Out-of-body experiences explained... or are they?

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup (hereby released in the public domain)
of the original painting La Gare De Perpignan by Salvador Dali.

In my newly-released book, Brief Peeks Beyond, I dedicate a whole chapter to exploring the mainstream media's bias towards the metaphysics of materialism when reporting on scientific results. I illustrate this with examples from research on consciousness, memory and psychoactive substances. My claim is that the media too easily errs on the side of materialism, with the net result of hyping misinterpretations of scientific observations. Even in cases where these observations contradict materialism, they are spun – sometimes shockingly – so to apparently confirm it. This constitutes a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle that renders the materialist metaphysics virtually immune to cultural criticism.

As it turns out, in the past couple of days another, perhaps less dramatic but nonetheless significant example of this has come to light. The Mail Online has published an article titled 'Brain scans reveal what happens during an out-of-body experience.' The article goes on to say that 'They have been interpreted as evidence of the existence of a soul and even life after death, but now scientists may have unravelled what is going on when people have out-of-body experiences.' It then claims that the scientific finding 'suggests abnormal brain activity may lie behind out-of-body experiences.' So here we have a mainstream media piece claiming that science may have finally explained out-of-body experiences (OBEs) in a reductionist way, consistent with the metaphysics of materialism. Alas, it would appear that the brain is the mind and all those OBEs that seem to show otherwise are perfectly explainable. But is this really a fair interpretation of what the article itself reports, when looked at critically?

First of all, let us recapitulate why OBEs have been considered an anomaly under the materialist metaphysics. During an OBE, a person is said to gain a point-of-view on the world that isn't consistent with the space-time position of her body. In other words, she can allegedly view the world as if she were out of her body. For instance, the person may physically be lying in bed in her house but witness events in another city as if she were present there. The credibility of any OBE report arises from the veridical details it may contain. For instance, if a person can accurately report details of a conversation taking place in another city – and assuming that tricks or lies can be discarded – during a time when the person was lying in her bed, then this is a veridical element that can be independently verified. In this brief essay, I am not interested in arguing for the validity of any specific veridical report – this has been done by many others in the literature – but simply highlight the incontrovertible fact that it is those veridical elements, whatever they may be, that legitimize OBEs. Therefore, any attempt to explain OBEs in a materialist, reductionist manner must either refute all veridical elements reported or explain, under materialism, how a person can correctly report events outside the range of the person's five senses.

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The study reported in the Mail Online does neither. As the article itself explains, what scientists did was to fit volunteers with special video headsets displaying images captured by a remote camera affixed to another person's head. This way, they created the illusion that the volunteer was experiencing the world from another person's point of view. The volunteer was then put inside a brain scanner where his or her brain activity was measured. As it turns out, the areas of the brain correlated with our sense of location in space displayed anomalous activity. Now stop and consider this critically: is there anything really surprising about this? If I am a volunteer and I get fitted with some unnatural headgear that artificially feeds me with the visual field of another person, in another location, of course my sense of location in space will be altered. The whole situation is highly anomalous and unnatural, how could my brain activity remain normal?

Most importantly, does this result explain the veridical aspects of an OBE? I blush to have to explain this: it was the scientists themselves, through the video headset and the remote camera, who gave the volunteers remote sensory access to another location in space. No volunteer had an actual OBE at any point in this study. Obviously, the question that needs to be answered to truly explain a veridical OBE is: how can people witness distant events when they are not fitted with video headsets linked to remote cameras? As such, this study doesn't provide any materialist explanation for OBEs at all. That the headlines suggest so is a rather blatant sign of materialism's virtuous cycle of self-reinforcement so generously enabled by the media; a sign of the materialist stigmergy, or 'bottom-up conspiracy,' discussed in Brief Peeks Beyond. Even the original scientific paper itself is clear regarding the scope of its conclusions. The authors write:
These results extend our understanding of the role of the posterior parietal and medial temporal cortices in spatial cognition by demonstrating that these areas not only are important for ecological behaviors, such as navigation and perspective taking, but also support the perceptual representation of the bodily self in space. (Summary)
In other words, the results simply show the role of certain brain areas in our internal representation of our own body's position in space. It has nothing to do with explaining the veridical aspects of OBEs, or even the origin of non-veridical imagery.

