What happens in the brain when a person has an out-of-body experience? A team of scientists may now have an answer.
In a new study, researchers using a brain scanner and some fancy camera work gave study participants the illusion that their bodies were located in a part of a room other than where they really were. Then, the researchers examined the participants’ brain activity, to find out which brain regions were involved in the participants’ perceptions about where their body was.
The findings showed that the conscious experience of where one’s body is located arises from activity in brain areas involved in feelings of body ownership, as well as regions that contain cells known to be involved in spatial orientation, the researchers said. Earlier work done in animals had showed these cells, dubbed “GPS cells,” have a key role in navigation and memory.
The feeling of owning a body “is a very basic experience that most of us take for granted in everyday life,” said Dr. Arvid Guterstam, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and co-author of the study published today (April 30) in the journal Current Biology. But Guterstam and his colleagues wanted to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie this everyday experience.
Rubber hands and virtual bodies
In previous experiments, the researchers had explored the feeling of being out of one’s body. For example, the researchers developed the so-called “rubber hand illusion,” in which a person wearing video goggles sees a rubber hand being stroked, while a researcher strokes the participant’s own hand (which is out of sight), producing the feeling that the rubber hand is the participant’s own. The researchers have used a similar technique to give people the feeling of having a manikin’s body, or even an invisible body, as they described in a report published last week in the journal Scientific Reports.
In the new study, Guterstam and his colleagues . . .
By J. Francis Wolfe via Listverse
There is very good reason for all of humanity to have a healthy curiosity relating to near-death experiences. Death is the one experience we are all guaranteed to ultimately share. The field of science has therefore made numerous attempts to explain the near-death phenomena that so many people have independently described.
10 • The Temporoparietal Junction May Be Responsible For Out-Of-Body Experiences
Among the more common elements of near-death experiences is the distinct feeling of an individual having left their worldly body. Those who have had an “out-of-body” experience often report floating above themselves while being able to see their body and the people surrounding them. There have even been a few reports in which those who have had an out-of-body experience can identify objects and events occurring during times in which they were considered clinically dead, but there have also been studies demonstrating that this all could be due to damage in the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
The temporoparietal junction is responsible for assembling the data collected by the body’s senses and organs to form the perception of an individual’s body. When this part of the brain is damaged, it is possible that this results in the “out-of-body” experience that so many people have reported.
Though the experience may appear to be incredibly vivid and real, scientific studies have been able to reproduce this phenomenon without bringing the subject close to death, simply by electrically stimulating the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
9 • Excess Carbon Dioxide May Create The Tunnel And White Light
Nearly every individual who has had a near-death experience discusses the existence of a bright, white light and a tunnel that seems to lead to the afterlife. The white light seems to take on an otherworldly quality and is often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of peacefulness and welcoming.
A 2010 study of patients who had heart attacks revealed that there may be a correlation between this type of near-death experience and the level of CO2 in the blood. Out of the 52 cardiac patients studied, 11 reported a near-death experience. The levels of CO2 in the blood of those 11 patients were significantly higher than the patients who did not report having a near-death experience.
The feeling among researchers is that the excess CO2 in the bloodstream can have a significant effect on vision, which leads to patients seeing the tunnel and the bright light.
8 • Lack Of Oxygen To The Brain Causes Hallucinations
Many near-death experiences include the presence of long-dead friends and relatives appearing and perhaps even guiding the individual as they pass from the world of the living to the afterlife. Memories from every part of life are recalled in rapid succession, and there is an overwhelming sense of comfort, yet it appears that scientific research has provided an explanation for this phenomenon as well.
While excess CO2 has an effect on vision during a near-death experience, a lack of oxygen to the brain also plays a contributing role. It is well known that oxygen deprivation can lead to hallucinations and may even contribute to the feeling of euphoria that is often reported. While the sample size available to researchers is limited, studies have indicated that individuals who reported a near-death experience during cardiac arrest also had lower levels of oxygen.
Researchers believe that oxygen deprivation could well result in people “seeing their lives flash before their eyes” or being transported to a place where they are surrounded by friends and relatives who have long since passed on. This remains just a theory, however, as the other available research seems to indicate that multiple factors contribute to the near-death experience, which include the aforementioned CO2 levels as well. It makes sense in this regard that near-death experiences are commonly reported by those resuscitated following a heart attack, as a heart attack occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the brain.
In the 21st Century, why do so many people still believe in the paranormal? David Robson discovers that there’s good reason we hold superstitions – and a few surprising benefits.
