Tuesday, March 10, 2020

101 Things #73 - Bye-bye Body

I have had some harmless fun examining one or two recommendations found on the Lifelot  website on the subject of bucket-lists. You will not be surprised to learn that I have selected another which I think is worthy to join to my festering heap of rejected ideas, known to the world as 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die. The notion getting the custard pie treatment today is to

Experience an OBE (Out-of-body experience)

It is as well that the definition of OBE was supplied by the originator otherwise I would have been pondering how I could experience being an award given to reasonably meritorious citizens, as well as long serving senior civil servants. I suspect frock coats and top hats might have entered into it.

No, what we have to deal with is the age-old idea that the mind is somehow an entity that exists independent of the body in which it functions, and therefore can continue to function when no longer within the body and then can return to that body so that the owner can, by consulting his memories, conclude that his mind has made observations that his body did not make. Such a free-ranging mind seems not too dissimilar to the popular conception of a soul, although you will also find people who promote mindfulness and the like speaking about body, mind and soul so now we have perhaps two bodiless entities that each encapsulate our personalities and everything we know.

This however is not the right place to go into the heart of one of mankind's most cherished beliefs, survival of something resembling ourselves after death. What I really want to explore is how a mind can experience anything at all on its own. Scientists, such as Douglas Hofstadter1, have advanced some fairly detailed models of how the mind emerges from the ceaseless interactions of billions of neurons in the brain, each chemically bound to its neighbours and influenced by signals from the body. These models debunk the ancient ideas of the "I" who sits somewhere behind our eyes and looks out on the world and who constitutes the immortal part of our selves. It follows that any claims for OBE's need to be proven and some reasoning given for how the "mind" can move, experience and remember anything when the thing that is doing the moving, experiencing and remembering is not actually able to do any of these things independently.

The OBE state does not have eyes or any sensory organs because these are all separate organs within the body. How then does one "see" in this state? The usual stories are about people floating above their bodies and looking down to see themselves. I cannot tell how you distinguish this from simply imagining it . Floating up a bit more and reading the registration numbers of aircraft passing by, that would be a bit more interesting. And if the mind is out of the body, does that mean the body is brain-dead? If not, does that mean your mind has effectively split in two so that there are now two sets of memories that then have to be merged back into one in a sort of database synchronisation?

My scepticism is really about the mundane nature of reported OBEs (usually from patients in near-death experiences). They always say that they seemed to be hovering just above their bodies, watching the medics trying to bring them round. Why not hover outside the cafe and see what the doctors are having for lunch? What about drifting down to the football stadium and catching up on the Rovers? I am not being facetious here [Seems like it to me: Ed] - If one is really out of the body and free to float around why not move at will through the world (and why not the entire universe?). And since the patient knows he is being resuscitated why bother to look on where there are countless other things to do?

Is it all a delusion based on the patient envisaging himself at a critical moment?  And why is the OBE always reported as being floating above the body? Not sideways, not looking up from the basement (or maybe thirty feet below the ground)? You might as well glue a mirror to a stick and hold it up over your head if looking down at your own body is really the only thing that ever happens in these cases and then you can spare yourself the tedious business of being thumped in the chest and having electric shocks.

Apart from being rather too close to death than I care to contemplate right now, the only other way to have an OBE seems to be to follow some meditative discipline, usually associated with  Indian or eastern religions. There is no guarantee this will work. Again, I have to ask, if it is possible, what do all these out-of-body minds actually do? Once up there, floating, what happens then?

I shall not be holding my breath waiting to have an OBE (or is this where I am going wrong?)


OBE Believers - Do you dare take the Ramblings Challenge?

Here is the Ramblings challenge. There is a small brown leather-bound case on a shelf in my study. I will gladly pay anyone who has had an OBE and who can tell me what is inside it the grand sum of money that is currently in my wallet (and you should be able to tell me what this as well.)
There we are. Entirely fair. Use your mental powers to find out where I live, park outside, float your mind free and into the house and it should be the work of but a moment to determine these two elementary pieces of information. No complaints about it being dark - you won't be using your eyes to see anyway, will you?

Terms and conditions apply and can be scrutinised by floating your mind to the top shelf in my study where you can rummage through some piles of paper if you really have nothing better to do.


1. see  Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and Metamagical Themas but make sure your brain is well screwed in before you start because easy going they are not.

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