As I write in Brief Peeks Beyond,
the key insight here is how, through lack of rigor and misplaced enthusiasm, an entirely undemonstrated notion can be hyped by the mainstream media to the point of looking fully established. ... I suspect that many journalists feel safe to exaggerate if they’re backed by the clout of the mainstream metaphysics; what could go wrong, right? (Pages 82-83) 

Copyright © 2015 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. As the Mail has carried dozens of articles reflecting the paranormal nature of NDEs etc, I suspect this is less a conspiracy to conform to mainstream science as sheer ignorance from some reporter fed with a press release from the experimenters suggesting all is explained...and the need to fill a page with something sensational.
    Having been a newspaper journalist I know how easily that kind of thing can happen.

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    1. Yes, Dave, that's what I meant by stigmergy. I don't think there is an actual top-down conspiracy going on.

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  2. If Dave is right then why isn't the page filled with "PROOF OF A SPIRITUAL AFTERLIFE"? What could be more sensational? there are a multitude of studies that point to this conclusion yet you only read about them on the fringes of the current body of news reporting as it exists today. I for one do believe that there is a "type" of top down strategy in place to preserve the current materialist paradigm. The world has become a giant materialistic hive. Simply watch television, peruse advertisements or plug in to any of the mainstream media. You will see a world gone mad with "biological robots" consuming everything in sight to the total and complete destruction of the planet and our spiritual selves. The financial powers have a MASSIVE vested interests in this continuing. In a world where six or seven entities own all of western media this world view is paramount and premier. So if this is not a conspiracy what is? Alternate views such as the ones that Bernardo and other present should be front page information. The quest for what we really are or what is the meaning of this experience has been marginalized to the point of quackery. We live in cruel "kali yuga". Sorry if I rambled...

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    1. Hey Jack F, I completely agree. From what I have learned and continue to, it very suits suits the powers that be that we consider ourselves to be bio-electro-chemical robots without consciousness and free will and existing in a dead soulless environment. I have recently contacted Bernado about this privately, but very much want all of this to be openly discussed. I have found what I am about to share extremely taboo. When people don't wish to discuss issues I see this as manifestation of a taboo. I will have to summarize of course otherwise this will turn into abook lol:
      Google 'The Evolution of Dualism' and you should come across a chart which shows the origins of the dualistic idea of 'spirit' and 'nature/matter' The Evolution of Dualism Beginning with Zorostrianism you see a dramatic change of position between 'spirit' and 'matter'---when the era reaches Scientific Materialism 'spirit' is moved into the 'bad category' and 'matter' into the 'good category'. But it is important to be aware that BOTH paradigms are oppressive and dualistic
      So anyhow, what seems to be the SCENE of the theatre presented to us consists of this apparent worldview--the organized religious one; the ideologies of Communism which is often atheist, and the Captilaist one that has assumed prominence now and pushes this scientific materialism. But what is hidden is the occultist worldview, and that is the one in control right now behind the SCENES as it were, and it is greatly advantageous to them that we are kept unawares of the deeper sense of ourselves and reality because our ignore-ance allows them to do magick on us. Magick which is continuous with what their corporate advertising does---mind controlling our 'unconscious' to by things we don't need and so on. They DEPEND on us being unaware of this mind control and this is why I am trying to bring this weird subject to the attention of people. because it really does help us understand why their media would relentlessly promote a materialistic understanding of reality!

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    2. No rambling, Jack, the point is entirely valid. It is also clear that materialism is synergistic with the current economic system and power structures. If the only meaning of life is the accumulation of material goods, people are only motivated to consume and do drone-like work to have the money to consume. This, in fact, is a point I elaborate upon in Brief Peeks Beyond: the key force of materialism is not its philosophical elegance or explanatory power, but its synergies with the economic system. The question is whether the 'conspiracy' here is coordinated by some kind of central, global cabal, or emerges from a decentralized network of distorted values, social queues, local influences, cultural assumptions, unspoken threats, etc.
      We cannot close our eyes to the fact that non-materialist stories are often sensationalized too, after-life tourism being just one example. I tend to think that, if there were really a secret global cabal, things would be a little different. Moreover, for this cabal to work, everybody in any position of power would have to be involved; everybody except me, since I know I am not involved. It doesn't seem likely to me. Which also doesn't mean that the bottom-up stigmergy I discuss in the book isn't a vey real problem, which is doubtlessly reinforced by certain power structures like the media, the B2C (business to consumer) corporate world, certain governments, etc.

