It is possible to use imagery alone but it requires considerable skill.
a) Lie on your back in a comfortable position and relax. Imagine that you are
floating up off the bed. Hold that position, slightly lifted, for some time until you lose
all sensation of touching the bed or floor. Once this state is achieved move slowly into
an upright position and begin to travel away from your body and around the room. Pay
attention to the objects and details of the room. Only when you have gained some
proficiency should you try to turn round and look at your own body. Note that each stage
may take months of practice and it can be too difficult for any but a practiced OBEer.
b) In any comfortable position close your eyes and imagine that there is a
duplicate of yourself standing in front of you. You will find that it is very hard to
imagine your own face, so it is easier to imagine this double with its back to you. You
should try to observe all the details of its posture, dress (if any) and so on. As this
imaginary double becomes more and more solid and realistic you may experience some
uncertainty about your physical position. You can encourage this feeling by comtemplating
the question 'Where am I?', or even other similar questions 'Who am I?' and so on. Once
the double is clear and stable and you are relaxed, transfer your consciousness into it.
You should then be able to 'project' in this phantom created by your own imagination.
Again, each stage may take long practice.
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You can trick yourself into leaving your body according to Muldoon and
Carrington [MC29]. They suggested that if the subconscious desires something strongly
enough it will try to provoke the body into moving to get it, but if the physical body is
immobilized, for example in sleep, then the astral body may move instead. Many motivations
might be used but Muldoon advised against using the desire for sexual activity which is
distracting, or the harmful wish for revenge or hurt to anyone. Instead he advocated using
the simple and natural desire for water -- thirst. This has the advantages this it is
quick to induce, and it must be appeased.
In order to employ this technique, you must refrain from drinking for some
hours before going to bed. During the day increase your thirst by every means you can.
Have a glass of water by you and stare into it, imagining drinking, but not allowing
yourself to do so. Then before you retire to bed eat 'about an eighth of a teaspoonful' of
salt. Place the glass of water at some convenient place away from your bed and rehearse in
your all the actions necessary to getting it, getting up, crossing the room, reaching out
for it, and so on. You must then go to bed, still thinking about your thirst and the means
of satisfying it. The body must become incapacitated and so you should relax, with slow
breathing and heart rate and then try to sleep. With any luck the suggestions you have
made to yourself will bring about the desired OBE. This is not one of the most pleasant or
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Ophiel [Oph61] suggests that you pick a familiar route, perhaps between two
rooms in your house, and memorize every detail of it. Choose at least six points along it
and spend several minutes each day looking at each one and memorizing it. Symbols, scents
and sounds associated with the points can reinforce the image. Once you have committed the
route and all the points to memory you should lie down and relax while you attempt to
'project' to the first point. If the preliminary work has been done well you should be
able to move from point to point and back again. Later you can start the imaginary journey
from the chair or bed where your body is, and you can then either observe yourself doing
the movements, or transfer your consciousness to the one that is doing the moving. Ophiel
describes further possibilities, but essentially if you have mastered the route fully in
your imagination you will be able to project along it and with practice to extend the
Ophiel states that starting to move into OBE will produce strange sounds. He
says that this is because the sense of hearing is not carried over onto the higher planes,
and that means that your mind tries to recreate some input, and just gets subconscious
static. He asserts that the noises can take any form, including voices, malevolent, eerie,
and get worse and worse, more and more disturbing, until eventually they peak and then
just fade to a constant background hiss while one has OBE. Apparently, his 'final noise'
sounded like his water heater blowing up. He says, anyway, to ignore the noises, voice or
otherwise, as they are only static or subconscious rambling, and do not represent any
being in any way, not even the self really.
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G. M. Glasking, an Australian journalist, popularized this technique in several
books, starting with Windows of the Mind [Gla74]. Three people are needed: one as subject,
and two to prepare him. The subject lies down comfortably on his back in a warm and
darkened room. One helper massages the subject's feet and ankles, quite firmly, even
roughly, while the other take his head. Placing the soft part of his clenched fist on the
subject's forehead he rubs it vigorously for several minutes. This should make the
subject's head buzz and hum, and soon he should begin to feel slightly disorientated. His
feet tingle and his body may feel light or floaty, or changing shape.
When this stage is reached, the imagery exercises begin. The subject is asked
to imagine his feet stretching out and becoming longer by just an inch or so. When he says
he can do this he has to let them go back to normal and do the same with his head,
stretching it out beyond its normal position. Then, alternating all the time between head
and feet, the distance is gradually increased until he can stretch both out to two feet or
more. At this stage it should be possible for him to imagine stretching out both at once,
making him very long indeed, and then to swell up, filling the room like a huge balloon.
All this will, of course, be easier for some people than others. It should be taken at
whatever pace is needed until each stage is successful. Some people complete this part in
five minutes, some people take more than fifteen minutes.
Next he is asked to imagine he is outside his own front door. He should
describe everything he can see in detail, with the colors, materials of the door and
walls, the ground, and the surrounding scenery. He has then to rise above the house until
he can see across the surrounding countryside or city. To show him that the scene is all
under his control he should be asked to change it from day to night and back again,
watching the sun set and rise, and the lights go on or off. Finally he is asked to fly
off, and land wherever he wishes. For most subjects their imagery has become so vivid by
this stage that they land somewhere totally convincing and are easily able to describe all
that they see.
You may wonder how the experience comes to an end, but usually no prompting is
required; the subject will suddenly announce 'I'm here,' or 'Oh, I'm back,' and he will
usually retain quite a clear recollection of all he said and experienced. But it is a good
idea to take a few minutes relaxing and getting back to normal. It is interesting that
this technique seems to be very effective in disrupting the subject's normal image of his
body. It then guides and strengthens his own imagery while keeping his body calm and
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In his book Journeys out of the Body [Mon71] Monroe describes a
complicated-sounding technique for inducing OBEs. In part it is similar to other
imagination methods, but it starts with induction of the 'vibrational state.' Many
spontaneous OBEs start with a feeling of shaking or vibrating, and Monroe deliberately
induces this state first. He suggests you do the following. First lie down in a darkened
room in any comfortable position, but with your head pointing to magnetic north. Loosen
clothing and remove any jewellery or metal objects, but be sure to stay warm. Ensure that
you will not be disturbed and are not under any limitation of time. Begin by relaxing and
then repeat to yourself five times, 'I will consciously perceive and remember all that I
encounter during this relaxation procedure. I will recall in detail when I am completely
awake only those matters which will be beneficial to my physical and mental being.' Then
begin breathing through your half-open mouth.
The next step involves entering the state bordering sleep (the hypnagogic
state). Monroe does not recommend any particular method of achieving this state. One
method you might try is to hold your forearm up, while keeping your upper arm on the bed,
or ground. As you start to fall asleep, your arm will fall, and you will awaken again.
With practice you can learn to control the hypnagogic state without using your arm.
Another method is to concentrate on an object. When other images start to enter your
thoughts, you have entered the hypnagogic state. Passively watch these images. This will
also help you maintain this state of near-sleep. Monroe calls this Condition A.
After first achieving this state Monroe recommends to deepen it. Begin to clear
your mind and observe your field of vision through your closed eyes. Do nothing more for a
while. Simply look through your closed eyelids at the blackness in front of you. After a
while, you may notice light patterns. These are simply neural discharges and they have no
specific effect. Ignore them. When they cease, one has entered what Monroe calls Condition
B. From here, one must enter an even deeper state of relaxation which Monroe calls
Condition C -- a state of such relaxation that you lose all awareness of the body and
sensory stimulation. You are almost in a void in which your only source of stimulation
will be your own thoughts. The ideal state for leaving your body is Condition D. This is
Condition C when it is voluntarily induced from a rested and refreshed condition and is
not the effect of normal fatigue. To achieve Condition D, Monroe suggests that you
practice entering it in the morning or after a short nap.
With eyes closed look into the blackness at a spot about a foot from your
forehead, concentrating your consciousness on that point. Move it gradually to three feet
away, then six, and then turn it 90 degrees upward, reaching above your head. Monroe
orders you to reach for the vibrations at that spot and then mentally pull them into your
head. He explains how to recognize them when they occur. 'It is as if a surging, hissing,
rhythmically pulsating wave of fiery sparks comes roaring into your head. From there it
seems to sweep throughout your body, making it rigid and immobile.' This method is easier
than it sounds.
Once you have achieved the vibrational state you have to learn to control it,
to smooth out the vibrations by 'pulsing' them. At this point, Monroe warns it is
impossible to turn back. He suggests reaching out an arm to grasp some object which you
know is out of normal reach. Feel the object and then let your hand pass through it,
before bringing it back, stopping the vibrations and checking the details and location of
the object. This exercise will prepare you for full separation.
