Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Are OBEs "Real?" - Part 6

 Are OBEs "Real?" - Part 6

by Bob Peterson

This is the last 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 available for free in many countries from amazon.

To read part 1, Introduction, click here.

To read part 2, Laboratory Experiments, click here.

To read part 3, Anecdotal Evidence, click here.

To read part 4, Evidence from OBE Adepts, click here.

To read part 5, Indirect Evidence, click here.

In my previous article, I talked about indirect evidence (evidence gathered from a third party) and new evidence since DeFoe's book was published.

So far I've been making a case to support that OBEs are real. But let's face it: it isn't fair to talk about the evidence supporting the theory unless we also talk about counter-evidence; that is, evidence that does NOT support the claim that OBEs are real. 

Evidence against objective OBEs

Despite the mounting evidence to suggest that a non-physical component exists and interacts outside the body, the data is not consistent. The things witnessed in an OBE don't always correspond to physical reality. Success stories like those cited in previous articles are relatively rare and countered by reports of inconsistencies. People often see doors, windows, or curtains open (or closed) in an OBE, only to find that the physical doors or windows are not that way "in real life." They see things sitting on tables that aren't really there, and so forth.

Sometimes even deliberate attempts to obtain verifiable evidence fail miserably. This last article will explore some of the attempts by OBE adepts to obtain veridical evidence that ended in failure.

Eddie Slasher's time travel OBEs

In his 1997 book Explorations Out of the Body, author Eddie Slasher conducted some interesting experiments regarding time travel. He attempted to travel into the future to determine lottery numbers. To keep it simple, he used the Georgia Cash 3 Lottery, which consists of three numbers drawn daily. Every day during the experiment, he induced an OBE and tried to travel forward in time to the next day's lottery drawing. He then stood in front of his television and tried to read the numbers. Later that night, he would watch the live lottery drawing on television. 

The experiment started on August 24, 1993. He induced an OBE and attempted to travel to the next day's drawing on August 25. The numbers flashed quickly in the OBE state, and he wasn't quite sure if they were 2-8-3 or 2-9-3. He wrote down 2-8-3 and bought a five-dollar ticket for those numbers. When the drawing came, they were 2-9-3. 

Undaunted, he tried again. For the next two weeks he induced an OBE almost every night, attempting to travel one day into the future. He never got the numbers right, but he was often very close. Eventually, as the experiment went on, the numbers became more and more inaccurate until the odds were no better than chance. 

Eventually, he came up with another idea. Instead of watching the televised drawing in his OBE, he tried to travel to the nearest gas station in his OBE and stare at the posted lottery numbers. This also ended in failure and he ended up either lost or misdirected. He tried a few more things, but his conclusion was:

“To date I have not yet been able to foretell the future for my own financial gain, but I am still trying.” 

That doesn't necessarily mean it's impossible, but it's certainly not a straightforward task. One of Slasher's conclusions is that the future isn't fixed; that there's only a set of probable futures. That still fits in with what a lot of modern scientists think. Still, failing to travel into the future doesn't necessarily refute OBEs done in the present.

Frederick Aardema’s experiments 

In his fascinating 2012 book Explorations In Consciousness, author Frederick Aardema described experiments he conducted in an attempt to obtain physical verification of his OBEs. His honesty and candor are commendable and his theories are among the most insightful in the literature. 

First, he tried the suggestion of OBE author Robert Bruce: to look at a random playing card from the OBE state. After several failed attempts (seeing the wrong card or no card at all), he abandoned that method, deciding it relied too much on the sense of sight, which is often distorted in an OBE.

Undaunted, he devised a new test that relied more on the sense of touch. He made five wooden blocks, each of which had a different number of nails protruding (from zero to four). His wife would take one of the five blocks at random and place it inside a box on the nightstand next to the bed. Later that night, he would induce an OBE and reach his nonphysical hand through the box, feel for the block and try to count the nails. After many failed attempts, he managed to get the correct answer once, but his success rate was no better than chance. 

