How Neuroscience Solved the ‘Out of the Body’ Experience

Temporoparietal_junction
Temporal-Parietal Junction (TPJ)

Out of the body experiences are fairly common throughout Western cultures, and are not unheard of in cultures from other parts of the world. Indeed, these types of disembodied experiences have often been associated with religious, spiritual and mystical experiences brought-on through harsh discipline, restricted diet and sometimes mind-altering drugs of various sorts (both natural and in modern times, manufactured). The physical body – although still living – is left behind, whilst a conscious entity appears to leave its material confines and ‘travel’ in an ethereal manner throughout the immediate locality, further afield and even throughout the cosmos, etc. Many report receiving information of some kind from faraway, or describe events that happen around their physical bodies whilst that body was unconscious. All this seems other-worldly and extremely mysterious.

Whilst examining this issue, neuroscience commonly separates out of the body experiences into three distinct categories:

a) The vague ‘sensing’ or clearly ‘observing’ of an individual’s own doppelgänger. Although still rooted in their own body, it seems that an exact ‘copy’ of the individual concerned occupies another identical body in a different time-space location. There is a sense that a single personality independently inhabits two different but identical physical bodies that move separately throughout the world.

b) A single personality (or ‘consciousness’) moves out from the root (experiencing) body and into the doppelgänger – before leaving the doppelganger and returning to the root body. During this transference, perception alters from being in the root body, to transitioning and then entering the doppelganger – after which the process reverses as the conscious awareness returns to the root body.

c) Conscious awareness leaves the root body altogether for an extended period of time and observes it from an objective perspective, usually from an elevated position such as that of the ceiling.

People can experience one or all three of these events, often progressing through a, b and c, etc. Most people who experience this phenomenon not only state that it is a ‘pleasant’ sensation, but also use the experience to validate a number of religious or spiritual beliefs. When a person is unconscious and experiencing an out of the body episode, any nearby witness does not observe anything happening other than the individual continuing in a state of unconsciousness. This means that other than in the experience of those undergoing an out of the body episode, there is no objective evidence to suggest the experience is materially real.

In 2002, Olaf Blanke (a neurologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) and his team, were carrying-out exploratory operations on the brain of a severe epilepsy sufferer (a 43-year-old woman) when they induced a full-blown out of the body experience in their patient. When they stimulated a region near the back of the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ) pictured above, the woman reported that she was above her own body and looking down upon it.

The TPJ processes visual and touch signals, balance and spatial information from the inner ear, and the propioceptive sensations from joints, tendons and muscles that tell us where our body parts are in relation to one another. Its function is to integrate all this data into a coherent sense of embodiment which informs exactly where the body is within the environment, and where the body ‘ends’ and the environment ‘begins’. Blanke and his colleagues hypothesized that an out of the body experiences is the result of the TJP not functioning properly. In 2007 this idea received further support. when Dirk De Radder of University Hospital Antwerp (in Belgium), implanted electrodes near the TJP of a 63-year-old patient suffering from tinnitus (with the intention of ‘silencing’ the ringing sound). This treatment did not work, but the patient reported that he felt his sense of self shift to about 50 cm behind and to the left of his body. As the experience would last at least 15 seconds at a time, the brain was subjected to PET scans which revealed that his TJP region was stimulated during each out of the body experience. Other perceptual exercises designed to test this hypothesis have revealed that when an individual is tasked with ‘imagining’ his or her body in a different position to the body’s placement in reality (and perhaps wearing a single glove on a specific hand, for example), the TJP (and surrounding areas) are in operation. This approach appears promising, but there still remains the issue of people returning from out of the body experiences possessing unusual or unlikely information, a phenomenon that remains unexplained.

Reference:

Your Conscious Ming: New Scietist Instant Expert, John Murray, (2017(, Pages 109-112

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