Are OBEs "Real?" - Part 2
by Bob Peterson
Wow. It's hard to believe, but this marks the 8-year anniversary of my blog, "The OBE Outlook on Life," which I launched on November 4, 2012. Time flies whether you're having fun or not!
is part 2 of a series of articles that examine whether out-of-body
experiences are "real" / veridical. Full disclosure: Much of this is
based on the chapter I wrote for Alexander DeFoe's free eBook Consciousness Beyond the Body.
To read part 1, click here.
OBE experiments in the laboratory
Most OBE adepts have gotten the same request multiple times: “Travel to my house in an OBE and describe the object I've placed on my bedside table. That will prove you're able to leave your body.”
The problem with this request is that it is unscientific. It proves nothing and has no value in a scientific sense. Why? First, people are too predictable: They leave the same things on their bedside table: phone, alarm clock, keys, wedding rings, and so forth, so the system can be fooled by careful guesswork. Second, it is too easy to cheat: a certain amount of reconnaissance or detective work can fool the system. This is the case with many psi experiments. Third, it has no lasting meaning: it is all uncontrolled and word-of-mouth. These little bedside experiments usually never find their way to reputable scientists, and it won't convince them if it does.
Skeptic Susan Blackmore actually tried this experiment. She set a number of targets in her kitchen: numbers, words and objects (an example she documented is 34802 CAT, and a matchbox full of matches, but she periodically changed the target). She then invited OBE adepts to visit her home. In her 1996 book In Search of the Light she states that
“Several OBErs have now had a go at it, but none had ever succeeded in seeing it. That is, so far. It is still there, and I keep on changing it.” (pg. 234)
In her 2017 book Seeing Myself, she states that she's given up on the idea and doesn't have OBE targets in her residence anymore.
once got an email from a man who had memorized the serial number from the back of his
desktop computer from an OBE state. Later he verified the
numbers were correct. The evidence was convincing, but only to him. The problem is: The
correct answer can easily be brushed aside as a lucky guess or feat of
long-term subconscious memory recall. Unless, of course, it's repeated
under laboratory conditions with qualified scientists driving the
experiment and strict controls to rule out all other possible explanations.
Clearly, OBEs should be studied in a controlled scientific fashion.
Sadly, very few scientific experiments have been done on OBEs.
Dr. Charles Tart’s experiments with “Miss Z”
of the most well-known scientific experiments done on OBEs was
conducted by Dr. Charles Tart in the 1970s. His subject, a young woman
known as “Miss Z” (to protect her identity) reportedly had OBEs three to
four times a week. Tart studied her in his sleep lab for four
nonconsecutive nights, over the period of two months. Each time she was
cabled to an electroencephalogram (EEG) to record her brain waves. She
was also monitored for Rapid Eye Movements (REMs) with a strain gauge
taped over the right eyelid. Basil Skin Resistance (BSR) was also
recorded on a Grass polygraph to monitor her level of relaxation. Other measurements were taken as well.
The wires were fairly restrictive: if she sat up more than two feet, the
cables would have been disconnected (they were still loose enough for
her to turn over and get comfortable). And that would be indicated on the graphs.
Every night after Miss Z was in bed with cables attached and equipment recording, Tart would go into his office, flip a coin onto a printed table of random digits (computers are notoriously bad at generating truly random numbers, especially in the 1970s, so this was not an uncommon practice for scientists). Wherever the coin landed determined five random digits, which he then wrote in two-inch (5cm) high numerals on a piece of paper. He slipped the paper into an opaque envelope and used that to carry the number back to the lab. About five and a half feet above Miss Z's head was a small shelf (about ten by five inches/ 25x13cm). Tart carefully slipped the paper out of the envelope and onto the shelf where she could not see it.
On the final night of the experiment, Miss Z had an OBE. At 5:50am, Tart noted that the occipital channel [of the EEG] showed an enlarged, slow wave artifact, and the EEG looked like stage 1 (hypnagogic) tracing, with an irregular mixture of theta waves, random low-voltage activity and occasional isolated alphoid activity (brain waves of 1 to 2 cycles per second slower than her waking alpha) and occasional normal alpha. There were no Rapid Eye Movements (REM) at the time. At 5:57am, the slow wave artifact stopped and the EEG looked like stage 1 sleep with some eye movements, but she might also have been awake. At 6:04am she called out that the target number was 25132. This was the correct number (with all digits in the correct order). The odds of doing this by chance are around 1 in 100,000.
Dr. Charles Tart’s experiments with Robert Monroe
After his success with Miss Z, Tart decided to experiment on his close personal friend, Robert Monroe, founder of the Monroe Institute and author of three books on OBEs (Journeys Out of the Body, Far Journeys, and Ultimate Journey). He brought Monroe into a different lab for nine sessions. Although he called him “Mr. X” for the study, Monroe later admitted to being the subject.
As with Miss Z, Monroe was attached to probes and wires, which gave him a great deal of discomfort (according to Tart). When Tart wasn't there, Monroe was monitored by a woman lab technician.
Despite being uncomfortable with the wires and probes, Monroe did produce two OBEs in the lab on one of the nights. He did not claim to see the target number, but something interesting did happen. In his OBE, Monroe saw the lab technician unexpectedly talking with a man. After Monroe awoke, he got her attention. When he told her he had seen her with a man, she replied that it was her husband. Monroe asked if he was outside, and she replied that he was, that he came to stay with her during the late hours. He asked her why he hadn't seen the man before, and she replied that it was policy for no outsiders to see subjects or patients.
Although laboratory experiments on OBEs can be convincing, there's simply not been enough of it done to draw any conclusions. Tart's one-in-one-hundred-thousand odds against chance is not convincing to hardened skeptics. It certainly pales compared to, say, some of Dean Radin's meta-analysis of other (non-OBE) paranormal claims (telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.) in his fabulous book Entangled Minds.
In part 3, I'll begin to talk about the evidence gathered outside the laboratory.
03 November 2020
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