This talk by Susan Blackmore was given on 7 DEC 2015 at the CogNovo seminar space in Link3 of Plymouth University. It was part of the CogNovo Seminar Series (cognovo.eu/seminars).
How can we explain the common experience of seeming to leave one’s body and view the world from a location outside it? Does something really leave the body? If so, what is it? If not, how can these vivid, life-changing experiences be explained? After a dramatic, two hour long experience as a student 45 years ago I researched and wrote books on OBEs and near-death experiences but still could not understand them – nor could I dismiss them as ‘just’ hallucinations, or ‘only’ fantasies as many scientists have done. For decades I stopped working on the problem but now at last we know that OBEs can be induced by stimulating the temporoparietal junction, a brain area involved in constructing the sense of self. And using virtual reality and full body illusions we are beginning to find answers – though lots of difficult questions still remain.