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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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>Its strange nobody performed more tests.
>It probably had been restrained by ethical problems as you said.
>the experiment never repeated

I think that in past it would be excellent 'proof' for mass of believers… and because of that the experiment was carried out many times in the past.I think also that it will be carried out surely few times in future. But at that time, because of scientific reasons.

>I was hoping there were some medical people
>here that knew if we lose weight or not. :)

But questions about the results should be directed rather to (I don't know to whom) maybe to clergy instead of medical people.

>i heard that before about 2 years, that a university at Moscow

>did the same experiment

heh, I knew it (as I said – "was carried out and will be").


>I'm no statistician, but I do think that a sample of 6 is too small.

But I'm (I didn't say that I'm not Wink ). If we randomly choose 6 person from few miliards and four per six lose weight at death, we don't need any statistical tools. We have a proof. Of course not that soul exists. Rather that there is something. Something research worthy. 

05:37 AM Sep 24 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.

Hey, thanks for the effort Jadd, to bad you couldn't find any info. But maybe it indicates that there was no loss and therefor it was not mentioned.


I'm still curious tho, can't help it, hehe.


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

Hehe, that is not a bad idea at all, maybe I'll do that, I like sea food. :) But I should get a very accurate scale first than.

07:52 AM Sep 24 2008 |




but first Oonah, have u medidated on how the soul come to human in the first stages?..
after 120 days ( as i remember) the body of the fetus begin the life…why? though no organ added in this time nor no organ missed…the body before the life is the body after it…
then how it come?
if u said "naturally" this is not deep thought answer coz scientists now can gather all this organs together as an intact human but can't make it have the life ( the soul )..then who bring it???
waiting ur words

08:22 AM Sep 24 2008 |




two recorded a weight drop, followed by additional losses later on (was the soul leaving bit by bit?); one showed a reversal of the loss, then another loss (the soul couldn't make up its mind, leaving, re-entering, then leaving for good);

Well, this would make my theory invalid than. Cry

i heard that before about 2 years,, that a university at Moscow did the same experiment ,, they put the dying persons in a chamber of glass this chamber was connected to a sensitive instruments , that record any physical changes and the final report Concludes that there is No changes in their weights,, they only noticed some obvious physical changes at the moment of the death

Interesting Samio, you don't happen to know what university that was, or if there can be find anything on the internet about that?



10:20 AM Sep 24 2008 |




If we randomly choose 6 person from few miliards and four per six lose weight at death, we don't need any statistical tools. We have a proof. Of course not that soul exists. Rather that there is something. Something research worthy. 

I agree, maybe 6 persons it is not enough to make a scientific conclusion, but it is enough to make it interesting enough for research.

10:22 AM Sep 24 2008 |




hey osesame, haven't seen you in a while, nice to see you're back.


It's a bit of another discussion though, "how does life start". I do think everything has a natural explanation, but we do not have all the answers yet. It is not that simply because we don't have an answer, this is proof for Devine interference.


In the history of humanity, practically all natural phenomena were at one point or another regarded at as proof for the existence of a God or Gods. We learned much since than and can explain a lot of these things now. It is just a matter of time before we will learn more, I am sure.



10:40 AM Sep 24 2008 |



United States

Many bodies leak "bodily fluids" at death. I wonder if a person could sweat, urinate and defecate 21 grams at death?  They also say that hair and fingernails continue to grow after death. Could it be that the body consumes and spends energy as life passes? 

Foot in mouth

12:41 PM Sep 24 2008 |




hey Oonah, i was very busy this time. and thanks for ur notice.
i'll quote a verse..that may add to u something..
when the jews came to the prophet asking him about the soul, Allah revealed to him this verse:

"They will ask thee concerning the Spirit. Say: The Spirit is by command of my Lord, and of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little." (17:85)

and we searching in this little..i ve read a research for an egytion doctor here about that soul contain some calculations i;ll try to translate it to english..may be usefull

12:52 PM Sep 24 2008 |




sole is energy and energy has no weight. 


About brain cells dieing, when a person dies, all his brain cells also die. so the question of weight reduction due to dead brain cells does not arrise 

03:07 PM Sep 24 2008 |



They also say that hair and fingernails continue to grow after death. Could it be that the body consumes and spends energy as life passes?

That hair and fingernails grow after death is a myth. The skin on the head and fingers contracts, due to loss of fluid and it gives the illusion that the hair or nails are longer.

03:45 PM Sep 24 2008 |