Case reports suggest that the conscious self can part from the physical body and see it from the outside. The subject may be clinically dead, yet later is able to recall events happening at that time. Out-of-body experience, or OBE, is often a component of near-death experience, but it may also occur in healthy people.
Cross-cultural studies show a belief in OBEs in 51 out of 54 cultures. Surveys of their incidence in various populations indicate that between 10 and 25 per cent of people have experienced them. The most common characteristics reported are a distinct sensation of distance from the body, heightened awareness and extended powers of perception.
Professional researchers have sought proof that some life force can temporarily leave the body. In 1965-66 Dr Charles Tart of the University of Virginia tested businessman Robert Monroe, who was asked to project his non-physical being from one room to another and report on what he saw. He apparently managed two brief OBEs in eight sessions. In the 1970s Dr Karlis Osis of the American Society for Psychical Research tested an OBE adept artist, Ingo Swann, who could sometimes describe objects beyond his range of vision. Osis also tested schoolteacher Alex Tanous, who affected sensitive vibration detectors when he attempted OBEs. While no test was conclusive, there was suggestive evidence of OBEs in each case.
Dr Robert Morris of the Psychical Research Foundation carried out some interesting experiments with researcher Stuart Blue Harary in 1973. Harary tried to make his OBE presence felt to his cat while he himself was wired up to various devices in another building. Physiological measurements indicated the OBE was a distinct state, and changes in the behavior of the cat did suggest that it sensed something at the time of the OBEs.
OBEs have long been associated with sages and yogis, and a twentieth-century writers have claimed such experience. In a classic text, The Projection of the Astral Body (1929), an American named Sylvan Muldoon provides a record of his OBEs from the age of 12. Skeptical psychologists have suggested that OBEs are just a kind of reconstruction of memories, hallucinations or particularly lucid dreams. Yet these theories cannot account for the ability of OBE subjects to report events that occurred while they were ostensibly unconscious.