Out-of-Body Experiences vs. Lucid Dreams

By Bob Peterson
April 17, 1995

Are OBEs and Lucid Dreams the same phenomena? Based on my experiences with both states, I believe they are different.

The following is table 6.5 from chapter 6 of "With the Eyes of the Mind An Empirical Analysis of Out-of-Body States" by Gabbard and Twemlow (1984).

The book is an in-depth study of the OBE from a psychological perspective.

Each chapter compares OBE to a psychological phenomena to see how they stack up. One of the things they compare OBEs to is Lucid Dreams.

The chapter is called "More Real Than a Dream."

Comparison of Lucid Dreams and OBE

LUCID DREAM OBE
A. 50%-70% incidence in general population. 14%-25% incidence in general population.
B. Occurs only during sleep. Occurs usually when awake.
C. Dreamer can consciously program the dream. OBEer is a passive, objective observer.
D. Dreamer and physical body are still integrated. OBEer perceives him/herself as separated from the physical body, which is inert and thoughtless.
E. Consciousness often vivid, with mystical qualities in experienced subjects. Consciousness more ordinary, like being awake, even in experienced subjects.
F. Dream is seen as a totally personal (subjective) production of the dreamer's mind. OBEer does not see it as a subjective personal production, but rather as objective reality.
G. EEG; REM dream type with occasional alpha. No typical REM findings on EEG.
H. Physical body not visible. Physical body usually visible.
I. Fewer have a lasting positive impact. Usually a highly positive lasting impact.

I'd like to comment on some of the findings described in the chart. First, under D, I'd like to note that during Lucid Dreams, the dreamer is aware of him/herself as occupying the dream body, and is not aware of another (physical) body. A lucid dreamer may "realize" they have a body that's sleeping, but they have no awareness of that sleeping body. An OBEer also occupies his or her non-physical body, but often they are aware of their physical body in relation to where their consciousness is.

Under H, often the OBEer will see their physical body, but LDers do not. Under G, lucid dreams have been classified into two categories:

(1) ones that occur during REM sleep, and (2) ones that occur during non-REM (NREM) sleep. As far as I know, most of the research in LDs has been on the second kind. Although the data is lacking, studies on OBEs indicate they do not occur during REM sleep. If anyone knows of research which contradicts this, I'd like more information/references.

Other differences:

In a lucid dream, typically one does not dream about being in one's bedroom, as is common in the out-of-body state.

Also, after a lucid dream, the subject accepts the "unreality" of the lucid dream after awakening. After an OBE, the subject usually asserts emphatically that the experience was "real."

Many Lucid Dreams contain sexual content. In fact, author Patricia Garfield indicates that "fully two-thirds" of her LDs have sexual content.

During LDs, sexuality is convincingly real. In other words, it feels the same as real sex.

OBEs, however, rarely have sexual content. When OBEers report having "astral sex," the experience is not anything like physical sex. It's more like an ecstatic mind-trip, a transfer of energy, or a euphoria, but it doesn't feel like physical sex.

Lucid dreams are not easily remembered, unless one is conditioned. LaBerge indicates that memory is a key factor of having Lucid Dreams. OBEs, however, are usually remembered vividly for years.

Typical lucid dreams happen from REM sleep. People don't unexpectedly pass into a lucid dream from a waking state. But typical OBEs are initiated from a waking state. In fact, OBEs can unexpectedly occur from a waking state. For instance, several people (myself included) have reported OBEs during which they have unexpectedly "fallen out of their body" from total consciousness. Some of these (mine included) occur when the physical body is active, such as walking down the street.

Also, an out-of-body experience is a typical feature of a Near Death Experience (NDE). One can hardly think that Lucid Dreams occur during an NDE, especially because the physical body doesn't spontaneously go into REM sleep during an NDE.

LaBerge, in chapter 3 (page 61) of his (excellent) book "Lucid Dreaming" cites that "untested philosophical assumptions have until recently blocked the scientific study and acceptance of lucid dreaming." And yet his untested philosophical assumptions about the OBE have biased people's attitudes against regarding the OBE as a separate phenomena worthy of scientific study. As a result, many people have "written off" the OBE as a lucid dream of poor quality.

Regardless of what OBEs and Lucid Dreams are, I believe they are two separate phenomena, and I'm not alone in this belief (as supported by Gabbard and Twemlow). I do believe that occasionally people confuse one experience for the other. And granted: It's very difficult to tell the difference in some cases. One thing is for sure: more study is needed. It is premature to jump to the conclusion that "OBEs are actually variant interpretations of lucid dreams" as proposed by LaBerge in chapter 9 of his book.

