27 September 2007

How not to advance understanding of OBEs

This is an article which appeared in the Financial Times magazine. It reminds me of how deplorable it is that we continue to be prevented from making any progress in research on out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs), as well as being unable to publicise our criticisms of tendentious work in several other well-established areas, such as philosophy and education. The point about OBEs is that they may very well shed important light on the processes of normal perception, given that they represent a sort of ‘subversion’ of the ordinary organisation of perceptual data. The would-be paranormal association is a red herring, as far as I am concerned.

People (including academics) say, as a knee-jerk reaction, ‘OBEs are very difficult to work on, aren’t they’ (as a way of writing off the possibility of doing so). This is simply not true (at least it is not true of work that might be done by us), but we have never been able to do any work on them. If we could, I am sure developments would be rapid.

We hoped that Charles’s very constricted supervised work on them for his DPhil might have led to less restrictive opportunities, but of course it never did. Nor, of course, did it lead to any academic career progression for Charles in the direction of a Fellowship or a Professorship. (I wanted Charles and Fabian to get Professorships as soon as possible so that they could support my applications, if for no other reason.)

As regards the experience described in the article, it is typical of a certain type of case in which the person turns around and sees himself lying on the ground, unconscious. This particular case could be described as near-death, since the subject was clinically dead for a short time, but exactly similar experiences have been reported with less serious causes, and not ‘near death’.

Several of Charles’s subjects, when he was working at the Department of Experimental Psychology, had OBEs fairly often, and I am sure it would be possible to find out a lot more about them if we were in a position to do so.