Out Of The Body And Into The Lab: Defining Dr. Alex Tanous' Abilities

Article below, which has been submitted to the Paranthropology Journal (http://paranthropologyjournal.weebly.com/):
During a recent monthly meeting for the Centre of the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes (CSAPP), University of Northampton, a presentation was given by the author on the ‘The Life and Work of Dr Alex Tanous’.  At the end of the presentation, after showing film-footage of out-of-body (OB, or out-of-body experiences, OBE) research carried out by Dr Karlis Osis on Dr Alex Tanous, one student raised an interesting point about the definitions used between OBEs and astral projections.  Dr Tanous was labelled as having the ability to consciously release his mind from the body and have OBEs in which he obtained information from sources which he would not be able to obtain within known sensory means.  During the footage of the experiments held at the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) conducted in the late 1970s to early 1980s, the relaxed body of Dr Tanous would speak to relate the targets he was seeing – while out-of-the-body.  However, the student at the CSAPP meeting remarked ‘‘in an altered state of consciousness, to let the mind travel beyond the body, the body becomes more-or-less functionless, yet Dr Tanous spoke to relay the targets seen during the experiment, how?’’  (or something along those lines). 

Let us discuss the experiences of Dr Tanous to firstly assess whether he was an OBEer or an astral projector (if they are two different things), which should in itself answer our second question, of whether something does actually leave the body or not to create such classifications of experience/ability which we currently use today.

Generally, in OBEs, people report a sense of hovering above their own body, and then travelling to whatever location they desire, to then eventually return and contemplate their experience.  With astral projection, there is the suggestion that something more is leaving the body, an essence of the mind which is not out of sight but can be seen as mists, shadows, shapes or full apparitional forms, which are assumed to be some physical aspect of consciousness (occasionally referred to as the soul).  An excellent example of this can be found in the reported astral projection abilities of the psychic medium Attila von Szalay, which were witnessed by Raymond Bayless (see McAdams & Bayless, 1981, pp. 10-12).  When von Szalay astral projected, he reported his visions as like seeing through a goldfish bowl or an aquarium; he could travel at will, and report the envirnments he explored.  Once, when he travelled to the home of Raymond Bayless, it was reported by Bayless that he saw a shadowy shape hovering about one foot off the floor, it was stationary for a few seconds, moved about the rooms at incredible speed and then vanished.  At the next meeting von Szalay and Bayless had in person, von Szalay told Bayless - to his surprise - that he had visited his home in his astral body.

Therefore, astral projections suggest that a physical form can be seen traveling and exploring, while on the other hand, having an OBE, or indeed remote viewing, involves the percipient psychically seeing information at distant and extending their consciousness to that distant location to obtain information.  However, even OBEs and remote viewing may be separate classifications of the mind leaving the body, therefore, we may have to understand the OBE in terms of stages of altered states of consciousness.  This is more explainable if we further examine the OB abilities of specifically Dr Alex Tanous, which have been researched and reported, and his experiences discussed. 

Dr Tanous used the following definitions for astral projection and OBEs: ‘‘astral travel [is] the casting out and later retrieval of one’s ‘astral body’, a kind of energy or spirit entity, and out-of-body experiences or OBE, in which some relatively intangible part of a person leaves his body and returns’’ (Tanous, with Ardman, 1976, p.114).    It was believed by Dr Tanous that he had astral projected at times, whereupon people witnessed apparitions of him (see Auerbach, 1986, p 43), as well as having had OBEs.  However, he was never sure exactly how he managed to do this, the main suggestion is that it required him to be relaxed and perhaps lost in thought, like a daydream.    These experiences for him had also been occurring since childhood and therefore were accepted as a natural process.  Dr Tanous specifically described his OBEs as follows: ‘‘When I was about seven years old I began to find myself in places which I didn’t recognise.  The form of the experience has not changed.  I seem to myself to have become a very small point of light, my body seems to be no longer there, but the whole universe seems to have opened up to me’’ (Tanous, 1975, pp. 231-232).

This process of the OBE is how Dr Tanous described his personal experiences with the phenomenon during experiments he participated in at the ASPR.  These experiments were filmed for publicity of the research at one point, but were also subsequently published (Osis & McCormick, 1980).  These experiments not only set out to investigate OBEs, but also to see whether any physical essence does indeed leave the body which is in some way measurable.  Dr Tanous further stated that during these experiments ‘‘The observers say that I can speak through the whole experiment, and describe what is going on, and what targets I see inside Dr Osis’ apparatus.  I myself declare when (subjectively at least) I have left the body and the little ball of light which I seem to be is at its brightest.  At that moment I name the target which I see.’’ (Tanous, 1975, p.232).

These experiments suggested from the point of view of the researchers and from Dr Tanous’ experiential point of view, that an altered state of consciousness had been achieved, whereby the subject was no longer aware of their physical body and therefore concentrated on their second body, the body that travels (in Dr Tanous’ case he called this second body ‘Alex 2’).  Therefore, an altered state of consciousness appears to be essential in successful OBEs.  This has been found to be the case in many laboratory experiments where the most hit rates appeared to be achieved when altered states of consciousness are recognised and reported by either the participant or experimenter (Osis, 1974).

