The discovery of the worm in the apple of my
existence led, as I said, to my waking up, a heightened savoring
of life. And I felt driven to discover something More, something
Greater. The discovery of my mortality jolted me to seek
enlightenment, to explore the mysteries -- it also threw a long
shadow on my world. A shadow of "black bile," of melancholy
-- the old term for that ill-humored state that nowadays we call
It's hard to say just how many people suffer from depression.
There are all kinds and grades of this affliction, running from
occasional bouts of feeling "down in the dumps" to serious
clinical depression and all the way to the kind of suicidal
madness of depression described so graphically by William Styron
in his memoir Darkness Visible. The causes of depression,
no doubt many, are still hard to pinpoint in any one case, and
Styron finds something disturbingly mysterious about it.
Neurotransmitters play a role, as may genetics; and of course
all sorts of life incidents, mainly centering on loss, could
trigger the plunge.
"For the Neo-Platonist," according to classical scholar
Charles Boer, "the soul does not want to be in the body, and
melancholy is its cry for escape." The cause of melancholy may
lie in our embodied human condition. We do not want to be in our
bodies, according to the Neoplatonists, because our bodies are
the cause of all suffering, pain, and fear, and the root of all
our losses, including, it seems, the inevitable loss of our own
existence. If so, the only cure for depression is ecstasy -- the
experience of being out of the body.
An experience I had in my metaphysically agitated twenties
may explain what I mean. It was my first out-of-body flight. I
woke up one morning and realized I was floating above my bed,
hovering before the bedroom window. The sun was streaming
through a transparent blue curtain. The "I" I allude to was the
same inner self I knew as me, except shorn of its usual bodily
baggage. There I was! Ecstatic -- "standing outside" myself, a
disembodied center of awareness. Exhilarated, self-contained,
serenely poised to take off to parts unknown, I knew that I had
only to will it, to think the thought, and I'd be off through
the window on a galloping trip to Oz. But hold on, I reflected.
What if I can't find my way back? The moment I had this thought,
I snapped back into my body, like a paddle ball on a rubber
string, my heart pounding like a jackhammer.
For a few memorable seconds I had tasted the elation of pure
existence. My melancholy, born of being trapped in my body, had
completely lifted. Still, something prevented me from going all
the way. I held back. What I most needed, it now seems, was what
I most feared. If being trapped in a mortal body is the cause of
melancholy, leaving the body can cause terrible anxiety. It was
an unfortunate paradox, a double bind not easy to escape.
Luckily, there are exceptions, and some of us do escape.
A man was traveling to Damascus to arrest disciples of a
Jewish prophet whom the Romans had crucified. Fourteen years
later he wrote down an experience he had on the way. He had a
vision and heard the voice of the man whose followers he was
planning to arrest; he saw a blinding light and a voice said:
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He said of himself in
a famous letter: "And I know how such a man -- whether in the
body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -- was caught
up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is
not permitted to speak" (2 Cor. 12:1-4). This is perhaps the
most famous out-of-body experience, for it converted Paul of
Tarsus to the new Christian faith. It was the turning point in
the apostle's life, an experience of ecstasy, which by its
aftereffects changed world history.
Consider another, more recent but still well-known example.
The Oglala Sioux warrior and medicine man Black Elk had a
life-changing ecstatic experience when he was nine years old and
very sick. He heard voices calling him. Lying down, and too sick
to walk, the boy looked outside the tepee and saw two men
descending from the sky toward him. They said: "Come! Your
Grandfathers are calling you! Then they turned and left the
ground like arrows slanting upward from the bow. When I got up
to follow, my legs did not hurt me any more and I was very
light. I went outside the tepee, and yonder where the men with
flaming spears were going, a little cloud was coming very fast.
It came and stooped and took me and turned back to where it came
from, flying fast. And when I looked down, I could see my mother
and my father."
Black Elk traveled in this visionary world, and met the "Six
Grandfathers," wise old men who taught him spiritual secrets and
warned of the coming destruction of the Indian way of life. "For
the nation's hoop was broken like a ring of smoke that spreads
and scatters and the holy tree seemed like dying and all its
birds were gone." Returning to his body, Black Elk said: "Then I
saw my own tepee, and inside I saw my mother and my father,
bending over a sick boy that was myself. And as I entered the
tepee, someone was saying: 'The boy is coming to; you had better
give him some water.'"