To leave the body Monroe advocates the 'lift-out' method. To employ this method
think of getting lighter and of how nice it would be to float upwards. An alternative is
the 'rotation' technique in which you turn over in bed, twisting first the top of the
body, head and shoulders until you turn right over and float upwards. Later you can
explore further. With sufficient practice Monroe claims that a wide variety of experiences
are yours for the taking.
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Most magical methods are also based on imagery or visualization and use
concentration and relaxation. All these methods require good mental control and a sound
knowledge of the system being used, with its tools and symbols. Charles Tart, in
introducing the concept of 'state specific sciences' [Tar72b] also considered state
specific technologies, that is, means of achieving, controlling and using altered states
of consciousness. Many magical rituals are really just such technologies. In a typical
exercise the magician will perform an opening ritual, a cleansing or purifying ritual and
then one to pass from one state to another. Once in the state required he operates using
the rules of that state and then returns, closes the door that was opened and ends the
This technology varies almost as much as the theory, for there are a multitude
of ways of reaching the astral. One can use elemental doorways, treat the cards of the
tarot as stepping stones, perform cabbalistic path- workings or use mantras. The
techniques are very similar to all others we have been considering, so we can see the
complexities of ritual magic as just another related way achieving the same ends.
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Meditation has two basic functions -- achieving relaxation and improving
concentration. Therefore the ideal state for OBE is familiar to meditators and indeed OBEs
have occasionally been reported during meditation and yoga. The two main types of
meditation are concentration meditation (focusing) and insight meditation (mindfullness).
Most kinds of meditation are the concentrative type. One simply focuses his attention upon
a single physical object, such as a candle flame; upon a sensation, such as that felt
while walking or breathing; upon an emotion, such as reverence or love; upon a mantra
spoken aloud or even silently; or upon a visualization as in chakra meditation.
Concentration meditation is, simply put, a form of self-hypnosis.
The other main type of meditation, insight meditation, is the analysis of
thoughts and feelings in such a way as to cause realization of the subjectivity and
illusion of experience. Such meditation is done in an effort to attain transcendental
Chakra meditation is a special type of concentrative meditation which is
basically kundalini yoga -- the practice of causing psychic energy (kundalini) to flow up
sushumna, energizing the various chakras along the way. A chakra is 'a sense organ of the
ethereal body, visible only to a clairvoyant' [Gay74]. As each chakra is energized by this
practice, it is believed to add occult powers (sidhis), until at last the crown chakra is
reached, and with it, full enlightenment is attained.
According to East Indian philosophy, man possesses seven major chakras or
psychic centers on his body. In theosophical scheme there are ten chakras, which permit
those trained in their use to gain knowledge of the astral world (three of the ten are
used in black magic only). Each of the chakras forms a bridge, link, or energy
transformer; changing pure (higher) energy into various forms, and connecting different
bodies together. The chakras are located along the nadies (a network of psychic nerves or
channels) and follow the autonomic nervous system along the spinal cord.
The first chakra, located at the base of the spine at the perineum is the root
chakra, muladhara. The second chakra, known as the sacral center, svadhisthana, is located
above and behind the genitals. Third of the chakras is the solar plexus, manipura, located
at the navel and it is said to correspond with the emotions and also with psychic sight
(clairvoyance). The heart chakra, anahata, is the fourth chakra, located over the heart
and corresponding with the psychic touch. The fifth chakra is the throat chakra,
vishuddha, located at the base of the throat (thyroid) and corresponding with psychic
The remaining two chakras are believed to relate mostly to elevated states of
consciousness. The frontal chakra, (or 'third eye') ajna, the sixth chakra, is located
between, and slightly above, the eyebrows. Ajna is the center of psychic powers and it is
believed to be able to produce many psychic effects. Finally, the crown chakra, sahasrara,
located atop the head, (pineal gland) is the seventh chakra. It is referred to as the
thousand-petaled lotus and corresponds with astral projection and enlightenment.
To practice this chakra meditation, you simply concentrate on the chakras,
beginning with the root chakra, and moving progressively up, as you visualize psychic
energy from the root chakra traveling up shushumna and vivifying each higher chakra. As
mentioned above the chakras have certain properties associated with them, so that this
type of visualization may 'raise consciousness,' promote astral projection, and other
things -- once you have reached ajna and eventually the crown chakra.
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In the early days of psychical research hypnosis was used a great deal more
than now to bring about 'traveling clairvoyance,' but it can still be used. All that is
required is skilled hypnotist with some understanding of the state into which he wants to
put the subject, and a willing subject. The subject must be put into a fairly deep
hypnotic state and then the hypnotist can suggest to him that he leaves his body. The
subject can be asked to lift up out of his body, to create a double and step into it, to
roll off his bed or chair, or leave through the top of his head. He can then be asked to
travel to any place desired, but hypnotist must be sure to specify very clearly where he
is to go, and to bring him safely back to his body when expedition is over. If this is not
done the subject may have difficulty reorientating himself afterwards.
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There are some drugs which can undoubtedly help initiate an OBE. Hallucinogens
have long been used in various cultures to induce states like OBEs, and in our own culture
OBEs are sometimes an accidental product of a drug experience. In absence of any further
information we might already be able to guess which are the sorts of drugs likely to have
this effect. They might be those which physically relax the subject while leaving his
consciousness clear and alert. Drugs which distort sensory input and disrupt the subject's
sense of where and what shape his body is ought to help, and so may anything which induces
a sense of shaking or vibration. Imagery must be intensified without control being lost
and finally there must be some reason, or wish, for leaving the body.
Considering these points hallucinogens might be expected to be more effective
than stimulants, tranquillizers or sedatives. The latter may aid relaxation but help with
none of the other features just mentioned. Few other types of drug have any relevant
effect. This fact fits with what is known about the effectiveness of drugs for inducing
OBEs. Monroe states that barbiturates and alcohol are harmful to the ability, and this
makes sense since they would tend to reduce control over imagery even though they are
relaxing. Eastman [Eas62] states that barbiturates do not lead OBEs whereas morphine,
ether, chloroform, major hallucinogens and hashish can.
Relatively little research has carried out in this area, partly because most of
the relevant drugs are illegal in the countries where that research might be carried out.
It seems that certain drugs can facilitate an OBE but what is not clear is why drug
experience should take that form rather than any other. Part of the answer is that usually
it does not. There is no specific OBE-creating drug, and OBEs are relatively rarely a part
of a psychedelic drug experience. Drugs may help in inducing the OBE but they are not
recommended as a route to the instant projection, they are no alternative to learning the
skills of relaxation, concentration, and imagery control.
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Many OBEs start from dreams and since, by definition, one has to be conscious
to have an OBE, they tend to start from lucid dreams. The dreamer may become aware that he
is dreaming and then find himself in some place other than his bed and able to move about
at will. He may have another body and may even attempt to see his physical body lying
asleep. This topic is covered separately in the later section on lucid dreams.
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In the search for a simple and effective method of inducing an OBE Palmer and
his colleagues [PL75a, 75b, 76, PV74a, 74b] use relaxation and audio- visual stimulation.
Subjects went through a progressive muscular relaxation session and the heard oscillating
tones and watched a rotating spiral. One of the interesting findings was that many of the
subjects claimed that they had been 'literally out of' their bodies, and there were
indications that their experiences were very different in some ways from other those
encountered in OBEs.
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The term lucid dreaming refers to dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming.
It was coined by the Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in 1913. It is something of a
misnomer since it means something quite different from just clear or vivid dreaming.
Nevertheless we are certainly stuck with it. That lucid dreams are different from ordinary
dreams is obvious as soon as you have one. The experience is something like waking up in
your dreams. It is as though you 'come to' and find you are dreaming. This experience
generally happens when you realize during the course of a dream that you are dreaming,
perhaps because something weird occurs. Most people who remember their dreams have had
such an experience at some time, often waking up immediately after the realization.
However, it is possible to continue in the dream while remaining fully aware that you are
One distinct and confusing form of lucid dreams are false awakenings. You dream
of waking up but in fact, of course, are still asleep. Van Eeden [Van13] called these
'wrong waking up' and described them as 'demoniacal, uncanny, and very vivid and bright,
with ... a strong diabolical light.' The one positive benefit of false awakenings is that
they can sometimes be used to induce OBEs. Indeed, Oliver Fox [Fox62] recommends using
false awakenings as a method for achieving the OBE. For many people OBEs and lucid dreams
are practically indistinguishable. If you dream of leaving your body, the experience is
much the same.
