Scientists Recreate Out-Of-Body Experiences

Cutting-edge virtual reality has demonstrated that a "multi-sensory" conflict is the underlying mechanism of out-of-body experiences. With this understanding, researchers have succeeded in "tricking" subjects into thinking they are separate from their bodies.

That's because the researchers have found that out-of-body experiences is just your mind playing a trick on you, confusing tactile and visual stimulations. When subjects put on a pair of virtual reality goggles, and then "watched" their backs being poked while their own backs were poked at the same time, the subjects showed signs of feeling that their consciousness had been teleported from their bodies.

Two different experiments demonstrated similar results. In the first, which was published in the journal Science, Henrik Ehrsson of University College London and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm gave subjects some virtual reality goggles to wear. The image the subjects saw in the goggles was that of their own backs, taken by a camera positioned two meters behind them. Then Ehrsson poked the subjects' chins with a rod to provoke tactile stimulation, while at the same time pointing a second rod at the camera. Afterwards, the subjects reported that they felt that they were sitting a few steps back, where the camera stood.

Ehrsson explained that it was difficult to explain why, in the first place, we are inclined to feel that our selves are in our bodies. That his experiment was able to evoke the illusion of being apart from the body must have hit on the basic mechanism of the feeling of being inside the body, which plays an important role in self-consciousness.

In the second experiment, scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne also presented subjects with a pair of virtual reality goggles. Instead of seeing their own backs, the subjects saw the back of a mannequin. Similar to the first experiment, the subjects' backs were poked, as well as the backs of the mannequins they were seeing. Then, the subjects were moved from their original position. When asked to return to their original position, many went to the location where the mannequin had appeared to be in their goggles.

Both experiments' results may suggest that people in the past who have had "out-of-body experiences" may have had a brain dysfunction that interfered with interpreting sensory signals, Ehrsson explained. About one in 10 people have reported having out-of-body experiences, often occurring when people have strokes or seizures.

The research may even have practical applications besides explaining a strange issue. For instance, doctors may be able to perform surgeries remotely, or scientists control robots in space, by taking advantage of an "out-of-body experience" that allows them to position themselves in another location. Advanced research may offer insight into philosophical ideas, as well, such as the nature of self-consciousness and the body as the center of awareness.

Lisa Zyga
Science Blogger

via: E-Flux Media

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