What is an Out-Of-Body Experience?
An out-of-body experience (OBE) is, quite simply, an experience in which a person feels that they have left their physical body behind while retaining all of their mental faculties and powers of perception. In fact, some who experience an OBE often report that their perceptions are heightened, and that they perceive brighter, richer colors and clearer sound than they are able to while in their physical bodies.
The current paradigm of our science and medicine doesn't allow for such experiences, but that hasn't stopped people from having them. Naturally, OBEs are extremely difficult to verify, measure, or reproduce with much success in a laboratory setting, so it is only reasonable to at first be skeptical of such claims. However, there is a fine line between being skeptical and refusing to listen to these claims in the first place.
The fact is that thousands upon thousands of people have out-of-body experiences every year. Most of these experiences actually tend to occur during the first stages of a near-death experience (NDE). An NDE typically happens when someone is in a state of physical trauma or distress, and one of the first things that many experiencers report is leaving their body and watching the whole scene from above.
Though these claims are, again, very difficult to corroborate, some people are often able to accurately describe details of the scene that they could not have possibly known while their body was unconscious and, in some instances, severely damaged. One good example is that of Anthony Cicoria, an orthopedic doctor who had an NDE after being struck by lightning.
Cicoria reported that, after he was struck and his heart stopped, he was able to float around outside of his body and travel quite a distance away to a pavilion where his children were having their faces painted. Cicoria's wife was later able to corroborate that his children were in fact having their faces painted at the time.
Such physically traumatising experiences are definitely not a prerequisite for having an OBE. In fact, some claim to experience out-of-body flights while their body sleeps peacefully in their bed. Dr. Charles Tart attempted to investigate these claims in 1981, when he created a laboratory setup in order to monitor a woman who claimed to have OBEs while she slept.
Tart placed a random, 5-digit number face up on a shelf high above the woman's bed in the laboratory, so that she would only be able to see the numbers from a vantage point near the ceiling. On the first 3 nights of the study, the participant felt that she did pop out of her body, but was unable to control the experience. Finally, after her fourth sleep in the lab, she woke up and reported the correct number: 25132.
So what are we to make of these findings? Should we assume that everyone who claims to have an OBE is simply lying or hallucinating? Should we level the same charges against those who study OBEs? A good deal of healthy skepticism is important when dealing with these claims, but we can't forget that skepticism is about looking at all of the evidence before coming to a decision, not about dismissing the evidence outright.
OBEs suggest that the mind/body connection could be very different from any idea that science is currently willing to entertain. Depending on who you ask, consciousness is either a by-product of brain function that we don't really have to spend much more time worrying about, or it is one of the greatest mysteries in the universe. Whichever theory wins out in the end will have to account for all the evidence, OBEs included.