Two studies have claimed to induce "out-of-body" experiences in healthy volunteers and say there is a neurological basis for such happenings. The details of the studies appear in the August 24 issue of the journal Science.
An "out-of-body" experience is something of a mystery and has been reported by survivors of traumatic incidences who described their experiences when death neared. Basically this experience related to a feeling of detachment and surveying one's own body from a distance. This is possible because all the sensory apparatus become "disconnected during stress."
In one study researchers at the University College London's Institute of Neurology experimented on healthy volunteers by using high-tech 3-D goggles. Participants were able to see 3-D images of their own body as being some six feet away as it was filmed from behind.
Simultaneously a researcher took two plastic rods and stimulated the participant's chest as well as the same spot on the 3-D image. Participants said they were sitting behind and looking at their own body. "This was a bizarre, fascinating experience for the participants -- it felt absolutely real for them and was not scary," said a statement issued by the author the study, Dr. Henrik Ehrsson.
In the second experiment, researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne, in Switzerland, were given the task of watching 3-D holographic projections. One projection was of their own body, the second was of a dummy, while the third was of a square block.
In each case researchers stroked the back of the projection with a brush. Sometimes the participant's back was also stroked simultaneously. After this the volunteers were blindfolded and asked to point to the exact spot where the brush was stroked.
Researchers said that those who watched the square block or dummy managed to accomplish this task accurately, but those who watched themselves were unable to do so.
Reacting to the studies, Dr. Kevin Nelson, a leading researcher on near-death phenomena said they showed "that the integration of various sensory modalities is important for retaining our sense of where our body is, of where our self is in that body."