Having undertaken a five year prospective research project into NDEs I know how difficult it is to verify the OBE component. At the Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) where I conducted the research I put symbols on top of the cardiac monitor at each patient’s bedside. These monitors were mounted on the wall and were approx 7 feet off the ground. The symbols were also concealed behind ridges that sat on the top of the monitor. This ensured that the only way in which the symbols could be viewed was from an out of body perspective.
Below are some of the factors that I had to take into account:
- Prior to undertaking the research I explained the forthcoming research to a random sample of 100 people (consisting of hospital staff and visitors). Then I asked them what symbol they would expect to see on top of the monitor. When deciding on what symbols to create I deliberately did not use anything that any of the random sample had said they expected to see.
- Following the recommendation of previous research conducted by Professor Janice Holden in the 1980’s I made the symbols as attractive and visible as possible by mounting them on brightly coloured day-glow paper. I hoped that the bright colours would attract the attention of any patient who may be out of their body.
- When I did a pilot study I realised that my colleagues were very curious about the symbols and in my absence many of them had climbed up on ladders to view them. This in itself could have invalidated the research especially if my colleagues had discussed the symbols within earshot of any patient – if a patient had reported an OBE, it could be a mind model constructed from what the patients heard the staff talking about. So I had to renew all of the symbols and spoke to each staff member and explained the importance of them not knowing what the symbols were. I showed them the previous symbols that I had to replace and their curiosity was satisfied and they no longer had the need to climb on ladders.
- Every week I had to dust each symbol to make sure there was no dust to obscure the symbol and to adhere to infection control. This was done during a night shift to minimise attention. At this time I rotated the symbols to a different monitor – I covered each symbol with a piece of card so that I didn’t know which symbol was on which monitor therefore reducing the possibility that I could have telepathically transmitted the symbol to the patient if one claimed to have viewed it.
In my research eight patients reported an out of body type experience but none of them reported the hidden symbol. The reasons for this were the varying qualities of the OBEs reported.
Some patients floated to locations opposite to where the symbols were situated. Some did not rise high enough out of their body and some were simply more concerned with what was going on with their body.
There were two patients who reported an OBE where they were high enough and in the correct location to view the symbols but they were not looking on the top of the monitor. One of those patients remarked that if he knew before his OBE that there was a hidden symbol there he would have looked at it and told me what it was.
Obviously, if patients report OBEs then if the actions of the staff present were reported then this could be verified by interviewing the staff present.
However, all that being said it is still worth persevering with this research because I have also come across people who reported an OBE anecdotally (not patients in my hospital research). Some were able to ‘float’ around the room at will – one lady was a nurse and she was looking at her cardiac monitor. There are also similar reports in the literature.
So the most important point I realised having conducted this research was that OBEs are of varying qualities and quite rare. It was incredibly hard work to undertake the research project. In the five years of my research there were only two OBEs that were of sufficient quality to actually view the symbol. During those five years approximately 7000 patients were admitted to ITU. Hence to accumulate convincing results will take a very long time, many thousands of patients and a lot of patience from the researchers.
So when the results are considered at surface value it may be wrongly assumed that the OBE veridicality research is producing negative results when in fact it is not – it is simply far too early to yield good quality OBEs in sufficient quantities. I predict it could take at least 20 years of continuous research to get any satisfying results. All results from the AWARE study will contribute greatly to our understanding of consciousness.