LaBerge's studies of physiology of the initiation of lucidity in the dream
state have revealed that lucid dreams have two ways of starting. In the much more common
variety, the 'dream-initiated lucid dream' (DILD), the dreamer acquires awareness of being
in a dream while fully involved in it. DILDs occur when dreamers are right in the middle
of REM sleep, showing lots of the characteristic rapid eye movements. DILDs account for
about four out of every five lucid dreams that the dreamers have had in the laboratory. In
the other 20 percent, the dreamers report awakening from a dream and then returning to the
dream state with unbroken awareness -- one moment they are aware that they are awake in
bed in the sleep laboratory, and the next moment, they are aware that they have entered a
dream and are no longer perceiving the room around them. These are called 'wake initiated
lucid dreams' (WILDs).
For many people, having lucid dreams is fun, and they want to learn how to have
more or to how to induce them at will. One finding from early experimental work was that
high levels of physical (and emotional) activity during the day tend to precede lucidity
at night. Waking during the night and carrying out some kind of activity before falling
asleep again can also encourage a lucid dream during the next REM period and is the basis
of some induction techniques. Many methods have been developed and they roughly fall into
One of the best known techniques for stimulating lucid dreams is LaBerge's MILD
(Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming). This technique is practiced on waking in the early
morning from a dream. You should wake up fully, engage in some activity like reading or
walking about, and then lie down to go to sleep again. Then you must imagine yourself
asleep and dreaming, rehearse the dream from which you woke, and remind yourself, 'Next
time I have this dream, I want to remember I'm dreaming.'
A second approach involves constantly reminding yourself to become lucid
throughout the day rather than the night. This is based on the idea that we spend most of
our time in a kind of waking daze. If we could be more lucid in waking life, perhaps we
could be more lucid while dreaming. German psychologist Paul Tholey [Tho83] suggests
asking yourself many times every day, 'Am I dreaming or not?' This exercise might sound
easy, but is not. It takes a lot of determination and persistence not to forget all about
it. For those who do forget, French researcher Clerc suggests writing a large 'C' on your
hand (for 'conscious') to remind you [GB89]. This kind of method is similar to the age-old
technique for increasing awareness by meditation and mindfulness.
The third and final approach requires a variety of gadgets. The idea is to use
some sort of external signal to remind people, while they are actually in REM sleep, that
they are dreaming. Hearne first tried spraying water onto sleepers' faces or hands but
found it too unreliable. This sometimes caused them to incorporate water imagery into
their dreams, but they rarely became lucid. He eventually decided to use a mild electrical
shock to the wrist. His 'dream machine' detects changes in breathing rate (which accompany
the onset of REM) and then automatically delivers a shock to the wrist [Hea90].
Meanwhile, in California, LaBerge [LaB85] was rejecting taped voices and
vibrations and working instead with flashing lights. The original version of a lucid
dream-inducing device which he developed was laboratory based and used a personal computer
to detect the eye movements of REM sleep and to turn on flashing lights whenever the REMs
reached a certain level. Eventually, however, all the circuitry was incorporated into a
pair of goggles. The idea is to put the goggles on at night, and the lights will flash
only when you are asleep and dreaming. The user can even control the level of eye
movements at which the lights begin to flash. The newest version has a chip incorporated
into the goggles, which will not only control the lights but will store data on
eye-movement density during the night as well as information about when and for how long
the lights were flashing, making fine tuning possible.
There are two reasons for associating lucid dreams with OBEs. First, recent
research suggests that the same people tend to have both lucid dreams and OBEs [Bla88,
Irw88]. Second, as Green pointed out [Gre68b] it is hard to know where to draw the line
between an OBE and a lucid dream. In both, the person seems to be perceiving a consistent
world. Also the subject, unlike in an ordinary dream, is well aware that he is in some
altered state and is able to comment on and even control the experience. Green refers to
all such states as 'metachoric experiences.' It is possible to draw a line between these
two experiences, but the important point to realize is that that line is not clear, and
the two have much in common.
But there is an important difference between lucid dreams and the other states.
In the lucid dream one has insight into the state (in fact that fact defines the state).
In false awakening, one does not have such insight (again by definition). In typical OBEs,
people feel that they have really left their bodies. Those experiencing NDEs may have a
sense of rushing down a long tunnel, which some perceive as being an entryway into a world
beyond death. It is only in the lucid dream that one realizes it is a dream.
Just as in the case of OBEs, surveys can tell us how common lucid dreams are
and who has them. Blackmore estimates that about 50 percent of people have had at least
one lucid dream in their lives [Bla91]. Green [Gre66] found that 73% of student sample
answered 'yes' to the question, 'Have you ever had a dream in which you were aware that
you were dreaming?.' Palmer found that 56% of the townspeople and 71% of the students in
his sample reported that they had had lucid dreams and many of these claimed to have them
regularly [Pal79b]. Blackmore found that 79% of the Surrey students she interviewed had
them [Bla82]. Beyond producing these kinds of results, it does not seem that surveys can
find out much. There are no very consistent differences between lucid dreamers and others
in terms of age, sex, education, and so on [GL88]. All these surveys seem to agree quite
closely, showing that the lucid dream is a rather common experience -- far more common
than the OBE.
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The electrical activity of the brain has been observed and classified with EEG
(electroencephalograph) equipment; signals are picked up from the scalp by electrodes,
then filtered and amplified to drive a graph recorder. Brain activity has been found to
produce specific ranges for certain basic states of consciousness, as indicated in 'Hz'
(Hertz, or cycles/vibrations per second):
delta -- 0.2 to 3.5 Hz (deep sleep, trance state) theta -- 3.5 to 7.5 Hz (day
dreaming, memory) alpha -- 7.5 to 13 Hz (tranquility, heightened awareness, meditation)
beta -- 13 to 28 Hz (tension, 'normal' consciousness)
In the drowsy state before falling asleep, the EEG is characterized by many
alpha waves while the muscles start to relax. Gradually this state gives way to Stage 1
sleep. Three more stages follow, each having different EEG patterns and marked by
successively deeper states of relaxation. By Stage 4 the sleeper is very relaxed, his
breathing is slower, and skin resistance high. He is very hard to wake up. If the dreamer
is awakened, he may say that he was thinking about something or he may describe some vague
imagery, but he will rarely recount anything which sounds like a typical dream.
But this is not all there is to sleep -- increasing oblivion. In a normal
night's sleep, a distinct change takes place an hour or two after the onset of sleep.
Although the muscles are still relaxed, the sleeper may move, and from the EEG it appears
that he is going to wake up and he returns to something resembling Stage 1 sleep. Yet he
will still be very hard to wake up, and in this sense is fast asleep. The most distinctive
feature, however, is the rapid eye movements, or REMs and the stage is also called
REM-sleep. In earlier stages the eyes may roll about slowly, now, however, they dart about
as though watching something. If woken up now the sleeper will usually report that he was
Lucid dreams implied that there could be consciousness during sleep, a claim
many psychologists denied for more than 50 years. Orthodox sleep researchers argued that
lucid dreams could not possibly be real dreams. If the accounts were valid, then the
experiences must have occurred during brief moments of wakefulness or in the transition
between waking and sleeping, not in the kind of deep sleep in which REMs and ordinary
dreams usually occur. In other words, they could not really be dreams at all.
This contention presented a challenge to lucid dreamers who wanted to convince
people that they really were awake in their dreams. But of course when you are deep asleep
and dreaming you cannot shout, 'Hey! Listen to me. I'm dreaming right now.' During REM
sleep, the muscles of the body, excluding the eye muscles and those responsible for
circulation and respiration, are immobilized by orders from a nerve center in the lower
brain. This fact prevents us from acting out our dreams. Occasionally, this paralysis
turns on or remains active while the person's mind is fully awake and aware of the world.
It was Keith Hearne [Hea78], of the University of Hull, who first exploited the
fact that not all the muscles are paralyzed. In REM sleep the eyes move. So perhaps a
lucid dreamer could signal by moving the eyes in a predetermined pattern. Lucid dreamer
Alan Worsley first managed to do this in Hearne's laboratory. He decided to move his eyes
left and right eight times in succession whenever he became lucid. Using a polygraph,
Hearne could watch the eye movements for sign of the special signal. The answer was
unambiguous. All the lucid dreams occurred in definite REM sleep. In other words they
were, in this sense, true dreams.
A typical lucid dream lasted between two and five minutes, occurred at about
6.30 a.m., about 24 minutes into a REM period and towards the end of a 22-second REM
burst. The nights on which lucid dreams occurred did not show a different sleep pattern
from other nights, although they did tend to follow days of above average stimulation.
