Mar 09, 2014 I Tom Head

Canadian Researchers Neurologically Map Out-of-Body Experiences

The fact that you're out of your body doesn't mean that you're out of your mind. Psychologists Andra Smith and Claude Messier at the University of Ottawa performed a series of fMRI scans on a 24-year-old woman who claimed to be able to undergo voluntary out-of-body experiences, and what they found indicated some fairly distinct neurological patterns associated with her experiences that may be connected, in some respects, to a hypnagogic state. If later scans show similar brain patterns in other individuals who experience OOBEs, researchers may gain a better understanding of what exactly OOBEs are, how they can be triggered or suppressed, and how they may prove themselves therapeutically useful.

Neurological evidence of these states does not constitute evidence that they don't have a supernatural component, mind you—if while watching The Tonight Show you take apart the TV set and don't find Jimmy Fallon inside, that doesn't mean he doesn't exist—but it does seem to suggest that they do not interfere with the brain's ability to function in more ordinary contexts.

The research dovetails nicely with the work of Henrik Ehrsson and, more famously, Olaf Blanke, who has learned how to generate mild OOBE states in the laboratory:

But Blanke's study doesn't deal with traditional OOBE states; the OOBE experiences he generates are closer to a video game than they are to the overhead floating experiences we've come to expect from OOBE narratives. What makes the Smith-Messier volunteer unique is that she does deal with these kinds of traditional OOBE experiences—and may, in time, help us better understand them.

Tom Head

Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.

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