Monday, October 02, 2006

A Scientific Explanation for Out-of-Body Experiences

Out of body experiences, sensing ghosts and other seemingly supernatural phenomena can be explained by misfiring nerves in the brain, reports the NY Times. I'm sorry, but the world, it seems, is a little less mystical today.

The Times is reporting on some of the latest neuroscience experiments where the application of "mild electric current" to certain parts of the brain causes subjects to feel as though they're leaving their body or being shadowed by a ghost.

In two different experiments, women who received stimulation to a part of the brain called the angular gyrus were either spooked by feelings of a ghostly presence or looking down at their body from the ceiling.

How could this be? Basically, the electric stimulus was interfering with the brain's perception of self. This perception is a construct of many stimuli; from the temperature that your fingers feel to the signals your knee sends about its position relative to your chest. Once the perception of these stimuli is interrupted, strange experiences occur.

Strange, but not supernatural; out-of-body experiences and ghostly sensations seem to be the cause of your brain misinterpreting reality. But it's easy to see how people mistake these misinterpretations for mystical experiences.

"The felt sensation of the body is so seamless, so familiar, that people do not realize it is a creation of the brain, even when something goes wrong and the brain is perturbed," reported the Times.

One expert told the Times, "While it may be tempting to invoke the supernatural when this body sense goes awry… the true explanation is a very natural one: the brain’s attempt to make sense of conflicting information."

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.