The out of body experience (OBE) deserves special attention because it indicates that mental constricts are able to serve, at least temporarily, as sole ‘host' for the self. If this is correct, the rings must have an ontological status. In other words, they must be something real. An OBE can be defined as having a point of view which does not coincide with that of the physical body. Such experiences are characterised by being (at least at the beginning) in the same environment where one's body actually is, but moving away from the body, and after awhile, coming back to it. It is reported that 15-20% of people have had an OBE at least once in their lifetime (Blackmore, 2005a, p.188).
The first point that should be clarified is that an OBE is not a dream. The conclusion of the research is that ‘the pattern the brain waves showed [during an OBE] is like ordinary dreaming is some ways but distinctly different in other ways' (Tart, 2005, p.105). Psychologist Susan Blackmore also points out that ‘it is certainly clear that OBErs were not in REM (rapid eye movement), or dreaming, sleep. Therefore OBEs cannot be considered to be a kind of dream' (2005a, p.189). It is now known, though, that dreaming does not only happen in the REM state, so further phenomenological differences need to be considered. Unlike a dream, an OBE typically starts from the same place where the one having the experience physically is, and has a beginning and an end (‘separating' from and ‘reconnecting' with the body). During an OBE awareness and memory are not narrowed like in dreams, but expanded (relative to the awake state). Not only does the person have at shis disposal all the usual mental faculties, but it is also possible (presumably because there are no restrictions imposed by the senses and nervous system) to become aware and remember experiences that cannot be associated with the awake state. For example, after an initial surprise at certain ‘new' abilities such as floating or flying, one is in disbelief that s/he could have ever forgotten them. Moreover, the person recognises that some phenomena do not belong to physical reality. One of the most interesting aspects of dreaming is that a dreamer accepts even the strangest events as normal. Likewise, a person who has an hallucination believes that what s/he perceives is real. During an OBE one is immediately aware that something unusual is going on and is capable of separating and comparing this state with normal perception (s/he is conscious of what belongs to the usual description of reality and what does not). In other words, s/he is aware of a difference. Because there is no body to stabilise perception, the person in such a state may feel somewhat strange (as if mildly under the influence of drugs or alcohol) which does not happen in dreams. Yet, the experience is more full than in a dream (this can be compared to a difference between a two-dimensional and three-dimensional image). Blackmore writes that ‘Vision and hearing are said to be more powerful and clearer than normal... unlike ordinary dreams, an OBEs feel very real, consciousness is clear, and the experience is usually remembered very vividly afterwards' (ibid.). In addition, the events or objects do not seem to be only a result of one's inner state. Permanency is one example: if in a dream we look again at an object we have spotted previously, it will most likely be changed in some ways, while during an OBE it will not. Another example is a sensory incongruence, rare even in the most bizarre dreams. Hearing laughter, for example, would in a dream spontaneously lead to creating its source. This may not be the case in an OBE - the sound of laughter may come, as it were, from nowhere. The environment is also not subject to the arbitrary will of the experiencer, so an OBE cannot even be identified with so-called lucid dreams.
All the above indicates that, unlike dreams, OBEs are not an auto-generated process. Nevertheless, considering that it is difficult to verify perception that does not rely on the senses, the OBE is open to different interpretations. A materialist could say, for example, that some parts of the brain are activated during an OBE that can mimic reality better than dreams. Blackmore proposes that the OBE is only experientially real and does not involve a perceptual separation from the body. She claims that the change of perceptual perspective derives from a mixture of memories and imagination. However, this interpretation does not look plausible. A shift in perceptual perspective may happen in any case, and therefore it does not rule out the separation. An OBE does not always involve a different perspective (i.e. from ‘above'). It is not clear why a change of perspective would make such an experience so different and more real than dreams. Imaginative people should be more susceptible to such experiences, which is not the case. And finally, if only a change of perceptual perspective is involved, once experienced, an OBE should be easier to repeat, but this does not seem to happen. Such a view also cannot account for many common elements of the OBE. For example, Blackmore claims that ‘OBErs sometimes try to touch people they see, only to find that the people do not notice them at all' (ibid.). Such surprising events are to be expected if they are real experiences, but not if they are a result of imagination. Therefore, the simplest explanation congruent with the beliefs of the majority who have had an OBE, which is that the OBE is real, seems more likely. In other words, it is suggested that the OBE is the perception of reality without the intermediary of the senses.