It is sometimes said that discoveries in science happen when the time is right
for them. It was one of those odd things that at just the same time, but unbeknownst to
Hearne, Stephen LaBerge, at Stanford University in California, was trying the same
experiment. He too succeeded, but resistance to the idea was very strong. In 1980, both
Science and Nature rejected his first paper on the discovery [LaB85]. It was only later
that it became clear just how important this discovery had been.
Some conclusions can be drawn from this information. In both OBEs and lucid
dreams, the person seems to have his waking consciousness, or something close to it. He is
able to see clearly, but what he sees is not quite like the physical and it appears to
have many of the properties of a dream world or imaginary world. But there are differences
as well: the lucid dream starts more often when the subject is asleep, and the dream world
is less distinct and real than the OB 'world,' allowing less control and freedom of
movement; in addition, the person who has an OBE starting from the waking state never
actually thinks he is dreaming. Most lucid dreams involve only the subject, but there are
cases on record of 'meetings' in lucid dreams. The important question is whether the OBEer
is observing the same world as the lucid dreamer. Are the two experiences essentially
aspects of the same phenomenon?
According to Stephen LaBerge it seems possible that at least some OBEs arise
from the same conditions as sleep paralysis, and that these two terms may actually be
naming two aspects of the same phenomenon [LL91]. In his opinion the survey evidence
favors this theory. There is also considerable evidence that people who tend to have OBEs
also tend to have lucid dreams, flying and falling dreams, and the ability to control
their dreams [Bla84, Gli89, Irw88]. Because of the strong connection between OBEs and
lucid dreaming, some researchers in the area have suggested that OBEs are a type of lucid
dream [Far76, Hon79, Sal82].
One problem with this argument is that although people who have OBEs are also
likely to have lucid dreams, OBEs are far less frequent, and can happen to people who have
never had lucid dreams. Furthermore, OBEs are quite plainly different from lucid dreams in
that during a typical OBE the experient is convinced that the OBE is a real event
happening in the physical world and not a dream, unlike a lucid dream, in which by
definition the dreamer is certain that the event is a dream. There is an exception that
connects the two experiences -- when we feel ourselves leaving the body, but also know
that we are dreaming.
LaBerge organized a study which consisted of analysis of the data of 107 lucid
dreams from a total of 14 different people. The physiological information that was
collected included brain waves, eye-movements and chin muscle activity. In all cases, the
dreamer signaled the beginning of the lucid dream by making a distinct pattern of eye
movements. After verifying that all the lucid dreams had eye signals showing that they had
happened in REM sleep, they were classified into DILDs and WILDs, based on how long the
dreamers had been in REM sleep without awakening before becoming lucid, and on their
report of either having realized they were dreaming while involved in a dream (DILD) or
having entered the dream directly from waking while retaining lucidity (WILD). Alongside
the physiological analysis each dream report was scored for the presence of various events
that are typical of OBEs, such as feelings of body distortion (including paralysis and
vibrations), floating or flying, references to being aware of being in bed, being asleep
or lying down, and the sensation of leaving the body.
Ten of the 107 lucid dreams qualified as OBEs, because the dreamers reported
feeling as if they had left their bodies in the dream. Twenty of the lucid dreams were
WILDs, and 87 were DILDs. Five of the OBEs were WILDs (28%) and five were DILDs (6%).
Thus, OBEs were more than four times more likely in WILDs than in DILDs. The three
OBE-related events which were looked for also all occurred more often in WILDs than in
DILDs. Almost one third of WILDs contained body distortions, and over a half of them
included floating or flying or awareness of being in bed. This is in comparison to DILDs,
of which less than one fifth involved body distortions, only one third included floating
or flying, and one fifth contained awareness of bed.
The reports from the five DILDs that were classified as OBEs were actually much
like those from the WILD-OBEs. In both the dreamers felt themselves lying in bed and
experiencing strange sensations including paralysis and floating out-of-body. Although
these lucid dreams sound like WILDs, they were classified as DILDs because the
physiological records showed no awakenings preceding lucidity. However, it is possible
that these people could have momentarily become aware of their environments (and hence
been 'awake') while continuing to show the brainwaves normally associated with REM sleep.
The laboratory studies show that when OBEs happen in lucid dreams they happen
either when a person re-enters REM sleep right after an awakening, or right after having
become aware of being in bed. Could this relationship apply to OBEs and lucid dreams that
people experience at home, in the 'real world'?
Not being able to take the sleep lab to the homes of hundreds of people LaBerge
conducted a survey about OBEs and other dream-related experiences. The difference between
his survey and previous ones is that in addition to asking if people had had OBEs, he
asked specifically about certain events that are known to be associated with WILDs,
namely, lucid dreaming, returning directly to a dream after awakening from it, and sleep
A total of 572 people filled out the questionnaire. About a third of the group
reported having had at least one OBE. Just over 80 percent had had lucid dreams. Sleep
paralysis was reported by 37 percent and 85 percent had been able to return to a dream
after awakening. People who reported more dream-related experiences also reported more
OBEs. For example, of the 452 people claiming to have had lucid dreams, 39 percent also
reported OBEs, whereas only 15 percent of those who did not claim lucid dreams said they
had had OBEs. The group with the most people reporting OBEs (51%) were those who said they
had experienced lucid dreams, dream return, and sleep paralysis.
In this survey, people reporting frequent dream return also tended to report
frequent lucid dreams. Thus, LaBerge believes that the fact that dream return frequency is
linked with OBE frequency in this study gives further support to the laboratory research
finding that WILDs were associated with OBEs. On the other hand he stresses that the proof
that some or even most OBEs are dreams is not enough to allow us to say that a genuine OBE
is impossible. However, he suggests that if you have an OBE, why not test to see if the
OBE-world passes the reality test. Is the room you are in the one you are actually
sleeping in? If you have left your body, where is it? Do things change when you are not
looking at them (or when you are)? Can you read something twice and have it remain the
same on both readings? LaBerge asks 'If any of your questions and investigations leave you
doubting that you are in the physical world, is it not logical to believe you are
(Return to index)
Clearly there are similarities between OBEs and dreams. In both we experience a
world in which imagination plays a great part and we can perform feats not possible in
everyday life. But the OBE differs in many important and obvious ways from what we have
called an ordinary dream. For a start, it usually occurs when the subject is awake, or at
least if drowsy or drugged, not sleeping. Second, the imagery and activities of an OBE are
usually much less bizarre and more coherent than those of an ordinary dream, and most
often the scenery is something from the normal environment rather than the peculiar
setting of dreams. Third, OBEers are often adamant that their experience was nothing like
a dream. Finally, there is the great difference in the state of consciousness. Ordinary
dreams are characterized by very cloudly consciousness at best, and are only recognized as
dreams on waking up.
But these differences are not enough. You may argue that in a lucid dream both
the imagery and the state of consciousness are much more like those in an OBE. So perhaps
the OBE is a kind of lucid dream occurring in the midst of waking life. One way to find
out might be to determine the physiological state in which the OBE takes place. Such a
finding can only be made by means of laboratory experiment; but first we need to catch an
OBE in the laboratory.
Observing an OBE in the laboratory setting is not easy. Most people who have an
OBE have only one, or at most few, in a lifetime. Capturing an OBE requires a special kind
of subject, one who is both able to induce an OBE at will, and willing to be subjected to
the stress of being tested. Fortunately there are such subjects.
One of the first to be tested was a young girl called Miss Z., by Charles Tart
who studied her OBEs [Tar68]. Her OBEs all occurred at night. She used to wake up in the
night and find herself floating near the ceiling. With Miss Z. as subject Tart initially
wanted to test two aspects of the OBE: first, whether ESP could occur during an OBE, and
second what physiological state was associated with the experience. Altogether, Miss Z.
spent four non-consecutive nights sleeping at the lab.
During her first night Miss Z. had no OBEs. During the second night she woke
twice and reported that she had been floating above her body. During the first experience
Miss Z. had not yet fallen asleep when the OBE occurred, and the EEG showed a drowsy
waking pattern followed by waking when she told Tart about the experience. All the time
the heart rate had been steady and there were no REMs. Then at 3.15 a.m. Miss Z. woke up
and called out 'write down 3.13.' Apparently she had left her body and lifted up high
enough to see the clock on the wall. At that time the EEG showed various patterns but
predominantly theta and alphoid activity. There were few sleep spindles (a feature of the
EEG pattern in certain stages of sleep), no REMs, no GSRs (galvanic skin response) and a
On the third night Miss Z. had a dramatic OBE. She seemed to be flying, and
found herself at her home in Southern California, with her sister. Her sister got up from
the rocking chair where she had been sitting and the two of them communicated without
speaking. After a while they both walked into the bedroom and saw the sister's body lying
in bed asleep. Almost as soon as she realized that it was time to go, the OBE was over and
Miss Z. found herself back in the laboratory. Tart was not able to contact the sister to
check whether she had been aware of the visit, but the physiological record showed that
there was mostly alphoid activity with no REMs and only a couple of minutes of Stage 1,
dreaming sleep, with REMs.
