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.
22 Dec 2020
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