Detail from cover photo from Journeys out of the Body by Robert A. Monroe
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Out of the Body…or Out of Your Mind?

(Featured photo: Detail from cover of Journeys out of the Body, by Robert A. Monroe.)

Every so often I am asked: “Have you ever had an out-of-body experience?”

That is one of those $64-billion-dollar questions (they used to be $64 thousand, but, like the deficit, that has grown…). If the reports from some folks are right, you can have an out-of-body experience (or ‘OBE,’ also known as ‘astral projection’ or ‘autoscopy’) and not even know it – say, for example, when you’re sleeping. Of course, that’s guaranteed to instantly raise a skeptic’s hackles. After all, what a perfect dodge that would be: You could claim to have a mystical sort of experience but, when asked for evidence, just say you don’t remember anything about it because you were asleep, so it must have happened!

But this isn’t about skeptics, and in any case, there are plenty of folks who report OBEs during which they were consciously aware, or at least seemed to be.

Over the years since remote viewing (RV) became widely known, folks have often puzzled over whether remote viewing is the same as or different from an OBE. One inquirer wrote me saying, “[RV] is a form of astral projection . . . If you can do an astral projection, you can do remote viewing.” I wanted to say, “Well, how do you know it’s not the other way around?” After all, maybe astral travel is just a form of remote viewing, and if you can remote view you can astral travel. But I restrained myself, and instead responded along the following lines:

My many years of remote viewing experience tell me that remote viewing is definitely not astral projection or OBE. But I don’t reject the idea that both RV and OBE may come from the same basic human ability. Think of it this way: Radio and television waves are similar in that they both come from the same electromagnetic spectrum. Despite being the “same kind of thing,” though, they give different kinds of experiences and types of information. Because they come from different places on the spectrum, radio provides an audio experience, while television provides both audio and visuals. In the same way that radio and TV are related but different, then, perhaps OBE/astral projection and remote viewing come from different places on the same “ESP spectrum,” so the experiences they provide are related, but different as well. If so, what are those differences?

First, the presumptions behind remote viewing and OBE/astral projection are different. Those who experience astral projection usually assume that some “part” of their person literally travels out into the universe, into an alternate dimension, or into some other aspect of reality. Remote viewing, on the other hand, assumes that no part of the person “goes” anywhere, but that some mechanism of mind simply perceives the experiences and information while the viewer remains quietly at one physical location. (This is one reason it is referred to by many as a form of “nonlocal knowing.”)

Robert A. Monroe. The term "out-of-body experience" was coined to describe his experiences.

Robert A. Monroe. The term “out-of-body experience”
was coined to describe his experiences. (Photo
courtesy F. Holmes Atwater.)

Second, the subjective experiences are different. The classic OBE/astral travel account focuses on the sensation of transcending one’s body. To the experiencer, it “feels like” his or her bodyless self literally travels to the scene (or “locale,” as OBE pioneer Robert A. “Bob” Monroe termed it) for a visit, and may even seem to have the ability to interact in limited ways while there.

In properly-done remote viewing there is no impression of leaving one’s body, nor is there any sensation of “departure.” Remote viewers are completely aware of staying fully within their own bodies, in the specific time-space location where they began their sessions.

This is true of any form of remote viewing, even so-called “extended” remote viewing, or ERV, as originally developed and performed in the military remote viewing program. In ERV one lies comfortably in a bed and relaxes, establishing an hypnagogic state–that is, mind on the verge of sleep, body totally relaxed. ERVers believe this will quiet the active mind and thin out the boundary between conscious awareness and subconscious. In theory this helps perceptions from the target flow more easily into the viewer’s mind with fewer interjections from mental analysis. But even in this state a viewer does not experience a transfer of self out of physical body. (Some might suggest that the remote viewing phenomenon of “bilocation” is a form of OBE. I think the two are different, which I shall write about some other time.)

Extended Remote Viewing (ERV) uses a hypnagogic state that is different from out of body experiences (OBE)

Extended Remote Viewing (ERV) uses a hypnagogic state
which differs from OBE.

