Much of objective science works off the basis that the human body is inseparable from consciousness, that all of consciousness is a product of biological function; The phenomenon of Out-of-Body experiences (OBEs) and their true nature is one of the aspects of reality that continues to baffle scholars, even after all the scientific advancements of the last century.
Imagine laying in bed at 3 am after a restless night, after all those hours staying awake your eyes finally start to close and you’re just happy all the waiting is over. As you start to drift off to sleep, you feel a vibration start to ring through your entire body and it only gets more intense as the seconds pass. You then attempt to move your body out of curiosity, maybe it might make the vibrations stop and wake you up? As you lift your hand, you see what almost looks like a hologram of your hand rise out of your body. You then raise your whole torso from the bed, looking down behind you, you see your physical self in a deep sleep. For some, the narrative ends there, but others share experiences of walking through the room and even their house in this detached form. Advanced practitioners of OBEs tell stories of visiting far away countries or even other planets and solar systems in their experiences.
Though scientists have speculated that OBEs are a product of a defect `in the sense of self-location in the brain through recent experiments, they really can’t conclude exactly what’s going on in the brain of someone experiencing an OBE. Scientists also can’t definitively conclude what the actual causes are of OBEs and if the consciousness is actually separating the body in these states.
What scientists have concluded, however, is that people with Focal Epilepsy and Schizophrenia are more prone to OBEs. Focal Epilepsy is a condition in which seizures occur because of “abnormal electrical disturbances in the brain” (2). The brain’s electrical system (to put it crudely) is composed of a system of waves of frequencies that are specifically dispersed between the nodes that make up the system; If the electrical concentration of one node in the system is higher than it’s supposed to be then it can cause a partial seizure. Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations, delusions and psychotic episodes, but it affects everyone differently. Though scientists have observed a genetic influence on people who are prone to get schizophrenia, they really don’t fully know what schizophrenia really is and what really causes it. To understand the significance of why people with these two disorders more commonly experience OBEs, it’s essential to take a look at the one group that’s recognized and revered by many cultures through their journeys beyond the material world.
The Shamanic practice is the cornerstone of many cultures that’s been around since the beginnings of mankind, these spiritual leaders of the tribe were the first religious figures who spent their time interfacing with the spirit world through various trance-inducing methods. Shamans still exist throughout the world today, most notably in South America where they use a psychoactive plant brew called Ayahuasca to separate themselves from their bodies and communicate with their ancestors and even travel to other planets. Advanced mediation practitioners and Indian Gurus (spiritual teachers) are also praised in their abilities to navigate and retrieve information from what is sometimes labeled the Astral Plane.
So what connects all the Focal Epileptics, Schizophrenics, Shamans, Gurus, and Advanced Mediators throughout the world, causing them all to experience OBEs? Aldous Huxley offers an interesting proposal in his work, “The Doors of Perception” that connects all the dots. Huxley’s evolutionary funnel of consciousness is a funnel that narrows down the perceivable universe to a workable medium in the human brain. Huxley states that if someone were able to perceive all of perceivable reality at once, it would be way too overwhelming to survive; While some people can see more clearly than 20/20 vision, others can see past the veil of the evolutionary funnel. If a human was out in a field and sitting there completely taken aback by the sheer beauty of everything, it leaves them open to being attacked by any passing predator. In the same way, humans have a constant state of anxiety left over from when we actually had to worry about survival on a daily basis, we have this evolutionary funnel ingrained to aid survival. However, with any function that’s supposed to be active in the human brain, there are a few brains in the population that are bound to be miswired (for lack of a better word). Huxley says that these few miswired brains are those who develop schizophrenia, are prone to mystical experiences, or those taking hallucinogenic drugs. Why then are Shamans and Gurus able to handle these experiences, while those with Focal Epilepsy and Schizophrenia are left to suffer?
Author Joseph Campbell once wrote, “The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight”, but why is this true? Many Shamans and Gurus start their practice from an extremely early age, some Shamans are even given hallucinogens during this time. All of these practitioners have to go through an intense apprenticeship, which can sometimes last decades. With every decade comes a little bit of progress towards being able to function with one foot in material reality and one foot in the Astral Plane. Schizophrenics usually start displaying symptoms during their late teenage years, and OBEs from Focal Epilepsy only occurs separately through seizures. People experiencing OBEs due to a disorder are suffering because they have no frame of reference for what they are experiencing and have no practice functioning within that realm of experience. One of the main ways to gauge the level of treatment needed when dealing with a schizophrenic patient is to assess their level of functioning, if they can operate perfectly in all aspects of their normal life, only light psychotherapy would be recommended. If schizophrenics were subject to the same training as a South American Shaman, would they end up suffering because of their schizophrenia? Could the OBE really be an experience that separates consciousness from the body, and could the place traveled to in OBEs really be the afterlife?