Then he designed a different experiment; one that involved identifying one of six colors. The targets were different in color and shape, and each had the color written below. For example, he had a orange square with the word “ORANGE” printed underneath. After three failed attempts, he abandoned that method too. 

Aardema returned to the tests with the wooden blocks, this time using a different box that had mirrored glass. He had a much better success rate this time. He estimated the probability was 1 in 150, admittedly not enough to draw any scientific conclusions. In his book, he concludes, in part: 

"OBE adepts have so far failed to convincingly prove the existence of veridical perception in the out-of-body state. While a few successful experiments have been reported in the scientific literature, these results do not seem to replicate very well." (Aardema, Explorations in Consciousness, 2012, p. 149)

His book goes on to present a fascinating discussion of perception (both in and out of the body), body image, how sensory information is transmitted from the senses to the brain, and some theories as to why it works the way it does. 

My own counter-evidence

In the winter of 2019, my wife and I rented a very old house in "old town" Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the roof had several leaks. One night, it had been raining hard and we placed buckets strategically on the floor to catch the dripping water. One of those buckets was in our bedroom near the foot of our bed.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up and sat up in bed. I felt perfectly normal and I didn't know it at the time, but I was out-of-body. It was really dark outside and I couldn't see anything, so I stood up and took a few steps toward the foot of the bed where our dog, Spirit, sleeps. I didn't want to trip over her, so I knelt down to feel her location. I found her with my hands and patted her soft fur. I was curious if the water bucket was full and needed to be emptied, so I felt around the floor and was surprised to find the bucket was gone. I reasoned that my wife must have moved it when she came to bed.

Just then I was sucked back into my physical body. Curious, I got up to verify my findings. Not only was I surprised I had been out-of-body and didn't know it, I was very surprised to see that the bucket was still there on the floor, near Spirit's sleeping body. Clearly, my out-of-body perceptions were "wrong."

My conclusion was that I must have perceived an "imprint" or an "echo" of the physical world overlaid onto the non-physical, rather than the physical world itself. After all, the house had stood there for more than 100 years, and Spirit had been sleeping there regularly for many weeks, but the bucket had only been there a couple hours, and would be removed in the morning. Maybe the bucket hadn't been there (or wouldn't be there) long enough to make an "imprint" on the non-physical.

Now might be a good time to point out one of the major differences between OBEs and lucid dreams: lucid dreams tend to be heavily influenced by our expectations, whereas OBEs often defy our expectations. In this case, I fully expected the bucket to be there and it wasn't in my OBE.


So how can we account for discrepancies between our OBE perceptions and the "real world?"

Author William Buhlman (Adventures Beyond the Body, 1996, and other books), once told me about an experiment he conducted regarding a certain home remodeling project. He had drawn up plans and paid contractors to resurface a fireplace in his family room where he often induced OBEs. For several weeks, he examined the fireplace from the OBE state and found it to be different from the physical fireplace. Weeks before the final resurfacing and brickwork had been done, the fireplace strangely started to take on the appearance of his plans. It was almost as if his plans had solidified some kind of thought-form5 before the actual work had been done. Was this just a case of Buhlman projecting his wishes onto his experience or was there really a preconceived influence on the physical structure?

Several other authors have also suggested that the non-physical world perceived in an OBE is merely an ’echo‘ or reflection of the physical world, and is somehow more malleable or pliable. Occultists insist that objects in an OBE are often thought-form counterparts of the "slower-to-react" physical world.

So which is it? Do the physical objects imprint on our non-physical perceptions? Or do non-physical objects act as templates or "thought-forms" that predate changes to the physical world?

Or is it something else? Can it be that my own subconscious memories of the location are all I perceive? That seems unlikely, since both my memory and expectations included the bucket.

Perhaps there's a clue in lucid dreaming. I believe that the difference between OBEs and lucid dreams is that in a lucid dream, we become totally absorbed in a dream-hallucination, whereas with OBEs, we're observing some kind of objective reality (which may or may not have anything to do with the physical world). My theory is that the discrepancies in OBE reports may be due to bleed-through (or unintended intrusions) from these hallucinated dream environments into the OBE. 

