury but instead arise from a set of causes unrelated to the state of the physical body. NDEs are very positive and joyous even when the physical body and brain are in their very worst condition.

Science and the Necessity of Explaining NDE and OBE Phenomena

The fact that many scientists take many of the explanations listed above seriously seems to indicate that they are in a "holding pattern" waiting for a better explanation to emerge. In the meantime, they feel the need to say something about the NDE phenomena, and the above theories represent their best efforts to date.

One of the most recent media reports on out-of-body experience came from a CNN story where the headline read: "Scientists recreate out-of-body experience". What is actually being done in the experiment if you read further is "creat[ing] the illusion of an out-of-body experience" . This was done with an experiment using two different sets of scenes from different video cameras in association with stereoscopic virtual reality goggles which made the subjects feel like their body was mysteriously shifted to a different location than the one it was in at the beginning of the experiment.

It was quite a vivid experience for most people," Dr. Ehrsson told CNN. "Many of them giggled and said 'Wow, this is so weird!'. One of the people I tested had experienced an OBE before, and explained that the experiment had produced a very similar sensation."

The scientist concluded,

"It reveals the basic mechanism that produces the feeling of being inside the physical body. This represents a significant advance because the experience of one's own body as the center of awareness is a fundamental aspect of self-consciousness,"-
My response is first that reproducing the illusion of an OBE is not necessarily reproducing an OBE. Second, the "feeling" of being outside the body is only one component of an OBE. The perceptions that occur while outside the body which vary greatly are another important component that is not dealt with by this experiment. The idea that there is one kind of feeling associated with being out of the body is naive. This feeling could be described as a simple case of vertigo based on the disorientation of the subjects brought on by the cameras providing them with confusing visual information.

There is also a wide spectrum of internal feelings associated with OBEs. Any researcher who accepts the vague notion of a subject having a single feeling which describes or defines an OBE needs to first sharpen his or her analytic skills before even beginning such an experiment.

Third, only one person in the group of test subjects had ever had an OBE before. So claiming that the feeling is the same is a bit premature on the part of the researchers. We see this tendency to jump to conclusions frequently. Fourth, the interactive side of the OBE where the person moves his or her body and interacts with physical (or nonphysical) objects is completely missing from subjects sitting passively in a chair. This "feeling" of having an OBE seems to differ greatly from many actual OBEs.

The strong desire of scientists to explain out-of-body experience in scientific terms is best illustrated by another report that received worldwide interest in and out of the scientific community.

Olaf Blanke, a neurologist at the Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland, made the "discovery" while performing surgery. He stimulated the right angular gyrus, a small region in the brain's right hemisphere, of a women and triggered out-of-body experiences. The patient told doctors, "I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk." Subsequent zaps with the electrodes were reported to replicate the effect.

Normally, for a scientific experiment to be worthy of mention, it would require rigorous design and execution followed by a careful analysis of the results. In most cases, it would need to be performed on a number of patients, and a double blind approach would be taken that involved patients who would be given placebo drugs or stimuli. This makes sure the results were not spurious and attributable to something other than the specific intended stimulus of researchers.

In Dr. Blanke's case, we have a situation where one or more doctors interacting with a single patient inadvertently applied a stimulus (stimulation by a electrode to the brain) and "caused" an out-of-body experience. The patient was also prone to "a brain disorder that causes seizures", and therefore not an ideal subject for such an experiment. The credibility of the patient was not questioned, and it appears that an earlier milder stimulus did not cause an OBE but only a change in body image where the body image was distorted in the patient's view (the arm and legs were first shortened and later appeared to be flying up towards the patient's head).

Having read many out-of-body experience descriptions myself, I have never read about one where only half the person's body (the lower half in this case) appeared. The patient's perception seems quite confused and distorted when compared with more common out-of-body experiences where the person sees his or her entire body in an OBE state. The theory also fails to account for the overall environment that is perceived as in the case of an OBE were the body of the person is seen against the backdrop of an operating or hospital room. There seems to be no explanation as to how the angular gyrus portion of the brain is able to construct a three-dimensional birds-eye view of the surrounding environment which contains the physical body. The brain would be required to somehow contain a holographic model of the room in order to create such a reconstruction and then be able to place the person's body image in the midst of the hologram. The theory would also require the person to be able to move and change the point of view within the hologram as is common in many NDEs and OBEs.

Surprisingly, Dr. Blanke does not feel that he has done enough with his small amount of experimental data by explaining away a huge area of human experience known as out-of-body experience. From the same data, he also purports to explain certain psychic experiences where individuals feel there is a phantom individual shadowing them thus explaining the perception of ghosts and other-worldly entities. He even goes further in speaking about explaining some aspects of schizophrenia where the personality splits into two separate forms of body consciousness that occupy different places in space.

Such claims represent a form of scientific grandiosity, and the credulous media are happy to report that another great mystery has been solved by scientists. Here, we have only this untested hypothesis appearing as the primary subject of articles in scientific journals. The sample size of the experiment (one subject) is far too small to draw any scientifically significant conclusion. The fact that such a haphazard set of events was treated as conclusive science and given so much media and scientific attention seems to show how heavily invested the scientific community is in their reductionist world-view.

Finally, as we can see from Dr. Blanke's and Dr. Ehrsson's experiments, scientists are attempting to account for or explain out-of-body experience by drastically narrowing its scope. The content of this web site should make clear that defining out-of-body experience as people standing outside themselves and looking back at their bodies may be convenient for scientific purposes but it denies or ignores much of the reality of what it is attempting to study. Such narrowing is like studying a pond and claiming to understand the ecology of the ocean. The author would much prefer that such scientists admit they are studying a very simple and limited subset of out-of-body experience and avoid creating confusion inside and outside of the scientific community by drastically over-simplifying the phenomenon of out-of-body experience.

The subtext of all such scientific experiments is that the physical world or our perceptions inside the body are real and any world that results from perceptions outside the body is an illusion or a fake or a construction of the brain (brain state). All scientists have to do is figure out how the brain tricks the individual into believing that something fake is real. Of course all this is an article of faith which is, in principle, not very different from the faith claims made by religious people. What is different is the hope that these scientific assumptions will lead to discoveries that permit prediction and control of the world (and therefore to grant money and the respect of other scientists) and benefit mankind in some way. In contrast, the supernatural approach surrenders important domains of the universe to mysterious forces that are difficult to understand and control using scientific forms of inquiry though they may also benefit mankind but in a metaphysical or spiritual way.

However, with these kinds of assumptions, is it any wonder why scientists are not considered objective explorers of the world? They lose their objectivity when they become materialists of the fundamentalist variety who cannot imagine seeing the world outside of this limited, pragmatic, physical frame of reference.

Introduction | The Geography of Spiritual Travel | The "Travel" Analogy | Leaving the Body in Spiritual Travel | Spiritual Travel Versus Dreams | Sacred Light | Sacred Sound | Psychic States | Spiritual Travel in Western Religious Scripture | The Self in Spiritual Travel | Returning to the Physical Body | Near-Death Experience | Navigation During Spiritual Travel | Spiritual Matter | Method and Techniques To Induce Spiritual Travel | Shamanism and Spiritual Travel | After-Death Experience | Spiritual Travel as a Rehearsal for Physical Death | Beyond | The Landscape of Heaven | Lucid Dreaming and Spiritual Bodies | Charged Symbols | Scientific Reductionist Arguments about Spiritual Travel Experience | Ascended Masters and Their Role in Guiding Souls Through the Death Process | Awakening to the Hierarchy of Dreams | Buddhist Dakinis as Expert Guides in Spiritual Travel Spiritual Travel | Conclusion


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