Are Alien Abductions OBEs?

When you focus on the hole, you see the hole.

When you focus on the whole, you see the whole.-Inner Voice

Suppose that your best friend tells you of a strange experience that happened last night. Shortly after she went to bed, she noticed a strange, bright white light fill her bedroom. She felt a bit odd. Then she noticed a strange hissing sound, and her body began to vibrate, almost as if she was being electrocuted. She felt paralyzed, unable to move, terrified. Next, some kind of strange being who had a luminescent glow seemed to just walk through the bedroom wall. Then she started floating up in the air, seeming to defy gravity itself. She floated toward a wall, but instead of hitting the wall, she seemed to go through it. The next thing she knew, she was in a strange room she didn't recognize. That being of light talked to her, and told her that humanity is destroying the environment, and that she has a special purpose to fulfill. The next thing she knew, she was waking up in bed again. Was this an alien abduction or an out-of-body experience? Actually, it could be either.

In this chapter, I will compare the features of out-of-body experiences with features of alien abduction experiences. There are hundreds of books on OBEs, but for this chapter, most of the information on OBEs is taken from Gabbard and Twemlow's book, With the Eyes of the Mind: An Empirical Analysis of Out-of-Body States, (Praeger Publishers, New York, NY, 1984.)

I don't pretend to be a scholar in the field of UFOs. I first became interested in the similarities between OBEs and alien abductions because of several conversations I had with my sister-in-law, who is a member of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a citizen-based group that studies UFO-related topics. When she described the common features of alien abductions, I was intrigued by how similar they were to the features of out-of-body experiences. My initial thought was, "I wonder how many people think they're having alien abductions, but they're just having OBEs?" I don't know if other comparisons have been done between the two phenomena, but I thought it was worth studying. Given the ability to distinguish between the two, some people might find it comforting to know that their disturbing experiences are related to OBEs instead of aliens.

The information I am using on alien abductions comes mainly from the book Abduction(1) by John Mack, M.D.. I hold the greatest admiration of John Mack and the work he has done, and in no way do I mean to imply anything negative about him or his research. I'm using his book as a point of reference in this chapter because it was convenient. I had the privilege of hearing Mack speak at a MUFON symposium in July 1996 in Greensboro, North Carolina. What impressed me most was his approach to the alien abduction phenomenon, particularly his genuine concern for the people affected. UFO research is a field of study that normally puts more emphasis on facts, figures and empirical evidence, and yet Mack talked about a spiritual approach to the phenomenon that puts humanity before facts and figures. He seemed not as concerned with proving the reality of the abduction phenomenon as he was about how the experience affected people.

I have two reasons for writing this chapter: First, I want to encourage future research concerning the similarities between the two phenomena by experts from both fields. Second, I want to help clinicians and patients more accurately distinguish between the two.

Features Common to OBEs: First, let's take a look at the features of a typical out-of-body experience. The table below is a brief summary of features common to OBEs, as reported by Gabbard and Twemlow.(2) Next to each feature is a percentage that represents how frequently the OBE feature is reported in some surveys.

No. Common Features of OBEs %
1. Experience was more real than a dream 94
2. OBE body similar to physical body 76
3. Same environment as physical body 62
4. Felt a sense of energy 55
5. Wanted to return to body 54
6. Felt able to pass through objects 50
7. Felt vibrations in body 38
8. Part of awareness was still in body 37
9. Was aware of presence of beings 37
10. Heard noises in early stages 37
11. Experienced a change in time sense 33
12. Saw a brilliant white light 30
13. Felt the presence of guides or helpers 26
14. Dark tunnel with white light at end 26
15. Felt attached to physical body 21
16. Felt able to touch objects 18
17. Felt that others were aware of them 14
18. Felt a sense of border or limit 14
19. Experienced panoramic vision 14

Now let's look closer at Gabbard and Twemlow's list of features common to OBEs, and compare them to features of alien abductions.

Experience was more real than a dream. A large number of people who have out-of-body experiences (94%) say that the experience was more real than a dream. A lot of attention has been given to this fact in the OBE literature. Examples of this may be found in the OBE case histories documented by Robert Crookall and others where the subject doesn't realize they are having an OBE until they happen to see their own physical body lying inanimate on the bed. In fact, I think it's safe to assume that many of these OBE subjects would not have realized their OBE state had it not been for seeing their own body, or otherwise having experienced something that is not common to physical life, such as floating or passing through physical objects.