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  3. Jack F wrote:
    If Dave is right then why isn't the page filled with "PROOF OF A SPIRITUAL AFTERLIFE"? What could be more sensational?

    Countless Daily Mail pages saying just that Jack:
    https://www.google.co.uk/#safe=off&q=Proof+of+afterlife%3F+Daily+Mail

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  4. Dave, you are correct there are many articles in the press that present a case for or discuss a greater spiritual reality than the one we can conceive of. However, once this type of article is presented it is cut to pieces (either defacto or dejure) bit by bit by a monolithic materialistic press that manipulates public sentiment. You simply do not see that mechanism working in the reverse. Where was the main stream criticism of the piece that Bernardo discussed? My point is simple, this materialist society and its enablers will entertain but not accept any other possibilities other that we are "biological robots". Robots that must consume above all else. Our true natures must remain hidden.

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    1. "...there are many articles in the press that present a case for or discuss a greater spiritual reality than the one we can conceive of. However, once this type of article is presented it is cut to pieces (either defacto or dejure) bit by bit by a monolithic materialistic press that manipulates public sentiment. You simply do not see that mechanism working in the reverse..."

      I definitely agree with this. Indeed, this is the key problem. Whether it is due to a top-down conspiracy or a bottom-up stigmergy (or both) is a question of explanation, but that it happens I think is self-evident.

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    2. I'm not saying the media isn't biased towards the materialistic explanation - of course it is because that represents the view of most of science.
      When it all comes down to it, the media is in it for profit and will want to serve or 'please' their public because they're the ones who buy the papers or pay for their TV etc.
      I think the mistake they are making is they are judging the current world view from what mainstream science is saying.
      But in effect everyday people are well open to this kind of stuff as the wealth of paranormal TV shows are out there.
      I think it's a case of waiting for the news media to catch on to the public mood.
      But as I said in my first post, sometimes a simple explanation is that a new book about these ideas is easily available to make the headlines, sceptical and debunking scientists are in the majority so they're on hand too but people like Bernardo are few and far between for dumb journos to seek out.
      Hopefully that will change.

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  5. Yes. It's the same thing materialists tried to with the "God Helmet" which has been discredited now. They had to try again.
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_helmet

    I've had OOBES. My experiences are anecdotal without veridical "evidence". But, when you're awake and sober (I don't drink or drug) the experience is undeniable. I've had dreams, sports concussions, teenage drug use, and other altered mental states. But, they ain't OOBES.

    When you "come down" from these other human experiences you quickly realize they weren't real. The opposite happens after an OOBE. It's much more real than waking life. And, it doesn't fade with time. It's something that never leaves you and is usually life changing for the better. That's the best I can do.

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    1. I've never had a true OBE (twice I felt one start, but freaked out momentarily and it collapsed), so I find reports like this very interesting...

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    2. It's obvious to me that whatever you're experiencing is real.

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  6. Great article. I hope someone writes an article connecting materialism in science with the prevailing materialistic economic and political powers. I think it's a crucial connection, and would reach a wider range of people. I plan to do this in the future but simply don't have time now. I'll mention this on the forum as well.

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    1. I try to discuss it in Brief Peeks Beyond, but not in the socio-political depth that you seem to suggest. So I agree, it would be nice if yo explored this.

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  7. 'suggests abnormal brain activity may lie behind out-of-body experiences.' It should be realized this statement explains absolutely nothing. There are no engineering details on how changes in brain chemistry, oxygen levels, or electrical impulses can create an experience such as an OBE or the hyper real experience of an NDE. This is true for all subjective phenomenon such as visions, hallucinations, dreams, thoughts, etc. If nobody in history ever subjectively reported an OBE, NDE etc. materialistic science would never be looking for them because there’s no indication from the physical parameters that they should exist. Nor is there any theory on how they could be produced. What do the brain cells do, call on Dream works to put on a show? The materialists have been spouting the brain theory for everything and for some reason many people have been dumbly nodding “sure seems reasonable” whenever they make their pronouncements. Well critical thinking makes it obvious it’s totally unreasonable and we need to push back hard when such statements are made. The bottom line is “they can’t get there from here” and never will.

