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    In order to fully understand what an out of body experience (OBE) is, it must be understood as one of many related spiritual spectrum phenomena.  An OBE can be defined as an experience in which a person seems to perceive the world from a location outside the physical body.[1] In this writing, I will look at the history of OBE and research findings on near death experiences (NDEs), the most extreme of OBEs.  An OBE is also compared and contrasted with dreams, lucid dreams, astral projection, and autoscopy.


    Some of the earliest research is still widely used as the gold standard in the study of OBE.  Much of the ground-breaking research in OBE paralleled that in NDE in the mid-to late ‘70’s and early 80’s.  The best know OBEr is perhaps Robert Monroe, who founded the Monroe Institute of Applied Science.  Dr. Twemlow worked with Robert Monroe.  Dean Shiels is cited for his work in cultural acceptance of OBEs.  Charles Tart is well known for his experiments, but only had a few subjects.  Scott Rogo arguably did the most to legitimize OBE, in that his research findings normalized the occurrences of OBE, rather than stigmatizing the OBEr as having a psychological disorder.

    In 1958 Monroe had his first OBE.[2]  The experience was profound enough to him that he spent the rest of his life trying to scientifically figure out what happened to him.  Since Monroe was the son of a college professor and a doctor,[3] he readily subjected himself to be scientifically studied at the Topeka VA hospital in 1977.  Needless to say Monroe was greatly relieved when Dr. Stuart Twemlow, M.D. declared him a sane individual with no evidence of psychological disturbance or other mental imbalances.[4]    In 1980, Twemlow presented his OBE study of 339 individuals to the American Psychiatric Association of San Francisco, entitled The Out-Of-Body Experience Phenomenology.[5]  This is one of the first major studies of its kind and can be found at the back of Monroe’s second major book, Far Journeys.[6]  Charles Tart, a prominent OBE researcher, also conducted experiments on Monroe.[7] 

    Other pioneering work on OBEs was done by Dean Shiels, in a 1978 study of almost 70 non-Western cultures around the world.[8]  Out of 54 cultures that responded, 46% claimed that most or all people could travel outside the physical body under certain conditions.  43% claimed that a few people could have OBEs, and only 3 cultures claimed that OBEs don’t happen.[9]  His formal conclusion was similar to what we[10] typically observe in NDEs – that although there are significant differences in cultural upbringing, religious beliefs, and experiencers come from all walks of life across geographical and vastly different socioeconomic and educational stature, there remain striking similarities in the basic elements of separation of consciousness from the body.   Moreover, the OBE phenomena is fairly common in that 14-34% of people have experienced an OBE depending on which of the numerous surveys one reviews.[11]  Susan Blackmore, an NDE skeptic, conservatively estimates the incidence of OBEs around 10%.[12]

    Some of the most fascinating research came out of the 1984 study by D. Scot Rogo, whose specific findings helped legitimize the OBE phenomena in the eyes of the world.  He found that 10-20 percent of the adult population had an OBE.  That OBE experiencers weren’t any special personality type (ie crazy, hyper, or mentally pathological).
[13] He also found that animals, humans and sometimes electrical devises can be used to detect when an OBE experiencer arrives at an arranged location.[14]  Rogo observed some people that were able to correctly identify surroundings at distant locations, and he also came to the conclusion that at least some OBEs are not dreams or hallucinations.[15]


    A near death experience is loosely defined as a collection of memories occurring at or after the time of bodily death.[16]  One of the most commonly reported events during the period of death but prior to being revived, is the out of body component of the NDE.[17]  Veridical perception is what people see during the out of body (OBE) state.[18]  Due to the evidential nature of this component, it is recognized as the best method for proving the reality of NDEs.[19] 

    The out of body component of an NDE could best be described as an involuntary OBE.
[20]  It is well documented by leading NDE researchers, that in the OBE state, many who have physically died can verbatim tell nurses, doctors, and relatives exactly what they were doing or saying during the resuscitation efforts.[21]  During this stage, NDErs frequently report amazement at lack of pain.[22]  Of note, is Michael Sabom’s work published in Recollections of Death where his cardiac patients were asked to describe the resuscitation efforts, equipment, and/or any other things they may have seen or heard while being revived.[23]   Even Pim von Lommel, mentions a 44-year old who, while in a deep coma and in the process of CPR, later told the doctor that a particular nurse had placed his dentures on the crash car.  The patient accurately described the resuscitation room, those in the room, as well as describing the attitude in the room that everyone was close to giving up on resuscitation efforts.[24]  Many of these evidential OBEs do not occur within the earshot of or even the same room as the NDEr, thereby ruling out the possibility of overhearing a conversation upon revival.

keptics raise the weak argument that nobody knows when the NDE occurred. [25]  Part of

this may be the skeptics own bias that consciousness does not reside outside of the body.  There exists documented proof that although the exact time of the NDE may not be known, the OBE events documented after death but before resuscitation strongly suggests that consciousness can exist outside of the body after death. 