The last night was in some ways the most exciting, for on that occasion the
subject was able to see an ESP target provided; but the EEG record was obscured by a lot
of interference. Tart described it as somewhat like Stage 1 with REMs, but he added that
he could not be sure whether it was a Stage1 or a waking pattern.
Amongst all these confusing and changeable patterns, some certainty does
emerge. In general the EEG showed a pattern most like poorly developed Stage 1 mixed with
brief periods of wakefulness. For this subject at least OBEs do not occur in the same
state as dreaming. Tart would have liked to have continued working with Miss Z. but this
proved impossible as she had to return to Southern California.
However, Tart [Tar67] was able to work with another subject, Robert Monroe,
well known from his books. Monroe was monitored for nine sessions with EEG and other
devices. In this environment Monroe had difficulty inducing an OBE. Electrodes were
clipped to his ear, and he found them very uncomfortable. During all the time that he was
trying to have an OBE his EEG showed a strange mixture of patterns. There was unusually
varied alpha rhythm, variable sleep spindles, and high voltage theta waves. On the whole
Tart concluded that Monroe was in Stages 1 and 2 and was relaxed and drowsy, falling in
and out of sleep. His sleep pattern was quite normal and he had normal dream periods and
During the penultimate session Monroe managed to have an OBE. Tart concluded
that Monroe's OBEs occurred in the dreaming state; but this idea presented him with a
problem. Monroe claims that for him, dreaming and OBEs are entirely different. Tart
finally concluded that perhaps the OBEs were a mixture of dreams and 'something else.'
This 'something else' might, he thought, be ESP.
One of the next subjects to be tested in this way was Ingo Swann. In several
experiments at the ASPR [OM77] Swann was attached to the EEG equipment while he sat in a
darkened room and tried to exteriorise, in his own time, and to travel to a distant room
where ESP targets were set up. He did not fall asleep and was thus able to make comments
about how he was getting on. After some months of this type of experiment Swann suggested
that he might be able to leave his body on command and so he was arranged to receive an
audible signal to tell him when to go, and when to return. Apparently he succeeded in this
effort, which meant that OBE and other times could easily be determined and compared.
During the OBE periods, the EEG was markedly flattened and there were frequency
changes, with a decrease in alpha and increase in beta activity. While these changes took
place, the heart rate stayed normal. These findings are rather different from those with
previous subjects in that Swann seemed to be more alert during his OBEs. Perhaps this just
confirms what was learned from case studies, that the OBE can occur in a variety of
states. But perhaps most important is that in no case so far did there seem to be a
discrete state in which the OBE took place. There were no sudden changes in either EEG or
autonomic functions to mark the beginning or end of the OBE. Any changes were gradual;
unlike dreaming, the OBE does not seem to be associated with a discrete physiological
The one other subject who has taken part in a large number of OBE experiments
is Keith ('Blue') Harary. The experiments in which his physiological state was measured
were carried out at the Physical Research Foundation [Mor73, HJH74, JHHLM74, MHJHR78]. The
findings were different again from those of previous studies. Here there were no changes
in EEG. The amount and frequency of alpha were the same in OBE and 'cool down' periods and
there were only slightly fewer eye movements in the OBE phases. These measurements alone
show that Harary was awake and that his OBEs did not occur in a sleeping, dreaming or
Other measures did show a change. Skin potential fell, indicating greater
relaxation, and it was this measure which provided the best indicator that an OBE had
begun. Both heart rate and respiration increased. These changes are surprising because
they imply a greater degree of arousal; the opposite of the finding from skin potential.
So in some ways Harary was more relaxed, but he was also more alert.
Great differences between subjects tend to obscure any clear pattern in the
states, but in all this confusion it is clear that the start of an OBE does not coincide
with any abrupt physiological change. There is no discrete OBE state. The OBE does not, at
least for these subjects, and under these conditions, occur in a state resembling
dreaming. The subjects were relaxed, and even drowsy or lightly asleep, but they were not
dreaming when they had their OBEs.
(Return to index)
Much publicity has recently been given to research on near-death experiences
(NDEs), experiences of those who survive a close encounter with death. More people now
survive close brushes with death. The near-death experience has been defined as the
'experiential counterpart of the physiological transition to biological death' [Sab82]: it
is the record of conscious experience from the inside rather than the outside, from the
point of view of the subject rather the spectator.
Raymond Moody [Moo75, 77] interviewed many people who had been resuscitated
after having had accidents and he then put together an idealized version of a typical
near-death experience. He emphasized that no one person described the whole of this
experience, but each feature was found in many of the stories. Here is his description:
A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he
hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a
loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a
long dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himself outside of his own physical body,
but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance,
as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual
vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval.
After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd
condition. He notices that he still has a 'body,' but one of a very different nature and
with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things
begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives
and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he has never
encountered before -- a being of light -- appears before him. This being asks him a
question, non-verbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a
panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds
himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit
between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth,
that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is
taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return. He is
overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love, and peace. Despite his attitude, though, he
somehow reunites with his physical body and lives.
Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so. In the first place,
he can find no human words adequate to describe these unearthly episodes. He also finds
that others scoff, so he stops telling other people. Still, the experience affects his
life profoundly especially his views about death and its relationship to life.
The parallel between this kind of account and many OBEs is clear. There is the
tunnel traveled through as well as the experiences of seeing one's own body from outside
and seeming to have some other kind of body, and the ineffability is familiar. One is
tempted to conclude that in death a typical OBE, or astral projection, occurs, and is
followed by a transition to another world, with the aid of people who have already made
the crossing, and that of higher beings in whose plane one is going to lead the next phase
of existence. Although Moody's work gave a good idea of what dying could be like for some
people, it did not begin to answer questions such as how common this type of experience
After Moody there have been studies by cardiologists Rawlings and Sabom. The
most detailed research has been carried out by Kenneth Ring, a psychologist from
Connecticut [Rin79, 80]. From hospitals there he obtained the names of people who had come
close to death, or who had been resuscitated from clinical death. Almost half of his
sample (48%) reported experiences which were, at least in part, similar to Moody's
description. Of Ring's subjects, 95 per cent of those asked stated that the experience was
not like a dream (the same result appears in Sabom): they stressed that it was too real,
being more vivid and more realistic; however some aspects were hard to express, as the
experience did not resemble anything that had happened to them before.
One of Ring's most interesting findings concerned the stages of the experience.
He showed that the earlier stages also tended to be reported more frequently. The first
stage, peace, was experienced by 60% of his sample, some of whom did not reach any further
stages. The next stage, of most interest to us here, was that of 'body separation,' in
other words, the OBE. Thirty-seven per cent of Ring's sample reached this stage and what
they reported sounds very similar to descriptions of OBEs. Not all the 'body separations'
were distinct. Many of Ring's respondents simply described a feeling of being separate or
detached from everything that was happening.
Ring tried to find out about two specific aspects of these OBEs. First he asked
whether they had another body. The answer seemed to be 'no': most were unaware of any
other body and answered that they were something like 'mind only.' There was a similar
lack of descriptions of the 'silver cord.' We can see that an OBE of sorts forms an
important stage in the near-death experience.
After the OBE stage comes 'entering the darkness' experienced by nearly a
quarter of Ring's subjects. It was described as 'a journey into a black vastness without
shape or dimension,' as 'a void, a nothing' and as 'very peaceful blackness.'
For fifteen per cent the next stage was reached, 'seeing the light.' The light
was sometimes at the end of the tunnel, sometimes glimpsed in the distance but usually it
was golden and bright without hurting the eyes. Sometimes the light was associated with a
presence of some kind, or a voice telling the person to go back.
Finally there were ten per cent experiencers who seemed to 'enter the light'
and pass into or just glimpse another world. This was described as a world of great
beauty, with glorious colors, with meadows of golden grass, birds singing, or beautiful
music. It was at this stage that people were greeted by deceased relatives, and it was
from this world that they did not want to come back.
