November 10, 2007

Out of Body Experience: Want to Have One?

artist's impression of out of body experienceThe poor old man complained of intractable tinnitus, a clinical condition where the patients hear 'ringing' noises in the ears. The great artist Vincent Van Gogh also suffered from this condition. He was so disturbed by the auditory hallucination that he cut off part of his ear. It is said that he used to poke ice picks inside his ear in order to get relief from tinnitus.

Our man in question, too had this symptom. He was given conservative treatment for this {which include betahistine (a histamine analog), sodium fluoride, antihistamines such as meclizine, diuretics (drugs that increase urine output thus lowering the accumulated fluid in the ear) and many others}. But all these failed. The doctors did the next best thing. They put in a tiny electrode in his right superior temporal gyrus and stimulated it electrically. Lo and behold! The patient said that he felt as if he was about 50 centimeters behind his body and to the left.

The scientists led by Dirk De Ridder of Antwerp University, Belgium, immediately straightened up and arranged for PET scanners, machines that detect metabolic (glucose) activity in real time. They noticed that in addition to the area being stimulated, other areas were also showing increased glucose metabolism. For example, supra marginal gyrus, an area that processes informations from the inner ear was also lighting up. Needless to mention, internal ear also senses our (head) position and acceleration/deceleration. Thus activity in supramarginal area may have given the old man (63 year old) the goose pimples: an out of body experience.

It was long known that drugs used in dissociative anesthesia (ketamine, for example) imparted a sensation akin to this, a sensation felt by persons who have been on the verge of certain death, a 'near death experience'. In a condition known as Alice in Wonderland syndrome (Todd's Syndrome) which may occur in patients suffering from migraine or epilepsy, such intense feeling of distortion of ones own self, coupled with fast forwarding of time sense occur.

But scientists didn't stop at that. So they went off with an experiment. They made a guy sit on a chair. Then they fitted two cameras at (behind) his back. The cameras scanned his back and the image was transferred to his eyes by special goggles. So, in essence, he was seeing his own back. The naughty scientists then scratched the poor chap's back. The guy saw one thing (his projection) and felt one thing (real sensation on his real body). Disoriented, he mixed it up and had an out of body experience. How about one yourself.

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