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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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