Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 183–197 | Cite as

Who am I in out of body experiences? Implications from OBEs for the explanandum of a theory of self-consciousness

  • Glenn CarruthersEmail author


Contemporary theories of self-consciousness typically begin by dividing experiences of the self into types, each requiring separate explanation. The stereotypical case of an out of body experience (OBE) may be seen to suggest a distinction between the sense of oneself as an experiencing subject, a mental entity, and a sense of oneself as an embodied person, a bodily entity. Point of view, in the sense of the place from which the subject seems to experience the world, in this case is tied to the sense of oneself as a mental entity and seems to be the ‘real’ self. Closer reading of reports, however, suggests a substantially more complicated picture. For example, the ‘real’ self that is experienced as separate from the body in an OBE is not necessarily experienced as disembodied. Subjects may experience themselves as having two bodies. In cases classed as heautoscopy there is considerable confusion regarding the apparent location of the experiencing subject; is it the ‘real mind’ in the body I seem to be looking out from, or is it in the body that I see? This suggests that visual point of view can dissociate from the experience of one’s own “real mind” or experience of self-identification. I provide a tripartite distinction between the sense of ownership, the sense of embodiment and the sense of subjectivity to better describe these experiences. The phenomenology of OBEs suggests that there are three distinct forms of self-consciousness which need to be explained.


Self-consciousness Out of body experience OBE Sense of embodiment Sense of ownership Sense of subjectivity 



This research was funded by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CE110001021) My thanks go to Laura May Ruggles (Bottrill), Regina Fabry and two anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions and to the members of the Body Representation reading group at Macquarie for their discussion on these issues.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its DisordersMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia

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