Real-Life Out of Body Experiences Science Can't Explain

Medical science has unlocked some of the most complex secrets of the human body and universe, yet doctors struggle to explain real out of body and near-death experiences.  Some write these intriguing episodes off as being mere hallucinations, but increasingly medical science is seeking hard evidence to explain these unexplained events that are true - but defy rational explanation.

From the widely-studied case of Pam Reynolds, to non-death "OBEs" common amongst pilots (including Charles A. Lindburgh), to dubious but no less intriguing cases like the one that inspired Heaven is For Real, these instances of real out of body experiences will have you wondering, is the mind far more than it seems?

  • Weird, But Grounded in Science

    Weird, But Grounded in Science
    Photo: Wifihighfive / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    OBE can sometimes be induced by force of will. Research by Canadian neuroscientists led by Claude Messier found a 24-year-old student capable of experiencing it by a simple act of will. As their ground-breaking study noted:

    She can see herself spinning, lying or rolling on a horizontal plane in the air over her own body. It is reported that from time to time she can watch her body moving on, feeling that her 'real' body remains motionless. According to the student, the emergence of such experiences is not connected to any particular emotional state.”

    Tracking the brain activity of the girl using MRI, researchers detected a marked reduction of excitation in the visual cortex and increased activity in the areas associated with the creation of kinesthetic image of one’s own body, its position and movement in space.  This doesn’t explain the “spiritual” component of Near Death Experiences, or OBE, however, it does show that scientifically the phenomenon is credible (as it has physically measurable qualities) and is more common than previously thought. 

  • The Doctor Who Refused to Die

    The Doctor Who Refused to Die
    Photo: BBC

    This case was studied and verified by eminent OBE researcher Robert Mays.  In 1943, 20 year old George Ritchie, M.D , was an aspiring med student.  But on the eve of his entry into a Virginia Medical School, when he was supposed to catch a train from Texas to Virginia, he got sick with pneumonia and died. The Army physician in charge stated in a notarized statement that the medical officer summoned detected "no evidence of respiration or cardiac impulse.”  

    Ritchie later said his spirit left his body and floated eastward, still trying to get to medical school in Virginia. Richie did not realize that he was “dead” at the time. 

    However, when he passed through a town and asked a man for directions, and the man did not respond to him,  Ritchie understood what was happening to him.  Richie says he flew back to the hospital, where he returned to his body. 

    After his recovery, Richie drove eastward and found the town of Vicksburg, which looked exactly like the town where he had asked for directions. Researcher Robert Mays later confirmed unique descriptions of the town given by Richie, including “four blinking lights" that were only turned on that night - the evening Richie visited in spirit. 

  • The Blue Shoe Incident

    Social worker Kim Clark reported an amazing case of OBE in a woman she worked with in a hospital.  The patient Maria “died” on the operating table from cardiac arrest, but was later revived.  During the period of her “death,” Maria said she floated out of her body and above the hospital where she could look down and see objects on the roof. 

    When skeptical physicians and Ms. Clark asked Maria to prove it, she insisted that they would find a “blue shoe” sitting on a window ledge on the top floor of the building.  Maria had never been to the upper floors of the hospital, so there was no way she would have known what was on the window ledge. 

    Ms. Clark went to investigate and to her shock and amazement, the blue shoe was found in the precise location Maria had described.

  • The Blind Eyes That Saw

    Dr. Raymond Moody, a medical expert who has done extensive research on OBE, shared this incredible case in his book “Life After Life.” An elderly woman who had been blind since childhood was being treated by a colleague of Dr. Moody. During a routine operation, she suddenly had a massive heart attack and died briefly. 

    During her NDE episode, the woman had somehow regained her sight as she floated above the operating table. After she recovered, the woman was able to accurately describe the instruments and techniques used during the resuscitation of her body - she even described who came in and out of the operating room, what they said, what clothes they wore.

  • The Pam Reynolds Case

    Pam Reynolds Lowery experienced one of the most widely documented Near Death Experiences because of the unusual circumstances under which it occurred. Reynolds was under close medical monitoring during a complex brain operation in which her body temperature was greatly reduced and blood was cut off from her brain. During this part of the operation, she had no brain-wave activity and no blood flowing in her brain, which rendered her clinically dead.

    She claimed to have made several observations during the procedure which later medical personnel reported to be accurate. Reynolds was able to identify surgical instruments and hear conversations between operating room staff. The case is considered to be seminal because the patient's NDE condition was medically induced and exhaustively monitored - doctors insist it would be physically impossible for Pam Reynolds to "hear" or "see" without proper blood flow to her brain. 

  • The Skeptical Doctor Loses His Skepticism

    The Skeptical Doctor Loses His Skepticism
    Photo: Ana_J / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

    Dr. Eben Alexander, was a successful neurosurgeon who, ironically, never really believed in near-death experiences before falling into a coma and experiencing one of the most widely reported-on OBE of the early oughts. In the fall of 2008, after falling victim to a bacteria infection, Dr. Alexander slipped into a coma that lasted seven day, during which, the human part of his brain, the neocortex, was inactivated. During this period, Dr. Alexander says he ascended to heaven.

    On this journey, Alexander said a woman was with him and that she delivered to him very pointed messages. “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever,” “You have nothing to fear” and “There is nothing you can do wrong.”  The woman also told him that he would inevitably return to earth. As Dr. Alexander recounts:

    “I know full well how extraordinary, how frankly unbelievable, all this sounds. Had someone - even a doctor - told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion. But what happened to me was, far from being delusional, as real or more real than any event in my life. That includes my wedding day and the birth of my two sons.

    “I intend to spend the rest of my life investigating the true nature of consciousness and making the fact that we are more, much more, than our physical brains as clear as I can, both to my fellow scientists and to people at large.” 

    He concludes that “heaven is real.”