The self normally cannot perceive reality without the body because it is on the frequency of the brain, but the senses are not a necessary condition for awareness (otherwise we could not be aware even of dreams). The self can perceive reality directly if the frequency range of awareness is expanded (this can be metaphorically compared with listening to a live concert, instead of a radio emission). However, this is not to say that an OBE is a fully direct experience. To be released from the body does not mean to be released from mental constructs. Indeed, an OBE usually involves a mental projection of ourselves and the world, super-imposing constructs that we are accustomed to onto reality. In other words, the mind provides recognisable forms to familiar energy configurations. This is why what is perceived during an OBE can be almost identical to what is perceived normally. The rings can (at least for awhile) maintain these forms even without the help of the physical body. Sometimes an OBE also involves an image of the person who is experiencing (a so-called ‘astral body') but not always. Therefore, an ‘astral body' is also, in fact, a mental construct that corresponds to the image that one has of shimself. The perception is interpreted in a familiar way, so the astral body is similar to the physical body (usually including even one's clothes). In fact, perception during an OBE relies on constructs far more than when information is received through the senses. The interpretation is partly guess work and, therefore, more likely to be inaccurate (especially relating to symbolic representations such as words and numbers). The solidity of the imprints of the senses on the brain circuits is needed in order to interpret physical information correctly. Perception of an action during an OBE is also a mental projection. The ‘astral body' is too light to tangibly affect the material world. So, moving a chair, for example, means, in fact, moving a mental construct of a chair. This does not rule out the possibility that an OBEr can influence more subtle forms of energy, but some popular accounts of OBEs, which claim actual physical effects, are probably grossly exaggerated. So, it can be concluded that although physical and OBE perceptions have the same source, they cannot be regarded as the same thing. If these projections can be bracketed, OBEs can lead to genuine transpersonal insights.
Some possible questions
How is it possible to separate from the body? What maintains the connection?
The body and soul are not connected only through the mind. An OBE leads to the separation of the body from the other identifications of the soul, not the body and soul that remain connected. So, considering that the body and ‘astral body' are not linked (no so-called ‘silver cords'), the distance between them is irrelevant.
What would somebody, in physical proximity to a person having an OBE, perceive?
A person in the normal state would see only the physical body of the one who is experiencing and not notice anything unusual. An OBEr could affect though, in a subtle way, the energy of the other person (if s/he can penetrate the rings). So, although it is unlikely that an observer would be aware of the ‘astral body', s/he may recognise an attempt to influence shis energy field. Animals have only one ring and are more open to direct experience. Anecdotal evidence suggests that if the attention is turned towards them, they can sense the presence and the direction of its approximate location. This indicates that not only the perception during an OBE, but also the mental identification through which the self perceives correspond to something objectively real.
How is it possible to have full access to the memory during an OBE?
There are two options here. One is that the range of frequencies is widened, so awareness still has access to the brain processes. The other is that the soul and the rings can temporarily re-create memories without direct connection with the brain.
Why paralysed people, for example, do not have OBEs more frequently?
This would have been merciful, but there is no evidence in this respect. One explanation may be that paralysed people are aware that they are paralysed, and, therefore, their existing construct of reality is a further barrier to such experiences.
How is it possible to remember an OBE after returning to the usual state?
Whatever enters awareness has the potential to be in awareness again (to be remembered) regardless of the source of the original experience. In other words, ‘translation' is not necessary, especially if it is taken into account that constructs are involved in the first place. However, if after the experience one falls into a deep sleep, an associative link may be difficult to establish, and s/he may not remember what happened.