Out of Body Experiences are a phenomena that has been recorded for millennia in human history, and has begun to come to light again in the past century as science has developed. The problem is, nobody can tell how or why these occurrences happen. Is it down to a stimulated angular gyrus in the brain? Or due to an irritation in the inner ear? A release of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) which is rumoured to be produced by the Pineal Gland in the human brain? Or is it down to something beyond the reach of material science, some mechanism of our consciousness or spirit/soul that leads us to other dimensions beyond our physical existence? In this post I will list some of the theories surrounding the Out of Body Experience (OBE/OOBE), also known as astral projection in more modern times.
Theory 1 – Inner Ear Issues
In August 2017, the LiveScience website posted an article showing research that was made surrounding a potential cause of the out of body experience. This study as explained in the article was conducted by an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, Maya Elzière, and Neuroscientist Christophe Lopez, and involved analysing 210 patients who suffered from vestibular disorders, or issues with the vestibular system of the inner ear which is responsible for maintaining our sense of balance and spacial orientation, allowing us to coordinate ourselves appropriately when moving.
The Vestibular System
The patients analysed suffered from a variety of issues including vertigo, tinnitus and inner ear infections from whom a reported 29 experienced an OOBE. The given percentage from the article is 14%, compared to healthy individuals who also experienced an OOBE at 5%.
Doctor Lopez is quoted: “If you are sending the wrong signals to your brain about your motion, it creates confusion — your brain has to make sense of conflicting information, we think the conflicting signals create a kind of central incoherence, and that creates distortions in the sense of your body and the environment around you.” In other words, when the vestibular system is effected in some way, either by injury, illness or by other means (an example is given in the article of a driver who experienced an OOBE while accelerating), the signals sent to the brain regarding your spacial orientation may become confused, leading the brain to interpret them in such a way that creates the illusion of being separated from the body.
This to me seems a very reasonable explanation to some reported Out of Body experiences, especially those of people who are suffering from illness or those who have the experiences whilst under rapid motion. A good, and very well known example, is the pilots of fighter jets whom experience great levels of G-Force and often report feelings of being separated from the body. Does this mean that all out of body experiences are caused by vestibular signal interruptions/confusion? Certainly not. Nor does it mean that this is the cause of any at all. It simply means that this is a reasonable suggestion for the cause of some reported out of body experiences where the vestibular system may be affected.
Theory 2 – Stimulation of the Right Angular Gyrus
Moving on to a very well known study in Switzerland by neurologist Olaf Blanke of the University of Geneva. The Right Angular Gyrus is a region of the brain that is responsible for creating the interpretation of the body based on information received from the positions of the limbs, information of balance and spacial orientation and visual information received through the eyes of the body itself.
The investigation involved stimulating this portion of the brain with a small electrical current through electrodes. This was performed on a woman who was being treated for epilepsy. The result of the stimulus created the illusion that the woman was floating above her body. Initially, with very gentle stimulation, the woman reported that she felt as if she was falling and getting lighter and lighter in weight. As the level of stimulation increased, she then reported that she could see herself lying in the bed.
The Angular Gyrus
Of course, as the Angular Gyrus is responsible for creating our image and perception of our physical bodies, as also quoted by Peter Brugger of the University of Zurich, it makes sense that when this area is stimulated, our brain may created a phantom clone of our body in our minds and create the illusion therefore that we are disassociated. Therefore, the body we see while having the out of body experience, may be this phantom body created in our mind.
As with the previous theory, this explanation can be applied logically to many out of body experiences, but of course not to all. There are many examples of people who have had such experiences, but whom have then identified certain objects or instances nearby or far away from their body which have later been verified by third parties. This would suggest that such observations could not have been the result of a phantom body as a result of stimulation or damage to the angular gyrus. Of course, such experiences are mainly anecdotal in nature with only a handful of recorded experimentation wielding such results, however experiences of this nature are often said by the experiencers to be very sporadic and as such difficult to record. As somebody who has not had an out of body experience for myself, I cannot say.
Theory 3 – The DMT Experience
Dymethyltryptamine or DMT as it is more widely known, is a very powerful hallucinogenic drug which can send one into a state of supposed higher consciousness. It has been used for countless years by civilisations, most notably in the form of a drink known as ayahuasca. The majority of, if not the entirety of people who have consumed this drug in some way or another have come down from the effects with the firm belief that they had been aware of another realm or dimension, had met beings of light, had met deceased loved ones, and generally have completely changed their beliefs of how life and existence operates.
From my research, it seems that religious background, whether atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim; has very little effect on the outcome of the experience. There may be small details where conditioning of a certain religion is noticeable, however the general lessons gained from the experience seem almost identical.
