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ouls have been mostly defined throughout history as a part of us that cannot be seen or reached. Our souls, by definition, are a representation of our consciousness that goes somewhere when we die. You can look at it as the driver of our body. Throughout history, cultures, and religions there have been numerous theories that try to define the soul of a person as well as what happens with it once a person passes away.

One curious soul

However, in 1901, a curious mind with the right competencies wondered if “souls” do exist, if they do there must be a way to measure them which would prove their existence. Doctor Duncan MacDougall was a physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts. MacDougall had had enough with all the religious theories and he wanted to prove the existence of souls with science.

That is why he created an experiment that would be later named the “21 grams experiment” based on its results. Based on the philosophy of physics, everything that does exist must have physical weight. The math behind the theory is complex, but the experiment was quite simple. The idea behind the experiment was to weigh someone just before they died and weigh them again after their death.

Based on religious beliefs, our soul leaves the body once we pass away, and if this does happen that means that the dead body that is left behind should weigh less. So Doctor MacDougall went around hospices to look for dying people willing to participate in his experiment, for the name of science of course. Six people who were “days away from death” accepted to participate.

In his office, he created beds with some specific modifications for the participants. The beds were made to constantly scale the weight of the patient. In order to not have any changing variables, the patients had to be strapped the whole time, if the patients moved we could say that through their struggle they had lost a certain amount of weight, therefore disproving the theory.

The patients would be constantly monitored and checked for a pulse. Throughout the experiment, MacDouglass and his team tried to take care of the patients and make their death as painless as possible. Once the death of a patient had been confirmed, someone would record the weight loss. Every patient that took part in the experiment lost a small amount of weight after their death, proving the theory.

No Soul has a specific weight

On average, the soul of a human has 21.3 grams. Some participants presented a loss of 14 grams of weight whilst others even 42.5 grams. In the paper Doctor MacDouglass published in 1907, he mentioned that the different weights between souls can be seen as the goodness within a soul.

Depiction of the Soul leaving the body of a person (Source: louish/Flickr)

This paper must be one of the most criticized in the world, even to this day. After the paper was published, lots of people mentioned that the scales used in the experiment may have been broken or slightly off. There have been other factors that made the experiment seem too biased. Besides all the criticism, the methodology does comply with the theory from a physics perspective.

Confirming the results

The experiment conducted by MacDouglass can be considered morbid, to say the least, but a control experiment was done to confirm that his original results are more on the psychopathic side. Certain cultures and Doctor MacDouglass believe that only human beings have souls, whilst any other creatures such as animals or insects don’t.

Therefore he tried the same sort of experiment with 15 dogs. As he was not able to find dying dogs, he took 15 perfectly healthy dogs and killed them “in the name of science.” He weighed the dogs before and after their death and he was not surprised to see that the dogs didn’t lose any weight after. He couldn’t publish a paper on the matter because those results were rejected due to the unethical behavior present in the experiment.

Besides the morbid experiments, the theory does kind of make sense. It is surprising how such a simple experiment can define what has been a mystery for thousands of years. There is also the possibility of the experiment being rigged in some way just for the doctor to attract attention, but that is up to you to decide.

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