Scientists Study Woman Who Can Have Out-of-Body Experiences On Demand

Out of Body Experience

Plenty of attention being given to a new study with a subject who can apparently have out-of-body experiences (OBEs) on demand:

After a class on out-of-body experiences, a psychology graduate student at the University of Ottawa came forward to researchers to say that she could have these voluntarily, usually before sleep. "She appeared surprised that not everyone could experience this," wrote the scientists in a study describing the case, published in February in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

...The 24-year-old "continued to perform this experience as she grew up assuming, as mentioned, that 'everyone could do it.'" This is how she described her out-of-body experiences: "She was able to see herself rotating in the air above her body, lying flat, and rolling along with the horizontal plane. She reported sometimes watching herself move from above but remained aware of her unmoving “real” body. The participant reported no particular emotions linked to the experience."

An unusual find, wrote the scientists, University of Ottawa researchers Andra M. Smith and Claude Messier - this is the first person to be studied able to have this type of experience on demand, and without any brain abnormalities. Instead of an "out-of-body" experience, however, the researchers termed it a "extra-corporeal experience" (ECE), in part because it lacks the strong emotions that often go hand-in-hand (such as shock & awe, for example).

To better understand what was going on, the researchers conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of her brain. They found that it surprisingly involved a "strong deactivation of the visual cortex." Instead, the experience "activated the left side of several areas associated with kinesthetic imagery," such as mental representations of bodily movement.

I'd love to see researchers employing subjects such as this young woman in tests of so-called 'veridical OBEs' - out-of-body experiences in which the OBEr reports accurate details of their surroundings (see for example number one on this list). There have been a number of NDE reports that have included an OBE component during which the 'dead' person 'saw' accurate details that they should not have been able to - such as the one reported by pioneering heart surgeon Dr. Lloyd Rudy. So many in fact that a project has been initiated in which hidden 'targets' have been placed in cardiac rooms in hospitals to see if NDErs can 'see' them - the 'AWARE' study.

Using a conscious, healthy OBEr would have advantages over the AWARE study, not least that the OBE could be produced, on-demand, in a controlled environment (see my book Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife, paperback version here, for discussion of the difficulties involved in the AWARE study). On demand OBEs in a controlled environment - with a healthy person - would also allow for the placing of a more noticeable target (or alternately a number of targets).

On the downside, some might say that an OBE in a healthy person might not be the same thing as an OBE that occurs as the body shuts down, so any negative results would instantly be dismissed (perhaps fairly). But if a positive result was obtained - that is, if a target was identified by the OBEr, as apparently occurred in the 1968 test of 'Miss Z' by Professor Charles Tart - the ramifications for our understanding of human consciousness would be paradigm-shattering.

Link: The Woman Who Can Will Herself Out Of Her Body

Link: "Voluntary out-of-body experience: an fMRI study"

The Ringing Rocks of Stonehenge - Was This the Original 'Rock Concert'?

Stonehenge, by Wigulf (Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 Licence)

A study published this month in the journal Time & Mind has shown that the 'blue stones' of Stonehenge, quarried in the Preseli Hills of Wales and hauled some 200 miles to south-west England, may have been treasured for their sonic properties. Thousands of stones along the Carn Menyn ridge on Mynydd Preseli were tested, and a high proportion of them were found to "ring" when they were struck, a quality that has been highly valued in many ancient cultures.

The principal investigator on the project is a good friend of the Daily Grail, Paul Devereux (author of The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia, available from Amazon US and Amazon UK). Here's what he told BBC News:

It hasn't been considered until now that sound might have been a factor. The percentage of the rocks on the Carn Menyn ridge are ringing rocks, they ring just like a bell. And there's lots of different tones, you could play a tune. In fact, we have had percussionists who have played proper percussion pieces off the rocks.

The research paper, "Stone Age Eyes and Ears: A Visual and Acoustic Pilot Study of Carn Menyn and Environs, Preseli, Wales", is in the March issue of the journal Time and Mind. Check out the BBC news story for audio examples of the 'ringing rocks'.

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News Briefs 07-03-2014

”The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists.”

Quote of the Day:

“There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death.”

Isaac Asimov

News Briefs 06-03-2014

That was one small step for a Charolastra, one giant leap for Mexican filmmakers.

Thanks, Susan.

Quote of the Day:

"Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."

~Clay Shirsky

Is Our Universe the Only Universe?

Because the universe just isn't big enough...

Is there more than one universe? In this visually rich, action-packed talk, Brian Greene shows how the unanswered questions of physics (starting with a big one: What caused the Big Bang?) have led to the theory that our own universe is just one of many in the "multiverse."

Jason Silva Discusses 'The Death Problem'


In the video below, 'awe pundit' Jason Silva discusses the 'problem of death', and how humans have approached solving that problem throughout the ages. He extols the virtues of our creative power and development of technology as the way forward, to "transcend our limitations".

The human condition is characterised uniquely by our awareness of our mortality; in other words, we are the only species who are aware that we are mortal beings. This causes a tremendous amount of anxiety.

We have this capacity to ponder the infinite, we're seemingly capable of anything; we can mainline the whole of time through the optic nerve with our astronomy and with our space telescopes...and yet we're housed in these heart-pumping, breath-gasping, decaying bodies. So to be godly, and yet 'creaturely', is just impossibly cruel.

The belief that death can be conquered by technology is a common one in the Transhumanism and Singularity communities. But is it just another form of naive Utopianism that has previously characterised religious thoughts on the life eternal? Can we ever truly escape the threat of death, given that no matter how far we 'scale up' our imperviousness to existential threats, we will likely never be able to make ourselves truly safe from danger (for example, cataclysms can occur on galactic levels)?