By David Robson via BBC Future
Soon after World War II, Winston Churchill was visiting the White House when he is said to have had an uncanny experience. Having had a long bath with a Scotch and cigar, he reportedly walked into the adjoining bedroom – only to be met by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Unflappable, even while completely naked, Churchill apparently announced: “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” The spirit smiled and vanished.
His supposed contact with the supernatural puts Churchill in illustrious company. Arthur Conan Doyle spoke to ghosts through mediums, while Alan Turing believed in telepathy. Three men who were all known for their razor-sharp thinking, yet couldn’t stop themselves from believing in the impossible. You may well join them. According to recent surveys, as many as three quarters of Americans believe in the paranormal, in some form, while nearly one in five claim to have actually seen a ghost.
Intrigued by these persistent beliefs, psychologists have started to look at why some of us can’t shake off old superstitions and folk-lore. Their findings may suggest some hidden virtues to believing in the paranormal. At the very least, it should cause you to question whether you hold more insidious beliefs about the world.
Some paranormal experiences are easily explainable, based on faulty activity in the brain. Reports of poltergeists invisibly moving objects seem to be consistent with damage to certain regions of the right hemisphere that are responsible for visual processing; certain forms of epilepsy, meanwhile, can cause the spooky feeling that a presence is stalking you close by – perhaps underlying accounts of faceless “shadow people” lurking in the surroundings.
Out-of-body experiences, meanwhile, are now accepted neurological phenomena, while certain visual illusions could confound the healthy brain and create mythical beings. For example, one young Italian psychologist looked in the mirror one morning to find a grizzled old man staring back at him. His later experiments confirmed . . .
By Sharon Hill via James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)
Yesterday, a study was announced with a headline that didn’t fit the results. That’s very common. But what was strange was that a few proponents of the study seemed to hang their hats on the headline. I wonder if they actually read the same study I did?
Here was the piece in The Telegraph (U.K.): First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study
The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.
It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.
But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.
And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.
From reading just this pop media piece, I saw no indication of “life after death” mentioned. I saw a claim that people appear to be mentally aware (to some degree) when there is no recorded brain activity occurring. That would be an important new finding, there was no need to jump to a more overarching, unwarranted claim about evidence for “life after death”.Other media outlets followed suit with misleading headlines:
- “Life after death? Largest-ever study provides evidence that ‘out of body’ and ‘near-death’ experiences may be real”
- Scientific Breakthrough Suggests There Is Life After Death
- Scientific research finds that life after death is possible
- Life after death is real, British scientists confirm (Whoa! That one takes the prize!)
Unconventional theorist Graham Hancock seemed mighty smug about it:
The first inkling I saw (also on Twitter) that there was something a bit off with this headline was from Dr. Caroline Watt, Senior Researcher at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh. (Yes, an actual parapsychologist. She wrote the book.) She seemed less than impressed with the study. I contacted her and, as is good advice, she said I should read the paper. So I did. I was also unimpressed. In a nutshell, the study attempted to objectively measure “out of body” and “near death experience” claims. The researchers concluded that it was not as successful as planned, but they discovered a small percentage of people report awareness in what medical standards considers a nonfunctioning brain.Dr. Sam Parnia, who headed this study, has done such prospective studies before. He suggests that the brain may “live” on minutes or hours after “death”. That is interesting, but not paranormal. Let’s see what the study showed.
Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience like the examples that we list in this FREE PDF booklet? If so, you know how compelling they can be. A life can be changed or an entire religion founded on the basis of a single brain-generated hallucination. These phenomena are so powerful that throughout history seekers of knowledge have sought to induce them. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be more than a waste of time and energy. It can be dangerous for both the individual and larger society.
While science has made considerable progress in discovering how the brain is hard-wired to produce these illusions, the public is largely unaware of much of this research. This is where your Skeptics Society comes in—we provide the scientific explanation.
The psychic technique of remote viewing is consistent with simple, well known magic tricks.
Today we’re going to sit in a quiet room and draw sketchy pictures of — well, of anything, really — and claim psychic powers, for we’re demonstrating the amazing psychic ability known as “remote viewing.”
Remote viewing was made popular beginning in the 1970’s, when some in the US intelligence community grew concerned that the Soviets had better psychics than we did. $20 million was appropriated to test the skills of a group of psychics called remote viewers. Supposedly, you could ask them a question about some place, and they’d use psychic abilities to draw you a picture of whatever’s going on there, and it was hoped that this would lead to useful intelligence. Project Stargate, and a few others like it, was canceled by the 1990’s, due to a lack of reliable results. Proponents of Project Stargate say that the US government’s investment in the project proves that it had merit. Critics point out that the funding was stopped, and say that if merit had been found, funding would have at least been continued, if not dramatically increased. We can be reasonably assured that the project did not move underground with renewed funding, since the participants have all long since gone public with full disclosure of what happened. Since none of them have turned up mysteriously disappeared, we can safely assume that the government is not too concerned about this supposedly “classified” information.