Black Elk's vision differs notably from Saint Paul's. Paul's
experience signaled the rise of the new Christian age; the
apostle was guided by his dreams to bring the "good news" to
Europe. Black Elk's experience was a funeral dirge for the
native way of life in North America. Content and context aside,
both men experienced an ecstatic separation of consciousness
from the body, a journey beyond the melancholy of embodied
A Widespread Experience
Not every out-of-body flight is a world-shaking event. Most
are pretty mundane. I've been asking students about their
out-of-body adventures for about two decades; in an average
class of twenty, about two usually report having the experience.
Not every one is as deeply touched as Black Elk and Saint Paul
were, but some are sufficiently impressed to feel their
customary sense of reality affected. The experience can
undermine the belief that our minds are totally wed to our
bodies. The implication is obvious: If we can separate from our
bodies, maybe we can survive the death of our bodies.
I recall a student in his mid-fifties who had been working
himself to the bone with three jobs, trying to make lots of
money but not knowing quite why. He never enjoyed what he did
and was generally miserable. One night, after a particularly
stressful day, he dropped down on his bed, weary with despair:
With pain in his chest, he blacked out, and found himself above
his body, looking down on his pale, drawn face. (Later it was
determined he had a mild heart attack.) In a moment of
exaltation he saw what a lethal farce his life had become, and
he made up his mind on the spot to reduce his workload and
return to school.
Or this: "I was a United States Navy scuba diver at work off
the coast of Florida and temporarily lost consciousness while
performing an underwater operation. All of a sudden, I found
myself out of my body, watching my wife who was at home miles
away. I could see what she was cooking, and I heard the phone
ring and watched her answer. After I was rescued and rejoined my
wife, I told her what she was doing at home. I repeated some
bits of conversation she had over the phone. I tried to explain
my experience, but she was so upset that I knew what she was
doing that she accused me of spying on her. For a while we went
through some rough times because she refused to believe my
Finally, from a twenty-three-year-old woman: "One morning I
was startled from a deep sleep by a loud sound outside my
window. I raised my head, looked around, leaned back, and seemed
to fall asleep. Suddenly I was floating near the ceiling; I
looked down at my body, my face squeezed between two crumpled
pillows. My mouth was open and I looked stupid. Feeling totally
light, I looked around, and saw on the molding near the ceiling
what looked like a small bug. Then I snapped back into my body.
I wondered if it was a dream, so I got out of bed and climbed a
small ladder to see if anything was on the molding. There was. I
saw a small, dead spider."
The last two stories seem to have been, in some informational
sense, objectively real.
The Core Phenomenon
In a sense, this experience is the core phenomenon of
afterlife research: an experience of what it might feel like
to exist without a body -- of what it might be like to be a
"spirit." If there is a life after death, the out-of-body
experience may give us a foretaste, a dress rehearsal for the
Such experiences have powerfully shaped myth and religion, as
we saw from the historic examples of Saint Paul and Black Elk.
Ecstasy is also central to shamanism: "The shaman specializes in
a trance during which his soul is believed to leave his body and
ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld," writes Mircea
Eliade, adding, "The ecstasy is only the concrete experience of
ritual death." Shamanic ecstasy is a form of ritual death, a way
of gaining power and knowledge of the next world by direct
communication with the spirits. "'Seeing spirits,' in a dream or
awake, is the determining sign of the shamanic vocation."
So we already have a model for experiencing the next world
now. The traditional shaman understood this for whom leaving the
body was, as Eliade points out, an experience of "ritual death."
In the out-of-body state, you become like a spirit; you see and
interact with actual deceased spirits. Figuratively speaking,
it's like stepping into the "vestibule" of death. It represents
a state of temporary disembodiment -- temporary death. In Part
Four, we will describe some procedures for inducing this
experience of entering the "vestibule" of death.
What's Really Going On Here?
Do people really leave their bodies? Really
know true ecstasy? The consensus of mainstream science today may
find this incredible, even meaningless, but in light of the data
gathered by psychical research, shamanic claims of ritual death
and soul travel acquire an added dimension of truth.
Experiencers report changes in their perception of reality. They
feel they now "know" that an Otherworld exists. As we explore
the different kinds of afterlife evidence, we will keep
returning to the idea of direct experience, which I believe is
the key to tipping the balance toward resolving the afterlife
When thousands, if not millions, keep reporting the same kind
of experience, it seems wise to pay heed. According to one
survey, 95 percent of world cultures believe in out-of-body
experiences, which may occur in perfect health, deep relaxation,
acute stress, or near-death. Many well-known writers had the
experience, for example, Goethe, Ernest Hemingway, and Guy de
Maupassant. Jack London wrote a novel called Star Rover
about a prisoner who learned to consciously induce these psychic
voyages. London's star rover defies his cruel jailor to place
him in a straitjacket and brags he can leave his body at will.
