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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 23.3 > THE STARTLING TRUTH BEHIND CLAIMS OF ASTRAL PROJECTION

THE STARTLING TRUTH BEHIND CLAIMS OF ASTRAL PROJECTION

Hello!

In the pages of JUNIOR SKEPTIC, we often discover that incredible-sounding paranormal claims are, in truth, fake mysteries— misleading stories told by tricksters to fool people.

Today we’ll try to solve a genuine mystery! It’s a fact that millions of people all over the world have had the bizarre experience of feeling that they temporaily left their bodies behind. During these out-of-body experiences (OBEs), people feel that the thinking, feeling part of themselves has somehow floated free as a spirit. Some people even report that they have looked down from the ceiling to see their own bodies! How can this be? What is really happening?

Let’s find out!

JUNIOR SKEPTIC No.68 (2018)

SPIRITS AND ASTRAL PROJECTION

Some characters in fantasy stories have a superpower called “astral projection”— the ability to leave their physical body, travel about as a sort of ghost, and then return to their body. For example, Marvel’s Doctor Strange is a sorcerer who uses magic to project his astral form to other places and mystical dimensions.

If such an ability really existed, you might imagine that it would be a rare and special gift. Surprisingly, however, it turns out that it’s quite common in real life for people to feel that they’ve left their bodies. About one in ten people will experience this sensation at least once in their lives! Some have an out-of-body experience only once. Some have several such experiences. A few people even learn to have out-of-body experiences whenever they choose. These people claim that their spirits travel freely, sometimes to other worlds.

Most cultures have some form of belief in astral travel, possibly because out-of-body experiences happen to so many people. Some societies believe that we all travel as spirits when we dream. Others believe that astral projection requires special rituals or drugs that allow gifted shamans to send their spirits to distant places.

Many religions include a belief that we have a spirit or soul that leaves our bodies when we die. These spirits may move on to an afterlife, or perhaps be reborn into a new body. Some people believe that spirits may linger to haunt the Earth as ghosts.

The idea that we have both a physical body and spirit or soul is called “dualism.” Dualism seems naturally correct to most people. Our minds feel distinct from our bodies. Most people find it natural to suppose that their mind or spirit inhabits their body, in much the same way that an owner inhabits a house or a driver inhabits a vehicle.

INCREDIBLE TALES

Researchers and other interested people have often hoped that out-of-body experiences might provide scientific evidence that we have a spirit that can separate from our physical bodies. But stories of out-of-body experiences are just that— stories about experiences that people claim to have had. The problem, as SKEPTIC Editor Michael Shermer reminds readers of his book Heavens on Earth, is that “Sometimes people just make things up.”

He’s right. Some people do indeed invent fake stories about leaving their bodies. For example, a 2010 book titled The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A True Story claimed that a boy named Alex Malarkey temporarily left his body and journeyed to heaven after a car crash. But Malarkey later confessed that this story was a hoax. “I did not go to heaven,” he admitted. “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.”

Also, memories are not always reliable even when people try their best to be truthful. Researchers have discovered that some people later claim to have had out-of-body experiences that they did not remember happening at the time. These claims are not fibs but mixed up mistakes—false memories based upon stories those people have heard. We should be careful with stories of out-ofbody experiences if they are told many years later. It’s natural for the details of stories to change and become exaggerated over time.

Nevertheless, other out-of-body experiences have been described in detail soon after they happened. These are more likely to accurately tell us what those experiences were like. Some stories even include details we can check. Let’s look at one good example.

JUNIOR SKEPTIC No. 68: (2018)
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About Skeptic

SCIENCE AND MORAL VALUES Jordan Peterson Phenomenon; Thought Crimes: Jordan Peterson and the meaning of the Meaning of Life; Special Section on Science & Morality. Getting Real About Right and Wrong; No, Being Religious Will Not Save You from Suicide; Lessons from Behavioral Science in a Warzone: How Reason, Skepticism, and Compassion Can Win Hearts and Minds; Moral Philosophy and its Discontents: Can science determine moral values? An Exchange with Massimo Pigliucci, Michael Shermer, and Kevin McCaffree; Facilitated Communication Redux: Persistence of a Discredited Technique; The Mystery of Elite Religious Scientists: A Cognitively Impenetrable Illusion; Five Questions About Human Errors for Proponents of Intelligent Design; The SkepDoc: Beware Stem Cell Clinics that Offer Untested Treatments; Junior Skeptic: Astral Projection