Lucid dreaming can best be described as being conscious of the fact that you are dreaming while dreaming. Practicing lucid dreaming can lead to the dreamer's having much clearer dreams, which he/she will often be able to recall upon waking. Also interesting is the fact that many lucid dreamers are able to control what they dream, to a certain extent. But perhaps most intriguing is the correlation between lucid dreaming and the so called "out of body" experience.
According to neuroscientist J. Allan Hobson, lucid dreaming is thought to occur in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the area "where working memory occurs". (Lucid Dreaming 2007) This area of the brain is usually inactive during REM sleep. However, once activated during sleep, the dreamer is thought to become aware of the fact that he/she is dreaming. Thus, the dreamer has passed from the realm of unconscious sleep to conscious dreaming, or "lucid dreaming". (Lucid Dreaming 2007)
With the realm of lucid dreaming entered, researchers have begun to investigate the possible relationship between the phenomenon of lucid dreaming and out of body experiences. "A study of 14 lucid dreamers was performed in 1991 that showed that people who experience wake initiated lucid dreams report experiences consistent with aspects of out-of-body experiences such as floating above one's bed and the feeling of leaving one's body." (Lucid Dreaming 2007) Because of the brain activity responsible for lucid dreaming, studies have revealed that the phenomenon can certainly be a viable explanation for the experiences of perfectly normal, healthy people who have experienced the feelings of being detached from their physical bodies.
During an out of body experience, or OBE, the person is still conscious of the fact that they have a physical body, and the world that they perceive while in this state does resemble the world that he/she is accustomed to experiencing while awake. To account for these feelings of being separated from one's physical self, Lynne Levitan and Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. explain that "the vivid body of the world of OBE is made possible by our brain's marvelous ability to create fully convincing images of the world, even in the absence of sensory information. Indeed, all dreams could be called OBEs in that, in them, we experience events and places quite apart from the real location and activity of our bodies." (Other Worlds 1991)
Tim Post further elaborates on these observations in his article, "Hypnagogic Imagery". "Hypnagogic sensations are vivid, dream-like experiences that occur as one is falling asleep or waking up. Accompanying sleep paralysis can cause the sensations to be more frightening." (Hypnagogic Imagery 2007) According to Post, OBEs are far less common sensations associated with the hypnagogic state, though he admits they do occur.
In conclusion, though the research would suggest that out of body experiences can be fully explained by simply looking to the brain's functionality during the process of lucid dreaming, many continue to be fascinated, purely as a product of human curiosity. Or, perhaps we are intrigued because lucid dreaming, when executed successfully, gives us the feeling of being in control of a world that is generally beyond our control. In fact, there are several sites dedicated to lucid dreaming which have subsections describing personal OBEs, such as "Lucid Dreaming: Dream & Know It" at www.ld4all.com. Like UFOs and Nessie, we refuse to believe that there is a scientific explanation for those things that, in our eyes, seem otherworldly. We do not want to cage our curiosity or explain away every mystery with scientific data. Sometimes what is best is to just have fun with it!
Lucid Dreaming. Retrieved March 2, 2007 from the World Wide Web. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucid_dreaming.
Other Worlds: Out of Body Experiences and Lucid Dreams, by Lynn Levitan and Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. Retrieved March 2, 2007 from the World Wide Web.
Hypnagogic Imagery, by Tim Post. Retrieved March 2, 2007 from the World Wide Web. http://www.lucidipedia.com/wiki/index.php/Hypnagogic_imagery.