Have you ever looked into your reflection in the mirror and felt you are staring at a completely different and separate entity? If so, then an out-of-body experience would probably be the closest explanation of your mental state at that point of time. An out-of-body experience (OBE) is an experience that  that typically involves a sensation of floating outside of one’s body and, in some cases, perceiving one’s physical body from a place outside one’s body, as says Wikipedia.

OBEs are not a new phenomenon, or a rare one. For thousands of years, individuals delving deep into spirituality, such as monks and gurus from the East mainly, have been able to separate themselves from their “ego” as they put it. After years and years of meditation and searching within themselves for the truth to existence, such individuals have arrived at a fatalistic conclusion of the non-existence of the Self in this reality.

A recent study published in Nature shows that it is possible to separate one’s Self from one’s body, thus providing an OBE. The quality of the OBE is prone to fluctuation depending on the expectation of the individual, but the test subjects in this study have consistently shown awe, anxiety and in some cases, fear, even. The researchers, led by Dr. Henrik Ehrsson at Karolinska Institute, Sweden, created these OBEs for the test subjects using nothing more than a video camera, sticks and goggles. The test subjects experienced emotions when they saw their virtual bodies being subject to different treatments. As for example, one test subject exhibited fear when a knife was plunged into his virtual chest.

In a very different study, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues showed that a monkey was able to control a robotic arm and feel virtual objects just using its brain. Besides the clear possibilities in prosthetic development, the study also indicates the question about the ownership of the body. It is an age-old question of Cartesian dualism – are the mind and the body the same entity? Both these studies show that the mind and the body merge to manifest as the brain and are not exclusive of the brain, as Dr. Thomas Metzinger puts it.

What does Gertrude Stein have to do with all of this? Perhaps the book “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” may shed some light on this matter. Although titled as such, the book is not written about Alice B. Toklas, but rather, focuses more on the life of Ms. Stein herself, as “observed” from the perspective of Ms. Toklas. This brings out the question – was Ms. Stein inducing an OBE on herself as she wrote this literary piece?

On that note, it must be said that the book itself is not a narcissistic ego trip, but rather a wonderful description of the artist and literary circles of Paris during the Cubist period. This book also serves as an introduction to Gertrude Stein’s writing style, which definitely would not be tolerated in the modern writing structure bound by the rules of MLA, APA, and what not…