Our upcoming network premiere of The Ghostmaker on Sunday really has us thinking. The movie's all about a couple of college kids who stumble upon an old coffin full of gears that allow for a transcendental experience. Anyone who lays down in the coffin can use it to walk through our world as ghosts. We love the idea, and started researching out-of-body experiences. There are so many stories of people having near death experiences and other similar out-of-body feelings that we had to dig deeper. Hoaxes, hallucinations, or something stranger? You decide.
What is an Out-of-Body experience?
Just like its title suggests, an Out-of-body experience, or OBE, is a feeling of leaving one's body and traveling away from it. Scientists account for this phenomenon as a sort of physical hallucination. Some believe this is actually the spirit leaving the body. While others think this is just an over-exaggerated dream. No matter the outcome, the feeling in these OBE's are often quite similar. People report feeling as though they're floating away from their bodies, with some accounts stating that they can look down and see themselves below. Others report walking around their home, and some even report traveling to distant and strange worlds.
OBE's have long been used in fiction and film, from The Simpsons to Nightmare on Elm Street, the idea of someone feeling as though they are awake and walking around, while actually sound asleep, has captivated audiences.
When are OBE's observed?
It can happen during sleep, and often happens when that sleep isn't too deep. If you're sick, if you've worked too hard, or if you keep waking up during sleep you may experience an OBE. It can also happen while pushing yourself physically. Some marathon runners report feeling an OBE while competing. It can be induced through interrupted sleep or by tampering with the electrical impulses in one's brain (no, thank you). And one of the most common causes of OBE's are near death experiences. How many times have you heard some story about someone who "saw the light" as they were dying. That is, most likely, a byproduct of an OBE.
There have even been some moderately successful attempts at inducing states similar to OBE's in laboratories. Perhaps scientists got their inspiration from the 1990 film Flatliners, which starred Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, and Julia Roberts as scientists trying to bring themselves to the brink of death. By doing so, they attempt to recreate near death and out-of-body experiences. Not a bad idea in the movie… if the consequences weren't so ugly.
What does science say?
Many scientists and skeptics believe that these occurrences are most likely psychological hallucinations. These OBE's are most likely caused by some disconnect between what the mind perceives and what the body physically experiences. More realistic than any dream, these experiences are often fantasy driven, and people prone to lucid dreaming are likely to experience such events. Though there are many theories, there isn't one set definition of what these experiences are. As we learn more about how the brain works we will undoubtedly learn more about dreams, lucid dreaming, near death experiences, and out-of-body experiences.
What do the paranormal believers say?
OBE's are widely held as fact by many parapsychologists and students of the occult. It is believed, by some, that an experience like this is the spirit leaving the body. In the classic science fiction novel A Princess of Mars, John Carter goes through a process of astral projection to get to Mars. Many believe that this process is possible (though few claim to be able to travel to Mars). This is one of those areas where science doesn't know enough about how the mind works, and many hope to fill the gap between science and mystery with magic.
What do you believe?
Are you a skeptic? Do you think Out-of-body experiences are just a misfiring in the brain somewhere? Or do you believe that the body is capable of more than science can illuminate? Would you take a ride in the Ghostmaker?