A completely different kind of analysis was applied by Noyes and Kletti [Noy72,
NK76] to accounts collected from victims of falls, drownings, accidents, serious
illnesses, and other life-threatening situations. They emphasized such features as altered
time perception and attention, feelings of unreality and loss of emotions, and the sense
of detachment. They found that these features occurred more often in people who thought
they were about to die than in those who did not. This fitted their interpretation of the
experiences as a form of depersonalization (i.e., the loss of the sense of personal
identity or the sensation of being without material existence) in the face of a threat to
life; that is as a way of escaping or becoming dissociated from the imminent death of the
Two other aspects have yet to be dealt with. First, there is the absence of any
trips to 'hell.' Neither Moody nor Ring obtained any accounts of hellish experiences.
However, cardiologist Maurice Rawlings [Raw78] has suggested that the reason for there
being no such reports is that although patients may recall such hellish experiences
immediately afterwards, they tend to forget them with time. In other words, their memories
protect them from recalling the unpleasant aspects. According to Rawlings it is only
because they have been interviewed too long after the brush with death that all the
experiences are reported as pleasant. It does seem to be the 'good' side of experiences
which makes the greater impact.
Another feature which needs mention is the 'life review.' It has often been
found that a person close to death may seem to see scenes of his past life pass before him
as though on a screen, or in pictures. Ring found that about a quarter of his
core-experiencers reported a life review, and that it was more common in accident victims
The general effects of undergoing an NDE are of two kinds: philosophical and
ethical. The main philosophical changes are in attitudes towards death and afterlife.
Sabom's figures are extremely interesting in this respect: he asked those who had and
those had not had an NDE when unconscious whether there was any change in their views of
death and the afterlife. Of the 45 who had not had any conscious experience, 39 were just
as afraid of death as before, 5 more afraid and 1 less afraid; while of the 61 with an NDE
none were more afraid, 11 just as afraid and 50 less afraid. The patterns were similar
concerning belief in an afterlife: of the non- experiencers, none had any change of
attitude; while of the experiencers, 14 found their attitude unchanged and 47 stated that
their belief in the afterlife had increased [Sab82]. Ring found a correlation between loss
of fear of death and what he called the core experience, broadly that with a positive
transcendental element in it. Moody comments that there is remarkable agreement about the
'lessons' brought back from NDEs: 'Almost everyone has stressed the importance in this
life of trying to cultivate love for others, a love of a unique and profound kind'
[Moo75]. And he adds that a second characteristic is a realization of the importance of
seeking knowledge, of not confining one's horizon to the material.
A number of reductionist physiological explanations have been advanced to
account for NDEs: the two most common are 'cerebral anoxia' and 'depersonalization'.
Cerebral anoxia accounts for the experience by saying that it is a hallucination due to an
oxygen shortage in the brain. We have seen that such 'hallucinations' frequently turn out
to correspond to the physical events actually occurring -- can the NDE therefore be
labelled a hallucination? Perhaps it can, but certainly not as a delusion. Ring and Moody
both point out that patterns of experiences are no different when there is clearly no
shortage of oxygen. Noyes starts by pointing out that none of the subjects can really have
been dead if they were resuscitated, so that their reported experiences cannot be taken as
'proof' of survival of consciousness. Moody never actually states such a position, but
rather confines himself to asserting that the experiences have a suggestive value; even if
for the subjects themselves the experience is proof.
The common factor underlying all the physiological explanations of the NDE is
the attempt to avoid the prima facie interpretation of the experience as an OBE. Sabom
concludes that this hypothesis is the best fit with the data, while Ring concludes that
'there is abundant empirical evidence pointing to the reality of out-of-body experiences;
that such experiences conform to the descriptions given by our near-death experiencers;
and that there is highly suggestive evidence that death involves the separation of a
second body -- a double -- from the physical body' [Rin80].
Just as many different interpretations have been presented for all aspects of
the near-death experience. The most important of them have been usefully summarised by
Grosso [Gro81]. Most people seem to agree that the near-death experience presents
remarkable consistency varying little across differences in culture, religion, and cause
of the crisis; what is in dispute is why there should be such a consistency. Rawlings
steeps all his findings in the language of Christianity, involving heaven and hell and the
possibility of being saved. Noyes interprets NDEs in terms of depersonalization; Siegel in
terms of hallucinations, and Ring, within a parapsychological-holographic model. But
broadly speaking there are two camps. On the other side are those who see the near-death
experience as a sure signpost towards another world and a life after death; on the other,
those who have, in various different ways, interpreted the experience as part of life, not
death, and as telling us nothing whatsoever about a 'life after life.'
(Return to index)
If the OBE is to be seen as involving psychological processes, rather than
paranormal ones, we need to look at what those processes could be. Let us begin with a
psychiatric approach and ask whether the OBE, or anything like it, is found in any mental
Noyes and Kletti likened near-death experiences to the phenomenon of
depersonalization. Related to depersonalization is derealization, in which the
surroundings and environment begin to seem unreal and the sufferer seems to be cut off
from reality. Depersonalization is the more common of the two, and involves feelings that
the person's own body is foreign or does not belong. He may complain that he does not feel
emotions even though he appears to express them, and he may suffer anxiety, distortions of
time and place, and changes in his body image, and the subject may seem to observe things
from a few feet ahead of his body. His conscious 'I- ness' is said to be outside his body.
The patients characterize their imagery as pale and colorless, and some complain that they
have altogether lost the power of imagination.
This description does not sound like that of someone who has had an OBE or a
NDE. There are distortions of the environment and alterations in imagery in OBE and NDE
experiences, but it seems that imagery typically becomes more bright and vivid, colorful
and detailed, rather than pale and colorless. There are changes in the emotions -- but
rather than a perishing of love and hate, many OBEers report deep love and joy and
positive emotions. The phenomena of derealization and depersonalization do not in the
least help us to understand. Any small similarities are outweighed by overwhelming
One syndrome specifically involving doubles is the unusual 'Capgras syndrome.'
A person suffering from this illusion may believe that a friend or relative has been
replaced by an exact double. Since this double is like the real person in every
discernible way, nothing that the 'real person' says or does will convince the patient
otherwise. In this way the patient can avoid the guilt he feels at any malicious or
negative feelings towards a loved one. From even this very brief description it is obvious
that this illusion bears no resemblance to the OBE.
More relevant may be the kinds of double seen in autoscopy, literally 'seeing
oneself.' Although the OBE is rarely distinguished from autoscopy in the psychiatric
literature, other distinctions are made instead. The main distinction is that OBE involves
feeling of being outside the body while autoscopy usually consist of seeing a double. Some
people see the whole of their body as a double; some see only parts, perhaps only the
face. There is an internal form in which the subject can see his internal organs; and a
cenesthetic form in which he does not see, but only feels the presence of his double.
There is even a negative form in which the subject cannot see himself even when he tries
to look into a mirror.
An entirely different way of looking at autoscopy is through the physical
problems with which it is sometimes associated. One of these is migraine, the most obvious
symptom of which is the debilitating headache. During, before or after the pain some
migraine suffers apparently experience autoscopy. In any case, a number of examples of
people who have suffered both migraine and a simultaneous experience of either autoscopy
or an OBE, does not prove any particular kind of connection between the two.
(Return to index)
OBEs might be expected to be more frequently experienced by people with the
most highly developed skills of conceiving mental images if the experience is one
constructed entirely from the imagination. Irwin [Irw80, 81b] was interested in whether
OBEers differ from other people in terms of certain cognitive skills or ways of thinking,
including imagery. He found 21 OBEers and to these he gave the 'Ways of thinking
questionnaire' (WOT), the 'Differential personality questionnaire' (DPQ) and the
'Vividness of visual imagery questionnaire' (VVIQ). For each he compared the scores of the
OBEers with those expected from studies of larger groups of the population.
The imagery questionnaire a self-rated measure of vividness of just visual
imagery. The scores of these few OBEers were unexpectedly found to be lower than normal,
and significantly so. It seems that they had less, not more, vivid imagery than the
average. The next test, the WOT, aims to test the verbalizer-visualizer dimension of
cognitive style. Irwin's OBEers obtained scores no different from the average. So there
was no evidence that OBEers are either specially likely to use visualization or
Although not directly relevant to the subject of imagery, the results of the
DPQ were interesting. One of the various dimensions of cognitive style which it measures
is 'Absorption.' This relates to a person's capacity to become absorbed in his experience.
