Are OBEs "Real?" - Part 3
by Bob Peterson
is part 3 of a series of articles that examine whether out-of-body
experiences are "real" or veridical. Full disclosure: Much of this is
based on the chapter I wrote for Alexander DeFoe's eBook Consciousness Beyond the Body, which is free to download from amazon.com in many locations.
To read part 1, Introduction, click here.
To read part 2, Laboratory Experiments, click here.
In my previous article, I talked about OBE experiments in the lab. Now let's turn our attention to more anecdotal evidence. That is, evidence that wasn't gathered under strict lab protocols.
Anecdotal evidence from spontaneous OBEs
estimates based on polls indicate that 20 – 25% of the general
population have had one OBE in their lifetime. Many of them report some
kind of evidence. The mountain of evidence is too big to quote in any
detail, but can be found in several books and periodicals.
The voyage of S. R. Wilmot
Some of the earliest anecdotal evidence of OBEs comes from the SPR (Society for Psychical Research), a British organization dedicated to scientifically studying psychic phenomena. Founded in 1882, the SPR was the first society to conduct organized scholarly research into human experiences that challenge contemporary scientific models, including OBEs. One famous case, quoted in several OBE books, concerns Mr. S. R. Wilmot, a sailor who survived a great storm while sailing from Liverpool to New York. Here are some excerpts:
Upon the night following the eighth day of the storm the tempest moderated a little, and for the first time since leaving port I enjoyed refreshing sleep. Toward morning I dreamed that I saw my wife, whom I had left in the United States, come to the door of my state-room, clad in her nightdress. At the door she seemed to discover that I was not the only occupant of the room, hesitated a little, then advanced to my side, stooped down and kissed me, and after gently caressing me for a few moments, quietly withdrew.
Upon waking I was surprised to see my fellow passenger, whose berth was above mine, but not directly over it—owing to the fact that our room was at the stern of the vessel—leaning upon his elbow, and looking fixedly at me. 'You're a pretty fellow,' said he at length, 'to have a lady come and visit you in this way.' I pressed him for an explanation, which he at first declined to give, but at length related what he had seen while wide awake, lying in his berth. It exactly corresponded with my dream....
The day after landing I went by rail to Watertown, Conn., where my children and my wife had been for some time, visiting her parents. Almost her first question, when we were alone together, was, 'Did you receive a visit from me a week ago Tuesday?' 'A visit from you?' said I, 'we were more than a thousand miles at sea.' 'I know it,' she replied, 'but it seemed to me that I visited you.' 'It would be impossible,' said I. 'Tell me what makes you think so.'....
On the night previous, the same night when, as mentioned above, the storm had just begun to abate, she had lain awake for a long time thinking of me, and about four o'clock in the morning it seemed to her that she went out to seek me. Crossing the wide and stormy sea, she came at length to a low, black steamship, whose side went up, and then descending into the cabin, passed through it to the stern until she came to my state-room. 'Tell me,' said she, 'do they ever have state-rooms like the one I saw, where the upper berth extends further than the under one? A man was in the upper berth, looking right at me and for a moment I was afraid to go in, but soon I went up to the side of your berth, bent down and kissed you, and embraced you, and went away.'
The description given by my wife of the steamship was correct in all particulars, though she had never seen it. (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume VII)
Phantasms of the living
In 1886, three of the SPR's most distinguished members, Edmund Gurney, Frederic W. H. Myers (two of the SPR's founding members) and Frank Podmore, published the book Phantasms of the Living. While the book covers a wide range of psychic phenomena, such as telepathy, it also contains evidence to suggest OBEs may be objective (or “real.”) In some cases cited the non-physical body (commonly called the “astral body”) of a living person is seen as a ghostly apparition by another person, suggesting that the subject's body image has an objective counterpart. In the introduction of the book, Myers writes:
"I refer to apparitions; excluding, indeed, the alleged apparitions of the dead, but including the apparitions of all persons who are still living, as we know life, though they may be on the very brink and border of physical dissolution. And these apparitions, as will be seen, are themselves extremely various in character; including not visual phenomena alone, but auditory, tactile, or even purely ideational and emotional impressions. All these we have included under the term phantasm; a word which, through etymologically a mere variant of phantom, has been less often used, and has not become so closely identified with visual impressions alone." (p. Xxxiii)
Many more narrations containing evidence of an objective astral body are given by Myers in his posthumous book from 1903, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death.
Dr. Robert Crookall's OBE case collection
Similar narrations can also be found in several books by author Dr. Robert Crookall, a geologist who collected, studied, analyzed and published hundreds of OBE accounts. Many of his narrations contain anecdotal evidence of OBEs. Here's an example:
Case No. 93—Dr I.K. Funk's doctor-friend
Dr. I.K. Funk the publisher and theologian gave the experience of a physician well known to, and trusted by, him in The Psychic Riddle, (Funk and Wagnall's Co.). The doctor went to bed. His feet and legs became "as cold as those of the dead" ..."All at once...for an instance I became unconscious. When I recovered, I seemed to be walking in the air. No words can describe the exhilaration and freedom and clearness of mental vision that I experienced. I thought of a friend who was a thousand miles distance and seemed to travel with great rapidity through the atmosphere. Everything was light...a peculiar light of its own, such as I had never known. It could not have been a minute after I thought of my friend before I was standing in a room with him. Suddenly turning and seeing me, he said, 'What are you doing here? You were in Florida'." … He approached the doctor's 'double' and the doctor heard the expression he used. He was, however, unable to answer.
..."I may add here that the friend referred to as having been seen by me that night was distinctly conscious of my presence and he made the exclamation mentioned. We both wrote the next day, relating the experiences of the night. The letters corroborating the incident crossed in the post." (Crookall, The Study and Practice of Astral Projection, 1979, pg. 96)
Anecdotal evidence: Reports from NDEs
Experiences (NDEs) often feature OBEs that are more dramatic than
typical run-of-the-mill OBEs, and often contain convincing evidence of
an objective component. There have been numerous cases where people
reported NDEs from which they were able to accurately quote
conversations between doctors and nurses during surgery, despite the
fact that they were rendered completely unconscious by anesthetics. Some
patients have described operating room procedures in detail, and even
procedural blunders during their NDE. Sometimes they accurately reported
events occurring in the hallway of the hospital or other patients'
Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven
often argue that NDEs really don't provide proof because they are
almost always the result of cardiac arrest, which doesn't prove that the
brain stopped working; it may still be functioning, albeit,
abnormally. Since EEGs only measure activity on the surface of the
brain, there could still be electrical activity during the NDE that's
undetectable because of its distance from the skull surface. While that
may be true in many cases, it doesn't explain the NDE of Dr. Eben
Alexander from his book Proof of Heaven. Alexander, a brain expert and
neurosurgeon, had an NDE due to E. Coli bacterial meningitis, which is
almost always fatal. The disease completely shut down the neocortex of
his brain; the area recognized by scientists as responsible for all
experience. If there was a purely biological explanation for
consciousness, he should have experienced absolutely nothing during his
NDE. Given that the author is a brain surgeon and expert on the topic,
his account is impressive. He was a skeptic of his own patients' NDE
claims until it actually happened to him.
Next time, in part 4 of this series, I'll talk about evidence from OBE adepts, that is, people who can self-induce OBEs.Bob Peterson
17 Nov 2020