Let the flaming begin.

Bob Peterson


Reply Dean Walker

Dean Walker

As a fairly regular lucid dreamer (usually at least 2 to 3 per month) who has put more effort into writing about lucid dreams than inducing them of late :-) I couldn't resist responding to your post.

I personally have never experienced an OBE, or at least my idea of what an out of body experience should be like. I have experienced the disorientation, paralysis, tingling, and floating sensations when trying to induce an OBE, but have never succeeded in "separating". These attempts have been from a starting point of waking consciousness, usually in the evening, where I allow myself to enter a state of total relaxation whilst lying on my back.

Despite my failures to deliberately induce an OBE, I have experienced floating sensations in the early morning which have resulted in what I generally regard as a lucid dream experience. The "dream" begins with me floating out of bed and onto the floor. I stand up and explore the house and surrounding environment. Many might interpret this experience as an OBE, but I do not since it is not significantly different from my other lucid dreams.

Before I begin I should point out that I lean towards the point of view which regards OBEs and lucid dreams as a continuum of experience with considerable overlap in between. Just so you know where I'm coming from.

So a few observations about the Gabbard and Twemlow chart:-

LUCID DREAM OBE
A. 50%-70% incidence in general population. 14%-25% incidence in general population.

I take it that the figure of 50%-70% refers to the number of people who claim to have had at least one lucid dream in their lifetimes. Conservative estimates for incidence of lucid dreaming given by Snyder and Gackenbach (in "Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain") based on several different studies give a figure of 58% of the population (USA I guess) having had at least one lucid dream during their lifetime. However they quote the much smaller figure of 21% for those who report regular lucid dreams (at a frequency of one or more per month). Hopefully in section A of the chart, like is being compared with like where 50%-70% lucid dreams is being compared with 14%-25% OBEs.

B. Occurs only during sleep. Occurs usually when awake.

This is a tricky one. Is it a characteristic of lucid dreams that they occur during sleep? Or must a lucid dream occur during sleep by definition ? After all one of the things that defines a dream is the fact that it occurs when we sleep. I think this is a difference in definitions and not in the experience.

In my opinion saying LD's only occur during sleep tells us nothing useful about how OBEs and lucid dreams compare. It's just a consequence of how we have chosen to label these experiences.

Anyway you could argue that an OBE is a conscious transition into sleep, since the body is usually inactive. And after all, one mans OBE induced from the waking state is another mans WILD (wake initiated lucid dream).

C. Dreamer can consciously program the dream. OBEer is a passive, objective observer.

Firstly it is not always possible to control the dream when lucid. Lucidity is merely conscious awareness of the dream state. A consequence of this is usually total control over your own actions, and sometimes control over wider aspects of the dream.

Secondly, lucid dreamers have to be objective observers for the most part, otherwise they risk becoming reabsorbed into the dream scenario and losing conscious awareness.

D. Dreamer and physical body are still integrated. OBEer perceives him/herself as separated from the physical body, which is inert and thoughtless.

This is just a question of how the dreamer and OBEer interpret their predicaments, and not necessarily anything to do with the difference between the experiences.

The dreamer often has a dream body which is quite separate from their physical body, but believes it to be a construction of their minds with no objective reality of its own. However the OBEer, who often has a similar bodily perception, will probably view it as being an etheral or astral body which does have a separate and objective reality of its own. This belief is often re-inforced if the OBEer experiences separation and then perceives what they believe to be their inert physical body.

E. Consciousness often vivid, with mystical qualities in experienced subjects. Consciousness more ordinary, like being awake, even in experienced subjects.

Well, I've read a bit about OBEers travelling to distant planes of existence and meeting all sorts of wierd and wonderful non-physical beings, some of which are able to communicate with the OBEer via telepathy. I've also read of realms of existence where perceptions are mixed up such that it is possible to hear colours and to see sounds, that kind of thing. These sorts of experience are certainly not of any ordinary consciousness that I am familiar with.

I admit that there do seem to be two sorts of OBE account. On the one hand there are those where the OBEer seems to be travelling in disembodied form throughout the objective reality that we all know and love (to hate?). And on the other hand there are accounts of a more mystical nature, involving other realities which in some (most?) cases are apparently still objective realities.

This dichotomy is also true of what I regard to be lucid dreams. I have lucid dreams where I possess more or less waking consciousness, where the dream environment is fairly stable (although differing from reality somewhat). But I also have lucid dreams where I possess somewhat less of my waking faculty and find there to be much less stability and more elements of fantasy involved.

