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Science

Out-of-Body Experience on Demand 72

Posted by timothy
from the wish-it-was-me dept.
GT_Alias writes "CNN has an article reporting that some neurology researchers in Switzerland have triggered repeated out-of-body experiences by firing certain electrodes in the patient's brain. It seems that a part of the brain called the angular gyrus, responsible for logic and spatial awareness, triggers the sensation."
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Out-of-Body Experience on Demand

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  • It's called mescaline...
    • Or Ketamine, or DXM.

      Not that I would ever do that.
      • My favorite for out-of-body experiances remains MDMA. Shame it was banned, many psychiatrists found valid use for it
        • Re:all the time (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          My favorite for out-of-body experiances remains MDMA. Shame it was banned, many psychiatrists found valid use for it
          No offense, but you sir, have no idea what you are talking about. Just ignoring the fact that MDMA inducing an OOB in a way comparable to the dissociatives (DXM, K, PCP) is damn near ridiculous and only makes it clear that you've wanted to use it alot more than you've actually used it - just ignoring that, the psychiatric uses of MDMA had jack shit to do with OOBs. The preminent psychiatric value of MDMA is in it's ability to induce empathy and openess while still maintaining a relatively coherent attachment to the 'normal' world. A very valuable tool when it comes to therapy.

            • No offense, but you sir, have no idea what you are talking about. Just ignoring the fact that MDMA inducing an OOB in a way comparable to the dissociatives (DXM, K, PCP) is damn near ridiculous and only makes it clear that you've wanted to use it alot more than you've actually used it - just ignoring that, the psychiatric uses of MDMA had jack shit to do with OOBs. The preminent psychiatric value of MDMA is in it's ability to induce empathy and openess while still maintaining a relatively coherent attachment to the 'normal' world. A very valuable tool when it comes to therapy.
            Sounds like you could use a hit of "empathy and openess" inducing MDMA right about now... :)
  • Hmmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zpengo (99887) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @06:00PM (#4293074) Homepage
    That soundly debunks decades of pseudoscientists who claimed that they actually *were* leaving their bodies....

    Funny how those decades happened to coincide with eras of particularly heavy drug use!

    • by sydb (176695)
      So why doesn't it demonstrate that the experience is real, and that there are other triggers besides drugs, meditiation and spiritual experiences?

      This doesn't 'debunk' anything.
  • Michael Crichton's Terminal Man directly addressed the idea of using electric shocks to control seizures. Of course, in the book, the dude goes apeshit because like a kiddie and an open cookie jar, he just can't get enough of the electric shocks and then I think he goes on a killing spree or something. Fairly typical Crichton stuff.

    I hope research like this gets us to understand more about how the brain works, but I can't help feeling that there might still be something to this "out of body" experience. After all, some accounts describe people who actually "saw" things during their out-of-body experience that were later corroborated by other people who were in the same room.

    Finally, and this is the truth, you can actually purchase an Astral Projection kit. [lunamyst.com] Just think of how this new discovery will hurt their business!
    • The terminal man, if memory serves, was about using electric shocks for (negative) neural feedback to control seizures.

      Problem was, the neural pathway in the person so wired, included a strong masochistic pathway - so instead of a purely negative feedback, the behavior had a positive feedback overtone. The resultant behavior was not pretty, as I recall...

      Now fiddling with the limbic system via wires has yet to be achieved as a regular diagnostic practice.

      How is this potentially related to the Slashdot crowd?

      There are the psychoactive prescription drugs, that seem to be increasingly popular, and are certainly profitable, with potentially similar effects on affects, as the recent article on the post-Columbine lawsuit is alleging.

      It would be probably a good idea that a specialist in psychiatry do the monitoring/ prescription of these substances - most of which do not have the longer history of the illegal psychedelics and other mood altering drugs. The family physician may not realize the severity of some of the side effects.

      Perhaps there is no quick fix for that class of problem. But YMMV...

  • I wonder how long it will take the Bush administration to try and outlaw such experiments.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    or hits of acid?
  • I wonder... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cornice (9801) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @06:26PM (#4293249)
    I wonder if this is what ketamine [lycaeum.org] does.
  • And, said both Blanke and Gordon, the trauma of having electrodes implanted in one's skull, plus the fear and uncertainty that go along with a complex clinical procedure, could possibly help trigger such a misfiring of information, such as the case of the Geneva patient.


