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Life Talk!

A soul of 21 grams?




A soul of 21 grams?

Totally fascinated by the idea people lose 21 grams on their moment of death like in the movie "21 Grams" with Sean Penn (2003), I started researching.


I found the following:

The year 1907: Dr. Duncan MacDougall creates a scale with a bed that measures the weight of the person on it. He weighed 6 terminal ill patients who died on the scale-bed. On the moment of their deaths he observed a decrease of weight. The first person lost 21,3 grams. Not every person lost the same amount, there was difference among them. He than took the test with 15 dogs, here he didn't observe any decrease of weight. MacDougal was a very religious man, and for him this proved people have a soul and dogs don't and that the soul leaves the body when someone dies.
There was an article in the "American medicine" and the "New York Times",  but the medical world of those days was already very critical. MacDougall never conducted any further testing. He dies in 1920. (Not on a scale, hehe)

Those are the facts, that's all I could find. Altho I think its fascinating, I'm not overwhelmed by the experiment, 6 persons is not much. But it's a nice riddle and I love riddles.

It is a strange idea to me, that even if I go by the point of view that something like a "soul" exists, that it would have a weight. But ok, let's say there is a soul of +/- 21 grams, would it have mass? If that would be the case I think they would have discovered it a long time ago during some dissection. If you can weigh a soul, can it be measured in any other way? A gas or a fluid would leave an empty space…
21 grams seems a lot… when I'm cooking and I have to add 21 grams of butter…well, that's a big chunk of butter… and that is a very solid mass.

Let me see, it can't be the loss of urine or another fluid because the six people were laying on a bed, so you would still measure that with the scale.
Than I thought, maybe its air, "the last breath" or something like that. But you would need to have 16 Liters air in your longs to lose 21 grams, so can't be that. (air + water vapor weighs +/- 1,3g/L ) It makes a difference of a few grams if the longs are full or empty.

Can you trust a scale from 1907 to be accurate? Did they all have the same posture? Maybe a fat person loses more, or a baby very little, that would indicate a physical cause.
I didn't find what condition the people suffered from, they were all terminal ill, because they die quietly and he didn't want them to move to much, that would influence the measurement. Did they all have the same disease? Would that have anything to do with it?
Strange that no one else did these tests, but I guess it was easier to get test persons those days, I don't know if people now would be happy when you ask if you can weigh their loved one on his deathbed.

Only theory I came up with is the following:

People lose 21 grams, dogs don't. A difference of 21 grams between a man and a dog. Where do men and dogs differ? It's in the brain, right? What is the weight of a brain? For an adult person that is between 1300 and 1400 grams, for a baby that is 350 – 400 grams. Our brain is 2% of our total body weight.

brain of an elephant = 6000 g
brain of a chimpanzee = 420 g
brain of a beagle dog = 72 g
brain of a cat = 30 g
brain of a rat = 2 g

When you die, your braincells die. With dementia a portion of the brain shrinks. With diseases like Alzheimer and Parkinson, parts of the brain die, on picture the brain looks much smaller than, so it has to weigh less I think. It seems not entirely impossible to me, that the 21 grams can be found in the braincells that die. There is such a big difference in size between the brain of a man and the brain of a dog, that it is possible that the decrease in weight of the dog's brain couldn't be measured accurately with the scale of 1907. 21 grams is 1,5% of the human brain. 1,5% of a dog's brain is only 1,08 grams.

I have no idea what so ever on the difference in weight between a living and a dead brain, but this is the only thing I came up with, going to stop too, before I want to weigh dying little animals, LoL.

I always found the idea that humans have a soul but animals do not a bit arrogant btw.


01:22 PM Sep 22 2008 |

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Did you know that when you open a Coke Zero (12 ounce can—that's what Jesus drinks) it becomes exactly 21 micrograms lighter. That's not CO2 gas, it's the Holy Spirit.

How many cans were tested?

06:55 AM Sep 23 2008 |




@ Tom

a glass box is a good idea, do you have a lot of frogs in your garden?

06:58 AM Sep 23 2008 |




@ Oonah,

I have many birds,snails,earthworm,spiders, kids, I have also one wife and wife of my neighbor in the garden (heh, I have many aliens as I wrote in some thread on ebaby) but unfortunately I haven't even one frog. 

Are You going to kill little poor frogs?!?Cry

Or maybe are you going to wait for it deaths?Undecided



07:14 AM Sep 23 2008 |




When smone did a lot of sins, he feels that he can’t move his body freely. Why? Because his body is being weightened by his sins. Human body is just a sinless and innocent thing. It’s the soul whom being the “brain” of this sin stuff. So when human dies his weight decreased because of releasing sinful soul activity. LoL

08:45 AM Sep 23 2008 |




Hey Oonah, I have searched for info about this kind of study in sci database.

Unfortunately, I can't find any study on this weight loss after death at all.

It probably had been restrained by ethical problems as you said.

Maybe, we need your experiment. (in a glass box)

But besides frogs, I think, you can try fishes.

Without a water, it's gonna die soon enough. Tongue out

Or ..is there a fresh seafood market around your place ?

In my country, a market place near the shore usually sell live big prawns, crabs, fishes etc.

Well, after an experiment you can enjoy seafood barbecue too. Laughing

12:54 PM Sep 23 2008 |



tom, actually of his 6 bodies, he had to discard 2 results because of problems with the measuring. I'm no statistician, but >I do think that a sample of 6 is too small. He used 15 dogs, so that's a little better.

One author even speculates that he had to kill the dogs (poison, maybe) because he wrote that he could not obtain sick or dying dogs for the purpose. I can't imagine we could recreate his experiment even with better controls without some protest from PETA or other similar groups.


IF bodies lose weight at the moment of death, I am pretty sure there is a natural explanation. But at the moment we are not even sure that they do. If a properly controlled experiment shows that there is no weight loss in humans or other animals at death, I don't imagine religious apologist would take that at proof that there is no soul. And what if it showed a similar weight loss in humans AND dogs (or non-human primates, etc) would they conclude that non-humans have souls. I suspect not.


Oonah.  A six-pack of course, in honor of McDougal's experiment.

01:28 PM Sep 23 2008 |




everything has a natural explanation and i'm puzzled:do we lose or gain weight when we die? is it so hard to prove!couldn't he weigh humans instead of animals?!!may be we should keep a scale at home in case if someone dies.

and if humans have a soul,all living creatures have.i only feel that something which is not materialistic exists inside me and it's so natural even it's hard to give a precise explanation to it.

01:56 PM Sep 23 2008 |



everything has a natural explanation


I´m very happy that we agree on this point lilmira.

06:03 PM Sep 23 2008 |




Just do an practcal that just stand on the scale & weigh yourself now just exert some pressure by yourself ,it will show our weight increased from where the extra weight came ,& it's not actually weight it might be just our being exerting some weight.& what might is saying out of fun that might be real cause that is feeling of guilts.

08:55 PM Sep 23 2008 |




yeah greg, we agree on that and even miracles have natural explanations.i'm sure of that.

dev,feeling of guilts must weigh more than our real weightWink

10:09 PM Sep 23 2008 |