For example, someone who easily becomes immersed in nature, art or a good book or film or
a computer game, to the exclusion of the outside world, would be one who scored highly on
the scale of 'Absorption.' Irwin expected OBEers to be higher on this measure and that is
what he found. His OBEers seemed to be better than average at becoming involved in their
(Return to index)
There is no single accepted definition of hallucinations and it is not clear
just how they relate to sensory perception, illusion, dreams and imagination. However, let
us define an hallucination as an apparent perception of something not physically present,
and add that it is not necessary for the hallucination to be thought 'real' to count. Into
this category come a wide range of experiences occurring in people, not suffering from any
mental or psychiatric disturbance. Visual imagery may occur just before going to sleep
(hypnagogic), on first waking up (hypnopompic) or they may be induced by drugs, sensory
deprivation, sleeplessness, or severe stress. They may take many forms, from simple shapes
to complex scenes.
Although it is possible to have an hallucination involving almost any kind of
imagery, it has long been known that there are remarkable similarities between the
hallucinations of different people, under different circumstances. Hallucinations were
first classified during the last century during a period when many artists and writers
experimented with hashish and opium as an aid to experiencing them. In 1926 Kluver began a
series of investigations into the effects of mescaline and described four constant types.
These were first the grating, lattice or chessboard, second the cobweb type, third the
tunnel, cone or vessel, and fourth the spiral. As well as being constant features of
mescaline intoxication in different people, Kluver found that these forms appeared in
hallucinations induced by a wide variety of conditions.
In the 1960s, when many psychedelic drugs began to be extensively used for
recreational purposes, research into their effects proliferated. Leary and others tried to
develop methods by which intoxicated subjects could describe what was happening to them.
Eventually Leary and Lindsley developed the 'experiental typewriter' with twenty keys
representing different subjective states. Subjects were trained to use it but the
relatively high doses of drugs used interfered with their ability to press the keys and so
a better method was needed.
A decade later Siegel gave subjects marijuana, or THC, and asked them simply to
report on what they saw. Even with untrained subjects he found remarkable consistencies in
the hallucinations. In the early stages simple geometric forms predominated. There was
often a bright light in the center of the field of vision which obscured central details
but allowed images at the edges to be seen more clearly, and the location of this light
created a tunnel-like perspective. Often the images seemed to pulsate and moved towards or
away from the light in the center of the tunnel. At a later stage, the geometric forms
were replaced by complex imagery including recognizable scenes with people and objects,
sometimes with small animals or caricatures of people. Even in this stage there was much
consistency, with images from memory playing a large part.
On the basis of this work Siegel constructed a list of eight forms, eight
colors, and eight patterns of movement, and trained subjects to use them when given a
variety of drugs (or a placebo) in controlled environment. With amphetamines and
barbiturates the forms reported were mostly black and white forms moving aimlessly about,
but with THC, psilocybin, LSD and mescaline the forms became more organized as the
experience progressed. After 30 minutes there were more lattice and tunnel forms, and the
colors shifted from blue to red, orange to yellow. Movement became more organized with
explosive and rotational patterns. After 90 - 120 minutes most forms were lattice-tunnels;
after that complex imagery began to appear with childhood memories and scenes, emotional
memories and some fantastic scenes. But even these scenes often appeared in a
lattice-tunnel framework. At the peak of the hallucinatory experience, subjects sometimes
said that they had become part of the imagery. They stopped using similes and spoke of the
images as real. Highly creative images were reported and the changes were very rapid.
According to Siegel [Sie77] at this stage 'The subjects reported feeling dissociated from
The parallels between the drug-induced hallucinations and the typical
spontaneous OBE should be obvious. Not only did some of the subjects in Siegel's
experiments actually report OBEs, but there were the familiar tunnels and the bright
lights so often associated with near-death experiences. There was also the 'realness' of
everything seen; and the same drugs which elicited the hallucinations are those which are
supposed to be conducive to OBEs.
There have been many suggestions as to why the tunnel form should be so common.
It has sometimes been compared to the phenomenon of 'tunnel vision' in which the visual
field is greatly narrowed, but usually in OBEs and hallucinations the apparent visual
field is very wide; it is just formed like a tunnel. A more plausible alternative depends
on the way in which retinal space is mapped on cortical space. If a straight line in the
visual cortex of the brain represents a circular pattern on the retina then stimulation in
a straight line occurring in states of cortical excitation could produce a sensation of
concentric rings, or a tunnel form. This type of argument is important in understanding
the visual illusions of migraine, in which excitations spread across parts of the cortex.
Another reasonable speculation is that the tunnel has something to do with
constancy mechanisms. As objects move about, or we move relative to them, their projection
on the retina changes shape and size. We have constancy mechanisms which compensate for
this effect. For very large objects, distortions are necessarily a result of perspective,
and yet we see buildings as having straight wall and roofs. If this mechanism acted
inappropriately on internally generated spontaneous signals, it might produce a
tunnel-like perspective, and any hallucinatory forms would also be seen against this
In drug-induced hallucinations there may come a point at which the subject
becomes part of the imagery and it seems quite real to him, even though it comes from his
memory. The comparison with OBEs is interesting because one of the most consistent
features of spontaneous OBEs is that the experiencers claim 'it all seemed so real.' If it
were a kind of hallucination similar to these drug-induced ones then it would seem real.
Put together the information from the subject's cognitive map in memory, and an
hallucinatory state in which information from memory is experienced as though it were
perceived, and you have a good many of the ingredients for a classical OBE.
But what of the differences between hallucinations and OBEs? You may point to
the state of consciousness associated with the two and argue that OBEs often occur when
the person claims to be wide awake, and thinking perfectly normally. But so can
hallucinations. With certain drugs consciousness and thinking seem to be clearer than ever
before, just as they often do in an OBE. An important difference is that in the OBE, the
objects of perception are organized consistently as though they do constitute a stable,
physical world. But such is not always the case; there are many cases which involve
experiences beyond anything to be seen in the physical world.
Consideration of imagery and hallucinations might provide some sort of
framework for understanding the OBE. It would be seen as just one form of a range of
hallucinatory experiences. But (and this is a big but) if the OBE is basically an
hallucination and nothing actually leaves the body, then paranormal events ought not
necessarily to be associated with it. People ought not to be able to see distant unknown
places or influence objects while 'out of the body'; yet there are many claims to such an
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In the late 1960s Charles Tart began the first laboratory tests with subjects
who could have OBEs voluntarily [Tar67, 68]. In addition to his physiological research he
also tested subjects' ability to see a target hidden from their normal sight. His first
subject, Miss Z., was tested in a laboratory where a target was placed on a shelf about
five and a half feet above the bed where she lay. The target was a five-digit number
prepared in advance by Tart and placed on the shelf. Miss Z. slept in the laboratory on
four occasions. On the first she had no OBE; on the second, she managed to get high enough
to see the clock, and on third night she had an OBE but traveled elsewhere. However, on
her fourth and last night she awoke and reported that she had seen the number and it was
25132. She was right on all five digits which has a probability of only one in 100,000 of
being right by chance.
Tart himself seemed reluctant to conclude that it was paranormal. Tart's second
subject was Robert Monroe, who came to the laboratory for nine sessions, but he was only
able to induce an OBE in the penultimate session, and then he had two. During the first of
these OBEs he seemed to see a man and a woman but not to know who or where they were. In
the second he made a great effort to stay 'local' and managed to see a technician, who was
supposed to be monitoring the apparatus. With her he saw a man whom he did not know was
there and whom he later described. It turned out that this was the husband of the
technician, who had come to keep her company. Since Monroe did not manage to see the
target number, no real test of ESP was possible.
In 1971 Karlis Osis began to plan OBE research at the American SPR. One of the
first subjects to be tested there was Ingo Swann, who went to the laboratory two or three
times a week where Janet Mitchell tested him to see whether he could identify a target
placed out of sight. A platform was suspended from the ceiling about 10 feet above the
ground and divided into two. On either side of a partition various objects were placed and
Swann was asked to try to travel up to see them. The reason for the partition was to see
whether Swann would identify the correct target for the position in which he claimed it to
be. Bright colors and clear familiar shapes seemed most successful and glossy pictures or
glass did not work well for the experimental purposes.
After his OBE, Swann usually made drawings of what he had 'seen.' Although
these drawings were far from perfect renderings of the original objects, they were similar
enough that when eight sets of targets and respondes were given to an independent judge
she correctly matched every pair; a result which is likely to happen by chance only once
in about 40,000 times [Mit73].
The results of all these experiment were most encouraging. From Tart's results
especially it seemed that although it was very hard for the subject to get to see the
number, and that if the number was seen, it was seen correctly. Further research showed
that OB vision could be just as confused and erratic as ESP has always seemed to be. For
example Osis [Osi73] advertised for people who could have OBEs to come to the ASPR for
testing. About one hundred came forward and were asked to try to travel to a distant room
and to report on what objects they could see there. Osis found that most of them thought
they could see the target but most were wrong. He concluded that the vast majority of the
experiences had nothing to do with bone fide OBEs. This conclusion means that Osis was
using the ability to see correctly as a criterion for the occurrence of a genuine OBE.