    Then it wasn't the electrodes but the fear of becoming a Borg which caused the out-of-body experience.

  • I think this means a whole section of books at Barnes and Noble will need to be moved into the "fiction" section.
  • Can enjoy the "Moderator" experience, in the safety of your own home....
  • by Mazzaroth (519229) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @07:50PM (#4293772) Homepage
    This has been done before. Wired magazine published an article [wired.com] in november 1999 on this. The reshercher (Michael Persinger [laurentian.ca], neuropsychologist at Canada's Laurentian University in Sudbury) is doing research on using electromagnetic fields to induce feelings directly in the brain. Induced feelings include sensatgion of God's presence, sensation of out of body experiences, etc.

    I remember when I read this article, I was blown away. Something to really make you think... :-)
    • ...and in the book, "War in 2020", the Japanese had a technology called "the scrambler" that used EMF waves to bake one's voluntary nervous system. Imagine being completely paralyzed, i.e., you can breathe (that's automatic), but you can't talk, move, etc. You'd get to live out that Metallica song...
  • if you think logically about this, it doesnt prove anything. Even if you can trigger any experience in some way, that doesnt mean it is in any way related to 'real' outer-body experiences.

    Not that i am trying to deliver some spiritual viewpoint here; i am just trying to say that if you can create something that looks very much like something we know, that doesnt mean it is the same thing or that it came to be in the same way.

    So however interesting this may be, it can never be an argument in any science vs. spirituality discussion.
    • You're right, it cannot be proven at this time with absolute moral certitude.

      However, if you apply Occam's Razor to the situation, "people experience out of body experiences," you have two options:

      1) a certain part of the brain is being abnormally stimulated. Stimulating this part of the brain is proven to produce the perception of out-of-body experiences.
      2) the subject's soul, which cannot be detected, is leaving his body, and moving about the room.

      Option 2 is exceedingly more complex, and therefore far less likely to be the correct choice. Your confidence level is still not 100%, but it approaches it.

      Like you, I'm not trying to deliver an anti-spiritual viewpoint (I happen to have an irrational belief in a soul for some reason) but you *can* apply scientific thinking to this situation.
      • We have to be very carefull with Occam's Razor. This discriminator must be used to order hypothesis, not to rule them out. Moreover, the ordering is highly dependant on the technological level of the observer. And too often, we don't go beyong the first hypothesis in the ordered list.
        Let me give you an example: I have a clock on the wall behind me. Here are some hypothesis:
        1. A quartz is oscillating by feeding it using white noise generated by a device composed of chemical stuff (battery). The white noise triggers the quartz's natural resonnance frequency. The time is then indicated by a complex set of electronics dividing a quartz oscilation and driving a step motor to which is attached the hands we see.
        2. Someone is hiding behing the wall and turning the handles.

        Occam's Razor would put the second explanation as the simplest. I don't think it is the right explanation though.

        It is not because an explanation is satisfactory that it is the right one. We have to keep an open mind.
        • You could rephrase the two statements like this:

          1. It's an electronic clock based on well-known electronic processes and principles

          2. A quiet introvert who enjoys people having an accurate sense of time placed a clock on a wall and hid himself behind it, and keeps himself supplied with food from an unknown source whilst twiddling the hands using another time reference.

          Now it's the first explanation that's the simplest.

          I don't like Occam's razor for this reason - I think you can phrase the choices according to your own biased viewpoint. It is only effective when there is a bare minimum of testable information present - lifting the clock off the wall is a simple experiment, whilst OBE's are all about human-percieved experiences, very hard to dispassionately test.

          Dr Fish
      • Occam's razor [ucr.edu] actually says (in the context of generating hypotheses) "one should not multiply entities beyond necessity." One interpretation of that maxim is "the simplest explanation is best." A good interpretation in some contexts, but not the only interpretation.

        Anyway, a soul would be an entity whose existence is postulated unnecessarily if the brain itself can reasonably be postulated as the source of the phenomenon. So, what "simpler" means in this case is fewer entities (and types of entities, such as immaterial souls) that we have to invoke in order to explain something. Not that a soul is somehow more complex than the brain (how would we know?).