Furthermore, is there an argument that our mortality, and our changeability, are what make life so precious in the first place? Though I have written about the possibility of the survival of consciousness after the physical death of our body - thus opening myself up to similar acccusations of wishful thinking about my mortality - I also was keen to tell readers that this possibility should not be the focus of our lives. In the final chapter of the book (titled 'Memento Mori'), I wrote that regardless of our belief, we are united by the common thread "that this life is very likely the only time that you - at least, as 'you' - will experience this Earth and the singular joys it brings... We should therefore cherish every day alive on Earth as a gift".

Scientists tell us that we are all "made of star dust", while Christian funeral liturgies exhort us to remember that "you are dust, and to dust you shall return". Both statements are worth contemplating: our bodies are a miraculous assembly of molecules born from dying suns, infused with the mystery of life and consciousness for the blink of an eye in the cosmic scale of things, before disssipating back into the universe once more. Regardless of our model of reality we should all recognize, and embrace, how truly magical our conscious existence is.

Returning to the question of whether an eternal life might somehow decrease our valuation of conscious existence, I am reminded of a quote from the movie Troy that I opened that particular chapter with. "I'll tell you a secret, something they don't teach you in your temple," Achilles says. "The gods envy us. They envy us because we're mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier that you are now. We will never be here again."

What do you think? Is death simply a human 'illness' that we should invest heavily in 'curing'? Or is it one of the things that make us human and allow us to appreciate the beauty of our existence?

News Briefs 05-03-2014

The world's richest 15 people are collectively worth more than $700billion. That means they could pretty much give away $100 to every person on Earth if they wanted to and still remain billionaires…

Quote of the Day:

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.

Alan Watts

Scientific Research Suggests We Unconsciously React to Events Up to 10 Seconds Before They Happen

Crystal Ball

Can your brain detect events before they even occur? That was the stunning conclusion of a 2012 meta-analysis of experiments from seven independent laboratories over the last 35 years, which found that the human body "can apparently detect randomly delivered
stimuli occurring 1-10 seconds in the future" (Mossbridge, Tressoldi, & Utts, 2012). In the studies, physiological readings were taken as participants were subjected to unpredictable events designed to activate the sympathetic nervous system (for example, showing provocative imagery) as well as 'neutral events' that did not activate the nervous system. These readings showed that the nervous system aligned with the nature of the event (activated/not activated) - and what's more, the magnitude of the pre-event response corresponded with the magnitude of the post-event response.

In a more recent paper, researchers have critically analysed these findings, considering possible mundane explanations for the results and also the implications of the results if they truly do point to a paradigm-shaking discovery:

The key observation in these studies is that human physiology appears to be able to distinguish between unpredictable dichotomous future stimuli, such as emotional vs. neutral images or sound vs. silence. This phenomenon has been called presentiment (as in "feeling the future"). In this paper we call it predictive anticipatory activity or PAA. The phenomenon is "predictive" because it can distinguish between upcoming stimuli; it is "anticipatory" because the physiological changes occur before a future event; and it is an "activity" because it involves changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin, and/or nervous systems.

They found that "neither questionable research practices (bias) nor physiological artifacts seem to be able to explain PAA", and that "the evidence indicates that there is a temporal mirroring between pre- and post-event physiological events, so that the nature of the post-event physiological response is correlated with the characteristics of the PAA for that event."

The authors of the paper also point out fascinating aspects of the research, such as the fact that "PAA is an unconscious phenomenon" that "appears to resemble precognition (consciously knowing something is going to happen before it does), but PAA specifically refers to unconscious physiological reactions as opposed to conscious premonitions". The implication is that "there must be a necessity for PAA to remain non-conscious most of the time", given that "if some part of our nervous system can obtain information about events seconds in the future, wouldn’t we have evolved to make this information conscious?"

There is also an ingenious, speculative discussion of how such a phenomenon might be possible:

A metaphor may help to provide an intuitive feel for this effect - watching a river move past a stick. The metaphor works as follows: Imagine that the direction of the water’s current is the conscious experience of the flow of time (temporal flow), and imagine that an intrusion in the flow (the stick) is an emotional, arousing, or otherwise important event. The largest disturbance in the water made by the intrusion is downstream (in the "forward" time direction), which is analogous to our conscious reaction to experiencing the important event. But if one examines the flow of water near the stick, one will also see a small perturbation upstream, anticipating the intrusion in the water downstream due to the back pressure. Similar to PAA, this upstream perturbation is a hint of things to come. It is not normally part of our conscious awareness and, as with disturbances in a flow of water, the majority of the effect of an intrusion is downstream of the intrusion.

Stick in the Water Metaphor for Presentiment

Nevertheless, as we always note here at the Grail, this is science at the edge so caveat lector. The authors of the recent paper too, urge caution until more extensive research is undertaken. "Until there is a gold standard experiment that is replicated across laboratories using exactly the same experimental procedure, physiological measures, and statistical analyses,", they note, "there remains the possibility that multiple analyses could influence the body of evidence supporting PAA". They recommend that all researchers investigating the topic register their experiments in advance "at any of several registries designed for experiments examining exceptional experiences".

I look forward to seeing the results of these future investigations. Or do I already know what the result is going to be?

Link: "Predicting the unpredictable: Critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity"

(via @SPR1882/Dean Radin)

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News Briefs 03-03-2014

Invent your own mythology or be slave to another man’s.

Quote of the Day:

God is not merely a possibility, not merely a conclusion, but the starting point for any understanding at all.

John Frame