One thing is certain: ordinary people are having out-of-body experiences every day and struggling to understand them. Regardless of what we believe they are, more scientific study is needed. If the validity of the OBE is to be demonstrated, we need to set up and conduct controlled scientific experiments. Unfortunately, setting up sleep labs with modern equipment is very expensive. 

One key step is to get more active participation from competent scientists. Getting more mainstream scientists involved in OBE research would be ideal, but OBEs, along with other paranormal phenomena, carry a large amount of stigma within the scientific community. Until that stigma is lifted, it's going to be a hard sell. In the meantime, scientists like Dr. Charles Tart, Rupert Sheldrake, and Dean Radin, whose thirst for knowledge outweighs the stigma, are still making progress. Even some skeptical scientists like Olaf Blanke and Michael Persinger are trying to study it from a neuroscience point of view, and still making progress. Even physicists like Thomas Campbell, who worked with Robert Monroe, are publishing theories to explain it (Campbell, My Big TOE, 2007). 

Despite the lack of scientific study, the mountain of evidence continues to grow, and with it, our understanding. The number of OBE books and OBE adepts continue to grow exponentially. As modern medicine saves more lives, the number of NDE-related OBEs grows exponentially as well. All these OBEs are causing an increasing amount of overlap between scientists, skeptics, experiencers, and believers. It may take a while to get there, but eventually our knowledge will trump superstition and belief.

Bob Peterson

22 Dec 2020

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Are OBEs "Real?" - Part 5

 Are OBEs "Real?" - Part 5

by Bob Peterson

This is part 5 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 in many countries.

To read part 1, Introduction, click here.

To read part 2, Laboratory Experiments, click here.

To read part 3, Anecdotal Evidence, click here.

To read part 4, Evidence from OBE Adepts, click here.

In my previous article, I talked about evidence from OBE adepts. That is, people who claim to be able to self-induce OBEs. In this article, I'll cover indirect evidence. That is, gathered from a third party. I'll also talk about more recent evidence.

Indirect evidence

In the previous sections, I wrote about "direct" experiential evidence of OBEs. That is, evidence obtained by the experiencer. Indirect evidence is when a third party obtains evidence of a subject’s OBE, and it's also important to consider. An earlier case in which the witnesses claimed to see Vincent Turvey's spirit body at a séance exemplifies this well.

My personal indirect evidence - JH

In my first book, (Peterson, Out of Body Experiences, 1997), I narrated an experience in which my roommate, J. H., saw my astral body during an OBE where I had walked through the bedroom wall into his bedroom.

09/07/85 Sat - OBE #116
     JH [my roommate] and I were discussing OBE last night until 2:00 a.m. after watching a horror movie on television. We both decided to try having OBEs, and we agreed that if either had an OBE, he would try to contact the other in the OBE state.

    [After inducing an OBE and finding myself glued to my body] I thought, "I am out of my body, and I am control­ling this reality entirely. I should be able to get away from this body." I decided that the only way I was going to get anywhere was to close my eyes and walk, relying entirely on my other senses. So I closed my eyes and bent my knees down until my legs were through the bed and my feet were touching the floor. I used my arms and a kind of swaying motion to stand up. I took a few steps toward JH's room. Then I stopped and wondered whether it would be best to walk into the living room, and through JH's bedroom door, or through the physical closet [between our bedrooms].

    I decided to walk through the closet and straight into JH's room. So I kept going toward JH's room and I approached JH's bed. Just as I started to look around, I was picked up and forcefully pulled back to my body.

    The next thing I knew I was back in my body, and my eyes were closed. I felt as if I were still out of my body, only I felt very stiff and rigid. I forced my eyes open, and as I did that, I became more physical, until my physical eyes opened and I was again completely in my physical body.