Much of the recent research on OBEs has been directed towards that important
question; does anything leave the body in an OBE? On the one hand are the 'ecsomatic' or
'extrasomatic' theories which claim that something does leave. This something might be the
astral body of traditional theory or some other kind of entity. Morris [Mor73] has
referred to the 'theta aspect' of man which may leave the body temporarily in an OBE, and
permanently at death. On the other hand there are theories which claim that nothing
leaves. Some of these predict that no paranormal events should occur during OBEs, but the
major alternative to consider here is that nothing leaves, but the subject uses ESP to
detect the target. This concept has been referred to as the 'imagination plus ESP' theory.
This last theory is problematic. The term ESP is a catch-all, is negatively
defined, and is capable of subsuming almost any result one cares to mention. How then can
it be ruled out? And given these two theories, how can we find out which, if either, is
correct? In spite of the difficulties several parapsychologists have set about this task.
Osis, for example, suggested that if the subject in an OBE has another body and is located
at the distant position, then he should see things as though looking from that position.
If he were using ESP he should see things as though with ESP.
This general ideal led Osis to suggest placing a letter 'd' in such way that if
seen directly (or presumably by ESP) a 'd' would be seen, but if looked from a designated
position a 'p' would appear, reflected in a mirror. Following this idea further he
developed his 'optical image device' which displays various pictures in several colors as
in four quadrants. The final picture is put together using black and white outlines, a
color wheel, and a series of mirrors. By, as it were, looking into the box by ESP one
would not find the complete picture. To do so can only be achieved by looking in through
the viewing window [Osi75].
Experiments with this device were carried out with Alex Tanous, a psychic from
Maine. Tanous lay down in a soundproofed room and was asked to leave his body and go to
the room containing the device, look in through the observation window and return to
relate what he had seen. Osis recounts that at first Tanous did not succeed, but
eventually he seemed to improve.
On each trial Tanous was told whether he was right or wrong and was thus able
to look for criteria which might help to identify when he was succeeding. On those trials
which he indicated he was most confident about, his results 'approached significance' on
the color aspect of the target. Osis claimed that this aspect was most important for
testing his theory because some of the colors were modified by the apparatus and would be
very hard to get right by ESP. The next tests therefore used only a color wheel with three
pictures and six colors. This time overall scores were not significant but high-confidence
scores for the whole target were significant and in the second half of the experiment
Tanous scored significantly on several target aspects, especially the one which Osis
claimed required 'localized sensing.'
Blue Harary, who has provided so much interesting information about the
physiology of the OBE, was tested for perception during his OBEs, but according to Rogo
[Rog78c] he was only 'sporadically successful' on target studies and so research with him
concentrated on other aspects of his experience.
Apart from all these experiments there is really only one more approach which
is relevant to the question of ESP in OBEs and that is work done by Palmer and his
associates at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. They tried to develop methods
for inducing an OBE in volunteer subjects in the laboratory and then to test their ESP.
One can understand the potential advantages of such a program. If it were possible to take
a volunteer and give him an OBE under controlled conditions, when and where you wanted it,
half the problems of OBE research would be solved. It would be possible to test hypotheses
about the OBE so much more quickly and easily, but alas, this approach turned to be
fraught with various problems.
First Palmer and Vassar [PV74a, b] developed an induction technique based on
traditional ideas of what conditions are conducive to the OBE. Using four different groups
of subjects in three stages, the method was modified to incorporate different techniques
for muscular relaxation and disorientation. Each subject was brought into the laboratory
and the experiment was explained to him. He was then taken into an inner room to lie on a
comfortable reclining chair and told that a target picture would be placed on a table in
the outer room.
The stage of the induction consisted of nearly fifteen minutes of progressive
muscular relaxation with the subject being asked to heard a pulsating tone both through
headphones and speakers which served to eliminate extraneous noises and produce a
disorientating effect. At the same time he looked into a rotating red and green spiral lit
by a flashing light; this stage lasted a little under ten minutes. In the final stage he
was asked to imagine leaving the chair and floating into the outer room to look at the
target, but here several variations were introduced. Some subjects were guided through the
whole process by taped instructions while other were simply allowed to keep watching the
spiral while they imagined it for themselves. For some the spiral was also only imagined
and for some there was an extra stage of imagining the target.
When the procedure was over the subject filled in a questionnaire about his
experiences in the experiment and completed an imaginary test (a shortened form of the
Betts QMI). Then five pictures were placed before him. One was the target, but neither he
nor the experimenter with him knew which it was. When he had rated each of the pictures on
a 1 to 30 scale, the other experimenter was called in to say which was the target.
One of the questions asked was, 'Did you at any time during the experiment have
the feeling that you were literally outside of your physical body?' Of 50 subject asked
this question 21, or 42%, answered 'yes.' As for the scores on the targets, overall scores
were not significally different from chance expectation. When the scores were compared for
the 21 OBEers and the others there was no significant difference between them. The OBEers
did get significantly fewer hits than expected by chance, but this result difficult to
Palmer and Lieberman [PL75a, b] took the techniques a stage further. Forty
subjects were tested, but this time they had a visual ganzfeld: that is, half ping-pong
balls were fixed over their eyes and a light was shone on them so as to produce a
homogenous visual field. Half the subjects were given an 'active set' by being asked to
leave their bodies and travel to the other room to see the target, while the other half
were given a 'passive set' being asked only to allow imagery to flow freely in their mind.
As expected more of the 'active' subjects reported having felt out of their
bodies: 13 out of 20 as opposed to only 4 in the passive condition. The active subjects
also reported more vivid imagery and more effort expended in trying to see the target, but
when it came to the ESP scores both groups were found to have scores close to chance
expectation and there were no significant differences between them. However, those
subjects who reported OBEs did do better than the others and significantly so. This result
is quite different from the previous ones and is the opposite of what Palmer and Lieberman
predicted, but it is what one would expect on the hypothesis that having an OBE
Palmer and Lieverman put forward an interesting suggestion as to why more
subjects in the active condition should report OBEs. Their idea is related to Schachter's
theory of emotions, which has been very influential in psychology. This theory suggests
that a person experiencing any emotion first feels the physiological effects of arousal,
including such things as slight sweating, increased heart rate, tingling feelings, and so
on, and then labels this feeling according to the situation as either 'anger,' 'passionate
love,' 'fear' or whatever. In the case of these experiments the subject feels unusual
sensations arising from the induction and then labels them according to his instructions.
If he were told to imagine leaving his body and traveling another room he might interpret
his feelings as those of leaving the body. Of course this suggestion has far wider
implications for understanding the OBE than those relating to the evaluation of the
results of these experiments.
In the next experiment Palmer and Lieberman tested 40 more subjects,
incorporating suggestions from Robert Monroe's methods for inducing OBEs. The was no
ganzfeld and instead of sitting in a chair the subjects lay on beds, sometimes with a
vibrator attached to the springs. This time time 21 subjects reported OBEs; and,
interestingly, these score higher on the Barber suggestibility scale, but they did not
have better ESP scores.
In the final experiment in this series 40 more subjects were tested, 20 with
ganzfeld and 20 were just told to close their eyes [Pal79a]. This time 13 in each group
claimed to have had on OBE, but whether they did or not was not related to their ESP
scores. This time EEG recording was also used, but it showed no differences related to the
reported OBEs. All in all it seems that these experiments were successful in helping
subjects to have an experience which they labelled as out of the body, but not in getting
improved ESP scores or in finding an OBE state identifiable by EEG.
In an experiment designed to look at the effect of religious belief on
susceptibility to OBEs, Smith and Irwin [SI81] tried to induce OBEs in two groups of
students differing in their concern with religious affairs and human immortality. The
induction was similar to that already described, but in addition the subjects were given
an 'OBE-ness' questionnaire and were asked to try to 'see' two targets in an adjacent
room. Later their impressions were given a veridicality score for resemblance to the
targets. No differences between the groups were found for either OBE-ness or veridicality,
but there was a highly significant correlation between OBE- ness and veridicality. This
result implies that the more OBE-like the experience, the better the ESP.
All these experiments were aimed at finding out whether subjects could see a
distant target during an OBE. Although the experimental OBE may differ from the
spontaneous kind, a simple conclusion is possible from the experimental studies. That is,
OBE vision, if it occurs, is extremely poor.
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