        A major criticism for any mix of materialistic and spiritual entities having causal relations (such as the one above where someone questioned how we know there isn't a *real* out of body experience that just happens to coincide with a particular kind of cerbral stimulation) is the lack of any means to causally relate a material thing ( even a force) with something spritual. The reverse, having a spritual thing cause things in the material world, is just as problematic.
      • In most cases, I would agree with you. In this specific case, however, consider the cause of such a brain region *existing* in the first place...

        1) Contrary to the popular "we only use 10% of our brain" myth, our wetware counts as the single most expensive tissue in our bodies. Any neurons not used for *something* vanish very quickly, both evolutionarily (selection) *and* over the course of our lives (atrophy).

        2) Direct electrical stimulation of the brain can also make the subject experience visual effects, vivid recollection of old memories, even orgasm. That does not mean the evoked experience cannot occur in the first place, just that we can artificially makes someone *feel* that experience at will.

        Thus, it seems more likely that the existance of this brain region must have some use, either critical to our long-term well-being, or used reasonably often. I wouldn't say we can claim what purpose it serves yet, but now that we've located it, futher studies of what conditions activate it aught to *greatly* increase our knowledge about the entire "out of body experience" phenomena in general.
  • Good book, too.

    Deals with chemically-induced near-death experiences, I suppose in the same realm as out-of-body. One researcher studying the chemical/neurotransmitter side, one studying the meaning of the experience.
  • by dotslash (12419) on Thursday September 19, 2002 @08:54PM (#4294114) Homepage
    Here's an interesting discussion I had with my wife:

    "What if stimulating that part of the brain causes *actual* out-of-body experiences rather than just the perception. What if you consciousness is disengaged from your body? How can the researchers tell the difference between *real* and *perceived* out-of-body? Did they ask the subjects to perform a task (such as observe something outside their field of view) that would only be possible in an *actual* out-of-body? Essentially they have proved an causal link between stimulation of this area of the brain and out-of-body experiences. They have not proved that the experience was perceived and not real."

    Of course this doesn't mean it's real any more than it means it's just perception. Simply put, the experiement has only shown a causal link, without accurately examining the "effect" that follows the cause. Just because you can trigger it, doesn't mean it's fake. I would like to see them follow up with some tests of the "experience" to determine whether it is a perceptual recreation of the scene from different perspective.

    Once they prove this, they will also have only proven that you can trigger "fake" out-of-body. That still does not prove that there is no "real" out-of-body that can occur under other circumstances.

    By the way, I don't have any reason to believe in out-of-body being anything more than a perceptual issue, but the science here doesn't address that question.
    • How can the researchers tell the difference between *real* and *perceived* out-of-body?

      One's brain mediates everything, every experience, every perception. That is a relatively obvious, but pretty important theory (as in supported by evidence) of cognitive science. You're right; there is no difference between a "real" out-of-body experience or a "percieved" one. The scientists claim not to want to "explain out-of-body experiences away" but they're persistant in pop culture precisely because in the first few cases counselors were either unwilling, or not well-enough versed in cognitive theory to tell the person having the experience that it was their brain going nuts (and sometimes, these patients would go to therapist after therapist until they found such an enabler).

      I imagine this finding, if re-tested in a systematic way (which will be damn hard, because the number of people one could ethically stick electrodes into is miniscule) will go a long way towards debunking out-of-body experience as somehow paranormal.

      It's just like UFO's. A pannel of scientists back in the late 80's or early 90's (after the Condon report came out) were left to sift through a huge stack of UFO reports... and everyone was waiting for them to come out with a conclusion that these people were all on drugs, or that they were reporting bona fide encounters with aliens. They're conclusion: there was a small kernel of cases where the Flying Objects were indeed Unexplainable... but that these incidents represented an opportunity for physicists and atmospheric scientists to learn new things about Life, the Universe and Everything.

    • And what if, following a long philosophical tradition, the perception is in fact the actual reality? What if there is no actual world and all we have is our pont of view on them? There is something like this in Dostoievski's Karamazov, when he says that it doesn't matter if God exists or not, provided you can feel him. Nietszche also said that we build our reality in the same way when we are sleeping and when we are awake. I could quote many other writers and post-structuralists that deal with this problem in the same way, but I'm not with my books right now and I think you already got the point.

