Stop press! ‘First Out-of-body Experience Induced In Laboratory Setting‘. Or, even better, ‘Researchers Find an Explanation for Out-of-Body Experiences‘. And so on. For more coverage, visit the always excellent Mind Hacks, which even has a link to video of researcher Olaf Blanke discussing the experiments.
It’s the big news of today, with coverage everywhere from the BBC to New Scientist. But, as is usual, it’s utter hype, and the headlines are completely incorrect. No explanation has been found at all, although the experiments are pretty funky and provide some interesting insights into our sense of self. However, no OBE was ‘induced’ – virtual reality masks and cameras were used to give a different perspective, and the scientists make this point explicitly, that they are not actually creating a true OBE. This is extremely important, as perhaps the most fascinating question of the OBE is whether the separate perspective which occurs during an OBE is a complex reconstruction by the brain, or consciousness actually perceiving from outside the body.
Further to this, there is evidence of the latter, and this research does not explain that aspect in any way. From people not recognising themselves (because they looked different to how they are used to seeing themselves, in a mirror), through to veridical perception, this is at the core of the mystery of OBEs. And to really push the boundaries, we also have to consider ‘reciprocal apparitions’, in which the OBE perceiver is seen by another person actually ‘out of body’.
The encyclopaedic Irreducible Mind goes into some detail on these points, and actually mentions some of the earlier research done by Olaf Blanke and colleagues, with a pertinent comment:
To equate OBEs with pathological “body illusions,” as Blanke et al. do, seems to us to beg the question of the nature of these experiences by ignoring the complexity of their physiological, psychological, and phenomenological aspects. In short, studies such as that of Blanke et al…have not provided anything like a complete and verified neurophysiological account of the OBE, but rather some preliminary findings and hypotheses to be pursued in further work.
Interesting how everyone is in such a rush to claim the OBE is now explained, when it is certainly not the case…it’s worth a study of its own, this pathological need to explain things that don’t fit the materialist paradigm.