Researchers find explanation for out-of-body experiences

Dr. Murray Feingold

Some people claim to have experienced an out-of-body experience, usually associated with being near death. It has also been reported by people who are taking certain drugs.

In these situations, people perceive themselves to be floating outside their bodies. Sometimes, while being outside their body, they view their own body, and this is called autoscopy.

There have been a variety of explanations for these out-of-body experiences -- most of them not very scientific.

However, a recent medical report now adds some scientific credence to these episodes.

Previously, there has been medical speculation that these experiences were due to an abnormality in the temporoparietal area of the brain. This area is particularly associated with the senses of touch, vision and balance.

There is now more support for this theory.

A patient with tinnitus -- a constant ringing in the ears -- had an electrode implanted in the temporoparietal area of his brain in an attempt to suppress the continual ringing.

Researchers, in an effort to produce an out-of-body experience, stimulated this electrode. After one second, the patient underwent an out-of-body experience.

The researchers then used positron emission tomography of the brain, or a PET scan, while the patient was undergoing the electrode stimulation.

The PET scan showed activation of the brain at the temporoparietal area while the patient was having an out-of-body experience.

As a result of these findings, the researchers concluded that activation of the temporoparietal area of the brain is responsible for out-of-body experiences.

Perhaps not all, but most of the time, there is a scientific explanation for the unusual phenomena that we experience.

However, experiences that thus far have eluded scientific explanations remain intriguing and fascinating, and a wide range of explanations are proposed to explain why they occur.

Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.