02 September 2013

Out-of-the-body experiences: distorting and misleading ‘research’

edited text of a letter to an academic

There has recently been some more interest in near-death experiences, including a large number of hits on the posts about them on my blog. This is always very irritating, as there is no sign of response to our appeals for funding.

A number of areas of research, on which quite a lot of money is being spent throughout the world, were initiated by us. In some of the cases it could be claimed that the research now being done might have developed independently of our drawing attention to it, as the information was there, although ignored (e.g. the development of distorted interpretations of early forms of Gnostic Christianity).

However, there was no concept of near-death experiences until it arose out of nominal research on out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs). This in turn had developed (with some delay) following the publication of our first book [1] on OBEs, which made these appear as a type of experience that had sufficiently consistent characteristics to justify academic recognition. Our work provided much less justification for relating OBEs to the question of ‘proving’ survival than did the previous associations with spiritualistic beliefs.

The new and spurious category of near-death experiences arose from there being some cases reported of OBEs in hospitals. Eventually the concept of near-death experiences replaced that of OBEs in popular attention, so that the question of ‘proving’ survival or otherwise once again became the issue predominantly associated with such experiences.

However, the resulting association of OBE-type experiences with the idea of extreme states is likely to be highly misleading. In one study conducted by Professor Ian Stevenson [2] of the University of Virginia, for example, it appeared that only about half of the subjects of supposed near-death experiences were in any sense near to death.

My colleague Charles McCreery carried out an experiment, as part of his doctoral research at the Department of Experimental Psychology in Oxford, in which subjects attempted to induce OBEs in the laboratory. He found that two of his subjects reported subjective phenomena similar to those of so-called near-death experiences. Both subjects referred to ‘tunnels’, and one of them also described having the impression of ‘being on elastic going towards a tiny white light in [the] distance’. Neither of these subjects showed any sign of being near death. The one who reported the white light in the distance was a young female graduate student aged twenty-six. [3]

1. Green, C. (1968). Out-of-the-body Experiences. Institute of Psychophysical Research.
2. Stevenson, I. (1987). Personal communication to Charles McCreery.
3. McCreery, C. and Claridge, G. (1996). ‘A study of hallucination in normal subjects – I. Self-report data’. Personality and Individual Differences, Vol 21, no. 5, pp. 739-747.

Whenever we initiate a new field of research, not only are we prevented from continuing to develop it, but others proceed to do nominal research in it in distorting and misleading ways. We are not even able to publish criticism of the misleading work being done.
Our position could be transformed, and we could be being far more productive, if we were provided with even one tenth of the money spent in connection with the nominal research done by other people in the relevant areas. We ought to be given such funding.

more about modern ‘research’