    Autoscopy is a term that is frequently misused by skeptics.  According to leading NDE researcher, Dr. Bruce Greyson, the psychiatric syndrome of autoscopy is the characteristic "doppelganger" of literature.
[26]  In classical autoscopy, the person's consciousness remains in his or her physical body, and the person sees a "double" of him- or herself, which usually imitates all the actions of the physical body.[27]  Most typically, the autoscopic "double" is hazy, colorless, and transparent, and only includes the face and shoulders, rather than the whole body. [28] The "double" may move toward or away from the physical body, and the person having the autoscopic vision is usually quite sad.[29]

    In contrast, in the NDE, the person's consciousness is not in his or her physical body, but is rather in the "double."
[30]  The person sees his or her own physical body from the point of view of the "double," and the physical body is usually motionless, while the person moves about in the double.[31]  The vision of the physical body appears as the whole body, and appears real and lifelike.[32]  Sadness is quite rare in NDEs.[33]


    While out of body, astral projection, and lucid dreaming all share the common element of the consciousness separating from the body, there are some technical distinctions.  OBEs may occur consciously (voluntarily) or spontaneously (involuntarily), but the person is usually in a wakeful or relaxed state, and then the consciousness leaves the body.  The consciousness separates from the body and is free to roam the earth plane.  Phenomena associated with the out of body experience, are things like remote viewing or other such seeing of places and people as they exist in this time and place.  I have heard reports of bi-location, a phenomena where a person appears (as in the physical body) in another location despite the fact that the body is physically in another location.

  Astral projection is usually associated with inter-dimensional travel where places may sound like dreams since there are no earthly points of reference.  The person is usually in a relaxed or meditative state and then the consciousness separates.  Aethers are generally thought of as energy layers around the earth where different types of spirits reside depending on lessons they need to learn.  People who talk about traveling the aethers such as students of Alistair Crowley, are astral traveling.  Another big proponent of this theory is Madame Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society in 1875.[34]

  Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden, first used the term “lucid dreaming” in 1913, when referring to the type of dream one consciously knows they are dreaming.[35]

    Lucid dreaming is considered an altered reality, much like a dream, but one is usually asleep when the body travels.  Lucid dreaming appears to be a type of dream where a person is super-alert and is open to communication from the other side.  Frequently, people on earth are contacted by deceased relatives and loved ones through the lucid dreaming state as can be attested to on the after death communication website,

OBE.  Celia Green was an OBE researcher with the Institute of Psychophysical Research.  Her definition of an OBE is “one in which the objects of perception are apparently organized in such a way that the observer seems to himself to be observing them from a point of view which is not coincident with his physical body.”[36]

    OBEs do not need a particular mind set or altered state in order to happen, although most OBEs happen when the physical body is relaxed and inactive.
[37]  OBEs typically occur between the ages of 15-35.[38]  Physically, Green found that 75% of OBEs occurred lying down, and 18% occurred while sitting.[39]  Mentally, Green found that 12% of OBEs occurred during sleep, 32% while unconscious, and 25% were associated with some kind of psychological stress, such as fear, worry, or overwork.[40]   Long-term profound effects were most commonly reported by those experiencing spontaneous OBEs.[41]

    Physical testing shows that the body is more relaxed, but the mind is more alert in the OBE state.  When Charles Tart researched OBEs with Ingo Swann as the OBEr, the EEG was markedly flattened and there were frequency changes, with a decrease in alpha and increase in beta activity.
[42]  The heart rate stayed normal.  There were no sudden changes in either EEG or autonomic functions to mark the beginning or end of the OBE.  Any changes were gradual; unlike dreaming, the OBE does not seem to be associated with a discrete psychological state.[43]  When Keith Harary was tested at the Physical Research Foundation.[44] No change in EEG, and the OBEs did not occur in a sleeping, dreaming or borderline state.  However, skin potential fell, indicating greater relaxation, and it was this measure which provided the best indicator that an OBE had begun.[45]  Heart rate and respiration increased.  Harary was more relaxed, but also more alert during the OBE stage.[46]

    During an OBE, people tend to view objects much as they are perceived in real life (as opposed to a dream).  Interesting perceptual differences generally involve light and sound.
[47]  Many objects or rooms are reported as much brighter or have light surrounding them.[48]  Moreover, there is a correlation between OBEs and practicing meditation, mystical experiences, and drug experiences.[49]  Palmer study confirmed that few OBEs include all the features of a classical astral projection.[50] 


    The similarities between OBEs and lucid dreaming were explored by Stephen LaBerge.
[51]  In both, OBEs and lucid dreams, the person seems to have a waking consciousness, or something close to it.  Out of 572 people, about one-third of the group reported having had at least one OBE.  Just over 80 percent had had lucid dreams.[52]  People who had more dream-related experiences tended to report more OBEs.  For example of the 452 people claiming to have had lucid dreams, 39 percent also reported OBEs, whereas only 15 percent of those who did not claim lucid dreams said they had had OBEs.[53]

    When looking at the difference between OBEs and dreams, OBEs usually occur when the person is awake.
[54]  The lucid dream starts more often when the subject is asleep, and the dream world is less distinct and real than the OBE world, allowing less controls and freedom of movement; in addition the person who has an OBE starting from the waking state never actually thinks he is dreaming.[55]  The imagery and activities of an OBE are more coherent and not as surreal as in a dream.[56]  OBEs tend to be like our earthly environment that we see in every day life. 