Alien abductions are also viewed as more real than a dream; in fact, abductions are commonly viewed as having occurred physically (as opposed to non-physically, "astrally," or whatever). Occasionally, abductions are described as having a dream-like or hazy quality. Perhaps this is an indication that the subject was fully conscious (as can occur in OBEs, lucid dreams and other altered states of consciousness), but that the reality didn't seem up to the standards of everyday physical life. For example, subject Ed reported his experiences as having a "misty quality."(3) Sheila described hers as "electrical dreams" and "spiritual dreams."(4) Catherine said, "It seems more real than a dream, but not as real as me talking to you."(5)

OBE Body similar to physical body. Gabbard and Twemlow found that 76% of OBE subjects report that their body image during an OBE was very similar or identical to their physical body. Many OBE subjects report that the astral body can defy gravity and seems ghostlike. Later, I will discuss the occasional cases where the subject's astral body takes a form different from their physical body. During alien abductions, the subject believes their experience to be a physical one. Subjects report physical examinations, experiments and even surgeries performed on their bodies. Obviously their body is experienced as similar to their normal physical body. In some cases, abductees also report their bodies as ghostlike.

For example, subject Carlos said, "The body just dissolves and goes up. Then I am transparent. I have a sense of the interior transparent shell of the body which is not part of its physicality but yet it is connected. It is the shape of the physicality..." and later, "The molecular structure, cellular structure of the body, just goes out into the light...It is the transformation from one state of being into another state of being, but you carry the core of a residual is like a ghost image. The image is the memory of the body, and it is clear and it is there and it has form..."(6)

Same environment as physical body. Most OBEs seem to take place in an environment almost identical or at least very similar to the physical one. Most OBEs occur in the subject's bedroom, at least at the onset of the experience. During the OBE, the subject sees all the normal physical surroundings they expect to see where their physical body was last located. If they were in their bedroom, they often see their bed, dressers, closets and so forth during the OBE. Later, the environment may change to other more exotic environments such as grandiose meeting halls or heavenly surroundings.

Most abductions seem to take place in the same physical environment as well. Abductions often take place in the subject's bedroom, and the subject also sees their normal physical environment at the onslaught of the experience. Later, subjects are somehow transported to another, more exotic environment, that of an alien ship.

Felt a sense of energy. In more than half the OBEs studied by Gabbard and Twemlow (55%), subjects reported having a sense of energy. Alien abductees also describe a feeling of energy. For example, subject Sheila described her experiences as "full of electricity"(7)

Wanted to return to body (end the experience). Fifty-Four percent of OBE subjects wanted to return to their body, or otherwise bring the experience to an end. Alien abductees also report wanting to end the experience. For example, subject Peter yelled, "I want this to stop."(8)

Felt able to pass through objects. During OBEs, it's very common for the subject to seemingly pass through physical matter. There are hundreds of cases where the subject has reached for a door knob, and their hand goes right through it. To get to the next room, they typically discover they can walk through the door, or even a wall. Floating through the ceiling, or through the floor is also common during OBEs.

In alien abduction experiences, it's very common for subjects to describe being lifted up into the air, and passing through walls, windows, and even windows with bars on them. For example, subject Catherine floated "literally through" the front door.(9) Subject Paul felt "himself pass literally through the door of the ship."(10) Subject Peter said, "It's not the same as like physically walking through a wall. It's like stepping into an energy field...They didn't carry me through that wall this time. I walked through it..."(11)

Felt vibrations in body. Many OBErs have described feeling a strong, electrical type of vibration or "buzzing" that courses through their body during the process of separating from it. This has been described by such famous authors as Robert Monroe. According to Monroe and others, the vibrations can range from course and rough to smooth to almost unnoticeable. Some authors have theorized that separation from the body occurs when the vibrations of the spiritual body are increased to a point where the physical body gets out of synchronization or can no longer hold on to the astral body. Alien abduction subjects may also experience a type of electrical vibration at the beginning of the experience.