    I turned to look at the clock and it felt great to be able to turn my head. The time was slightly after 10:00 a.m.. I recalled the whole incident in my mind. Then, I got up to type it into the computer. JH heard me get up, and came out and asked me if I had an OBE.

    JH said that he was experimenting with the hypnagogic state when he saw me in his bedroom. Other people have felt my presence too.

My personal indirect evidence - Stephanie

In a more recent instance from 2013, I was at an astral projection group in Austin, Texas during a group meditation. While I was preparing to induce an OBE, I perceived (through closed eyelids) a black shape moving past me. Instinctively, I visualized a protective silver shield of energy surrounding my body (this is a common technique used for the purposes of psychic self-defense). After the exercise, the participants shared their experiences. One of the participants, Stephanie, said that she had exited her body and walked past me, at which point she saw a silver shield appear around my body. In this case, I perceived her astral body (as a black shape) and she had perceived the energy shield I had visualized. 

This was a double verification: I perceived her astral body and she perceived my shield.

Akhena’s indirect evidence

Akhena's book Out of Body Experiences also provides some great examples of indirect evidence. For instance: 

"There have been occasions where I have myself been seen by other people who were not aware of my astral presence, and their accounts match up completely with my own recollections. One night I leave my body and go straight to the bedroom of a clairvoyant with whom I have an appointment the next afternoon. I must emphasise [sic] that I had never met this person. I stand at the foot of her bed and tell her the reason I want to see her the next day. When she comes to my consulting room, she exclaims, 'Well, you must have something important to ask me, since you came to see me during the night. Your astral being was fully formed and stood at the foot of my bed.'" (Akhena, 2013, pg. 169) 

Evidence Since DeFoe's Book

Since the publication of Alexander DeFoe's book, new evidence has come to light, so I thought I'd add some of that.

The White Car

One of my favorites pieces of evidence comes from Rodrigo Montenegro's book The Out-of-Body Experience: An Experiential Anthology. It involved a guy named Ron Smedts from the Netherlands. In his OBE, Smedts floated out the window of his second-story apartment. Looking for proof that he was seeing the physical world from a non-physical perspective, he drifted down to the parking lot and tried to find his car. He couldn't find his car, then became disillusioned when he noticed that every car in the parking lot was white; a very unlikely scenario. But after he returned to his body:

"As I passed a window I glanced out and stopped in my tracks: I was shocked. Every car in the lot was entirely covered with a fresh and uninterrupted layer of pure white snow." (pg. 65)

The Ugly Jacket

In Paul Elder's book Eyes of an Angel the author talks about visiting his home in the out-of-body state during a trip. In his OBE, he saw a strange ugly jacket in his house. Once home, he saw the same ugly jacket, which his wife had bought for him.

Evidence from Blind OBErs

The 2008 book Mindsight by Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper discusses OBEs reported by blind people, and in many cases, people who have been blind since birth. Some of the evidence is pretty remarkable, such as the case of "Vicki" who, despite being blind since birth, was able to "see" metal chairs in a room during her OBE.

What about evidence to the contrary?

For five articles, I've examined some of the evidence that suggests OBEs might be "real" or veridical. In the sixth and final installment of this series, I'll examine some counter-evidence. That is, evidence that doesn't support the theory that OBEs are "real," and what conclusions we can draw.

Bob Peterson

15 Dec 2020

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Are OBEs "Real?" - Part 4


Are OBEs "Real?" - Part 4

by Bob Peterson

This is part 4 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 free eBook Consciousness Beyond the Body.

To read part 1, Introduction, click here.

To read part 2, Laboratory Experiments, click here.

To read part 3, Anecdotal Evidence, click here.

In my previous article, I talked about anecdotal evidence. That is, evidence that wasn't gathered under strict lab protocols. In this article, I'll cover evidence from OBE adepts. That is, people who claim to be able to self-induce OBEs.

Reports from OBE adepts

The vast majority of people who report OBEs can't induce it at will (Gabbard and Twemlow, With the Eyes of the Mind, 1984, pg. 10). But some people claim to be able to self-induce OBEs using various meditation and/or visualisation procedures. 