    The OBEr is able to see clearly, but what is seen may not be quite like the physical and it appears to have some properties of a dream world or imaginary world.[57]  Interestingly, OBErs are adamant their experience was not a dream, while dreamers readily admit that the experience was a dream.[58]  Ordinary dreams are characterized by very cloudy consciousness at best, and are only recognized as dreams on waking up.[59]  However, during lucid dreaming, the dreamer will be adamant that the experience was real even though still classified as a dream.[60]  Most lucid dreams involved only the subject, but there are cases on record of meetings in lucid dreams. 


    While this discussion by no means is a thorough, in-depth study, it does give one a foundation in which to understand the portion of the spiritual spectrum that includes OBEs, the OBE component of the NDE, astral travel, and lucid dreaming.  One can quickly garner that while many of these phenomena are related in the study of consciousness, there are some clear differences as well.  Further study will be necessary to determine what unifying factor exists to tie all of these phenomena of consciousness together.  That is why the websites exist is to gather data to study consciousness in all its various facets.

[1] THE LANCET * Vol 358 * December 15, 2001 COMMENTARY p. 2010.

[2] Best Evidence, Michael Schmicker, p. 179, Writer’s Club Press, NE (2000)

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at p. 180

[5] Id. at p. 181

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at p. 180

[8] Id. at p. 178

[9] http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html

[11] Best Evidence, Michael Schmicker, p. 179

[12] http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html

[13] Best Evidence, Michael Schmicker, p. 181

[14] Id.

[15] Id. at p. 182

[16] THE LANCET, December 15, 2001, p. 2010.

[17] http://www.nderf.org

[18] THE LANCET, December 15, 2001,  p. 2010.

[20] Best Evidence, Michael Schmicker, p. 182

[21] THE LANCET, December 15, 2001 COMMENTARY p. 2010. mentions Peter Fenwick and Sam Parnia.  Michael Sabom’s study published in “Recollectinos of Death,” and Pim van Lommel’s study Near Death Experience In Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands, Pim van Lommel, et al, THE LANCET • Vol 358 • December 15, 2001, p. 2039-45

[22] http://www.nderf.org

[23] cited in NEAR-DEATH STUDIES: AN OVERVIEW, by Kenneth Ring, Chapter 1, pg 10, Published in The Near-Death Experience, Problems, Prospects, Perspectives, Eds. Bruce Greyson, M.D., Charles P. Flynn, Ph.D., Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, Springfield, III. (1984).

[24] Near Death Experience In Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands, Pim van Lommel, et al, THE LANCET • Vol 358 • December 15, 2001, p. 2039-45

[25] THE LANCET, December 15, 2001, p. 2010.

[26] http://www.nderf.org/FAQs.htm, Response of Dr. Bruce Greyson to Autoscopy question.  Dr. Bruce Greyson, one of the founding fathers of NDE research.  Bonner-Lowry Professor of Personality Studies, Department of Psychiatric Medicine, University of Virginia Health System

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html

[35]  http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html, citing Van Eeden, F. “A study of dreams” (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1913, 26, pp. 431-461.

[36] http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html, citing source Out-of-the-Body Experiences (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968)

[37]  http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html, citing Celia Green’s research

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42]  http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html, citing Osis, K. “Perspectives for Out-of-Body Research” (in Research in Parapsychology 1973, Roll, W.G., Morris, R.L. and Morris, J.D. eds. Metuchen, N.J.; Scarecrow Press, 1974, pp. 110-113.

[43] Id.

[44] http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html, citing Morris, R.L. “The Use of Detector for Out-of-Body Experiences” pp. 114-116, and Hartwell, J., Janis, J. and Harary, S.B. “A Study of the Psysiological Variables Associated with Out-of-Body Experiences” pp. 127-129 (in Research in Parapsychology 1973, Roll, W.G., Morris, R.L. and Morris, J.D. eds. Metuchen, N.J.; Scarecrow Press, 1974)

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47]  http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html, citing Celia Green’s research

[48] Id.

[49] http://www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html, citing Palmer, J. and Dennis, M. “A community Mail Survey of Psychic Experiences” (in Research in Parapsychology 1974, Morris, J.D., Roll, W.G. and Morris, R.L. Eds. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1975, pp. 130-133.


[51] www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html, citing LaBerg, S. and Levitan, L. “Other Worlds:  Out-of-Body Experiences and Lucid Dreams” (NightLight newsletter, 1991).

[52] Id.

[53] Id.

[54] www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html

[55] Id.

[56] www.nderf.org ; www.adcrf.org, www.oberf.org; www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html

[57] www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html

[58] www.nderf.org ; www.adcrf.org, www.oberf.org; www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html

[59] www.spiritweb.org/Spirit/obe-faq.html




Copyright1999 by Dr. Jeff & Jody Long All rights reserved.