Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why skeptics should have out-of-body experiences

I mentioned out of body experiences in my August 11 post, I can't believe my eyes, but I think there's a lot more to say about them.  In the aforementioned post, I said that my OBE could have been a vivid dream.  I wasn't, however, being entirely honest.

I don't think that out-of-body experiences can be explained by simple dreaming, and I think that the dismissal of these experiences may be causing us to miss out on a mysterious aspect of psychology.

The anecdotal evidence tells us that

  • The OBE is supposed to be as vivid as waking life.
  • The OBE involves the feeling exiting one's body, and existing as a discarnate spirit.
  • The wild abstraction that's found in the average dream is absent in the OBE.
  • The OBE includes the apparent ability to effectively wake oneself up.
  • The OBE includes a "vibrations" sensation, where it seems one's body is vibrating.
  • Upon waking, it's commonly believed that the the preceding experience was not a dream.
Now, this is all remarkably subjective, and I understand this.  All I want to outline is that an ordinary dream comes with a one set of expectations, a lucid dream comes with another set of expectations, and a supposed OBE comes with an entirely different set of expectations.

I don't see any reason to believe in the supernatural basis of the out-of-body experience.  However, I think that for a psychologist to dismiss the experience as a simple dream is to avoid explaining something that I, personally, would like explained.  The OBE seems to be a very interesting, specific type of dream, that, because of the conclusions of those that experience it, is pushed into the fringe of science.  The lucid dream used to be in the same boat, until Stephen Laberge brought it into scientific scrutiny in the late seventies.

The dismissiveness I see in the scientific and skeptical community is sometimes disconcerting.  This affects scientific progress in a negative way.  Let me explain how.

If the general public notices an effect that is not yet observed by science (often in biology or psychology, which are extremely complex systems that we have day-to-day exposure to), there is sometimes a tendency to give it a supernatural label, and to incorporate it into an existing supernatural worldview.  At that point, it is prime to be debunked or ignored, and we all suffer.

Even with these speedbumps, though, science is self-correcting, even if it is sometimes in the long term.  

The so-called out-of-body experience can be induced, I understand.  I think that if more people were using whatever methods to experience this, with a skeptical point of view, we might begin to understand the purpose of it, psychologically.

And we skeptics may be able to have some fun of our own, without all of the spiritual baggage.

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