October 6, 2006 at 10:30 am #18371
note: This New York Times article contains an exordinary admission by a science researcher thtat “the self is not limited to the body”. The rest of the piece is based on assumptions – faulty in my opinion – that the brain “causes” the out of body experience, rather than that the brain is used to trigger the experience. The former assumes the energy body is illusoyr, the latter posulates the energy body beyond the physical body is quasi-independent and has separate sensory functions. This is another way of saying the astral or energy body can see, feel, smell, etc. within its dimension, which overlaps with the physical.
OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCE? YOUR BRAIN IS TO BLAME
By Sandra Blakeslee
New York Times
October 3, 2006
They are eerie sensations, more common than one might think: A man describes
feeling a shadowy figure standing behind him, then turning around to find no
one there. A woman feels herself leaving her body and floating in space,
looking down on her corporeal self.
Such experiences are often attributed by those who have them to paranormal
But according to recent work by neuroscientists, they can be induced by
delivering mild electric current to specific spots in the brain. In one
woman, for example, a zap to a brain region called the angular gyrus
resulted in a sensation that she was hanging from the ceiling, looking down
at her body. In another woman, electrical current delivered to the angular
gyrus produced an uncanny feeling that someone was behind her, intent on
interfering with her actions.
The two women were being evaluated for epilepsy surgery at University
Hospital in Geneva, where doctors implanted dozens of electrodes into their
brains to pinpoint the abnormal tissue causing the seizures and to identify
adjacent areas involved in language, hearing or other essential functions
that should be avoided in the surgery. As each electrode was activated,
stimulating a different patch of brain tissue, the patient was asked to say
what she was experiencing.
Dr. Olaf Blanke, a neurologist at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de
Lausanne in Switzerland who carried out the procedures, said that the women
had normal psychiatric histories and that they were stunned by the bizarre
nature of their experiences.
The Sept. 21 issue of Nature magazine includes an account by Dr. Blanke and
his colleagues of the woman who sensed a shadow person behind her. They
described the out-of-body experiences in the February 2004 issue of the
There is nothing mystical about these ghostly experiences, said Peter
Brugger, a neuroscientist at University Hospital in Zurich, who was not
involved in the experiments but is an expert on phantom limbs, the sensation
of still feeling a limb that has been amputated, and other mind-bending
³The research shows that the self can be detached from the body and can live
a phantom existence on its own, as in an out-of-body experience, or it can
be felt outside of personal space, as in a sense of a presence,² Dr. Brugger
Scientists have gained new understanding of these odd bodily sensations as
they have learned more about how the brain works, Dr. Blanke said. For
example, researchers have discovered that some areas of the brain combine
information from several senses. Vision, hearing and touch are initially
processed in the primary sensory regions. But then they flow together, like
tributaries into a river, to create the wholeness of a person¹s perceptions.
A dog is visually recognized far more quickly if it is simultaneously
accompanied by the sound of its bark.
These multisensory processing regions also build up perceptions of the body
as it moves through the world, Dr. Blanke said. Sensors in the skin provide
information about pressure, pain, heat, cold and similar sensations. Sensors
in the joints, tendons and bones tell the brain where the body is positioned
in space. Sensors in the ears track the sense of balance. And sensors in the
internal organs, including the heart, liver and intestines, provide a
readout of a person¹s emotional state.
Real-time information from the body, the space around the body and the
subjective feelings from the body are also represented in multisensory
regions, Dr. Blanke said. And if these regions are directly simulated by an
electric current, as in the cases of the two women he studied, the integrity
of the sense of body can be altered.
As an example, Dr. Blanke described the case of a 22-year-old student who
had electrodes implanted into the left side of her brain in 2004.
³We were checking language areas,² Dr. Blanke said, when the woman turned
her head to the right. That made no sense, he said, because the electrode
was nowhere near areas involved in the control of movement. Instead, the
current was stimulating a multisensory area called the angular gyrus.
Dr. Blanke applied the current again. Again, the woman turned her head to
the right. ³Why are you doing this?² he asked.
The woman replied that she had a weird sensation that another person was
lying beneath her on the bed. The figure, she said, felt like a ³shadow²
that did not speak or move; it was young, more like a man than a woman, and
it wanted to interfere with her.
When Dr. Blanke turned off the current, the woman stopped looking to the
right, and said the strange presence had gone away. Each time he reapplied
the current, she once again turned her head to try to see the shadow figure.
When the woman sat up, leaned forward and hugged her knees, she said that
she felt as if the shadow man was also sitting and that he was clasping her
in his arms. She said it felt unpleasant. When she held a card in her right
hand, she reported that the shadow figure tried to take it from her. ³He
doesn¹t want me to read,² she said.
Because the presence closely mimicked the patient¹s body posture and
position, Dr. Blanke concluded that the patient was experiencing an unusual
perception of her own body, as a double. But for reasons that scientists
have not been able to explain, he said, she did not recognize that it was
her own body she was sensing.
The feeling of a shadowy presence can occur without electrical stimulation
to the brain, Dr. Brugger said. It has been described by people who undergo
sensory deprivation, as in mountaineers trekking at high altitude or sailors
crossing the ocean alone, and by people who have suffered minor strokes or
other disruptions in blood flow to the brain.
Six years ago, another of Dr. Blanke¹s patients underwent brain stimulation
to a different multisensory area, the angular gyrus, which blends vision
with the body sense. The patient experienced a complete out-of-body
When the current flowed, she said: ³I am at the ceiling. I am looking down
at my legs.²
When the current ceased, she said: ³I¹m back on the table now. What
Further applications of the current returned the woman to the ceiling,
causing her to feel as if she were outside of her body, floating, her legs
dangling below her. When she closed her eyes, she had the sensation of doing
sit-ups, with her upper body approaching her legs.
Because the woman¹s felt position in space and her actual position in space
did not match, her mind cast about for the best way to turn her confusion
into a coherent experience, Dr. Blanke said. She concluded that she must be
floating up and away while looking downward.
Some schizophrenics, Dr. Blanke said, experience paranoid delusions and the
sense that someone is following them. They also sometimes confuse their own
actions with the actions of other people. While the cause of these symptoms
is not known, he said, multisensory processing areas may be involved.
When otherwise normal people experience bodily delusions, Dr. Blanke said,
they are often flummoxed. The felt sensation of the body is so seamless, so
familiar, that people do not realize it is a creation of the brain, even
when something goes wrong and the brain is perturbed.
Yet the sense of body integrity is rather easily duped, Dr. Blanke said.
And while it may be tempting to invoke the supernatural when this body sense
goes awry, he said the true explanation is a very natural one, the brain¹s
attempt to make sense of conflicting information
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