The NYT reported in its Oct. 3 edition that your brain is to blame for out-of-body experiences (article).

According to the article: “Scientists investigating out-of-body experiences and other eerie sensations have found no sign of the supernatural. Instead, they are discovering that the feelings are the product of brain chemicals and nerve cells.”

These guys obviously forgot the Newbergian mantra that “our research in no way proves or disproves the existence of {fill in your favorite supernatural figure or religious experience here}.” They better be careful. If people start saying OBEs are the product of (not just “correlated with”) brain chemicals and nerve cells, what will be next?

The article seems a little light, especially coming from Sandra Blakeslee; maybe she was in a hurry. It fails to distinguish between OBEs, which involve “your own” body, and other presences, including those of important people like God. And it resolutely fails to mention Persinger.

2 Responses to “OBE in NYT”

  1. DavidD Says:

    The most remarkable thing about Persinger to me was that he inspired Michael Shermer to write in his column in Scientific American that every spiritual experience could be reproduced through Persinger’s magnetic stimuli. Such overgeneralization is here again in this NY Times article. Ah, two reports of strange perceptions from direct stimulation of the brain. So we say this explains everything, perception, cognition, life-changing experiences? Right.

  2. Ettsem Says:

    Quote: If people start saying OBEs are the product of (not just “correlated with�) brain chemicals and nerve cells, what will be next?

    One thing I’ve noticed about rationality is that it likes finding “the” cause of something. It doesn’t like thinking systemically. We’ve already discovered that OBE’s take on content from the person’s belief system. Saying it’s just electrochemical means eliminating the concept of “information” from the theory.

    You’d think that in this age of computers people would start thinking in terms of firmware, not just hardware (neurologists) or software (psychologists).


    Quote: And it resolutely fails to mention Persinger.

    I am very interested in Persinger’s work, but I’m starting to wonder what magnetically inducing a “spiritual” experience means.

    I could take peyote or some other hallucinogen and have a “spiritual” experience, but since it is chemically imposed (i.e. not naturally occuring) then the visions may arrive during a state of non-preparedness (compared with, say, meditation). Therefore, I would expect such experiences (Persingers’s or hallucinogens) to simply recapitulate the person’s existing belief systems. Based on what I’ve read, this is indeed what often happens.


    On the basis of my comments it may sound like I’m utterly against reductionist research. I’m not. But in my opinion we have to be careful that our beliefs don’t lure us into losing track of some of the pieces.

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