Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Are OBEs the same as Lucid Dreams?

Are OBEs the same as Lucid Dreams?

By Bob Peterson

Are out-of-body experiences the same as Lucid Dreams? Some people insist they're the same phenomenon, but I believe they're different.

I'm not alone in this belief. In their 1985 book With the Eyes of the Mind, professional psychiatrists Glenn Gabbard and Stuart Twemlow compared OBEs to several different phenomena in psychology, such as lucid dreaming, autoscopy, schizophrenia, depersonalization and other body boundary disturbances. They concluded OBEs are different. As respected professionals, they did not speculate on what exactly OBEs are; they just said that OBEs don't fit into any of these categories; they belong in their own category.

I presented some of their findings in tabular format in my second book, Lessons Out of the Body (Hampton Roads Publishing, 2001), supplementing the information with my own findings.

In his 2008 book Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self, author Robert Waggoner also agreed that they're different, and gave some of his own findings.

In March 2014, I tabulated this information and gave a talk at INACS (Institute for Neuroscience and Consciousness Studies) in Austin, Texas. Some day, the talk will hopefully be made available online, but in the meantime, I'm presenting some of the information here.

Here are some of the differences noted by Gabbard and Twemlow: 
OBE vs. LD: Gabbard and Twemlow (1985)
OBE vs. LD: Gabbard and Twemlow (1985)

Here are some of the differences noted by Robert Waggoner:
OBE vs. LD: Robert Waggoner (2008)
Here are some of my own observations:
OBE vs. LD: Peterson (2001)
OBE vs. LD: Peterson (2001)
OBE vs. LD: Peterson (2001)
I realize that many of the things in the lists are subjective. For example, saying the "OBEer perceives himself or herself as separate" is largely a matter of interpretation: it depends on what the experiencer thinks happened, and in that regard, it doesn't hold much weight.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of the many similarities: both are fully conscious experiences with similar features, including floating, flying, meeting dead relatives, walking through walls; even seeing tunnels.

Was it a lucid dream or an OBE?

Unless you've experienced both OBEs and lucid dreams side by side, it's hard to tell the difference. So what can you do if you're having an experience and can't tell if it's an OBE or a lucid dream? Here are some things you can check:
  • How "stable" is the environment?
    If you wipe your visual field with your hand (Frederick Aardema's technique) or say aloud, "All thought forms must now disappear." (Robert Waggoner's technique) does your environment change? OBEs tend to have a more stable environment, whereas lucid dreams are dynamic.
  • Can you control the environment?
    Can you make a door appear by an act of will? If so, this is likely a lucid dream. Acts of will often won't affect your environment in an OBE. This isn't always a good indicator, because lucid dreams sometimes seem to be uncontrollable.
  • Do your expectations affect your experience?
    If you see a door and "expect" a beautiful woman to be on the other side, when you open the door, is she there? If so, this is probably a lucid dream. In an OBE, your experiences are often not influenced by your expectations, and often your expectations aren't met.
  • Is your eyesight normal?
    If your eyesight seems mostly "normal," this is likely a lucid dream. In an OBE, vision tends to be otherworldly. You can often see in all directions at once. Sometimes you can't see anything at all, but you can "feel" everything around you with your mind. Sometimes eyesight is cloudy, hazy, or distorted.
  • Is your body image exactly like the physical?
    In a lucid dream, your dream body is usually an exact copy of the physical body. You have a fully integrated body image. In an OBE, your body image will often be "on demand". I like to call it "Schrodinger's Body": same principle as Schrodinger's cat: your body image is in an indeterminate state until you think about it. If you don't think about your arm, it will likely not exist. As soon as you think about it, you can see it and feel it.
  • Can you be bored?
    In an OBE, you can be bored and do absolutely nothing. In a lucid dream, events often unfold in front of you. Often, you need motion or movement to keep your environment stable. Sometimes lucid dreamers will purposely spin to keep their environment stable. I've never heard of anyone bored in a lucid dream.
  • Did you see your physical body?
    If you saw your physical body, chances are this was an OBE. People don't tend to see their body in a lucid dream.
  • Did you have a sexual encounter?
    Sexual encounters are common in lucid dreams, and the sex feels convincingly real / physical. In an OBE, sexual content is rare, and when it does happen, it's often not like physical sex. It's more like a euphoric or spacey whole-body energy transfer, an electrical or static discharge, or an explosion of consciousness.
You can transition from a lucid dream into the out-of-body state. I wrote another article on that here: Turning Lucid Dreams into OBE.

Another one of my articles focused on my theory of the four out-of-body states as shown in the diagram at the top. You can find that article here: The Four Out-of-Body States

Bob Peterson
03 March 2015


  1. Great Topic, I agree wholeheartedly!...Chris

  2. Interesting summary of various viewpoints! Hope others get a chance to read it, so they can consider their experiences more thoughtfully.

  3. For anyone who is unsure of which type of experience they had, the key is in their memory of it. A dream will usually vanish rapidly unless there is a quick conscious effort to commit to memory. An OBE won't vanish like that. At least not in my experience.

  4. There seems to be enough consensus to indicate OBE's are a different subjective experience from both samadhi and lucid dreaming. I've never given up on an OBE... but don't feel that it's very important anymore. However, recently in meditation I discovered a state different from samadhi... it is a very surreal feeling, weird is the only way to describe it... a feeling that the body isn't there, just pure consciousness. I understand samadhi as the absence of a cognitive reference point of the self. Well, this other state seems to be the absence of a cognitive reference point of the body. This state typically is accompanied by 'shakes' or 'jolts' of the body, followed by the body becoming completely relaxed or falling asleep while remaining conscious. However, following my recent meditations, I found that I'm carrying this surreal feeling with me into waking consciousness. So, I feel almost as if I'm sleep walking after meditation and really loosey goosey in the body--as if I had done a lot of yoga. I do get a surreal sense that the lines between dreaming and waking conscious is blurred--not delusional mind you--but like the body is kinda diffused in the background like water. I would say it's definitely spiritually significant as I find it offers a new dimension to samadhi--a surreal element as well as a greater sense of unity that all is one. Does anybody find this experience to coincide with their experience of 'out-of-body' type phenomena?

    At the very least, even if this is not necessarily out-of-body related, this did open my eyes that samadhi is not an absolute but there are greater or deeper levels of unity or samadhi to be experienced. Which is definitely the feeling one gets after going down the rabbit-hole of spirituality--that it is a bottomless pit.

  5. I made both. Even if the content can be the same, the way you wake up is different, as well as the remembering. I had always the feeling to just "open my eyes" after an OBE, and waking up ofter a lucid dream. No one chart above give that information, and same remark for the remembering. For me it means that the altered state is different, even if our brain produces quite the same world.