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    1. I agree completely. However, now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. We who support Idealist Monism (consciousness is fundamental) have an obligation to at least try to rationally explain how physical "reality" comes out of consciousness, rather than the other way around.

      It's not enough to poke holes in the materialists' pseudoscience. We need to clearly understand how reality actually "works". That's why I'm such a supporter of brilliant young minds like Bernardo and Donald Hoffman. It's no longer enough to say, That model sucks, we need to be able to say one day, Here's a better model, Here's better science.

      Watch "Entangling Conscious Agents, Donald Hoffman" on YouTube
      https://youtu.be/6eWG7x_6Y5U

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  8. There probably is a limit to what can "rationally" be explained.

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    1. Certainly... have you read Meaning in Absurdity?

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  9. Just a followup to possible building blocks of a biologic A.I. someday. Scary stuff to old folks like me.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/05/07/404460240/dna-printing-a-big-boon-to-research-but-some-raise-concerns

    http://www.humanconnectomeproject.org/about/

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  10. I agree with you, Kastrup, however, what I want is an article where the autor addreses cases of OBEs with veridical and extrasensory content.

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    1. This is not really my area, Juan. I'm a philosopher, not an OBE researcher. But I'd surely like more articles like that myself as well.

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    2. you'll find plenty on 'collective evolution' web site.

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  11. I agree completely. Scientific OOBE research must focus on veridical evidence and make it easily available on the internet to everyone. This research has been done but is not widely available to the public which is a shame. Usually, access to the scientific paper is membership only and costs as much as $30 or more to download. You can find references to the work online Google "research veridical evidence NDE". Here's an interview with Dr Penny Satori who has published this kind of research.

    http://www.skeptiko.com/eeg-expert-on-near-death-experience/

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  12. One of the most frustrating aspects of Psi research is the almost complete unawareness of it by materialist scientists. When we schedule materialist scientists on say, Skeptiko.com it usually becomes clear shortly into the interview most have never personallly reviewed scientific Psi research.

    This often results in stunted discussions where one side hasn't done their homework before the dialogue. Here's a short list of Psi research articles by my friend Dean Radin so you know the scientific facts.

    http://noetic.org/research/psi-research/

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    1. This is indeed a problem that seems to prevent any meaningful dialogue...

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  13. Here's one last example of the difficulty of getting publicly released Psi resesrch. The link to Dr Tart's scientific paper of Veridical Evidence for OOBE ends with references to 65 other papers referenced in his scientific paper but when you try to access the references you are usually sent to an organization that requires membership and or payment to read the article.

    This is standard scientific paperwork copyrighting in but greatly limits Psi research to the "experts". I hope we can get past this institutional limitation someday so the public can easily and freely read for themselves All research going on. Maybe a rule like, after one year of publication all research goes online for free.

    http://www.near-death.com/tart.html

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  14. Bernardo,
    Your interview on "Skeptiko" was excellent.
    Jack

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    1. Bernardo,
      Your interview on "Skeptiko" was excellent.
      Jack

      Yes--and many thanks to him for taking part in the discussion at Skeptiko that followed it.

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  15. Dear Bernardo, I have a question on sleep paralysis. Do you have any thoughts on the phenomenon? I have struggled with sleep paralysis for over a decade now, and the depth and ferocity of these experiences make it hard to believe there is nothing more to it than a chemical reaction gone awry in the brain. My SP experiences, which were previously under control, have taken a much darker and more uncontrollable turn since a recent personal loss. I'm having a hard time with it now, and would really appreciate any views or ideas you may have on the subject, especially since your whole philosophy regarding consciousness has been a true eye opener. Thanks so much for sharing your amazing ideas! I really wish more credible platforms existed for people to be able to discuss experiences such as NDEs, OBEs and others that we instinctively, intuitively feel have given us a brief window into something beyond the 'conscious' self.