It is unclear at this time whether there is a genetic predisposition toward OBEs or if anyone can learn it, but the number of OBE adepts has been growing steadily. In the early 20th century, OBEs were thought to be a rare phenomenon. By the 1980s a handful of people claimed to be able to consciously induce OBEs. Today, in 2015, there are scores of OBE adepts and more than 175 books on the subject. This was undoubtedly influenced by one of the modern adepts, Robert Monroe, whose books and classes inspired many people to learn the skill (myself included). 

Since they have more OBEs, adepts have more opportunities to obtain veridical evidence during their adventures. They often go through a phase where they need to prove to themselves the objectivity of their experiences. What experiments have they done and what evidence have they gathered? 

In many cases, the evidence itself is pretty mundane, but the implications are enormous. The subject may only see an unexpected patch of grass, (as in the case of Preston Dennett below) but the subject accepts it as concrete evidence that they were actually there seeing something from the physical world.

Vincent Turvey’s seance visits 

One of the earliest adepts (even before OBE pioneer Sylvan Muldoon) was a man by the name of Vincent Turvey who lived in the early 1900s. 

At that time, Spiritualism was very popular in the United States and England. All over the two countries, people were holding séances in their living rooms, trying to contact spirits of the dead. At that time, Turvey was one of the few people adept at OBEs, or astral projection, as it was called at the time. In 1903, he wrote a letter to a British newspaper in which he claimed “I leave my body and travel to places I have never seen...”. 

Sceptics were constantly trying to debunk seances and expose cheaters and fraudulent spirit mediums, so in an attempt to prove his abilities, Turvey undertook a series of experiments, many of which are documented in his book, ‘The Beginnings of Seership’. He would induce an OBE, fly to nearby seances, and send messages to the bewildered people (called sitters) at the seances. Early experiments involved simple ’spirit‘ communications techniques such as table rapping, but became more complex as his skills improved, progressing to automatic writing. Turvey knew his claims would be ridiculed and scrutinized, so he obtained signed testimonials, which appear in his book.

In one experiment, he traveled in an OBE to a nearby seance and his non-physical body was seen. The testimonial letter reads: 

Dear Mr. Turvey, 

Last night I was at a séance held at least two miles from your house, and although your body was not in the room I saw distinctly what, for want of better words, I must call “you in the spirit body.” I felt it was so real that I must get up and place a chair for you... 

As his experiments progressed, Turvey gave messages in different ways. During one of the seances, he spelled out his full name, Vincent Newton Turvey (his middle name was unknown to the sitters at the time). As he became more adept, he learned to control the medium's physical body. One of the testimonial letters states: 

"We, the undersigned, testify to the following facts, which occurred at above address on June 19, 1907— 

Mr. Blake was apparently “controlled” by an influence purporting to be “V. N. Turvey.” He was at first made to write Mr. Turvey's name, and then, assuming Mr. Turvey's mannerism, he shook hands with Mr. Walker, and said, “Well, Walker, I have done it.” 

"So convinced were we that Mr. Blake was controlled by Mr. Turvey, that we signed a similar letter to this, and gave it to him; but we therein stated, “Mr. Blake was controlled by Mr. Turvey.” And it is at Mr. Turvey's own request that we protect ourselves from criticism by adding the words “apparently” and “by an influence purporting to be.” Mr. Turvey was not in the room in his body. We believe his statement that he was in his house four miles away." (Turvey, The Beginnings of Seership, 1969, pg. 215) 

This was not an isolated incident. The experiment was repeated several times in front of several witnesses, many of whom signed several testimonial letters for his book.

Robert Monroe's veridical OBEs

In part 1 I discussed Charles Tart's experiments on Monroe, but Monroe also did experiments outside the laboratory. He reported them in his first book, ‘Journeys Out of the Body’. For example, in Chapter 13 of the book, he reported an OBE that took place on October 30, 1960 in which he was trying to reach his friend (E.W.) five miles away. In the OBE state, he flew over the streets and sidewalks. Instead of reaching his friend, he landed prematurely at a gas station where he saw a white car with both rear wheels off, in front of the open grease rack doors. When he returned to his body, he got in his car and drove to that location. When he arrived, he saw the same white car sitting in front of the same open doors. 

