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Studies Report Inducing Out-of-Body Experience

By SANDRA BLAKESLEE
Published: August 24, 2007

Using virtual-reality goggles, a camera and a stick, scientists have induced out-of-body experiences — the sensation of drifting outside of one’s own body — in ordinary, healthy people, according to studies being published today in the journal Science.

When people gazed at an illusory image of themselves through the goggles and were prodded in just the right way with the stick, they felt as if they had left their bodies.

The research reveals that "the sense of having a body, of being in a bodily self," is actually constructed from multiple sensory streams, said one expert on body and mind, Dr. Matthew M. Botvinick, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Princeton University.

Usually these sensory streams, which include vision, touch, balance and the sense of where one’s body is positioned in space, work together seamlessly, Dr. Botvinick said. But when the information coming from the sensory sources does not match up, the sense of being embodied as a whole comes apart.

The brain, which abhors ambiguity, then forces a decision that can, as the new experiments show, involve the sense of being in a different body.

Out-of-body experiences have also been reported to occur during sleep paralysis, the exertion of extreme sports and intense meditation practices.

In Switzerland, Dr. Olaf Blanke, a neuroscientist at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, asked people to don virtual-reality goggles while standing in an empty room. A camera projected an image of each person taken from the back and displayed that image as if it were six feet in front of the subject, who thus saw an illusory image of himself.

Then Dr. Blanke stroked each person’s back for one minute with a stick while simultaneously projecting the image of the stick onto the illusory body.

When the strokes were synchronous, people reported the sensation of being momentarily within the illusory body. When the strokes were not synchronous, the illusion did not occur.

In another variation, Dr. Blanke projected a "rubber body" — a cheap mannequin bought on eBay and dressed in the same clothes as the subject — into the virtual-reality goggles. With synchronous strokes of the stick, people’s sense of self drifted into the mannequin.

The next set of experiments, they said, will involve decoupling not just touch and vision but other aspects of sensory embodiment, including the sense of balance and the body’s position in space.

3 comments:

At September 3, 2007 at 9:29 AM Anonymous said...

I saw that in the paper and thought it was very interesting. And very scary.

I hope that AR won't be inducing states of schizophrenia in the wearers.

 
At September 3, 2007 at 6:33 PM Anonymous said...

The technology with the potential to Leapfrog MVIS?

http://gl.ict.usc.edu/Research/3DDisplay/

 
At September 5, 2007 at 12:58 PM croat said...

hmmm... this just might be the right way of stimulating broken nerve paths - who knows maybe it's usable 4 some kind of novel treatment. interesting.

 

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