The story was based on the real case of San Franciscan Ed Morell.
It would help to gain a sharper sense of what the experience
is like. The main thing is that consciousness seems to become
detached and located outside its customary bodily envelope. You
might be sound asleep or near death, totally calm or wildly
aroused, meditating on your navel or racing a motorbike. In
fact, there are so many ways to slip out of our bodies that one
wonders how we manage to stay inside them in the first place.
The conscious mind certainly hangs around the body, but doesn't
seem all that attached or terribly loyal to it. Consciousness, I
think it fair to say, likes to wander.
Sometimes the out-of-body environment is perceived in a
realistic way and everything appears perfectly normal. The clock
is above the mantelpiece and the moon is shining through the
window. But sometimes, on closer inspection, the environment
seems more like a dream. Psychical researcher William Roll
described his out-of-body experience in a moonlit room. Roll
floated out of his body and found himself in a part of the room
where moonlight cast shadows on the floor; he memorized the
location of the shadows in relationship to the carpet pattern,
returned to his body, got out of bed and examined the carpet. No
shadows at the location he recalled. Roll concluded he hadn't
really left his body; the experience seemed more like a
realistic dream. But in a survey conducted by parapsychologist
John Palmer, about 15 percent of people claiming to leave their
bodies were able to verify their experience.
Otherbodied environments vary. Sometimes things appear
transparent or suffused with light. In rare cases, the
experiencer senses nothing in the environment, or finds himself
afloat in a black void, but most of the time perception is
detailed, realistic, and more vivid than usual. The
environment often consists of the familiar world, but sometimes
it takes on the appearance of a vestibule, doorway, or tunnel
leading to another world.
The Out-of-Body Body
Most sacred traditions speak of a "subtle" body. Thomas
Aquinas describes the speed, lightness, and translucency of the
resurrection body, but let's see what modern research has to
say. English parapsychologist Celia Green found that subjects
may occupy a subtle body, a replica of the physical. The new
body isn't bound by laws of physics, but passes through solid
matter, is luminous and gravity-free. This sounds like the
radiant body that Saint Paul and the Neoplatonists spoke of and
that Aquinas made into Catholic doctrine.
Sometimes, the experience is "asomatic"; subjects sense
themselves as points of light or luminous vapors. Some observe a
so-called astral cord connecting them to their physical body,
others don't. Some can control their out-of-body capers. In
brief or emotionally disconcerting experiences, control is
difficult. Loss of control may stop the experience, as in my
first out-of-body transport. Some report being aware of leaving
and re-entering. Now and then you hear of a person projecting to
some location and appearing to others. A young woman wrote: "I
had several out-of-body experiences when I was in my late teens.
One night I fell asleep as soon as I hit the pillow and had a
vivid dream of being at my girlfriend's house. I was standing
outside her room watching her arrange her clothing on the bed.
She looked up in my direction. Then the dream ended. The
following day my friend phoned me to say she had seen me
standing outside her room, looking at her." I have found other
cases of people dreaming of places where they were seen. I guess
you could call these examples of living ghosts.
Here is a case Saint Augustine described fifteen centuries
ago. "I believe that a person has a phantom which in his
imagination or in his dreams takes on various forms through the
influence of circumstances of innumerable kinds. This phantom is
not a material body, and yet with amazing speed it takes on
shapes like material bodies; and it is this phantom, I hold,
that can in some inexplicable fashion be presented in bodily
form to the apprehension of other people, when their physical
senses are asleep or in abeyance." And he gives a good example.
"Another man reported that in his own house, at night-time,
before he went to bed, he saw a philosopher coming to him, a man
he knew very well. And this man explained to him a number of
points in Plato, which he had formerly refused to explain when
asked." Later, the man who saw the vision confronted his
philosopher friend, and asked why he came to visit so late at
night. The philosopher replied: "I did not do it; I merely
dreamed that I did." Augustine concludes: "This shows that what
one man saw in his sleep was displayed to the other, while
awake, by means of a phantom appearance."