The most famous remote viewer to emerge from these projects is a man named Joseph McMoneagle. Today he offers his remote viewing services on a consulting basis, and in 1994 he went on the television show “Put to the Test” to show just what he could do. [This] is a clip from the show … and if you want, … watch it, form your own opinion, then [read] my comments.
What you’ll find is that the show’s unabashed endorsement of his abilities contributes largely to the perception of his success, but if you really listen to the statements he makes, and look at the drawings he produces, you’ll find little similarity to what he was supposed to identify. They took him to Houston, Texas and sent a target person to one of four chosen locations. McMoneagle’s task was to draw what she saw, thus determining where she was. They edited the 15 minute session down to just a couple of minutes for the show, so you’ve got to figure that they probably left in only the most significant hits and edited out all of the misses.
The four locations were a life size treehouse in a giant tree, a tall metal waterslide at an amusement park, a dock along the river, and the Water Wall, a huge cement fountain structure. Here is what McMoneagle said:
- There’s a river or something riverlike nearby, with manmade improvements. Houston is a famous river town, so this was a pretty good bet. It applies equally well to the waterslide and to the dock.
- There are perpendicular lines. I challenge anyone to find any location anywhere without perpendicular lines.
- She’s standing on an incline. She was not standing on an incline, and there were no apparent inclines at any of the four locations. Remember, they edited it down to just the most impressive two minutes.
- She’s looking up at it. This would apply best to the treehouse, the waterslide, or the Water Wall. There was really nothing to look up at at the dock.
- There’s a pedestrian bridge nearby. Sounds like a close match for the treehouse or the walkways on the waterslide.
- There is a lot of metallic noise. Probably the big metal waterslide structure is the best match for this.
- There’s something big and tall nearby that’s not a building. This applies equally well to all four locations.
- There’s a platform with a black stripe. Not a clear match for any of the locations.
That’s it – those were the only statements of Joe’s that they broadcast. Strangely, at no point did they ask McMoneagle to identify the location; they did not even ask him to choose from the four possibilities. Instead, they simply took him to the actual destination where the target person was, which turned out to be the dock, and then set about finding matches to Joe’s statements. Suddenly, nearly all of Joe’s statements made perfect sense! Certainly there’s a river nearby. There was a traffic bridge in the distance: traffic, pedestrians, near, far, no big difference. Metallic noise and something big: there was a ship at the dock, but if you ask me what kind of noise a ship makes, metallic is not the word I’d use. And that platform with a black stripe? Could be a ship.
I argue that the target person could have been . . .
Project STARGATE: Psychic Soldiers via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube
Project STARGATE may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but for years taxpayer cash funded experiments with psychic powers. Tune in to learn more about the Cold War psychics — and why some people believe these programs continue today.
A new film about a young boy’s near-death experience, “Heaven is For Real,” made a splash at the box office this past weekend, pulling in over $22 million. The film, based on the best-selling book of the same name, is about a father whose young son, Colton Burpo, visits heaven.
Burpo’s experience, though unusual, is not unique: There are dozens of people who have claimed to visit heaven — or, less often, hell — during near-death experiences. The best-selling 2010 book “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” tells the story of another young boy’s near-death experience:
“In 2004 Kevin Malarkey and his six-year-old son, Alex, suffered a terrible car wreck. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex — and it seemed impossible that he could survive. When Alex awoke from a coma two months later, he had an incredible story to share. Of events at the accident scene and in the hospital while he was unconscious … Of the angels who took him through the gates of Heaven itself.”
Of course neither Colton Burpo nor Alex Malarkey offered any real evidence of entering heaven, encountering angels or meeting God. These are two of many seemingly inexplicable examples of people who have been gravely injured and yet, upon recovery, later presented apparently accurate descriptions of things they should not have been aware of in their condition. Sounds, smells and snippets of conversations that occurred in the emergency room when the patient was assumed to be unconscious, comatose or even dead are offered as evidence of out-of-body experiences and near-death experiences.
A Scientific Explanation?
A recent study offers evidence that patients who are in a vegetative state may in fact have more awareness than previously thought. This research may also help explain near-death experiences. If, as this study suggests, apparently unconscious and vegetative patients are more conscious than assumed, their recollections are less mysterious.