For example, subject Ed reported a "tingling sensation" at the base of the skull.(12) Scott reported "Buzzing" in his right ear that changed to a ringing sound and said, "I lost control of my body."(13) Jerry heard "Buzzing and ringing and whirring" noises in her head.(14) Sara had "Electrical sensations in her body" on one occasion.(15) Dave reported "a vibration of some kind, a tingling."(16) Peter said, "I remember my whole body vibrated and shook maybe for a second, two seconds, three seconds."(17)

Part of awareness was still in body. Some OBE subjects (37%) experienced some kind of dual-consciousness, where they seemed to retain some sort of awareness of their physical body as well as the non-physical body. During alien abductions, subjects can also experience a sense of dual-consciousness. I will discuss this in a section below labeled "Sense of Separation From Physical Body."

Was aware of presence of beings. The same number of OBE subjects (37%) said they were aware of the presence of other beings, often reported as "non-physical" beings. During an alien abduction experience, the subject typically sees and interacts with "alien beings." It is interesting to note that the books written about OBEs contain almost no mention of aliens, extraterrestrials, or UFOs. I can only assume that they've never seen alien creatures during their OBEs or else they're afraid of losing credibility if they write about them. I haven't seen aliens in my OBEs.

Heard noises in early stages. Another 37% of OBE experiences heard strange accompanying noises at the early stages of the OBE. This often seems to be related to the vibrations that are described as running through their body. Usually these noises are described as loud, rattling, roaring or deafening. Once the separation from the body is complete, the noises usually go away and are not noticed any more. Just as the vibrations can be soft, hard or unnoticeable, so too the noises that accompany them can be soft, loud or unnoticeable. Alien abductees often describe hearing noises as well, usually during the early stages of the experience. For example, subject Sheila reported "hearing a very loud, high-pitched noise"(18) Peter said, "I can hear the vibration."(19)

Experienced a change in time sense. OBE subjects often say that their sense of time becomes distorted during their experiences. Some people describe it as if time had stopped for them. During alien abduction experiences, subjects may also feel a distorted sense of time, hence the term, "missing time" in UFO literature. For example, subject Peter "experienced the collapse of past, present, and future."(20)

Saw a brilliant light. Thirty percent of the OBE subjects reported seeing a brilliant light during the experience. Although I don't have the exact figures, this percentage is higher among people who have experienced OBEs as part of a near-death experience (NDE). This has even been made famous by books such as Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie. Alien abductions often include bright lights as well.

For example, subject Sheila described a "...Blinking red light 'coming in all the windows all over the place.'"(21) Scott "was awed by the intensity and brilliance of the light he had seen while on the table."(22) Peter experienced a "loss of control as light filled the room and he felt a 'presence' around his bed."(23) Arthur said, "It was the most incredible light. If there is such a thing as pure white. Totally pure, and it was everywhere."(24)

Felt the presence of guides or helpers. During OBEs, 26% of the people felt the presence of guides or helpers. These are often thought of as spirit guides or friends. During alien abductions, the aliens are sometimes described as guides or helpers. For example, aliens showed Catherine scenes from a past life and taught her lessons about getting rid of fear.(25) Mack wrote that "The alien beings...appear to have been with, or at least available, to" Joe "as protectors and guides of his spiritual evolution over time..."(26) Mack also wrote that "The alien beings function as spirit energies or guides, serving the evolution of consciousness and identity."(27)

Dark tunnel with white light at end. Twenty-six percent of the OBE subjects described moving through a dark tunnel that had a white light at the end. Sometimes abductees also report this effect or similar effects. For example, subject Ed reported "going down this time tunnel."(28) Carlos described a "Laserlike tunnel of light"(29)

Felt attached to physical body. In twenty-one percent of the OBE subjects, the subject reported having some kind of connection or attachment to the physical body. Sometimes this is described as the silver cord. In most abduction cases, since the subject doesn't believe they are out of their body, they don't feel any kind of connection to it. However, there are some exceptions. For example, subject Paul was connected through his back by "cords"(30)

Felt able to touch objects. Eighteen percent of OBE subjects felt that they were able to touch objects. In abduction cases, subjects are also able to touch objects. More often, they feel the touch of "medical" devices during invasive procedures.