The theory for DMT causing OOBEs most commonly revolves around the Near Death Experience (NDE). For anybody unsure of what this is, a Near Death Experience is essentially a phenomena that occurs to some people when close to death, most commonly during cardiac arrest. They may report leaving their body, travelling through a tunnel, meeting God/Teachers/Loved Ones, before being told they aren’t ready and must return. That is a very basic example of an NDE, but certainly the most common storyline one would hear from an experiencer. Those who go through this process almost always return with a complete knowledge that they will continue after death and all will be well. They will leave their body, meet their loved ones and go on their way.
The Pineal Gland
However, it has long been theorised that this experience is nothing more than the result of a malfunctioning brain trying desperately to keep itself alive. One of the main suggestions regarding this theory is that DMT is created by a gland in the brain named the Pineal Gland, and is one chemical which may be mass produced at death to make it as little traumatic as possible. Of course, this is only a suggestion, and it is not certain whether the brain actually produces this chemical at all. The idea was posed famously by Dr Rick Strassman in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, but has been widely speculated by many other researchers.
The Pineal Gland
Although there may be some effect from the dying brain causing this experience, to me DMT seems an unlikely candidate as many users of DMT and ayahuasca show very different storylines and foundations to those who have NDEs. Most DMT “trips” usually involve travelling through dimensions and meeting spiritual beings, generally heightening ones state of consciousness. Whereas NDEs do not generally include these aspects, although some do have traces. Therefore, although DMT may be produced by the brain, and indeed may have some small effect in the NDE and OOBE, the difference in experiences seem to show that the chemical is not the sole cause.
Theory 4 – Spiritual Travel
The final explanation for the Out of Body Experience that I will discuss in this article is the theory that we are divided into physical and non-physical. that the non-physical part of ourselves can separate itself from our body and explore multiple dimensions of existence. Immediately to the conventional scientist and skeptic, this will seem totally ludicrous, but actually this theory does hold water, and quite a lot of it.
There are many accounts of people who are able to achieve and Out of Body Experience willingly and view verifiable objects or events at variable distances from their physical body. Of course, anecdotal evidence in itself is very weak evidence, however it is certainly NOT invalid. This is what is known more recently as Astral Projection, or the ability to project one’s consciousness to other locations and dimensions if indeed the universe is multi-dimensional. The captivating thing about the accounts I have heard and read of are that they are all incredibly similar and share many aspects. Again, as with the Near Death Experience, there are cases where there is a clear influence from Religious beliefs and social backgrounds. Most people may meet something they describe as a Spirit Guide, others may see Jesus, others may see Guatum Buddha.
The most common argument against these experiences is that up until now, there seems to have been been no repeated proofs made on the OOBE, despite many attempts. There is one famous study by Dr Charles Tart in 1968, in which he observed a volunteer, named as Miss Z, who claimed she had spontaneous OOBEs often. Tart was able to observe Miss Z during sleep in his sleep laboratory over 4 non-consecutive nights through a 2 month period. The laboratory was arranged with Miss Z laid underneath a high shelf beside the observation window, through which Tart could see all activity. On the shelf propped up against the wall he would lay a piece of paper with a 5 digit number written on it.
Only on one of the four nights did Miss Z have an OOBE, however on that occurrence she not only correctly called the 5 digit number on awakening (chances of reading a 5 digit number correctly at random is about 1 in 100,000), but she also noted that the piece of paper was laying flat on the shelf, contradictory to the position she was told it would be.
Miss Z Experiment Layout
Due to the fact that the standards of control during the experiment did not adhere appropriate measures at the time, it is widely considered likely that the test subject was able at some point to take a glance at the number on the piece of paper before sleep, or even during the night. However Charles Tart himself greatly rejects this claim, although it must be considered a possibility and therefore the results of the experiment will always remain in doubt until others are made.
Willful Out Of Body Experience is a technique I myself am trying to learn to find for myself. I hope to learn if this is an actual separation, or simply a trick of the mind. An illusion. Until one experiences this kind of thing for oneself, we can only imagine. None of the above theories are any more likely than each other, regardless how much a person believes. There is indeed evidence for each, and it is simply up to the subjective opinion of an individual to determine for themselves which evidence seems the strongest to them.
Perhaps theory 4 should not be overlooked. To me, there is something there that perhaps we are currently unable to see until we experience it for ourselves. So my best advice when wondering about the Out of Body Experience and Astral Projection? No matter how ridiculous it seems, and how improbable, one cannot pass judgement of any kind until they have had the experience themselves. Ghose who have had the experience seem to come out of them with the knowledge that we are more than the physical body. And that’s something worth looking into more.