The Traveler's Inner State
What does it feel like to leave your body? In a November 6,
2000, New York Times story the English author Philip
Pullman commented on the worldview that informs his novels: "I
wanted to emphasize the simple physical truth of things...rather
than the spiritual or the afterlife." He added: "That's why the
angels envy our bodies -- because our senses are keener, our
muscles are stronger. If the angels had our bodies and our
nerves, they'd be in a perpetual state of ecstasy." I wonder how
Mr. Pullman came to know all this. Fortunately, we do have some
evidence from out-of-body experiencers who can claim to
know what it feels like to be without a body.
Pullman thinks that without bodies and nerves, perception has
to be dull and flat. But surveys of out-of-body experiences
prove otherwise, revealing them to be vivid, intense, and
ecstatic. Contrary to Pullman, one could say that being in a
body is a drag on experience, and that any angel worth its salt
would loathe being forced into one. My point is not to heap
gnostic contempt on the body, but that certain facts point to
possibilities at least worthy of our curiosity. We should be
more open-minded about the possible range of human experience.
J. H. M. Whiteman, a mathematician and physicist who taught
at the University of Capetown, besides being a scientist, was a
psychic, mystic, and visionary, and was well suited to observe,
classify, and analyze his extraordinary experiences. Leaving the
body, he thought, is the first step on a scale that leads toward
the mystic light and union with the Godhead. Whiteman's
experience was triggered by a lucid dream. Lucidity implies
something we experience only occasionally even in waking life,
and that is being reflectively aware of what we're doing
or thinking or feeling.
If you can become self-aware while dreaming, you might
trigger an out-of-body excursion. "Then," according to Whiteman,
"suddenly the dormant faculty of recollection having become
stirred, all that up to now had been wrapped in confusion
instantly passed away, and a new space burst forth in vivid
presence and utter reality, with perception free and pin-pointed
as never before; the darkness itself seemed alive. The thought
that was then borne in upon me with inescapable conviction was
this: 'I have never been awake before.'" Sorry, Mr. Pullman, but
the most intense physical experiences seem pretty dull by
comparison with these ecstatic journeys.
A Curious Experience
Is there a relationship between heightened self-awareness
and the out-of-body state? According to Celia Green, reflecting
on your personal identity can induce the experience. I can
attest to this. I was a student at Columbia University, at home
in bed reading a book by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transcendence
of the Ego. The ego is a product of reflection, says Sartre;
unless we're reflecting and thinking about ourselves,
consciousness is egoless, and lacks all sense of ownership.
Studious even in sleep, I dreamed about Sartre's ideas. In my
dream, I began to wonder if I could stop thinking about my ego
and experience pure consciousness; the moment I thought this I
felt a whirlwindlike sensation of being sucked out of my body. I
was drawn out through the nape of my neck into thin air. Shocked
by the suddenness of this, I woke to my mundane bedroom, shaken.
Again, the experience quit on me, probably because I was
violently surprised and my emotions were too much aroused. So
the experience takes many forms, and ecstasy comes in many
colors. Just thinking very deeply about who you are may produce
one of these surprising flights of consciousness.
Can the experience be verified? The scuba diver claimed to
have accurately observed his wife while out of his body, and the
young woman verified the dead spider on the ceiling molding.
Consider a well-known case from the early days of psychical
research. In 1863, after eight stormy days, a Mr. S. R. Wilmot
was sailing from Liverpool on the steamer, City of Limerick,
to New York City. On Tuesday, October 13, he finally fell sleep
and toward morning dreamed his wife came to his stateroom in her
nightdress. After hesitating at the door and looking at the
other man in the room, she stood beside him, bent over, and
The other man was William Tait, a fifty-year-old librarian
from Cleveland, Ohio. In the morning, Mr. Wilmot found Mr. Tait
staring quizzically at him. Mr. Tait said: "You're a pretty
fellow to have a lady come and visit you in that way." Mr. Tait
was a "sedate and very religious man, whose testimony on any
subject could be taken unhesitatingly." Wilmot, before leaving
the ship, questioned him three times about what he saw; each
time Tait repeated the same description of what Wilmot had
dreamed. Mr. Tait seems to have seen Mrs. Wilmot's dreambody.
Upon arrival Mrs. Wilmot said to her husband: "Did you
receive a visit from me a week ago last Tuesday?" She explained
that she had heard reports of storms in the Atlantic, and was
too anxious to sleep that night; then, at four in the morning,
it felt as if she "went out to seek" him, crossed the stormy
sea, found a black steamer, and entered her husband's cabin.
There she saw another man on an upper berth staring at her,
which caused her to hesitate before going to her husband's berth
to kiss him. Mrs. Wilmot asked: "Do they ever have state-rooms
like the one I saw, where the upper berth extends further back
than the under one?" Although she never physically entered the
ship, she accurately described the way the berths were arranged.
