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

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