What used to be linked to religion or paranormal is now scientifically explained through the results of an experiment: out-of-body experiences are linked to the brain and has nothing to do with paranormal.
A laboratory-recreated experience has shown that all is a mind trick; a pair of experiments being the first to generate the sensation and to explain it.
Researchers in Britain and Switzerland succeeded to induce to a group of volunteers the out-of-body illusion using virtual-reality goggles and some tactile stimulation, making them feel that they are a few meters away from their bodies, comparing the feeling with a “teleportation” of their consciousness elsewhere.
The first experiment was conducted by Science Brevium author Henrik Ehrsson of University College London, in London, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and it was published in the journal Science. It included the volunteers wearing goggles and receiving the feeds that the cameras were sending, the cameras being placed 2 meters behind the subject, thus they being able to see the image of their own back. Dr. Ehrsson had two rods in his hands behind the subject, and with one rod he would prod the subject and the other to jab underneath the camera. The volunteers confessed that they felt they were sitting where the camera was and what was their body appeared to be some other person.
“I’m interested in why we feel that our selves are inside our bodies -- why we have an ‘in-body experience,’ if you like. This has been discussed for centuries in philosophy, but it’s hard to tackle experimentally,” said Ehrsson.
“The invention of this illusion is important because it reveals the basic mechanism that produces the feeling of being inside the physical body. This represents a significant advance . . . the experience of one’s own body as the centre of awareness is a fundamental aspect of self-consciousness. If we can project people so they feel and respond as if they were really in a virtual version of themselves, just imagine the implications,” Ehrsson added.
The second experiment was conducted by a team at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne. They provided their volunteers with similar goggles, and they could see a mannequin. Both their backs and the mannequin’s were stroked and then they were moved away without seeing anything. When they were requested to return to their position, they had the tendency to place to where they had seen their “virtual bodies”.
Both studies conclude that “multisensory conflict” is a key mechanism underlying out-of-body experiences.
“Brain dysfunctions that interfere with interpreting sensory signals may be responsible for some clinical cases of out-of-body experiences,” Ehrsson said. “Though, whether all out-of-body experiences arise from the same causes is still an open question.”
The researchers claim that their discovery will be able to facilitate commercial, medical, scientific and military procedures. Surgery may be performed on patients in distant hospitals ; or humanoid robots could be controlled in space. In military field, remote-controlled weaponry could be made easier.
“We have decades of intense research on visual perception, but not very much yet on body perception. But that may change, now virtual reality offers a way to manipulate full body perception more systematically and probe out-of-body experiences and bodily self consciousness in a new way,” Blanke said.
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