Astral Projection - Pseudoscience?

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

Many people have claimed to have projected themselves in the astral plane. But what is it actually? And is there any evidence?

Most of us may have come across the term “Astral Projection” either by reading or in movies or even in TV series. We might have seen Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) doing it to continue his reading without interruption, or Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) from Insidious doing it to find a missing boy. Although the concept is similar in both, we see how differently the astral planes are portrayed. One where a lot of productivity is shown, whereas in the other, sinister beings exist. The concept is also seen in the massively popular show, “Stranger Things”. It can even be found in one of the Indian movies, “Taxiwala”. But let’s slow down a bit and first go through the concept and the origin.

Astral projection according to Carrington and Muldoon, 1929
Astral projection according to Carrington and Muldoon, 1929

Astral projection is a term used to describe the conscious choice of experiencing the world from outside of the physical body, or what is called an out-of-body experience (OBE). OBEs could be voluntary or involuntary. There are reports by people who were in near-death events, where they stated that they found themselves floating near the ceiling of the hospital rooms. Trauma, food or water deprivations and such could also act as a trigger for OBEs. Lucid dreaming is supposed to be another way to trigger astral projection. For this article, I will keep it to be voluntary OBEs only, i.e., astral projection.

The idea of astral travel is ancient and can be seen in various cultures. The particular term “Astral projection” was coined in the 19th century by Theosophists.

The western concept thinks that the astral body is like a middle man, connecting the soul to the physical body, while the astral plane is an intermediate world between Heaven and Earth, comprising of planets and stars, populated with angels, demons and spirits. The Biblical concept claims that the subtle body is attached to the physical body by means of psychic silver cord. Ancient Egyptian teachings presented that the soul has an ability to hover outside the physical body via the subtle body. China’s practice involved the creation of an energy body by breathing meditations, drawing that energy and then ‘circulating’. Japanese believed that soul separating from the living person was due to having sufficient grudge to harm or curse the target person.

The subtle body in Indian mysticism, from a Yoga manuscript in Braj Bhasa language, 1899. A row of chakras is depicted from the base of the spine up to the crown of the head.
The subtle body in Indian mysticism, from a Yoga manuscript in Braj Bhasa language, 1899. A row of chakras is depicted from the base of the spine up to the crown of the head.

The concept in Hinduism is much more elaborate and understandable. The astral body here is called as “Sukshma Sharira” or subtle body. Modern Indians such as Paramahansa Yogananda have vouched for astral projection. Each subtle body corresponds to a subtle plane of existence and contains focal points (chakras), which are connected by channels (Nadis) to give rise to subtle breath (prana). By understanding and mastering the subtlest levels of reality one gains mastery over the physical realm. Through breathing and other exercises, the practitioner aims to manipulate and direct the flow of subtle breath and attain higher states of consciousness.

The Taittiriya Upanishad puts forth the theory of five sheaths (koshas), not as concentric layers as in other cultures, but interpenetrating at successive levels of subtlety; the five koshas being:

  1. The anna-maya, (the physical body at the grossest level),

  2. The prana-maya, (the body made of vital breath),

  3. The mano-maya (body made of mind),

  4. The vijñana-maya (body made of consciousness), and

  5. The ananda-maya (body of bliss, the subtlest level)

There are various methods regarding the “how-to” of astral projection, like, ‘The Astral Projection Rope Technique’, lucid dreaming techniques, ‘Nootropic Approach’, and also ‘Monroe Institute Steps’ given by the leading research organization in the field of human consciousness.

When everything is said and done, we are left with the question, “Is this possible? Can science prove the existence of the astral body and plane?” The answer to that, in short, is no. There is no way to actually confirm whether a person’s “spirit/soul” can “leave” or “enter” the said person’s body. Yet. This aside, there isn’t any solid proof of “life-force” in the first place. So, what then? How can we prove that astral projection is possible?

The testing, in theory, is quite simple. The experimenter hides multiple objects around in a room, and the human subject (who has not seen the objects) is given the locations of these objects. If they can identify these objects exactly as they are or not then determines whether there is a possibility of this happening. Repeating with different test objects and subjects should make for a more clear observation of the experiment. The only condition is that the experimenter has to absolutely make sure that the subject is in the dark when it comes to what the objects are before the start of the experiment.

This has been done by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1973. The reports of the experiments were declassified in 2011. The link to the full report is given below, but to summarise a couple of the experiments:

  • Subject attempted to locate an underground facility, found it and gave its coordinates. Further details pertaining to the exterior were given. CIA confirmed the facility’s existence as well as the external details.

  • Experimenters gave coordinates to an island that wasn’t shown on their map. The subject drew a large scale map, filling several sheets.

  • The subject was made to visit an underground facility. He described the number of people working, names of the officers having a conference, name of the facility, code words on papers and cabinets.

While the CIA might be a government agency, without similar results from more trusted scientific communities, we simply cannot accept the existence of the concept in reality. If it can be proved to be real, the consequences are massive and the applications are numerous. There would be no need for physically sending humans to assess damage control in situations related to nuclear disasters, to locate survivors in case of building collapse or such incidents, and so on. Regardless of this, if it were true, it goes to show how little we still know about the universe and life itself.

References and Suggested Reading

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