Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The New Introduction, Blanke, Persinger and Skeptics
by Bob Peterson

I got a call from my publisher a week ago. They're gearing up for the second edition of my first book, Out of Body Experiences: How to Have Them and What to Expect and they wanted me to write a new introduction. I was given two restrictions: First, I was only given one week to write it, and second, it needed to be around 500 words (but if need be, as many as 1000).

I didn't realize it would be so difficult. Where should I begin, I wondered? There's so much I wanted to say, and so few words. Should I make it (a) an introduction to the new edition and what's new in my life? (b) a description of what is new in the field of OBEs in general? Or (c) an introduction to OBEs and the book itself?

The subject of OBEs is so vast and there was so much I wanted to add to that book that I could write a whole second book on the subject. Wait, I already did that. It was called "Lessons Out of the Body." So how do I begin to narrow down my focus to 500 words? I certainly couldn't rehash that.

So I took a step back from the situation and asked myself, "What do people want to know? What's the first thing people ask me?" The answer was simple. It's been fifteen years since the book was first published and people always ask me what I've been up to lately. What new, exciting things have I learned in my OBEs? Where has it taken me?

So I set about writing my introduction and what I've been doing since the book was first published. Then I thought to myself: No, I can't do that. The book has a chronological order. To talk about the latest fifteen years first is just wrong. Plus, it's not supposed to be about me, it's supposed to be about OBEs. So I scraped that version and went back to the drawing board.

I decided I should write about what's happened in the field of OBEs in the past fifteen years. And what's happened? Well, for one thing, researchers Olaf Blanke and Michael Persinger conducted experiments where they electronically stimulated an area of the brain called the right temporal-parietal junction. They found they could artificially cause hallucinations, disorientation, floating sensations and affect a subject's perception of their body position. Parapsychologist and OBE author Susan Blackmore tried Persinger's "God Helmet" and came away convinced OBEs are all in the mind. Pretty soon the mass media was pointing to this research as clear proof that OBEs are merely hallucinations. But as Graham Nicholls aptly points out in his book Navigating the Out-of-Body Experience: they are “...relying upon the logical fallacy that producing a hallucination or illusion disproves something about the object of the hallucination or illusion.” You can't prove, for example, that UFOs are fake no matter how many faked Photoshop images you produce of them.

But I couldn't bring up the subject of skeptics discounting the OBE without talking about some of the other parapsychology work that's been done lately. Skeptics came out with an argument that nothing needs to ever leave the body to explain OBEs: it could be a combination of (1) completely turning off the normal senses, (2) having complete absorption in extraordinarily vivid visual, tactile and auditory hallucinations, (3) a phenomenal combination of psi talents. Two things struck me when I read that paper: First, it admits that psi is a fact (which seems at odds with the very principles of this kind of skepticism). Second, it ignores Occam's razor, a principle that states that among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be favored. Seeing is believing, folks.

Likewise, I couldn't talk about these two forms of skepticism without addressing the most common argument: that OBEs are just lucid dreams. So I added something about that too. Then I hacked it back to 700 words.

I proudly gave a copy of the rewrite to Kathy to critique. She said that it was too negative. She was right; it was. It was too focused on the detractors and why I think they're wrong. An introduction should draw the reader in, talk about the positive, and where OBEs can take us. This is not about the skeptics and naysayers. This is about OBEs and what to expect. And so I scraped that version too.

So last night I finished my third complete rewrite of the introduction, and this one is much better than any of its predecessors. I shipped it off to my publisher this morning before work. It's a good thing I have Kathy to give me perspective! Like Deep Purple's "Woman from Tokyo" she makes me see.

2012 November 28

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