Though Dr Osis and McCormick never saw an ‘astral body’ of Dr Tanous next to the apparatus which held the targets, some physical changes were noted.  For example, for Dr Tanous, or anyone to know what the targets were, this required the observer to stand next to the apparatus in the laboratory and place their eye in line with a view hole, where the targets could be seen inside the apparatus.   When Dr Tanous felt the most externalised and actually ‘out of his body’ this corresponded with higher hit rates.  It also corresponded with strain-gauge activation  levels which were highest during high scoring periods when Alex 2 claimed to experience physically peering through the view-hole on the apparatus at the target.  This suggested ‘something’ physical was present and being measured, but what this was exactly was only put down to speculation and was presumed to be some form of extension of consciousness or the astral body (Osis & McCormick, 1980).  However, Rogo (1986) pointed out that with this particular experiment on Dr Tanous’ abilities, we have to be careful in assuming that some form of consciousness or astral body was being measured during the experiment, as it is equally - or more so likely - that the higher strain-gauge levels could have been caused by a psychokinetic effect produced by Dr Tanous (or possibly even the experimenters unconsciously).

If we strictly assume astral projection to be the production of a physical form or apparitional figure when the subjects feels themselves to be traveling, while in an altered state of consciousness and experiences a passage of time, then we could keep the definitions of OBE and astral projection as two different phenomena, with one leading into the other and only being marginally different.  In that case, Dr Tanous’ own definitions of OBE and astral projection are most suitable.   The experiences are different in the sense that one involves more of a physical presence experienced by observers during the event, and a deeper sense of an altered state of consciousness for the experient who extends their mind.  However, even though Dr Tanous claimed at times he had had both experiences, and that he wasn’t aware he was speaking/communicating during the ASPR experiments, his experiences do seem to be more like that of the definitions given to OBEs.  Though we could argue that perhaps Dr Tanous’ experiences were bordering between the two.  If we consider psi experiences and altered states of consciousness in stages (from descriptions of reported experiences), they would likely follow the steps below:




It is common knowledge in parapsychology that OBEs and astral projection are often casually classified as the same thing, something which Dr Tanous himself noted (Tanous, with Ardman, 1976).  He also stated that in some cases of military projects involving psi research, remote viewing experiments were given a large amount of funding, and changed the name of OBEs to ‘remote viewing,’ this was simply because it ‘‘sounded better’’ and appeared by many to be the same thing and ultimately a casual label (Tanous, 1988).  And yet, from the stages above it seems we have such definitions for a reason, to classify the experienced phenomena.  This has not simply added a label to something which we cannot explain, there is suggestion that psi may become more prominent and more objective the more our conscious awareness alters.  This is supported by meditation studies (e.g. Tribbe, 1979), Ganzfeld research (e.g. Roe, Cooper & Martin, 2010), and work on psychedelics (e.g. Luke, 2010).

Certainly in the experiments conducted at the ASPR, it appears Dr Tanous was being tested for - and producing - an out of body ability, as is stated in the study title.  By the definitions presented, it seems that throughout his life he had had both OBEs and astral projections, where in the latter phenomenon, people had reported Dr Tanous’ apparition and at times interacted with it.  It is equally a fair argument that these labels and definitions are just not needed, and that ultimately all we need to know is that they suggest a psi ability in which the mind extends into the environment to psychically retrieve information.  However, purely to answer the question of whether there is a difference between these phenomena, it seems there are marginal differences, so marginal in fact that we can argue that one experience leads into the other which could be down to varying levels of individual conscious awareness.  There is some suggestion that something leaves the body during an OBE that could be measured, and there is certainly eyewitness evidence to suggest that apparitional forms have been seen of people who at the time of the sighting were actually miles away having some form of astral projection (perhaps mediating at the time or sleeping).  Therefore, from exploring the experiments and experiences of Dr Alex Tanous, there appears to be a difference between OBEs and astral projection, but this difference might be considered by some to be trivial, which will likely continue to be subjected to a circular debate amongst researchers.
Auerbach, L. (1986).  ESP, hauntings and poltergeists: A parapsychologist’s handbook.  New York: Warner Books.
Luke, D. (2010). Connecting, diverging and reconnecting: Putting the psi back into psychedelic research. Journal of Parapsychology, 74, 219-234.
McAdams, E.E., & Bayless, R. (1981).  The case for life after death: Parapsychologists look at the evidence. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Osis, K. (1974).  Perspectives for out-of-body research.  In W.G. Roll, R.L. Morris, & J.D. Morris (Eds.) Research in parapsychology 1973 (pp.110-113).  Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
Osis, K., & McCormick, D. (1980).  Kinetic effects at the ostensible location of an out-of-body projection during perceptual testing.  Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 74 (3), 319-329.
Roe, C., Cooper, C.[E]., & Martin, H. (2010).A Comparison of ESP performance under remote viewing and Ganzfeld conditions (pp. 21-22).  Presented at the 53rd Annual Parapsychological Association Convention: Enclos Rey, Paris, France.
Rogo, D.S. (1986). Researching the out-of-body experience: The state of the art. In K.A. Rao (Ed.) Case studies in parapsychology (pp.97-119). London: McFarland & Co.
Tanous, A. (1975). Out-of-the-body experiences.  New Horizons [Proceedings of the First Canadian Conference on Psychokinesis], 1, (5) 231-232.
Tanous, A. (1988).  My psychic journey.  Guest lecture given at Mount St. Vincent College, 13 April, New York.
Tanous, A., with Ardman, H. (1976). Beyond coincidence.  New York: Doubleday & Co.
Tribbe, F.C. (1979). The role of meditation in holistic healing.  Journal of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research, 2 (1), 17-22.