Felt that others were aware of them. Fourteen percent of OBE subjects felt that people not "out-of-body" were aware of their presence. In abduction cases, subjects usually feel the aliens are aware of their presence.

Felt a sense of border or limit. Fourteen percent of OBE subjects felt a sense of border or limit. In abduction cases, subjects also feel a sense of border or limit. For example, they see walls of the spacecraft they are in.

Experienced panoramic vision. Fourteen percent of OBE subjects experienced panoramic vision. I haven't come across alien abductions that describe true panoramic vision, but something similar to it. For example, subject Carlos described "Looking out the window as I walked around the circular space, and I was seeing this beautiful paradise, Earth, in every direction."(31)

Other symptoms common to both alien abductions and OBEs:

There are other striking similarities between OBEs and alien abductions. Although the following symptoms are not categorized in Gabbard and Twemlow's book, these symptoms are common to most OBEs, and are documented in other books, such as those by Robert Crookall.

Sense of separation from physical body. Most people presume that OBEs and alien abductions are unrelated, yet I was surprised to find several references to OBEs in Abduction. It would seem that alien abductees are particularly prone to having OBEs. Other cases have a distinct sense of separation of consciousness, but are not spoken of as an OBE. For example, Mack wrote "At some point Scott had a kind of out-of-body experience from fear, as he looked down on himself and saw his head on a blocklike pillow"(32) Jerry "told several churchmen about an out-of-body experience she had had."(33) Joe said he would "would just go out of" himself and go "anywhere" to "world, space, planets, distance." When Mack asked him, "Your body or your consciousness or both?" Joe replied, "Without my body, sometimes in my body. I become wind. I become space. I become matter. I spin, swirl, slow, fall..."(34) Sara said "I felt like I got out of my body and I couldn't get back in, and I was gone for about two days."(35) Eva saw herself floating from the ceiling. She said, "My consciousness was up there. My physical body was down there."(36) Peter experienced "Consciousness being separate from my physical body, like up here, looking down at myself sitting at this table."(37) Carlos "described what might have been an out of body experience during this illness in which he was visited once again by three or four little creatures with large eyes..."(38) Arthur's "consciousness seemed to split away somewhat"(39)

Paralysis. At the onset of an out-of-body experience, the subject often feels they are paralyzed. Some researchers have explained this as being caused by sleep paralysis in the subject's body during the experience. During many alien abductions, the subject claims that they have been somehow immobilized by the aliens, and unable to move, or even scream. For example, "Jerry had a number of 'nightmares' in which she would awake paralyzed"(40) Catherine "couldn't move at all."(41) Paul "wanted to open his eyes but simply could not do it. He 'dozed off again' (a common paradox in abduction-related terror) and then upon awakening was able to 'break out of it' and look, but there was 'nothin' there.' Although fully conscious now, Paul found he was 'gagging on my breath because I couldn't speak' and was still unable to more for a few more minutes."(42) Dave "was paralyzed now, able to move only his eyes..."(43) Peter said, "I'm paralyzed. I want to kill it, and I can't do anything."(44)

Floating sensations, defying gravity. Subjects having an OBE typically are able to float and defy the laws of gravity. Often, the subject describes flying or gliding as well. Alien abductees claim a similar thing. Abductees commonly float up out of bed and are drawn up into an alien craft. For example, subject Ed talked about a "sensation of floating, and my whole body is starting to float."(45) Peter floated "right through the window." Later, he "floated through the dining and kitchen area and out the door..."(46)

Sudden Inexplicable Changes in Location or Position. During an out-of-body experience, the subject is prone to sudden shifts in location. One minute it may seem as if the subject is lying in bed and the next minute, they are standing in a strange room. During an alien abduction, sudden and/or unexpected changes in location or position also occur. For example, subject Sheila "believes that she went to sleep lying on her left side, but the next thing she actually recalls was being awake on her back."(47) She also describes lying in bed, and after describing a white light, she says, "It doesn't look like my bedroom."(48) Catherine said "the room seemed to transform from a typically spare space-ship room with tables, curved walls, and perhaps a viewing screen into an ornate executive conference room complete with shag carpeting, mahogany paneling, and a large viewing screen."(49) Mack wrote that "the positions of her [Eva's] body she found confusing. 'When I was aware of what was happening it was like I was on my side, but when it was happening, I was on my back...'"(50)