I personally have a theory (which was probably stolen from someone else, but if so I can't remember) that it is the integrity of our mental models of the world which dictate what we experience when sensory deprivation sets in. The longer the period since we lost contact with the physical world, the more elements of fantasy that are likely to be involved. Thus maintaining conscious awareness from waking through to the OBE/lucid dream state might result in a somewhat intact mental model which is perhaps reflected in the realistic perceptions of the room in which we physically (as opposed to mentally, spiritually or etherally) reside.

F. Dream is seen as a totally personal (subjective) production of the dreamer's mind. OBEer does not see it as a subjective personal production, but rather as objective reality.

Again this is just a statement of how the dreamer and OBEer interpret their experiences, and not a difference in the experiences themselves.

G. EEG; REM dream type with occasional alpha. No typical REM findings on EEG.

Can't comment on this, other than to say that if true, then this is the best evidence yet for a real difference between OBEs and lucid dreams.

H. Physical body not visible. Physical body usually visible.

I haven't seen my own body in a lucid dream, other than in a mirror or from the usual vantage point of the eyes in my head. However I'm sure I've read accounts where lucid dreamers have seen a representation of their physically bodies within the dream (I'm sure someone can back me up here?).

This comes down to expectations I believe. Expectations have an enormous effect on the imagery during dreams, and I see no reason why the same shouldn't be true for OBEs. After all, not every OBEer precieves the legendary silver cord, and of those that do some report it as emerging from different points on the body to the solar plexus, such as the small of the back, the neck or the top of the head to name a few. It seems to depend on where you expect to see it. So whether a physical body is percieved or not depends on whether you expect to see a body or not, in my opinion.

I. Fewer have a lasting positive impact. Usually a highly positive lasting impact.

One of the traits of a lucid versus a non-lucid dream is the frequency with which lucid dreamers report positive carryover from the dream into their waking lives, sometimes with effects lasting a week or more. Whilst it is possible that OBEs produce even greater and more frequent positive feeling than lucid dreams, this seems to be a characteristic which unites rather than separates the 2 experiences from each other. As far as positive carryover goes, OBEs and Lucid dreams have more in common with each other than with other experiences such as non-lucid dreams (nightmares especially), or waking life for example.

Bob Peterson says:
An OBEer also occupies his or her non-physical body, but often they are aware of their physical body in relation to where their consciousness is.
I would say it is questionable as to whether an OBEer has awareness of their true physical bodies. They perceive a representation of their physical bodies, but to say that it is their physical body is a hasty conclusion in my opinion.
Bob Peterson says:
Under H, often the OBEer will see their physical body, but LDers do not.
I'm sure other LDers may have something to say about this.
Bob Peterson says:
Under G, lucid dreams have been classified into two categories: (1) ones that occur during REM sleep, and (2) ones that occur during non-REM (NREM) sleep. As far as I know, most of the research in LDs has been on the second kind.
I don't think so. As far as I know, the research into lucid dreams has been irrespective of the phase of sleep in which they occur. However lucid dreaming is largely recognised as being a REM sleep phenomenon.

Hearne, LaBerge and others since have been able to prove that lucid dreams occur during normal REM sleep by asking test subjects to perform pre-arranged eye and fist clenching signals at lucidity onset. The overwhelming majority of the signals were given during REM (as opposed to NREM) sleep.

Now that isn't to say that lucidity doesn't sometimes occur during NREM sleep also. In fact LaBerge cites the case of a subject in his book "Lucid Dreaming" who was able to become lucid briefly during NREM stage 1 sleep. These lucid episodes were very short, lasting only a matter of seconds and perhaps could be better described as becoming aware or maintaining awareness within the hypnagogic state rather than being lucid within a dream.

Bob Peterson says:
In a lucid dream, typically one does not dream about being in one's bedroom, as is common in the out-of-body state.
Well you could question whether or not my experiences are lucid dreams or OBEs, but the majority of what I would describe as lucid dreams occur within the house I currently occupy and often begin specifically in my bedroom. There are so many discrepancies with waking reality especially when I look at the surrounding landscape, that I can only conclude that I am dreaming. I could try to invent a theory which might explain the discrepancies (such as parallel universes etc), but since the images are so unstable (they vary both between dreams and within the same dream), that it's just not worth it. Dreaming fits so much better as an explanation in these cases.
Bob Peterson says:
Also, after a lucid dream, the subject accepts the "unreality" of the lucid dream after awakening. After an OBE, the subject usually asserts emphatically that the experience was "real."
Lucid dreams sometimes feel more real that reality. This often leads lucid dreamers to ask themselves deep questions about the nature of reality itself. But these questions are asked from a context of realising that everything that we perceive is based on our own mental models of the world, and not from the context of believing that the apparatus for perception has gone walk about during the night through physical or other realities.