Third, the information-gathering value of RV and OBE is not the same. In remote viewing, both verbal data and graphic representations (sketches, clay models, etc.) are recorded as they are received, as opposed to OBE in which the information can only be captured after the OBE session is done. The remote viewer doesn’t have to try to remember all his or her experiences in a lump at the end, but records them in real time over the course of the session. In OBE, the experiencer has to wait until after the experience is over to record from memory any impressions he or she receives. This leaves the perceptions vulnerable to problems typical of recalling experiences from memory, such as incomplete recall, memory distortion, and even outright forgetting.

Finally, with a few unverified exceptions, OBE/astral travel cannot be done on demand, nor can the experiencer decide where he or she “goes.” You can’t just “decide” to have an out-of-body experience. You have to take it when it happens. Further, you can’t decide where you “go,” but simply end up where the whims of the universe take you. On the other hand, a well-trained remote viewer will almost always “go” where directed. The value of this from an information-collection perspective is obvious. If you happen to be an intelligence analyst or a police detective, and you can’t count on your sources to bring you information from the time and place you need it, there’s no point in them bringing you information from some other place they visited at random.

None of this means that either RV or OBE is better or worse, only that they are different and might be better at different things.  Astral travel/OBE is fine with me, and I encourage anyone who wishes to attempt it to go ahead and try. Maybe experimentation will find a way to make it work for some of the same uses as RV, though Bob Monroe and others found this problematic.

Don’t forget, descriptions of OBE/astral travel have been around for millennia. So when Ingo Swann coined the term “remote viewing” in 1971 while working in Dr. Karlis Osis’s laboratory, he was perfectly aware of the paranormal literature on astral projection and OBE. Indeed, some of Ingo’s earliest experiences as a child were OBEs. The ESP experiments he was recruited to perform in Osis’s lab were to test for OBEs. It was in response to those experiments that Ingo invented the remote viewing protocol. He meant the term “remote viewing” to refer to a specific activity, performed within a certain experimental framework, which he felt was distinct from any out-of-body experience or astral travel. If anyone knew the difference, he did.

So there you have it: Are remote viewing and OBE/astral travel the same? Apparently not. Does it make a difference? Almost certainly. Are they related? Definitely maybe.

By the way, as far as I know I have never myself experienced anything I could identify as an out-of-body state, so I conclude I haven’t had any OBEs. .  .unless, of course, I had them while I snoozed.

Paul H. Smith is creator of the Remote Perception: Basic Operational Training home study course. . . Buy it here!Remote Perception Basic Operational Training home study course

. . . and author of The Essential Guide to Remote Viewing: The Secret Military Remote Perception Skill Anyone Can Learn.

Buy your autographed copy here! The Essential Guide to Remote Viewing cover


  1. Rob

    Well written descriptive differences. I can say from my experiences (which may or may not have value), that one’s perception goes where directed, in a conscious and a shared state (both conscious and unconsciousness working together). In this, I would surmise the descriptive difference as one being a perception of information. I would like to suggest that the use of a hypnogogic state by some works for them and may not be to others. It’s a matter of being able to filter mentally may well be an individual preference choice, rather than a necessity. Everyone is different in how they may feel the most comfortable responding and staying on task with a signal line than others. Paul, I appreciate your posts as you have a way with words that assists in definitions of differences that mean a lot.