Thoughts Instantly Manifest Reality/Travel via Thought Power. Most OBE writers have talked about how thoughts can instantly manifest or bring about changes in reality. If the OBE subject thinks about their body, they are instantly zapped back into the body. If they think about floating, they start floating. Reality seems to bend itself around our thoughts but also seems limited to what we expect. It is also interesting to note that OBE subjects often speak of traveling via thought power: think of a place, and you will be transported there. These ideas also appear in some alien abductions. For example, "As Catherine recalled when she reviewed the tape of this session, she had had the impression that 'the more I thought of a corporate executive conference room, the more it appeared,' but when she realized that this was a kind of staging, the conference room 'images just melted away to reveal the previous images, and finally the actual room.'"(51) Mack also said that "Travel occurs when 'you just think yourself there.'"(52)

Telepathic Communications. During OBEs, the subjects communicate telepathically with one another. During alien abductions, the subjects almost always communicate with their captors telepathically. For example, subject Catherine said, "He knows exactly what I'm thinking. He's answering the questions before I even think of them."(53) Eva said she was "Able to communicate telepathically with the entities..."(54) Mack also wrote, "Dave said he had talked with Master Joe about the possibility that the alien beings have mastered the capacity to communicate telepathically..."(55)

Increased Wisdom, Spirituality and Spiritual Transformation. OBEs often lead to a kind of spiritual transformation. They often catalyze the individual into becoming more involved in religious pursuits, meditation and other spiritual paths. OBEs that occur within a near-death experience seem to have even greater impact. Alien abductions also lead to a similar kind of spiritual transformation. Many times, abductees are inspired to study spiritual paths. For example, subject Ed was noted to have practiced meditation and studied Eastern philosophy.(56) Jerry described a "Profound transformational process."(57) Catherine talked about "Spiritual growth, this psychic growth."(58)

Able to See their Own Body. It's common for the OBE subject to see their own physical body as another object in the room. There are cases of this in alien abduction literature too. For example, Joe said "I feel like I just integrated all parts of me towards oneness."(59) He also described "a powerful image of looking down and seeing his own body as if in 'a hall of mirrors' and saw himself 'on many different levels.'"(60) Peter said it was "as if his 'spirit' were up in the corner of the room, he could look down on his body on the bed."(61)

Increased Psychic Abilities. Some authors have documented a connection between out-of-body experiences and increased psychic abilities. Alien abductees have also reported increased psychic abilities. For example, "Scott feels that his psychic powers have increased as a result of his experiences."(62) Because of her experiences, Catherine can "Feel people's auras"(63) Sara "exhibited certain paranormal powers, such as the ability at least to create the impression of levitating another child."(64) Mack also said that "Paul (like many abductees) has been psychically skilled all his life and seems to grow more so as he recovers memories of his alien encounters."(65)

Life flashes before eyes. One of the most common features of a Near Death Experience is when the subject sees his life flash before his eyes. Surprisingly, this is sometimes reported in alien abductions. For example, "Memories of his [Scott's] life flashed before him, as he felt had happened 'so many times' during abductions..."(66) Carlos saw a "Televised/projected imagery of a miniature holographic nature, in which particular and multiple personal life scenes are played out while he watches."(67)

Lose consciousness and "wake up" at the end of the experience. A typical OBE ends when the subject loses consciousness, and "wakes up" in bed. A typical alien abduction ends when the subject loses consciousness and wakes up in bed. For example, Peter "awoke" at 11:05 at the end of an experience.(68)

Transcending space and time. During an OBE, the subjects often describe being able to transcend space and time. Some people have had experiences of traveling through time during OBEs, while others describe spanning vast distances of space in the blink of an eye. Some alien abductions also have these characteristics. For example, Mack wrote that "as we reviewed the session Catherine, like other abductees, suggested the things she had experienced 'are like not from our space/time...'"(69) Later he wrote that "other projects are not Earth related and involve 'other dimensions, other galaxies,' but 'time and space is not an issue.'"(70)