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    1. This is just a hypothesis, Zed: we all have a personal psychic space that is ordinarily obfuscated by waking perception and thought. Jung called it the 'personal unconscious.' Corbin called it the mundus imaginalis. Whatever name we give to it, it is a space where our buried emotions, fears, repressed tendencies, regrets, traumas, etc., reside and express themselves in vivid symbolic form. It is conceivable that sleep paralysis, like psychedelic trances and certain forms of meditation and breath-work, give you access to this inner space. Then, whatever 'skeletons' you keep locked up in there will come to your face like dogs that haven't been walked for a month.
      It may help to always remind yourself that that is a metaphorical, symbolical world, not a literal one. A dragon may be a repressed instinctual tendency, not an actual entity bent on burning you alive. And it may also help to undergo analysis with a good depth-psychologist (a _depth_ psychologist), so to bring those dragons into the light of ordinary, waking awareness. This takes away their 'teeth' when you meet them in their native, symbolic territory.
      Be well, Bernardo.

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    2. Zed you just mention sleep paralysis but what are you experiencing during the paralysis? OBE? lucid dream?

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    3. Sleep paralysis or Hypnopompia is a form of Hypnagogia and is a common experience affecting at least 20% of humans. It is well researched. Many of my patients have experienced it, as have I. There's nothing mysterious or mystical about sleep paralysis.

      Basically, you're waking up a few minutes before your body. Normally during REM sleep our bodies are "paralyzed" so we don't physically act out our dreams. This is a well documented self protective autonomic neural reflex. But, sometimes people wake up before their body "paralysis" is released.

      When this occurs, the person can hear, see, smell, taste, and feel, but they can't move right away. This often feels suffocating and patients feel terrified. But, shortly the body "wakes up" and the episode is over. People who repeatedly have this experience usually discover there's nothing to fear and just relax when it happens. It's simply a mismatch of a waking mind and waking body. Just Relax.

      Watch "EEG monitoring of a short nap ending with sleep paralysis" on YouTube
      https://youtu.be/2sARlrNoUt0

      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnagogia

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    4. Bernardo, thanks very much for the reply. As for 'taking away the teeth' of such experiences, that's the interesting thing; I thought I had done exactly that. I've been having sleep paralysis for almost ten years and had taught myself to control or 'tame' it to quite an extent. I learned how to become aware during an episode and simply talk myself through it, by saying things like "It's okay, remember you're safe in bed, it's only another episode." Focusing on deep, regular breathing helped too, particularly because it countered the inevitable panic and feelings of suffocation. These tactics helped reduce the terror of it all significantly. But recently, I seem to have lost that ability. The only way I can describe it is that my SP episodes have developed new, much sharper 'teeth!' :) Thanks again for your thoughtful reply.

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    5. John, thanks for taking the time to reply. While I agree that there's nothing mysterious about the causes of the phenomenon, the actual episodes (mine, anyway) are off the charts in the mysteriousness department. I'm mostly more interested in SP than concerned by it. It's only recently that I seem to have lost the ability to calm myself as before, and am more affected by these episodes. No doubt emotional upheaval has a lot to do with this. Anyhow, I've read pretty much everything I could get my hands on regarding SP over the years, but I feel there are a lot of gaps in the literature. Or maybe I just crave a deeper analysis because I myself feel there's so much more to it. Thanks for the links :)

      tjssailor: What I experience is in many ways consistent with what a lot of people report; progressively louder auditory disturbances (loud static-like buzzing which also vibrates and reaches a deafening intensity), crushing pressure on the chest and in the head, pounding heart, trouble breathing and feelings of suffocation or drowning and extreme dread. Recently there's also this distinct feeling of being sucked or dragged through a tiny opening, and fighting against this. It's hard to describe; imagine thick liquid being sucked through a narrow straw, only the liquid is fighting back! This sounds funny but is most distressing. The rest of it varies; sometimes very vivid hallucinations, but more often the feeling of battling something unseen. I scream for help if there's someone in the room, and after screaming myself hoarse can sometimes succeed in making a very small sound - enough for my husband to notice and shake me awake... Either that or he sometimes notices that my breathing is unusually rapid and knows to wake me.

      There's only one time I can think of that might qualify as an OBE but I'm not sure; the very first time I had sleep paralysis. I recall 'swimming' around in the air above my bed, which was thick and soupy, like mist. I remember thinking 'wow this is amazing, what fun' while also being perplexed and slightly concerned as to why this was possible. But then suddenly I was back in bed, lying paralysed while watching this creature floating above me. It was a woman with long hair who looked just like me except for one specific detail: her features were upside down in her face. I had never seen anything quite so sinister, nor have I since. At the time I had no idea what was happening, nor had I ever heard of sleep paralysis. Can assure you I didn't get much sleep for about a week after that!


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