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This is an archive version of 'Psychedelic Information Theory' Alpha chapters. The final version of this text can be found at:
OBEs, Astral Encounters, & The Deep Trance State

James Kent

Chapter 21: Psychedelic Information Theory

Of all the psychedelic cognitive phenomena, the out-of-body experience (or OBE) is probably the hardest to come to grips with. OBEs are reported in all kinds of situations, drug-related and otherwise. There is an entire underground school of literature on do-it-yourself astral travel and out-of-body experimentation. Since the range of possible out-of-body experiences is so broad, I will clarify by classifying the various types of OBEs in order of magnitude thusly: 1. Perceptual Shifting; 2. Astral Walking (classic OBE); and 3. Dimension Walking. I categorize the OBEs in this order based on what I refer to as the level "cognitive grounding" the user has within reality and his or her own body. At the first level, Perceptual Shifting, the subject's awareness may "float" around the body, shift to the left, to the right, float up, float down, rotate in space, roll, fall, etc., but the perceptual "locus" of the user remains centered on or within the body and its current location in space. Level two, Astral Walking, is when the subject actually "steps out" of his or her body, and the subjective awareness starts to float around, leaving the body lying or sitting peacefully at rest. Many astral walkers report a "silver cord" which connects them to their body as they take the astral self for a spin. In level three, Dimension Walking, the subject actually departs this dimension, and the subjective awareness de-materializes and re-materializes in a parallel universe, alternate dimension, another body, in heaven, in hell, in Nevada, etc. Various sub-sets of dimension-walking include Remote Viewing and Remote Hosting. Remote Viewing is when the subject's awareness of local space dissolves and re-materializes at some targeted point in real space, able to pull data and images from non-local surroundings (like Nevada, or the moon). Remote Hosting is similar, although instead of re-materializing at an arbitrary point in space, the subject's awareness re-materializes into a different host body; an animal, another human, or the body of some alien being (or as a computer, a bacterium, a plant, a spirit medium, etc.).

From a Hollywood standpoint, nothing is more romantic than the tale of the wise old shaman drinking his sacred brew, shape-shifting into a bird or a panther, and seeing the world through the eyes of his new spirit guide. In the modern age, New Age promotion of ideas like Remote Viewing and Astral Travel got novices, college students, and bored housewives practicing mystical techniques and meditative breathing exercises in their bedrooms; rubbing their crystals; signing up for special classes at the local yoga studio; strapping on mind-machines and binaural beat entrainers (with fancy blinking lights and pulsing sounds!); and expecting to have amazing out-of-body experiences in two weeks or less or their money back. But what is really going on here? Are we seriously supposed to believe that people are sending their disincarnate spirits out into the air for a quick look about? I'm not going to tell you what to believe here, but what I can tell you is this: OBEs are a very real phenomena, and they are intimately linked to the deep trance state of human consciousness.

From a technical perspective, the deep trance state is one of the most easily identifiable states of human consciousness. It is a borderline area where the brain is not quite sleeping but not quite awake. While in deep trance, the brainwaves emanating from the mind stay constant, and operate at a very thin range of about 3-4 hz (cycles per second). This range of brain activity is directly on the margin between Theta (diminishing awareness) and Delta (sleeping) brain activity. This range of consciousness is sometimes referred to as the hypnagogic state, and is closely associated with sensations of falling, drifting, and floating out of one's body. Lucid dreaming also occurs in this state. The deep trance state is something everyone passes through on the way to sleep every night — sometimes startling us as we begin to feel like we are rolling or falling out of bed — but very rarely do we linger in this space, we just pass right on into deeper sleep. However, all the mediation techniques, breathing exercises, binaural beat generators, brain machines, lucid dreaming exercises, targeted hypnosis, and all the other techniques that come in this particular OBE-for-the-masses package are all designed to help you readily achieve and maintain this deep trance state for long periods of time. That's it. That is the trick. Really.

When this deep trance state is achieved, your body literally vanishes in space, you become translucent, weightless, and your awareness is unbound. If this sounds like the dissociative space I mentioned earlier, that's because it is a dissociative space. It is the space where your awareness is still awake, but your mind is actively detaching (gating awareness) from the body on its way into sleep. This is the liminal zone that is crucial to all astral work, lucid dreaming and OBEs included. I mention this because certain psychedelics can aide quite handily in achieving this deep trance state and holding it for long periods of time, so the application in achieving something like an OBE with psychedelics is perfectly reasonable. However, it should be mentioned that the Monroe Institute has literally made a science out of this kind of targeted brainwave entrainment, and has many non-drug alternatives for facilitating deep trance meditation in the comfort of your own home. Certain kinds of music (like, um..., trance?) also help. Or you could just lie back and do some deep breathing exercises, focus on keeping yourself balanced between the realm of waking and dreaming. The real masters of this kind of meditation need no drugs (or excuse) to go astral.