Double life, other reality, other dimension or other plane. Many people who have OBEs feel as if they are leading a double life, or a life that contains extracurricular activities beyond their daily waking lives. Most subjects feel their experiences are taking them to another reality, or a different dimension. In occult literature, this is also described as being on a different plane of existence: the "astral plane," thus the term "astral travel." Alien abductees also talk about leading a double life. Abductees sometimes even describe their experiences in terms of a different reality. For example, subject Ed said he had "Access into their dimension."(71) Jerry said "I then said, well, if this is real then I am somehow living a double life...I had a feeling there was a definite reason that I and others like me were not aware of this other reality, at least not as aware as we are about this reality we have here and now."(72) Concerning subject Sara, Mack wrote that "despite the joy she feels when she enters the other dimension, Sara feels it would not have been 'ethically correct' for her to 'jump' the chasm between the two planes totally or too readily."(73) Eva was "living two dimensions simultaneously...I have the gut feeling I was in a higher dimension where linear time is irrelevant."(74) She said that "there are different dimensions, worlds existing within worlds...and to go from one to the next is like a roller coaster. You need to speed up the energy, and then you go to another dimension where the reality is different. In the transition from one reality to another, you feel like you're contracting and expanding at the same time..."(75) She "experiences the abduction encounters as important sources of 'information,' emanating from dimensions beyond or outside of physical reality."(76)

Distortion of Body Image. In most OBEs, the subject perceives their astral body as being identical to their physical body in form and feel. However, there are several documented cases where the subject's body image is distorted. For instance, the subject may feel that his or her astral body is spherical, or no more than a tiny pinpoint of consciousness. Since the astral body can change into any shape, such as that of a wolf, these types of OBE may be the basis for myths and legends of shape-shifting such as lycanthropy (werewolves), vampires and the like. Alien abductees can also contain these properties. For example, Joe's "own form kept changing, 'like a chameleon.' He felt 'more comfortable in a shape like them...somewhat translucent'..."(77) Mack also wrote that "etherical," "fluid," and a sense of "vastness" were other ways Joe described what it felt like to be in the alien form.(78)

Calm, peaceful feeling or ecstasy. During OBEs, it's not uncommon for the subject to describe a sense of peace, calmness or tranquility. This is more frequently associated with OBEs occurring within near-death experiences. There are similarities in abduction cases. For example, Peter wondered why he did not feel afraid when he was "generally scared of heights."(79) Arthur said that "there was absolutely no fear. In fact it was the exact opposite. It was complete euphoria, that is the only way to describe it..."(80)

Ability to see without glasses or contact lenses, ability to see through solid matter. During OBEs, people who would normally wear glasses or contact lenses are able to see without the aid of such devices. OBE subjects also report seeing through walls into the next room. Alien abductees can also see sometimes without the use of eye wear and/or through physical objects. For example, subject Catherine "remarkably, could see adequately throughout the experience, whereas without her lenses 'everything would basically have been a big blur.'"(81) Arthur recalled "seeing his family" in the car "as if the car were a convertible and he could look down on them into a car without a roof."(82)

The Features of Alien Abductions According to Mack:

Now that we've examined the features of an OBE, the next step is to examine the features of alien abductions and make the reverse comparison. In chapter 16 of Abduction John Mack discusses, among other things, some of the common features of alien abductions. I have extracted sentences (pages 390-392) and present it here in tabular format:

Mack's Abduction Features:

No. Common Features of Alien Abductions:
1. "Shift in consciousness" (p.390)
2. "Hum or other odd sound" (p.390)
3. "Appearance of a light for which no usual source can be found" (p.390)
4. "Sense of a presence or even the sight of one or more alien beings" (p.390)
5. "A strong vibratory sensation in the body" (p.390)
6. "Abductees are always sure that they are not dreaming or imagining" (p.390)
7. "Rather they experience that they have moved into another reality.

