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Out-of-Body Experiences: All in the Brain?

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Examining the Researchers’ Interpretations

But how warranted is their assertion? In particular, the authors imply that their patient’s experience was an OBE, that is, that it (1) fell within the definition of OBEs, and (2) that this patient’s OBE was both representative of, and indistinguishable from, spontaneous OBEs—that it was a typical OBE. How accurate is that dual assumption?

Regarding the first assumption, the Nature article authors defined OBEs as “curious, usually brief sensations in which a person’s consciousness seems to become detached from the body and take up a remote viewing position,” a definition for which they cited three European publications (Brugger, Regard, & Landis, 1997; Grusser & Landis, 1991; and Hecaen & Ajuriaguerra, 1952). American OBE researchers have offered somewhat similar definitions, for example: “An experience where you felt that your mind or awareness was separated from your physical body” (Gabbard & Twemlow, 1984, pp. 3-4); “An…experience…in which the center of consciousness appears to the experient to occupy temporarily a position which is spatially remote from his/her body” (Irwin, 1985, p. 5); an experience in which “people feel that their ‘self,’ or center of awareness, is located outside of the physical body” (Alvarado, 2000, p. 183). It appears to us that by all of these definitions, the Swiss patient’s experience qualified as an OBE.

To begin to address the second assumption—that the Swiss patient’s OBE was typical of spontaneous OBEs—consider the description of a spontaneous OBE by an English patient who “had suffered a displacement of the foot, which had been returned under an anaesthetic” (Green, 1968, p. 123):

“Before coming round I saw myself up in a corner of the room and I was looking down upon the hospital bed. The bedclothes were heaped up over a cradle and my legs were exposed from the knees down.

“Around the right ankle was a ring of plaster and below the knee was a similar ring. These two rings were joined by a plaster strip [on] each side of [the] leg. I was struck by the pink of my skin against the white plaster.

“When I regained consciousness two nurses were standing a foot of bed looking at the operation, one quite young. They at once left the private ward and I managed to raise myself up and look over the cradle seeing again exactly what I had seen when still ‘out.’

“Being a hot day was perhaps why the bedclothes had been pulled away from my legs and were heaped over the cradle. The particular way in which the plaster had been applied was plainly seen from my position in the corner of room and the contrast between pink skin and white plaster was striking.”

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