out of body experience from cortical activation

Monday and Tuesday I attended Social Intelligence: from Brains to Culture at the Royal Society. Lots of interesting talks around the theme of social intelligence, but one tangental note popped up in a neuroanatomy talk by Vittorio Gallese (he of the mirror neurons or “monkey-see-monkey-do cells”).

I always love crazy paranormal “phenomena” being debunked, and this was a brain substrate explanation for “out of body” experiences. The brain area in question (the temporal-parietal junction) is to do with alternative-perspective taking – our ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes and see the world from that angle.

This study by Blanke et al demonstrated that the TPJ was activated when people imagined themselves in typical OBE states, and that the ability to do so was impaired when transcranial magnetic stimulation was aimed at the same area. They also report an epileptic patient who experienced OBE’s when the focus of her seizures was in the TPJ.

More on the speakers at the RoySoc event later.


That the brain grows new cells, how it does it, and in what circumstances–that’s the topic of this piece at Seed Magazine, surveying the work of a number of neuroscientists. I found it really positive to read something so utterly focussed on the science, yet engaging and enthusiastic.

I really loathe the mainstream journalistic need for “the alternative perspective” that more often than not futzes the issue. This avoids that methodological trope.