21 Grams News in Science ABC Science By Karl S.
It's a short and sweet attention grabber but the science behind that sentence adds up to zero. People have believed that the "soul" has a definite physical presence for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years. But it was only as recently as 1907, that a certain Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill in Massachusetts actually tried to weigh this soul. In his office, he had a special bed "arranged on a light framework built upon very delicately balanced platform beam scales" that he claimed were accurate to two tenths of an ounce (around 5.6 grams). Knowing that a dying person might thrash around and upset such delicate scales, he decided to "select a patient dying with a disease that produces great exhaustion, the death occurring with little or no muscular movement, because in ray ban balorama such a case, the beam could be kept more perfectly at balance and any loss occurring readily noted". He recruited six terminally ill people, and according to his paper in the April 1907 edition of the journal American Medicine, he measured a weight loss, which he claimed was associated with the soul leaving the body. In this paper, he wrote from beside the special bed of one of his patients, that ray ban 4098 "at the end of three hours and 40 minutes he expired and suddenly coincident with death the beam end dropped with an audible stroke hitting against the lower limiting bar and remaining there with no rebound. The loss was ascertained to be three fourths of an ounce." He was even more encouraged when he repeated his experiment with 15 dogs, which registered no change in weight in their moment of death. This fitted in perfectly with the popular belief that a dog had no soul, and therefore would register no loss of weight at the moment of demise. But before his article ray barn appeared in American Medicine, the New York Times on the 11th March, 1907 had already published a story on him, entitled Soul Has Weight, Physician Thinks, on page 5. His reputation was now assured, having been published in both a medical journal and The New York Times (a Journal Of Record). As a result, the "fact" that the soul weighed three quarters of an ounce (roughly 21 grams) made its way into the common knowledge, and has stayed there ever since. But when you look more closely at his scientific work, you see large problems. Firstly, six (as in the six dying patients) is not a large enough sample size. When I studied statistics, my lecturer convinced me that, concerning people preferring one cola to another, "8 out of 10 is not statistically significant, but 16 out of 20 is". Second, he got "good" results (ie, the patient irreversibly lost weight at the moment of death) from just one of the six patients, not all six! Two of the results had to be excluded because of "technical difficulties". One patient's death did show a drop in weight of about three eighths of an ounce but this ray ban sunglasses uk later reversed itself! Two of the other patients registered an immediate loss of weight at the moment of death, but then their weight dropped again a few minutes later. (Does this mean that they died twice!?) Only one of the six patients showed a sudden and non reversible loss of weight of three fourths of an ounce (21 grams). The third problem is a little more subtle. Even today, with all of our sophisticated technology, it is still sometimes very difficult to determine the precise moment of death. And which death did he mean cellular death, brain death, physical death, heart death, legal death, etc? How could Dr. Duncan MacDougall be so precise back in 1907? And anyhow, how accurate and precise were his scales back in 1907? From such slender beginnings as a single non reproducible result, enduring myths are born.
There may be lightness after death but this experiment didn't prove it. We do leave something behind us when we die the enduring impact that we have had on others. We would probably have as much success in measuring the impression of that mental impact, as we would of measuring the weight of the soul.
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