OUT-OF-BODY experiences are not "spiritual" phenomena but tricks played by a confused mind, claim scientists who fooled people into thinking they inhabited the body of a virtual human.
Throughout history, people have described how they have floated from their bodies and looked back at themselves, often on the operating table.
The accounts have been so vivid that they are often cited as proof of the existence of the soul or even Heaven.
However, scientists claim they have dispelled this 'myth' by artificially creating an out-of-body experience using computers and cameras.
They believe the feeling of detachment occurs when the brain becomes confused by conflict between the senses and that it is not proof of any "spiritual dimension" to existence.
Professor Olaf Blanke and his team at the University of Geneva said they had "immersed" volunteers into the body of an avatar -- a computer-generated version of themselves. Volunteers were asked to wear virtual-reality goggles and then stand in front of a camera.
The subjects saw the camera's view of their back on screens, computer enhanced to create the 3D avatar. When their back was stroked with a pen, so was the avatar, making them think that the virtual body was in fact their own.
In this way, people became confused as between their real and virtual selves.
Prof Blanke said: "They start thinking that the avatar is their own body. We created a partial out-of-body experience.
"We were able to dissociate touch and vision and make people think their body was two metres in front of them." (© Daily Telegraph, London)