If anything, the realisation that lucid dreamers come to is that what we take for granted as being reality is only a second hand representation in our minds. That life is but a dream. This seems to be an opposite kind of thinking to OBEers who believe that the clarity of perception and consciousness awareness that is present during their experiences is indicative of a first hand perception of reality from whatever vantage point the imagery might be suggesting.

The theory that I personally subscribe to is that we construct mental models which are highly accurate representations of our immediate environments, constantly being updated by our physical senses. But when we sleep or are otherwise isolated from those senses, the mental models diverge from reality allowing us to perceive imagery from apparently impossible vantage points. I believe that whenever we perceive anything, it is always with reference to the internal mental models and therefore any waking perceptions are heavily filtered and re-organised by our minds.

Bob Peterson says:
Lucid dreams are not easily remembered, unless one is conditioned. LaBerge indicates that memory is a key factor of having Lucid Dreams. OBEs, however, are usually remembered vividly for years.
I find this curious. I too have read LaBerge stating that "without recall, even if you do have a lucid dream, you won't remember it". Whilst I agree that I have had some lucid dreams where I have found it difficult to recall the details, the vast majority are as easy or even easier to remember than events which occur during waking life. The more vivid the lucid dream the easier it is to remember. And the fact that dreams often increase in brilliance at lucidity onset makes them much easier to remember. Also conscious awareness seems to break the amnesia barrier (for me anyway), such that there is almost no noticeable transition or gap in consciousness from dreaming to waking. Awakening from a non-lucid dream on the other hand is often associated with a period of disorientation and confusion, which hampers recall.
Bob Peterson says:
Some of these (mine included) occur when the physical body is active, such as walking down the street.
This must be a very weird sensation. I can only assume that these occur as a result of some sort of withdrawal of the mind from its immediate sensory input. I would agree that this sort of experience should be regarded as different from lucid dreaming, in that more is going on here than just vivid imagery during alert relaxation or dreaming.
Bob Peterson says:
LaBerge, in chapter 3 (page 61) of his (excellent) book "Lucid Dreaming" cites that "untested philosophical assumptions have until recently blocked the scientific study and acceptance of lucid dreaming." And yet is untested philosophical assumptions about the OBE have biased people's attitudes against regarding the OBE as a separate phenomena worthy of scientific study.
Possibly. I can see that those people who are introduced to the subject of OBEs before lucid dreams are likely to see things differently from those introduced to lucid dreams first. But the bottom line is that people make up their own minds about these things. I think mainstream science has only ever been interested in studying safe subjects which fit in with current theories about the universe and from which clear-cut results can be achieved from experimentation. It seems to me that the scientific study of lucid dreaming seems to have sky rocketed since the early eighties because those sorts of results were achieved, so I can see how it might seem that OBEs have been left on the fringe.
Bob Peterson says:
As a result, many people have "written off" the OBE as a lucid dream of poor quality.
I've never heard anyone write off OBEs as lucid dreams of poor quality. If anything OBEs are a high quality experience because of the reported stability and duration that they seem have. In my opinion the only inferiority (if I can call it that) that OBEs have is that perhaps the OBEer is making too many assumptions about what is actually happening and about what is real and what is imagined. Because the OBEer believes that they are perceiving an objective reality, they might be imposing limits on themselves and the course of their experience.

However I have to admit that the comparison that LaBerge makes on p140 of "Lucid Dreaming" between OBEers and children at "Piaget's second stage" is a little bit demeaning. The implication being that OBEers should grow up and become lucid dreamers. I think the analogy was a bit unfortunate in that respect.

Bob Peterson says:
Regardless of what OBEs and Lucid Dreams are, I believe they are two separate phenomena, and I'm not alone in this belief (as supported by Gabbard and Twemlow). I do believe that occasionally people confuse one experience for the other. And granted: It's very difficult to tell the difference in some cases. One thing is for sure: more study is needed. It is premature to jump to the conclusion that "OBEs are actually variant interpretations of lucid dreams" as proposed by LaBerge in chapter 9 of his book.
As stated earlier I believe OBEs and LDs to be part of a continuum of experience with considerable overlap between them. You could also extend the continuum I suppose to include all the different states of consciousness, again with a lot of overlap.

