Thursday, September 2, 2010

Misunderstanding dissociation -or- Have you watched Lawnmower Man?

From the fact that, out of twenty-something posts, this is the third one about out-of-body experiences, you can probably tell that I have a not-so-secret interest in them.  It's something that's always fascinated me, as an aspect of psychology, not parapsychology.  Read more about that in my post, Why skeptics should have out-of-body experiences.  For the sake of avoiding psychic baggage, I'm hereby going to start referring to the OBE as the "dissociative experience," or DE.

Back in 2007, some experiments were done regarding the dissociative experience that got media attention.  Here is a link to one article: Out of Body Experiences are 'All in the Mind', at  If you don't want to read all that, here's the video, which will give you the most important points of the experiment.  Go ahead and watch it.  I'll wait.

So, that's pretty compelling, right?  No, not right, it's actually very ridiculous.

I don't have to go into a long tirade.  I can actually sum up my strongest criticism of the study in one sentence. All you've done, Professor Olaf Blanke, is prove that virtual reality goggles can give someone the experience of a fabricated, or "virtual" reality.  This is what they were made for.  The illusion produced, that the sense of touch was actually several feet ahead, instead of on the back, is not something I've ever heard of in accounts of dissociative experiences.  For instance, if someone believes that they are standing elsewhere in their bedroom, and they can feel the carpet on bare feet, this would imply that someone is rubbing carpet on their feet while they lie in bed.  That all sensations were in-bed sensations.

In dreams we sense that we are in different places, and even have an imagined sense of touch, so why does it have to be any more complicated than that?

I used to read a series, when I was in elementary school, called Sideways Stories from Wayside School.  I wish I could find a bit more info on this, but from what I can remember there was a child who always counted wrong, but always got the correct number.  To count how many fingers were on a hand, he might say, "Two, seven, one, twelve, five.  There are five!"  In this same way, I think that this heavily-cited study, and studies like it, come to the correct conclusion, but with all the wrong methods.  "When they are in VR goggles, they experience being somewhere else.  The OBE must be a product of the mind!"

In the end, I have to agree with you.  But you didn't teach me anything.

Thanks for reading.

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