So here we have an out-of-body experience in which three
people are reciprocally involved. The investigator Richard
Hodgson interviewed the parties, except Mr. Tait who had in the
meantime died. Tait did report what he saw to Mr. Wilmot's
sister who was a passenger on the boat. "He said he saw some
woman, in white, who went up to my brother." Tait's oral
testimony was confirmed indirectly through Wilmot's sister.
Researcher Eleanor Sidgwick concluded that the story "tends to
show that Mrs. Wilmot was actually there in some sense other
than a purely mental one." When three people have mutually
confirming experiences of the same events, it's hard to dismiss
their accounts as based on mere fantasy or hallucination.
A more recent example from the files of Celia Green: "I was
in hospital having had an operation for peritonitis; I developed
pneumonia and was very ill. The ward was L-shaped; so that
anyone in bed at one part of the ward, could not see round the
corner. One morning I felt myself floating upwards, and found I
was looking down on the rest of the patients. I could see
myself, propped up against pillows, very white and ill. I saw
the sister and nurse rush to my bed with oxygen. Then everything
went blank. The next I remember was opening my eyes to see the
sister bending over me.
"I told her what had happened; but at first she thought I was
rambling. Then I said, 'There is a big woman sitting up in bed
with her head wrapped in bandages; and she is knitting something
with blue wool. She has a very red face.' This certainly shook
her, as apparently the lady concerned had a mastoid operation
and was just as I described." Verifiable out-of-body experiences
like this one are not rare. Since this is an important step in
building the argument for postmortem survival, let's also look
at some experimental studies.
California psychologist Charles Tart conducted a classic
experiment. A Ms. Z claimed to have out-of-body experiences
twice to four times a week. She typically did this during sleep;
she agreed to be tested in Tart's sleep lab. Ms. Z spent four
nights in Tart's lab and was closely monitored for physiological
changes. She usually found herself floating near the ceiling,
wide awake and out of her body; perhaps she could do it under
Tart had to determine if her experiences were just fantasies
or contained veridical perceptions -- crucial to the survival
hypothesis. If her experiences proved to be nothing but
fantasies, they would have no positive implications for
survival. If during her out-of-body state she could identify the
target correctly, that would mean she really did somehow exit
her body, and would count as a step toward proving postmortem
A target number was set up on a shelf five and a half feet
above her head near the ceiling but not visible from where she
lay in bed. Electrodes and cables attached to her body recorded
brain waves and other physiological variables and prevented her
from sitting up in bed more than two feet. If she at any time
disconnected herself to sneak a look at the target, it would
have been automatically recorded. If she left her body and saw
the target number, she was to wake up and report what she saw
through the intercom.
The first night was uneventful. The second night Ms. Z called
out: "Write down 3:13 A.M. I don't see the number, but I just
remember that." Ms. Z had floated out of her body, not high
enough to read the target number, but high enough to read the
clock. Next evening Ms. Z had a nightmare whose details
corresponded to a murder that took place in the city. A
suggestive anecdote. Third night, Ms. Z had a flying dream, in
which she seemed to converse with her sister. Later, her sister
reported that she dreamed of Ms. Z at the time of her flying
dream. This incident resembles the reciprocal experience cited
in the Wilmot story above.
On the fourth night Ms. Z floated out of her body during
sleep and correctly called out the five-digit target number. "I
needed to go higher because the number was faceup." Tart
comments: "It should be mentioned that Ms. Z had expected me to
prop the target number up against the wall on the shelf;
actually, I had laid it flat on the shelf, which she correctly
perceived." Could this have been a lucky guess? The chance of
guessing the correct sequence of five digits is one in ten to
the fifth power. So on the fourth night the evidence for a
verifiable out-of-body experience was strongest.
What about brain waves and physiological variables? EEG was a
mixture of Stage 1 sleep and alphoid activity, without rapid eye
movements and cardiovascular and skin resistance changes -- a
pattern not found in the sleep literature. William Dement, an
authority on sleep behavior, confirmed Tart's assessment that
Ms. Z's EEG was an unknown pattern, associated neither with
waking nor any sleep stages. Alphoid -- lower alpha -- rhythms
have been linked with sensory isolation and Zen states studied
in Japanese laboratories. Absence of rapid eye movements shows
she wasn't dreaming but in a brain state suggesting Zenlike
dissociation from external stimuli. This landmark experiment
confirms the reality of verifiable out-of-body experiences.