So when you hit the deep trance state, perceptual shifting begins to take hold. This is most likely because the sensory cortex in youre parietal lobe is now gating external inputs, and shifting to the processing of internalized signal. Your body is also actively shutting down connectivity from your motor-response cortex so you don't flop around while you dream. Subjectively, you feel yourself lighten and begin to roll or float in space. If you can keep yourself in the liminal zone, your awareness will shift between your physical reality and the internal image created within the dream space. When riding the liminal zone, the gating of external/internal input can be switched on and off like light, allowing you to pass seamlessly from one to the other and back again in under a second or two. This experiment can be done with or without drugs in any place and time where you can sit back and relax for a bit. I have found that using a white noise generator (like a fan, or people talking in the background) is a great way to tell when I slip from one domain of consciousness to the next. There is a standing fan in my bedroom, and if it is running when I am in a liminal zone and external signal is allowed, I can hear the fan. But when I slip into a slightly deeper zone, the fan goes silent. My awareness of my room, my understanding that the fan should be there, persists from state to state, but the noise of the fan is generally the first thing to go. When I suddenly remember that I can't hear the fan, the fan immediately returns, and thus I wake up and external gating is back on. But there have been those rare times where I sit up and look at the fan, and the fan has simply stopped, it is not moving at all. Am I in a different room? Has the electricity gone off? Sometimes that moment can stretch out for a long period of time, and then suddenly the fan starts up again, and I sit up, and I realize I was just having a lucid dream, not quite awake, just thinking I was.

Of course, OBEs can be much more extreme than the occasional hypnophasic false awakening. The classic Hollywood OBE entails floating up and out of your body, and watching your limp and unconscious form recede below you, and then sailing off into the sky for a quick jet around the cosmos. Of course, many of these extreme types of OBEs are encountered under anesthesia, during surgery, immediately after intense accidents, and during other kinds of physical and emotional stress and trauma. The more extreme versions of OBEs are often described in terms of near-death-experiences (NDEs) as opposed to some kind of controlled travel about the astral realms. I would say that there are a couple differences between the classic OBE and the classic NDE, the first being that OBEs are generally planned as part of a meditative exercise, NDEs happen in response to shock and trauma. In both states, however, the perceptual "locus" of the self is tossed out of the body, creating the paradoxical perception of being outside of your body, observing reality from a removed, third person perspective. The second difference between the classic OBE and the classic NDE is that NDEs often include a tunnel of bright lights leading toward an afterworld where loved-ones who have passed on are waiting, and sometimes includes a montage of memories that "flash" before your eyes (as mentioned earlier when talking about an excitation of the hippocampus during hyper-associative memory states). Obviously, there is a lot more going on in the typical NDE than your basic astral walkabout, but I classify them as similar because both contain the notion that the soul — or the "astral self" — has been lifted, or sometimes jolted, out of the body.

There have been many times under the influence of psychedelics where I have felt that I was sliding out of my body, or that I was being pulled, pushed, rolled, or jerked right out of my skin. I have found myself outside of my body, I have found myself materializing into other bodies, emerging suddenly in other dimensions, instantly transported back in time, etc. However, all of these experiences felt more like extremely vivid lucid dreams than actual "travel" to real places. They were arguably much better formed than lucid dreams, but only slightly less transient, some lasting a few seconds to a few minutes, other lasting well over an hour. Just like dreaming, I was unable to tell what was "real" and what was not, and just like dreaming these astral events were very difficult to accurately recall afterwards beyond the odd snippet or two. And though I would not flat out deny the possibility of astral travel, I have to say I am not very sold on the idea. It seems more plausible that instead of actually walking around in the real world, the "astral self" is actually walking around in the brain's internal holo-deck, having an inner-mind experience (IME) instead of an out-of-body-experience (OBE). The other alternative is that all dreaming is actually an OBE that happens in an amorphous collective consciousness external from (but also containing) the self. The notion of a universal "dreamspace" or Jungian "collective unconscious" is very palatable in many ways, but I resist accepting it as valid because there are no good definitions for what this collective space is made of, what its basic properties are, or how it stores and trades information from mind to mind. We are basically supposed to believe, on faith, that there is a kind of psychic ether that permeates the thoughts and dreams of all living things (The Force? The Holy Spirit?), connecting all imagination back to the great dream telemetry transmitter/receiver in the sky (The Collective Unconscious? God?), or something like that.

While the concept of a primal dreamspace or a collective unconscious has been floated around for millennia, it is still a long way from being resolved. I'll talk a little more about possible mechanistic underpinnings of such a model later, but for now, I'm going to classify OBEs, NDEs, and other floating perceptual experiences as a kind of lucid dreamspace, on the borderline between waking and sleeping, essentially in a deep trance state where loose associations between thoughts and memories can run free in the mind's eye. The gamut of experiences to be found here are wide and varied, and the most visionary psychedelic and dissociative drug experimentation usually leads back to this space in one way or another. I say this because, as an observer of human nature, it seems that when humans find an intoxicant they like, they tend to do more and more of it until they eventually pass out from inebriation. This is as true with psychedelics as it is with alcohol, except when you pass out from alcohol use you go black; when you pass out from psychedelic use you go astral. I have had people tell me they got yanked out of their body and stuck on the ceiling; that they rematerialized in a parking lot across the country; got spun over in space (though they were lying perfectly still); that their awareness had slid into a tiny frayed string on the hem of their shirt, and that they were going to be stuck seeing the world from the perspective of a tiny frayed string on the hem of their shirt for the rest of their life... and on and on. Drug-induced OBEs are legion, and these generally happen when you pass out from taking a very high dose. 

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Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2005-08-30 00:00:00