Astral projection or astral travel refers to the purported experience of a person's conscious awareness leaving the physical body to observe the world from an independent and objective point of view. This is also referred to as an Out of Body Experience (OBE).
Mainstream science dismisses astral projection out of hand as being impossible according to the laws of physics as they are currently understood. It is relegated instead to flights of imagination, dreams, or hallucinations.
A surprising number of people — about 14% of the population according to many studies — have experienced astral projection or OBEs. Sometimes it occurs in moments of crisis. A common example involves near-fatal accidents where the subject later reports floating above the body near the ceiling in the hospital, watching on as an objective observer, taking in the actions and conversations of the medical personnel working below them. People who have recovered in such instances have reported watching their doctors pronounce them dead, or calling for specific life-saving techniques later recounted and verified by those present. This is often referred to as a Near Death Experience (NDE).
Aside from times of crisis, astral projection can take place when meditating, in trance, resting or while sleeping. Rather than hover over his or her body, the subject might travel great distances, such as to other states or countries where loved ones are located. Sometimes information or details gleaned while projecting is said to have been later verified by the subject whose physical body could not have perceived the information directly.
Edgar Cayce was widely believed to conduct medical diagnosis of needy victims from all corners of the world — all while in a trance on his couch at home. Many journalists, scientists and doctors of Cayce's day investigated him expecting to uncover a clever fraud, but instead came away convinced of his talents albeit mystified as to any possible scientific explanation.
In 1970 the CIA working with the Department of Defense reportedly began their own then-undercover research program into astral projection. They called it remote viewing and were interested in it as a possible means to surreptitiously obtain information from enemies and engage in psychic warfare. The name of the remote viewing program was originally SCANATE (standing for Scan by Coordinate). According to those involved in the project, Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff headed up the research team at Stanford Research Institute. The organization that began as SCANATE became PSI TECH in 1989, and moved into the private sector but continues to be run by former military members who were involved with it when it was still under the auspices of the DOD. In November 1991 the Associated Press reported PSI TECH was engaged by the UN to help find possible biological weapons in Iraq.
Internationally celebrated psychologist Charles T. Tart differentiates between science and scientism when it comes to work regarding altered states of consciousness and astral projection. He believes parapsychology, including astral travel, is dismissed because an attitude of dogmatic scientism preempts scientific study, creating instead a presupposition that the experience cannot be real because it violates known laws of physics. Dr. Tart believes scientific methodology should be applied rather than give way to prejudicial attitudes.
Tart has spent 40 years studying various states of consciousness. He has looked at over 100 years of parapsychology research on psi phenomenon including astral travel and OBEs. His findings lead him to conclude that consciousness does, at times, behave in ways unexplainable by our current understanding of the laws of physics. And though many experiences can be dismissed as imagination, dream or hallucination, he claims there is a large body of empirical evidence that goes beyond all known explanations.
To further study OBEs, clairvoyance, telekinesis and precognition, Tart founded TASTE (The Archives of Scientist's Transcendent Experiences), where scientists can report personal OBEs or psi experiences in an environment conducive to furthering understanding of the human mind. The contributions are posted with anonymity out of deference to the scientists who participate, but part of the process of submission involves verification of identity. These online archives are available for anyone to read.
While science looks for understanding of phenomenon among recognized laws of nature, human experience may at times run inconveniently ahead of science. For those who claim experiences like astral projection, clairvoyance, telekinesis and precognition, scientific explanation does not appear to be a prerequisite. For those who dismiss them out of hand, scientific proof will always be a prerequisite. As science and technology advance, perhaps the nether regions of psi experience will become clearer to both sides.