The Afterlife Investigations:
There are two circumstances when we experience our consciousness not being rooted in our brain as being located in some other body or place. The first and most important one in my opinion is in dreams. Everybody has had the experience of having a center of consciousness outside their physical body during dreams. I may dream that I am running along a road even flying and yet my physical body is asleep in bed. So every one of us has a dream body an alternative body - another kind of body that we experience subjectively from within on a nightly basis which has a world going on around it. When we are in our dreams we are centered in this body we may not always be conscious or aware of it but we always have a point of view centered in this body.
Everybody knows from the experience of dreams that we can experience our conscious being located as somewhere other than our physical body. Sometimes in dreams we dream about familiar places, sometimes we are dreaming about fantastical places that don’t really exist – but it shows that our body can occupy a space in a conscious realm of possibilities, imagination or conscious construction that’s not inside our body.
I think the best way of understanding the out-of-body and near death experiences is to see this as being close to the dream phenomena - where our dream body or something like our dream body becomes detached from our ordinary body just like it does in dreams it just that they are more clear or they are more aware of what’s going on. This does in fact occur in a particular class of dreams called Lucid Dreams, dream where people know they’re dreaming and they are aware they are in their dream body – And they can go where they like, they have gained a kind of power over the dream state. This is something that is practiced by shamans in traditional cultures and something that many people have had spontaneously on their own.
So to me the key to the question is to understand the dream body because that’s the normal experience that all of us have had, even if we’ve never had an out-of-body experience. In our dreams we have all experience being outside our normal body, in some other body or in some other center of consciousness.
The Dream Body is sometimes called the “Astral Body”. Some people call the conscious controller the out-of-body experience Astral Projection. I don’t think the world astral helps us very much, I prefer the word dream body because dream body is so clear, it’s plain English and everybody knows they have a dream body because everyone has experienced it. If you talk about astral bodies then it brings a whole esoteric literature that is rather puzzling – the word astral will suggest a connection with the starts and it’s not all obvious why you should call this dream body after the stars.
We may think of our dreams as fantastical and unreal and in many ways they are. But when we are dreaming it seems real enough to us to us and a nightmare can be genuinely frightening and it’s not just imaginarily frightening it’s really frightening. Things are actually happening in the dreams it’s not just a fantastical realm. So to dismiss our dream experiences on the grounds that it’s not real is something we do in the basis of a comparison with waking life.
Now say you float out of your body and you have a near death experience this is like being in a dream – And say it’s not a near death experience but a real death experience – what happens if you go on floating as if where trapped in a kind of dream body state in a dream body world – The difference from an ordinary dream is that you can’t wake up any longer because you don’t have a living body to wake up into. And what if survival or bodily death is rather like being in a dream from which you can’t wake up? That seems to me to be the most plausible way of thinking about it in fact because we already know from our experience we can be in a realm of consciousness experience with a kind of body in our dreams that it’s not the same as the ordinary realm.
We already know that our dreams are tremendously influenced by our preoccupations our fears our desires. We can have nightmares which are usually about trapped being unable to escape or being threatened by some destructive force like a monster. All these things may happen after we are dead and people may have a great range of different experiences after they are dead depending on the type of person they are. It might be like being in a dream from which you cannot wake up. I think it’s much easier to approach the subject of survival of body death by starting from our experience and particular our experience of dreams than it is to start with brain physiology, after we know very little about the connection between brain physiology and consciousness. The assumption in conventional science is that it’s all inside the brain I think it’s false anyway, I think our minds are fields that stretch beyond the brain.
So starting from dreams I think is the best way of beginning to understand what might be going on in these various experiences.