Science Magazine

Dissociative Soul Flights

Posted on the 25 February 2011 by Cris

Out of body experiences are a human universal. Why? Because human brains are constructed in a way that enables such perceptions. Dreaming, drug use, and near death experiences regularly give rise to such experiences. Recreational users of ketamine are quite familiar with the experience, and none of these people are operating under the illusion that their experience is spiritual. How a person interprets the sensation of being outside the body will largely depend on the context and culture in which it occurs.

In pre-state societies, shamans deliberately induced altered states of consciousness and engaged in what have been termed “soul flights.” For Christians, such experiences are often cited as evidence there is a soul inhabiting the body. For those living in societies where reincarnation is a major belief, such experiences are taken as proof of recurrent life.

As Richard Alleyne reports, scientists using virtual technology have been able to reliably replicate this dissociative experience:

Throughout history people have described how they have floated from their bodies and looked back at themselves, often when close to death or on the operating table.

The accounts have been so vivid that they are often cited as proof of the existence of the soul or Heaven.

But scientists now claim they have dispelled this myth by artificially creating an out-of-body experience using computers and cameras.

They believe the feeling of detachment occurs when the brain becomes confused by conflict between the senses – and is not proof of any “spiritual dimension” to existence.

Out of body experiences result, in other words, from impairment of the temporal-parietal regions of the brain, which have long been known to be association areas. The avatars of Tron are not souls — they are the brain being tricked.

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