  2. Steve S.

    I haven’t been a very consistent remote viewer, but I know I haven’t practiced enough. However I did have an out of body experience (OBE) back in 1997 when I was meditating twice daily and listening to a Gateway Voyager tape every day. It was completely different from an RV session. I wasn’t trying to have an OBE – it just happened one night when I woke up at 3 AM and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was a cold night and I was lying on my back covered with heavy blankets. With my eyes closed, I began to see a vibrating pattern of light. I concentrated on it very intensely and began to feel a low-frequency vibration in my chest. There was a bright flash of light and a snapping sound. The next sensation I had was that my legs and arms were floating up limply in front of me. I knew this wasn’t physically possible because of the heavy blankets. I concluded it must be an OBE and decided to float up out of my body. I had the distinct sensation of rising. My eyes were still closed so I decided to roll over and look at my body in bed. The rolling sensation was not like a dream – it was as real as physically rolling over. But when I opened my eyes, all I saw was blackness. But as I continued to rise, my face appeared in front of me drifting downward as I rose above it. I was amazed when I realized that I had only risen perhaps an inch or two when I first opened my eyes, and I hadn’t cleared my own head. I can tell you it’s awfully dark in there! I wasn’t afraid, so I rose up to the ceiling and drifted over to the corner of my bedroom by the door. I experimented a little with weightlessness and moving around. I thought about visiting a friend across town to show her what I had done and to see if her spirit would recognize my presence. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to venture that far from my body the first time, and I wasn’t sure she was home. This indecision seemed to trigger my return. Despite my protestations, I felt myself falling toward my body and rotating, and with a thud, I landed on the bed on my back. My arms and legs were still free for a moment, but then they merged also and the OBE was over. I was ecstatic that I had achieved an OBE, but a little disappointed at myself for not having controlled it better. Clarity of mind and intent seemed to be very important.

    • Steve–that is an impressively detailed account. Almost made me feel like I had done it myself!–which leads to a question in my own mind. Your description struck such a familiar cord in my mind that I wonder if I might indeed have actually done it myself, but just not within conscious memory. Interesting… 🙂

  3. Fortune

    Thank you for explaining the difference so well.

    I took William Buhlman’s OBE workshop at Monroe. I planned an experiment a head of the course just in case i managed an OBE. I told my friend Bill P. to put something on top of his mothers refrig and i would try to travel and see if i could describe it. One time i got the vibrations and lift off and intended to go to the kitchen of Bill’s mother and look see. Surprisingly i found myself in the kitchen surprised it was dark but small night light on . What i briefly saw on the refrig looked transparent glassy hollow, However, big however, i faintly heard drumming, some sort of gathering, ii took off to seek it out, lost all interest in the object on the fridge. OBE would not be good for focused info gathering, too many other fascinating things to see. i met two blue giants on my adventure. I’ve done CRV, ERV and experienced bilocation effects but both are different than OBE in the ways Paul stated.

  4. Geir

    Quote: “Finally, with a few unverified exceptions, OBE/astral travel cannot be done on demand, nor can the experiencer decide where he or she “goes.” You can’t just “decide” to have an out-of-body experience. ”

    Well, according to Robert Bruce’s and William Buhlman’s books and courses, OBE on demand can be learned and is what they indeed are trying to learn people. I have had limited (partial) success myself with Robert Bruce’s methods and are still practizing his methods. Robert Bruce also say, with practice you have some control over where you go. I am unsure of what Buhlman say on this though, since it is Bruce’s methods I know most about.

    • Actually, those are some of the “unverified exceptions” I was referring to. There are a few folks who say they do have some control of where they go when they’re OBE. The problem is, those claims haven’t been verified, as far as I’m aware. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am saying that I’ve got to have better evidence than someone simply saying they can do it. Bob Monroe (for whom, as I mentioned I think, the term “out of body experience” was created) seemed able to repeatedly visit his various “locales,” but these appear to have been metaphysical rather than geographic in nature. When he tried to visit earthly location, he rarely was able to “go” where he wanted to. Most other OBE experiencers I’m aware of seem to report the same problem. And it is being able on demand to visit specific earthly locations as needed that is relevant to remote viewing. Remote viewing can do this. It seems at the very least more difficult for OBE. Anyway, that’s my take on it! 🙂

    • Rob Abbott

      I have never had the experience. There are a great many folks out in the market who have their own spin and from their experience their own understanding. There was a time, quite a while ago that I tried to learn from the materials of sevetal folks. Never occurred however, other than directly after an acute case of sudden deceleration syndrome. I was out of body briefly watching CPR being performed on me. However, it wasn’t for very long. Several minutes maybe. It was an interesting experience.

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