In 1980, Karlis Osis and his assistant Donna McCormick of the
American Society of Psychical Research reported a series of
out-of-body experiments. They were lucky enough to find a gifted
psychic willing to cooperate. Alex Tanous was a Lebanese with
unusually dark and intense eyes that reminded me of photos I've
seen of Rasputin. I met Tanous several times and found him a
little spooky. He once held out his hands before me. "It's
through these," he said, "that I feel things." As a child he
experienced the death of many friends and relatives, and his
specialty was sensing death. Tanous also had the rare ability to
will himself out of his body. The two abilities are most likely
In the Osis experiment, Tanous was to project himself to a
specified target area, an enclosed space containing an optical
viewing-device that displayed randomly selected visual targets.
To see the targets you had to be right in front of the
viewing-device. Tanous lay down in the dark in a separate,
sound-reduced room, relaxing and meditating as he prepared for
The aim of the experiment was not just to prove out-of-body
perception but to test the hypothesis that something gets
out of the body, perhaps the same something that survives
bodily death. It was a test for the existence of the "subtle"
body. According to Rhine, "psi," or psychic capacity, have two
sides, cognitive (ESP) and kinetic (PK), "information gain and
kinetic action." In short, if the mind can get out of the body,
it should be able to prove it by out-of-body information gain
and out-of-body kinetic action.
To test for this "body," a device called a strain-gauge
sensor was installed near the target. This would detect the
slightest movements or vibrations of anything physical in the
vicinity -- hopefully, Tanous's localized "subtle" body. To see
the target in the optical device, Tanous would have to project
himself to a point right in front of it. If he viewed the target
correctly, the sensor should register his presence. Tanous was
told nothing about the strain gauges.
In a series of 197 trials over twenty sessions, he succeeded
114 times. The extra chance factor was modest. What was
important was that when Tanous correctly guessed the
targets the strain gauges acted up, proving some kind of
physical presence. Osis concluded that this correlation
supported the hypothesis of a localized out-of-body entity, and
claims to have caught Tanous's living ghost, so to speak, in a
net of objective measurements.
This experiment repeats Tart's, for Tanous, like Ms. Z,
correctly identified targets during his excursion. There is a
detail in Tart's experiment that seems especially important. Ms.
Z had to rise to a certain point near the ceiling to "see" the
target number, which Tart laid flat on the shelf. It sounds like
Ms. Z, in her out-of-body state, maneuvered her "subtle body" to
the correct position above the shelf to observe the target. From
her description, she occupied a localized "vehicle" that moved
through space. In short, like the Tanous experiment, her
experiment bolsters the view that something leaves the body.
I think I have said enough to give the reader a sense of the
out-of-body experience. It is widespread in time and geography,
a recurrent potential of human consciousness. There is reason to
believe it has shaped the history of religion, especially the
experience of shamanism, but also of mysticism, prophecy, and
even philosophy. (Plato once said that philosophy was the
practice of leaving one's body.) The experience is stunning for
its mental lightness, clarity, and expansiveness, and qualifies
for what Abraham Maslow called a "peak" experience. From a
practical and emotional standpoint, it gives us a glimpse of
what it may feel like to exist without a physical body and
therefore of what it may feel like to survive death.
What are the implications of this experience for life after
death? In the first place, verifiable out-of-body experiences
are inconsistent with materialism, the view that persons are
just material objects. If persons were just material objects,
verifiable out-of-body perception should be out of court. But
such perception doesn't prove survival because the person in the
out-of-body state is still very much alive. However, if the
consciousness of a living person can function physically at a
distance from his body, it suggests to me a latent
potential for survival. For if my consciousness can function
outside and at a distance from my body, why not
survive death without any body?
It may be objected that verified out-of-body experiences at
best prove clairvoyance accompanied by the illusion of being
located far from one's body. It has also been argued that the
action on the strain gauges was an artifact and not evidence
that Tanous got out of his body. Supposing all this were true --
and I'm not willing to grant that it is -- the sheer fact of
clairvoyance would still be a significant step toward showing
that consciousness can survive death.
Clairvoyance implies there is something about the mind of a
person that can interact, mentally or physically, with things
beyond the reach of the body. That is what we mean by an action
or cognition being paranormal. Paranormal ability, however, by
itself proves nothing about any particular person surviving
death. At most, we can say it's a necessary but not a sufficient
condition for survival. Now let's move on.
Copyright © 2004 by Michael Grosso