Perhaps it is premature to regard the 2 states as identical, but I think it is very worthwhile in exploring the possibility that they are the same thing or at least closely related. And after all, OBE research might be benefiting from all the attention that lucid dreams seem to be getting by the scientific community.

Dean Walker


Re-Reply Bob Peterson

Bob Peterson
Dean Walker says:
Do you claim that as I had this dream in which I was aware of both my dream body and my physical body, I was not lucid but rather had an OBE? I was undoubtedly in a dream world but I was able to feel my dream body and physical body at the same time.
Good comments! Well, I suppose that it all depends on your definition of what a dream is, and your definition of what an OBE is. In Susan Blackmore's book "Beyond the Body" she defines an OBE as "an experience in which one seems to perceive the world from a location outside the physical body." She also is quick to point out that, "...the _experience_ of being out of the body is not equivalent to the fact of being out." So perhaps you did have an OBE. Perhaps "false awakenings" are dreams too. What made you believe it was only a dream? Was it due to the strength or quality of your consciousness during the experience?

Was it because the dream scenery seemed less "real"?

How do you define dreams anyway? If a "dream" is defined as any "hallucination" experienced while the body is inanimate, then OBEs would fit into that category. My point is that we can get into semantic problems here.

Dean Walker says:
I felt that I was lying on my left side in my bed. At the same time, I felt that I was floating. In the dream, I levitated in such a position that my head pointed to the opposite direction as in the real world. Very confusing to feel two opposite postures.
I've had OBEs during which I've had partial awareness of my body. For example, I've had OBEs where I was floating above my body, yet when I opened my eyes, I saw from my body's perspective. I agree: it's very confusing to feel two opposing sets of sensory data at the same time. Again, what makes you so sure your experience was not an OBE?
Dean Walker says:
I did not but as I said, I think I was only lucid.
(snip)
After a false awakening, it seems to be typical to dream about being in one's own bedroom. In these kinds of dreams, both in lucid and not, my bedroom has never resembled my real bedroom on a large scale. Also it is said that by utilizing the so-called spinning technique, the dream world often changes to somewhat resemble the dreamer's bedroom.
Perhaps this all supports the theory that lucid dreams are really just poorly developed OBEs, rather than the other way around as some people insist. Perhaps LDs are OBEs in which the scenery is manufactured by the mind, and therefore obscures the perceptions of another more objective OBE-world. During the LD experience, you may realize that the dream scenery is not real, no matter how vividly real it seems. After all, you know you are dreaming; you know your perceptions are not "real". Perhaps in this LD your consciousness became more aware of perceptions from your OBE-consciousness which was located in your bedroom.

Notice that I did not assert anywhere that we are perceiving the physical world during an OBE. I think that some people have misunderstood me on this point. I believe that the OBE "world" has its own objective reality, which can be shared by others (e.g. having OBEs). But the OBE world doesn't have to reflect what's happening in the physical world. Anyway, somehow the scenery seems more "real" to OBEers than to Lucid Dream experiencers.

Bob


Addenum

Bob Peterson

The recent article posted by The Lucidity Institute (which is also available on their WWW home page) is good. However, I'd like to give my $0.02 worth.

Problem #1:

The majority of their article seemed to use the argument that "OBEs must be the same as lucid dreams (LDs) because some lucid dreams resemble OBEs." That is like saying: "Apples are round fruit that grow on trees. Since oranges are also round fruit that grow on trees, apples must be oranges." Actually, the argument is even more weak since they only claimed that "some" lucid dreams resembled OBEs. If they want to study whether OBEs are the same as lucid dreams, they should produce some OBEs in their lab, not just LDs.

Problem #2:

What evidence do they have that their "lucid dreams" that had OBE symptoms, were in fact "lucid dreams"? How did their subjects know they weren't having genuine OBEs? Consider this conversation: Person 1 says, "Hey, listen to this unlabelled cassette tape. I think it's by Metallica!" Person 2 listens and says, "It reminds me of other people's descriptions of Megadeth." Person 1: "Hey, I bet Megadeth IS Metallica!" But how do we know that Person 2 wasn't really listening to a Megadeth tape? The point is, if the subjects were set up to expect a lucid dream, any genuine OBEs they had may have been interpreted as lucid dreams.

As I've said before, part of the problem is semantics. How do you define an OBE? How do you define an LD? If you define an "out-of-body experience" as an experience where your body-image doesn't correspond with your physical body, then all ordinary dreams would qualify by that definition. If you define a Lucid Dream as an experience of being conscious while your body is inanimate, then LDs and OBEs would fall into the same category.

Bob