Out-of-Body Experiences: Totally In the Brain

If you believe in God, the soul, ghosts, spooks and all that supernatural stuff, explaining out-of-body experiences or mystical encounters seems like no problem: you would just have to appeal to any of the concepts mentioned above and you can go on your way as if there was no mystery to begin with.

Those of us who do not believe in the supernatural, however, are faced with a bit of a problem: how can we explain out-of-body and mystical or spiritual experiences when people really do have these experiences?

The first answer is to say that these experiences are delusions. Have you ever had a dream that felt so real that you were convinced, at least for a while, that it was perhaps even more vivid and felt more real than ordinary reality? Most of us have had such experiences. If so, then we are tacitly admitting to the possibility of having experiences that do not refer to anything real in the external world, to the possibility that some experiences are simply the result of how the brain works, and to the possibility that our minds can sometimes trick us.

Once this logical possibility has been obtained (and it's been around for more than two thousand years), the next step is to do some scientific research and try to understand how the brain produces these illusions. We don't yet have a precise answer to the how (and it is an open question whether we ever will understand how consciousness emerges from constituents and processes purely physical), but we do have the technology to show that the electrical and chemical circuitry of the brain can, in fact, produce experiences that would ordinarily be thought of as 'evidence' of the supernatural.

In the following video, skeptic Michael Shermer reports on some interesting findings from neuroscience, which show that out-of-body and mystical experiences can be explained and, even more dramatically, can be induced as the result of manipulation of very specific parts of the brain.



I mentioned similar research last year in this entry, and this is a link to a great New York Times article on the subject, which you should definitely read.

From the mental suggestibility of the brain it is not a very difficult thing to explain how religions might have evolved in our ancestral past, is it?
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