An article in “The Scientist” reports:
“Some brain injuries can leave patients awake but unresponsive with little hope of regaining consciousness. But the gold standard of bedside evaluations, including shining light in the person’s eyes among other tests, may miss some subtle brain activity in patients in vegetative states — those thought to have little to no chance of ever recovering. According to a study published this week (April 16) in The Lancet, positron emission tomography (PET) scans can help clinicians detect with greater certainty these faint hints of consciousness even in patients thought to be hopelessly vegetative.”
PET scans, which can detect more subtle brain activity than the more frequently used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, found that . . .
Researchers use virtual reality gear to mess with subjects’ perspective
If you think about it, memory is an astounding thing. At will, our brains can dig back through the archives and pull out the sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and emotions from a day long gone. All those memories have one pretty obvious thing in common—everything about an experience is recorded from a first-person perspective. But what happens if your memory is not in first-person.
Some people go through what is commonly referred to as “out-of-body experiences,” where they feel a sense of detachment from their body as if they were somehow floating above it. This and related “dissociative” phenomena can be a part of posttraumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia, for example. The people who have out-of-body experiences often seem to have difficulty recalling these experiences with the usual amount of detail. That could be a clue about how our memories work, but how could you design an experiment to test the possibilities?
Loretxu Bergouignan and Henrik Ehrsson of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and Umeå University’s Lars Nyberg have an answer. They utilized a setup that simulates the feeling of an out-of-body experience by transporting a subject’s perception of sight and sound across the room. (Science writer Ed Yong has first-hand knowledge of this non-first-person experience.) Subjects wear a virtual-reality-like display connected to stereo cameras and microphones that can be placed elsewhere. Under controlled conditions (holding still, etc.) the illusion can be quite profound.
In order to test the effect this has on memory, the researchers staged situations intended to be memorable. The participants—64 university students—were given some reading materials on several topics and told they would be given an oral exam. After they studied up, they donned the virtual reality gear. The cameras were placed in a few different configurations: either just above and behind the student’s head to match a normal perspective, on the opposite side of the room pointing back at themselves, or a few feet to their right. To reinforce the out-of-body illusion, one person walked up to the cameras and repeatedly extended a rod toward a point below them while another poked the student’s actual chest synchronously.
At this point, a professional actor playing the role of an “eccentric professor” entered the room, sat in a chair facing the student, and began to . . .
A man we’ll call Joe recalls plunging into darkness and seeing a bright light. He remembers a field of flowers and a figure in white who spoke to him about his future. The next thing he recalls is awakening to discover that during the time he’d experienced this vision, he’d actually been lying on an operating table with doctors hovering over him, frantically trying to restart his stopped heart.
You’ve probably heard stories similar to this one, which was recounted in a 2006 New Scientist article. What Joe remembers experiencing is called a near-death experience (NDE). Reportedly, about 10 to 20 percent of people who survive heart attacks experience an NDE (source: Callaway). Written accounts of NDEs go back to ancient times. Usually, they involve euphoria, tunnels, bright lights, ethereal beings or some combination of those phenomena. Some people report seeing a high-speed replay of memories — aka, their lives flash before their eyes.
Nobody really knows what NDEs are, or how and why they occur, though there are widely-ranging opinions. Those who believe in the metaphysical think that during an NDE, a seriously ill or injured person’s soul leaves the physical body and journeys to the entrance of the afterlife. There, for whatever reason, he or she is turned away and sent back to resume Earthly life — sometimes with a newfound insight about life’s purpose.
Physicians and neuroscientists who’ve searched for a less mystical explanation for NDEs suspect they’re hallucinations, somehow caused by the process of the dying brain shutting down. Over the years, some have theorized that NDEs result when the brain is deprived of oxygen, or when a mysterious, yet-unverified chemical binds itself to neurons in an effort to protect them from that deprivation. Still others think that the brain’s impending shutdown triggers a flood of euphoria-causing endorphins, or electrical discharges in the hippocampus (the brain area involved in memory), while others think the state is caused by the side effects of anesthesia or medications.
However, so far, science has failed to come up with an airtight explanation for NDEs. In the largest-ever study of the phenomenon, published in the Lancet in 2001, Dutch physicians interviewed 344 mostly elderly hospital patients who survived brushes with death in which their hearts stopped. Only 18 percent of them reported experiencing NDEs, and the researchers found no link to the amount of time they were in cardiac arrest, or the drugs they were given.
Since then, a 2010 study published in the journal Clinical Care offers yet another possible explanation.