      I know it is not a popular scientific tradition among americans and, specially, among computer scientists, but it is a pretty interesting line of thought.

      It will sure be difficult to show he who had an out-of-body experience that what he saw is an illusion.

      • by Tackhead (54550) on Friday September 20, 2002 @01:19PM (#4298203)
        > And what if, following a long philosophical tradition, the perception is in fact the actual reality? What if there is no actual world and all we have is our pont of view on them? There is something like this in Dostoievski's Karamazov, when he says that it doesn't matter if God exists or not, provided you can feel him. Nietszche also said that we build our reality in the same way when we are sleeping and when we are awake. I could quote many other writers and post-structuralists that deal with this problem in the same way, but [...]

        ...in the meantime, what if there was an actual reality? What if there was an actual world, and all we silly hairless apes had to go on is the evidence of our senses, and the ability of our intelligence to interpret the data passed back to us by our senses?

        There's something like this in Schrodinger's and Einstein's and Pauli's theories, where you can't tell if the cat's alive or not, provided you don't observe it, and that matter and energy are interchangeable, and that electrons can't occupy any energy state they bloody feel like, but that they exist only in one of a finite number of discrete states at one time, and that you can make 'em jump from one state to another, but you can never shove 'em halfway in between these states.

        > I know it is not a popular scientific tradition among americans and, specially, among computer scientists, but it is a pretty interesting line of thought.

        I know it is not a popular poststructuralist tradition among academics, and, specifically, among philosophers, but the notion that there exists an objective reality, whose nature can be determined through the scientific method, is also a pretty interesting line of thought.

        > It will sure be difficult to show he who had an out-of-body experience that what he saw is an illusion.

        A lot of people tried the "objective reality" idea, built devices like transistors, cathode ray tubes, radio and X-ray telescopes, nuclear weapons, and laser keychain pointers based on those principles.

        In the meantime, what have postmodernist and poststructuralist theorists brought us, other than graduate papers on postmodernism?

        I think the scientist denying the OBE-believer's claim as mere illusion has a much easier time of it than a poststructuralist philosophy student's attempted denial of everything from the 15-kiloton explosion over Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the 0.5 milliwatt HeNe laser reflecting annoyingly off his computer's display after having been aimed there by a couple of wise-ass geeks in the engineering lab across campus.

        I can't speak for Dostoevsky, but I think Nietzsche would have been embarassed at you. Who, since Nietzsche's day, has done more to completely redefine our understanding of reality than the scientist? Will to Power, indeed.

    • Or just change the environment outside of the patients field of view, but not outside of their fov if they were looking down. Their inability to change the point from whence they perceive themselves does not indicate that they are not perceiving themselves.

      It'd also be interesting to see what happens if you put a mirror in front of them: "I see me seeing me!". Or a two way mirror, reflective side up: "I see the ceiling! This is so cool!"
  • yeah, exactly, i had this kind of experience too. Especially when I am taking a nap in somewhere, I will see myself sitting in front of the computer and try to type my password. However, I never typed it right though i tried so hard, and I would feel like my eyes just couldnt open to see the keyboard, and then i guess I fell asleep again. I thought at first that my be my soul was wandering around to take a rest... but based on this... well... maybe not, my soul still likes me and doesnt wanna go out.
  • didn't timothy leary discover this a long time ago???

    2 of the greatest things to come out of uc berkeley... lsd and bsd unix...
  • http://www.layhands.com/HowToBeCertainOfSalvation. htm http://www.layhands.com/HowToCastOutSpirits.htm
  • If i could charge $20 a hit for a couple milliwatts of electricity...
  • Freakoligists in the 60's achieved this through liberal use of a miracle chemical, : C20H25N3O
  • by Dannon (142147) on Friday September 20, 2002 @10:11AM (#4296839) Journal
    Now, how's about getting those scientists to work on Out Of Work/School/Chores On Demand Experiences? Preferably without those annoying Out Of Money Experience side effects. ;-)
  • would i be able to make my 8am classes finally? i could just lay there and "be" in class :-)
  • I dont think they really did an out of body thing. They probably found a way to triger sleep paralysis, which researchers thing is responsible for alien abductions and other shit.

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