This is a waking reality, but a different one." (p.390)

8. "Experiencer is taken by some force, often a beam of light or some other energy at the disposal of the alien beings." (p.390)
9. "Through walls, doors, or closed windows." (p.390)
10. "Experiencers may see their home and the earth itself recede before them as they are transported into a spacecraft..." (p.390)
11. "Once inside the craft the abductees see varying numbers of alien beings..." (p.390)
12. "Telepathic communications of various sorts." (p.391)
13. "Various procedures administered under the control of a slightly taller and older-appearing alien, spoken of by abductees as the doctor or leader." (Mack describes the varieties of the procedures that can have a medical or surgical-like quality). (p.391)
14. "In some cases a person is known to have been missing, can recall, with or without hypnosis, an abduction experience, and has returned with bodily lesions for which there seems to be no other explanation. But in other situations, 'complete' abduction does not appear to occur." (p.392)

bduction does not appear to occur." (p.392)

15. "The individual may have an out-of-body experience while others see that he or she has not left the house." (p.392)

Interestingly, except for the references of spacecraft, bodily lesions and medical procedures, the features of alien abductions given by Mack also appear in the list of features common to OBEs. It is also interesting to note that not all OBEs have the same features described. Typically, an OBE will contain a subset of the features described. For instance, a subject may experience vibrations in their body, but not see any strange lights. Likewise, alien abductions also show a subset of the typical features.

So what are the differences?

Physical evidence. OBEs do not generally leave burn marks on your front lawn, or scars, scoop marks or implants.

Independent eyewitnesses. Budd Hopkins has documented cases in which multiple independent witnesses claim to have seen alien abductions as they were taking place. OBEs almost always seem to be subjectively experienced while an outside observer would describe the subject's body as "asleep."

Pain during an OBE is uncommon, but sometimes experienced in abductions. During many alien abduction experience, subjects seem to have been subjected to painful procedures. This is almost unheard of in OBE literature. OBEs are typically painless, and have sometimes been used as a release from painful situations, as in the case of war prisoners undergoing torture.

OBEs can be consciously induced. Some subjects have been able to induce out-of-body experiences at will. I'm not an alien abduction expert, but to the best of my knowledge, alien abductions cannot be induced. If someone knows about cases where it can be, it deserves further study.

Surgeries or genetic experiments. Many cases of alien abduction seem to hinge around genetic experiments or surgeries being conducted by the aliens. Abductees report eggs being taken, fetuses being extracted and sperm samples being collected by the aliens for some kind of genetic manipulation. Sometimes, this is described as sexual in nature, but typically it is described as being done more objectively or scientifically than that. As far as I know, people who have OBEs never report such things. It would be interesting to study whether male abductees report the termination of alien genetic experiments after a vasectomy is performed.

Degree of Control. OBE experiencers usually have more control than abductees. For example, during an OBE, if the subject wants to float down the hallway, they typically can do so. During alien abductions, the subject often feels out of control, and often paralyzed. For example, if they are lying upon what seems to be an examination table, they may not be able to get up.

Conclusions and Theories

A correlation? When we closely examine the symptoms of the typical out-of-body experience, and compare those symptoms with those of a typical alien abduction, the similarities are astounding. However, based on physical evidence, it's not reasonable to conclude that all alien abductions are OBEs in disguise, nor that all OBEs are alien abductions in disguise. However, the similarities are strong enough to suggest that perhaps a fair number of alien abductions have been incorrectly reported as OBEs, and that a fair number of OBEs have been incorrectly reported as alien abductions.

By the most conservative means, it is estimated that out-of-body experiences occur in approximately 11-25% of the population,(83) but some authors have estimated the incidence to be much higher. According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1999 the population of the United States was 272.9 million. That would mean that approximately 30 to 68 million Americans have had an OBE. In Abduction, Mack states:

Polls of the prevalence of the UFO abduction phenomenon in the United States, including a survey of nearly six thousand Americans conducted by the Roper organization between July and September 1991 (Hopkins, Jacobs, and Westrum, 1991) suggest that from several hundred thousand to several million Americans may have had abduction or abduction-related experiences.

In reading Abduction, I was struck by the fact that several of the alien abduction narrations contained references to out-of-body experiences. On the one hand, the descriptions of OBEs by abductees may indicate the experiences may somehow be related. On the other hand, if OBEs do occur in 25% of the population in general, we might expect to find OBE descriptions in 25% of the abduction cases. The fact that the subjects can call one experience an "OBE," and another an "alien abduction" may indicate that the subjects can somehow differentiate between the two. Since the degree of consciousness during an OBE can be equal to (or superior to) normal waking consciousness, it's difficult to determine how the subject can make this distinction. It seems worthwhile for someone to study what criteria the subjects are using to distinguish between the two experiences. It also seems worthwhile for someone to study whether alien abductees are more prone to having OBEs than the rest of the population.

