Finding phantom of the body in the brain

Using neuroscience to explain out-of-body experiences (Photo courtesy of the International Institute of Projectology and Conscientology)

Have you ever felt as though you were having an out-of-body experience while watching the world from outside of your physical body? Have you ever felt the hairs on your neck stand on end and got the feeling that a ghost may be hovering in your midst? Swiss neuroscientists believe that these kinds of paranormal events can be explained by a phantom of the entire body theory that is similar to a phantom limb experience.

According to the phantom limb theory, people who have lost a limb can sense that an amputated limb is still present even though they know that it no longer physically exists. Peter Brugger, a neuroscientist with the University Hospital in Zurich extends the proposed ‘phantom self’ theory to the entire body. Brugger believes that doppelgangers – events where people become aware of their own phantom doubles – have a similar scientific explanation.

“We view ghosts as projections of images of persons into the outside world,” says Brugger, who has been doing phantoms limb research for about 10 years. “In our view they aren’t entities with lives of their own.”

Are ghosts only phantoms of the body? (Photo courtesy of the International Ghost Hunters Society)

Brugger believes that feeling the presence of a phantom self could be caused by damaged pariental lobes – the part of the brain that enables a person to distinguish between body and space.

“Pariental lobes are most important for the spatial characteristics of the experience. The amazing thing is that when people move out of body they say, ‘I was exactly two and a half metres from my body’. So there is a very precise perceived location of the body,” says Brugger.

Is a ghost only a phantom of the body?

The Swiss scientist has a more ’emotional’ explanation for how a person can actually see their phantom self from outside of their physical body. Apparently, the temporal lobes of the brain that are sensitive to visual signals, lack of oxygen and emotional arousal may be connected to out-of-body experiences (OBEs).

“Emotional extremes like intense fears and intense sadness or euphoric feelings can lead to all kinds of strange experiences. Not just bodily apparitions and bodily experiences, but also visual hallucinations and auditory hallucinations,” says Brugger.

(Photo courtesy of the International Institute of Projectology and Conscientology)

During their research, Brugger and his colleagues interviewed eight mountain climbers who had climbed to altitudes above 8,299 metres without additional oxygen supplies. The climbers reported feeling a phantom presence and at times even having OBEs. Brugger calls this experience the invisible doppleganger.

According to the Altered States of Conscienceness Centre web site, the invisible doppleganger can occur in various ways. For example, once a person goes into this trance-like state, they may leave the body by climbing out with the help of an imaginary rope or lifting themselves out during sleep by seeming to get out of bed as they normally would.

Alvaro Salgado, director of the International Institute of Projectology and Conscientology’s New York chapter says Brugger’s neuroscientific theory is too restrictive to the physical body. Before joining the organization, Salgado had several out-of-body experiences that he says nobody could explain without concluding that he was crazy.

(Photo courtesy of the International Institute of Projectology and Conscientology)

“People have out-of-body experiences and go through the ceiling and find themselves in a different dimension or sometimes in a different city and find themselves face-to-face with their brother or sister or their mother,” says Salgado. “And they’re able to have a conversation or pick up specific pieces of information that would involve them being thousands of miles away. So if this experience was restricted to the inside of the brain, how would they get this information?”

Salgado explains OBEs with the idea that the physical body is only one level of existence. He theorizes that we also have an astro body (body of emotions), a mental body that is responsible for logic and rationality, and an energetic body. According to Salgado’s explanation, during an OBE the physical and energetic body remain linked as both stay joined by the silver cord . The silver cord can be described as shiny (wire-like) cords that connect both bodies.

“Is all of this just inside the brain?” says Salgado. “Or is it possible that just maybe we do in fact separate from the physical body and go places where physically it would be next to impossible to be?”

For more information about paranormal phenomena check out The International Institute of Projectiology and Conscientiology ‘s website.

What you have in your mind?