Monroe had other reports as well. In one case, he tried to pinch someone he knew from the OBE state. Later, the unfortunate woman showed him a bruise at the exact location. (Monroe, Journeys Out of the Body, 1971)

Akhena's veridical OBEs

Akhena is a woman who teaches OBE classes in France. The accounts in her 2013 book, ‘Out of Body Experiences’, are some of the most impressive in the whole body of OBE literature. 

In several of her accounts, she met her students in an OBE and witnessed the same events. She often described their apartments in detail. In other accounts, her students failed to arrive at the meeting place and she correctly identified the cause from the OBE state. 

In one of the most impressive accounts, she described an OBE which took place on December 26, 2004, while teaching an OBE workshop. A few days before, she had received a card from her friend, Jacqueline, who was traveling abroad. Everything was fine, and she was heading toward the south of India. That night Akhena had an OBE and thought about her friend. She found herself unexpectedly face-to-face with her friend, who she perceived to be alone and terrified in a dark old-style classroom with writing on a nearby chalkboard. This was quite unexpected, since all indications had been that Jacqueline was fine. The next morning, her students told her about the tsunami that killed over 230,000 people in fourteen countries. Many days later, in the first week of January, she learned that Jacqueline was, in fact, trapped for several days in a cold dark school room, buried under rubble from the tsunami. All the dates, times, places and events corresponded to actual events. The school room even contained the chalkboard Akhena had seen in her OBE. (Akhena, Out of Body Experiences, 2013) 

Graham Nicholls' veridical OBEs

Graham Nicholls is a British OBE teacher living in Estonia. He's had a number of OBEs in which he obtained evidence. 

In his first veridical OBE, Nicholls traveled to a man's house and saw his name on a letterhead. To satisfy his curiosity, he traveled physically to the address and found that a man with the same name did live at that address.

In another case, he traveled out-of-body to a nearby cathedral where he saw some windows that were taped while being repaired. He noted several details, writing them down in his journal and describing them to his partner. Afterward, he drove to the cathedral and found the same windows in the same state as seen in his OBE. 

On a later occurrence, in 1999, Nicholls was teaching a class on OBEs. During the class, he had his first precognitive OBE in which he witnessed a terrorist bombing in London at a particular location. When he came out of the state, he described the OBE to his four students who witnessed him visibly shaken by the experience. Five days later, there was, in fact, a bombing at that exact location, and all the details matched his OBE. (Nicholls, Navigating the Out-of-Body Experience, 2012)

Preston Dennett's veridical OBEs

In his 2004 book Out-of-Body Exploring, Author Preston Dennett wrote about an experiment he conducted in 2001. In the out-of-body state, he traveled to nearby bridge over the Los Angeles River which he knew had banks lined with concrete. During the experience, he saw “at least two feet of soil along the edge, and it is thick with grass and small weeds” (p. 75). Surprised at this result, he went to the bridge to see whether there really were dirt banks. To his shock, he found a dirt bank about two feet thick covering the cement river bank under the bridge, exactly where he had seen it in his OBE. 

Experts in the study of lucid dreams4 (such as Robert Waggoner) write that expectations have a great influence on the content of the dream. OBEs like Dennett's and Akhena's, in which experience defies expectations, seem to suggest a level of objectivity in an OBE state not present in lucid dreams. This is consistent with Kellogg’s observations in Chapter 4, which suggest that the OBEs tend to be representative of a more stable external environment which may correspond to physical reality, whilst lucid dreams appear to be made up of more fluid subjective environments.

In the next installment, I'll talk about indirect evidence. That is, when a third party obtains evidence of another person’s OBE.

Bob Peterson

01 December 2020