A new method of space exploration? Let us assume for a moment that out-of-body experiences are what they say they are, stepping outside the physical body to explore without the limitations of a physical body another dimension beyond the physical one. If such an ability were mastered, the OBE subject might be able to explore the universe, possibly including trips to other solar systems, other planets, and so forth. Subjects report that OBE travel can occur as fast as or faster than the speed of light. If this were true, given Einstein's theory of relativity it would be far easier to explore time and space while out of body than it would be to physically move your body across solar systems. Some people have speculated that scientists of the future may one day use OBEs as a method of studying the farthest reaches of space. If it's possible for us, it's possible for extraterrestrials as well.

Many scientists now admit that life may exist on other planets. Recent scientific discoveries related to the meteors of Mars seem to lend credence to these admissions. The problem is not whether alien civilizations exist, but whether they can span the vast reaches of space to visit our planet, one that must seem a mere speck of dust in the vast cosmos. If alien civilizations do exist on other planets, perhaps they could be using OBE as a method of exploring the universe, and learning about other physical civilizations--such as ours--through out-of-body travel. What would be the benefit? First, there could be enormous scientific gain because they could learn from technologies developed across the galaxies. They could study us for their own sciences of sociology, biology, medicine, physics or whatever--they could improve their knowledge and technology by observing ours.

One theory that explains alien abductions is that the aliens cause the subjects to leave their body, inducing an OBE either through technology, psychokinesis, or other means, but what purpose would aliens have in studying our souls rather than our physical bodies? This seems to contradict the common claim that genetic material is being collected during alien abductions for some kind of intergalactic breeding program.

Scientists from other worlds may very well be visiting our planet and studying our civilization. The question remains whether this exploration is being done physically, non-physically, or both.

Bridging the Gap. Perhaps our universe is one multidimensional continuum of existence. Given that, it's conceivable that extraterrestrials may have learned to navigate and manipulate matter and energy between the different dimensions or planes of existence. Alien abductions are just one indication that these other dimensions exist, and that the aliens may be able to transport us, physically or non-physically, to and from these other dimensions. At the same time, out-of-body experiences may show us that we also have the ability to navigate and manipulate the same matter and energy between the same dimensions or planes of existence, but on our own terms. Perhaps the UFO and out-of-body groups are taking two different approaches to the same thing: exploration of our multi-dimensional universe. The abductees see themselves as recipients, observers, or victims, while the astral travelers are explorers, pro-actively charting a course for humanity's own explorations of the universe. John Mack, Budd Hopkins and a few other researchers are helping us bridge the gap between out-of-body experiences and alien abductions. I encourage both UFO and OBE groups to continue their research and bring it all together into a greater understanding of our universe.

Regardless of what out-of-body experiences and alien abduction experiences are, they both can have a profound and lasting impact psychologically as well as spiritually. It is well worth our time to further investigate both types of experience and the correlations between the two.

1. John Mack, Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens, (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1994).

2. Glen O. Gabbard and Stuart W. Twemlow, With the Eyes of the Mind: An Empirical Analysis of Out-of-Body States, (New York, NY: Praeger Publishers, 1984.), page 19.

3. John Mack, Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens, (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1994), page 42.

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83. Hart's 1954 surveys of 155 students at Duke University found that 27.1 percent had an OBE. Palmer's 1974 survey of 300 students and 700 adult residents in Virginia found that 25% of the students and 14% of the residents had OBEs. Blackmore's 1984 survey of 593 people from the city of Bristol, England found that 12.2 percent had OBEs. Myers 1983 study of a student population found that 23% had OBEs. Multiple surveys are summarized nicely in Glen O. Gabbard and Stuart W. Twemlow, With the Eyes of the Mind: An Empirical Analysis of Out-of-Body States, (New York, NY: Praeger Publishers, 1984.), pages 8-13.