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.