In 1907, Dr. Duncan MacDougall announced the answer to one of humankind’s most intriguing questions. Do we each have a soul?
The answer, according to MacDougall, is yes – and it weighs about 21 grams.
He and his team originally set out to determine whether anything measurable happens when the soul leaves the body. By doing this, they would be able to prove the existence of the soul once and for all.
They created a special scale that measured a patient’s weight as they died. Every time the experiment was conducted, the patient’s weight decreased after death. According to MacDougall, it was “as if something had been suddenly lifted from the body.”
MacDougall claimed this happened at precisely the time of death in all but one case, when a man with a “sluggish temperament” died. When the weight did not change, the experimenters shook their heads and assumed their experiment had failed. But then the scale supposedly shifted. MacDougall believed this delay was due to the man’s temperament – like the man himself, his soul was slow to move on.
Each time a patient died on the scale, the team made the necessary deductions and found that 21 grams was always unaccounted for.
MacDougall’s findings caused a stir and created a feud with another doctor who found the results hard to swallow. Dr. Augustus P. Clarke argued that when the lungs stop cooling the blood, the body’s temperature increases and the skin sweats, which could account for the change in weight. MacDougall countered, saying that this was not the case because circulation ceases at the time of death. Many supported MacDougall, but he continued to receive a lot of criticism. Eventually, his work lost steam and was never found to be conclusive.
A hundred years later, the idea of the soul’s weight being measured by doctors sounds laughable. Science and spirituality clearly occupy different worlds: physical and metaphysical. Trying to find a physical bridge between them seems like wishful thinking.
MacDougall was likely a charlatan or simply delusional, but perhaps it’s just a matter of time until one day, years from now, a clever scientist will find undeniable proof of the soul. As the famous writer Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.”
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