Back in 1968, I published a pioneering study of out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs) with a young woman who had experienced them since she was a child.
Tart, C. T. (1968). A psychophysiological study of out-of-the-body experiences in a selected subject. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 62, 3-27.
I hoped my findings would demonstrate that it was feasible to study OBEs under laboratory conditions where we might learn a lot about their nature, and stimulate others to do so. In the almost 50 years since publication – it was in a specialty journal where few people would see it – but hardly anyone has done studies like it, and the few done in the last decade or so strike me as misguided, taking some minor aspect of an OBE as if it were the whole experience when the studies are clearly not studying actual OBEs. That’s a shame, as OBEs convince people, rightly or wrongly, that they will survive death so it’s really important to study them.
I constantly get people writing me or talking to me after lectures about that initial study (I’ve done others), often believing that I claimed something spectacular, something like “This proves that the soul actually leaves the body.” They don’t like that apparent conclusion. But either they heard about the study from some secondary source that left out information about it, or they are so strongly motivated to explain OBEs “away” as merely some sort of hallucination, that they pay no attention to what I write and claimed. I’ve had to correct people so many times that I’ll do it once and for all here.
Here is the actual final paragraph of the published study. Note it uses OOBE, an acronym I originally coined, rather than OBE, which I now use. A proper British colleague chastised me, you don’t capitalize the “of” in an acronym – or at least it wasn’t proper back then.
“In summary, this brief study found a fairly clear-cut correlation between several of Miss Z’s reported 000B experiences and a physiological pattern characterized by a flattened EEG with prominent alphoid activity, no REM [rapid eye movement, characteristic of ordinary dreaming] or skin resistance activity, and normal heart rate. Much more work remains to be done before we can begin to understand the psychophysiological and parapsychological aspects of OOB experiences, and it is hoped that the present study, insofar as it has shown that these experiences can be studied by the techniques of modern science, will encourage other investigators to carry out further experiments.”
It’s normal human behavior to pay more attention to things you don’t like than to things you like, I do it all the time. But if you’re going to criticize someone, it really helps your case to be accurate about what you’re accusing them of…
I’m happy to stick with my claim that we could study OBEs in greater depth with modern scientific methods, and grateful that I was lucky enough to “accidentally” find a person who could have OBEs almost at will so they could be studied in the lab.