Out-of-body experience

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"The soul leaving the body" from Robert Blair's The Grave, A Poem (1808)
It's fun to pretend
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Fails from the crypt
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The first word in this song is discorporate. It means to leave your body.
Frank Zappa, "Absolutely Free"[1]
Astral trips? I call them half-asstral trips — if they're made, then I would like to see some evidence of them. These people use their imaginations, and people who believe them use their gullibility in order to accept it.
James Randi[2]

An out-of-body experience (OBE) is a moment or period during which a person feels detached from, or outside of, their body. Such feelings can be imagined or hallucinated effects brought on through meditation, drugs, or dreaming. OBEs have been claimed by many people, and tend to attract paranormal explanations rather than naturalistic ones, even though scientific research into the phenomenon is continuing to generate more answers than any paranormal investigator would.

Types of OBE[edit]

OBEs are a subject within a wide range of pseudosciences and New Age practices:

  • Astral projection, in which a person's soul or spirit purportedly travels outside their body or even to a different plane of existence, and remains attached to their body only through an imagined "silver cord". As seen in Dungeons & Dragons!
  • Transcendental Meditation can bring about this effect through such practices as "yogic flying".
  • Scientology uses some practices claiming to bring the "thetan" (spirit) outside the body and mind which is claimed to be the ideal state for more effective "auditing".
  • Claimed alien abductions and near-death experiences often involve imagined or claimed out-of-body experiences
  • Sensory deprivation or "float tanks", a popular New Age practice, seeks to induce feelings of floating outside one's own body.
  • Sometimes, you just daydream a bit, and follow your fantasy with a strong imagination, and then accidentally walk into your room in your daydream, and "whoa!" that's me over there on the bed! Woo!
  • An estimated 0.7% of people experience OBEs during surgery because of the anesthesia.[3]


Research into OBE has shown that it can be induced by various physiological, psychological and experimental conditions. The easiest way to induce it is through oxygen deprivation — kids, don't try this at home — and this method is probably related to "meditation" techniques that create a state of hypoventilation. It is also experienced after stimulation of the temporal and parietal lobes in the brain. Transcranial magnetic stimulation or localized epileptic seizures in these regions creates various kinds of OBE and "shadow person" perceptions.

Work in brain imaging has shown that these particular anatomical regions are activated during the experiences.[4] These regions are related to our proprioception, and the disruption of this sense is what is causing the OBE. All this suggests that OBEs are all just inside the person's head. Other research, though, is slated to examine if there is any truth to the claim that people "leave their bodies" after cardiac arrest in hospitals. This experiment is fairly obvious in its methodology, working by placing pictures in places that only someone on an out-of-body trip would be able to see, although how they intend to keep these things from interference is anyone's guess.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. "Absolutely Free" by Frank Zappa (AZLyrics).
  2. Penn & Teller: Bullshit! — "ESP" episode (S01E10)
  3. Out-of-Body Experiences during Anesthesia by G.M. Woerlee (2005–2020) Anesthesia: Problems & Answers.
  4. Out-of-body experiences not so out of body after all
  5. Study into near-death experiences