Sun, 07 Nov 2010 13:20:11 +0000
Last Tuesday morning, my father, a great patriot and a man of honor, passed suddenly and peacefully, only four months from what would have been his 100th birthday. God was merciful, as my father not only lived a long life, though he had become increasingly frail and feeble, he was spared from grinding illness to the end.
It is said that what distinguishes homo sapiens from other creatures is our consciousness of death and of our own impending mortality. Only humans mourn the dead, with possibly the exception of elephants who give every sign of grief and mourning when they would return to the remains of a dead family member, to tenderly caress the loved one’s tusks with their trunks.
Anthropologists maintain that it is the human consciousness of death that accounts for our belief in the soul — a conviction that is cross-cultural and reaches back to our earliest ancestors. The reality of the soul is pivotal in the canons of Christianity for it is our Soul, instead of our physical visage, that was made in God’s image. Without our immortal soul, there would be no accounting for our mortal deeds in the afterlife. We would simply be transitory hiccups in the vast Universe, as ephemeral as dewdrops in the morning sun, without meaning or purpose.
The existence of the soul has long been a matter of dispute and debate in philosophy and science. Recently, I stumbled upon a fascinating experiment conducted a century ago (!) by a Massachusetts medical doctor named Duncan MacDougall, which seems to point to the soul’s existence. The good doctor reasoned that if the soul exists, it must occupy some mass that can be measured when it leaves the body upon the individual’s death. As he put it in an article published in American Medicine, April 1907, “Hypothesis Concerning Soul Substance Together with Experimental Evidence of The Existence of Such Substance“:
“If personal continuity after the event of bodily death is a fact, if the psychic functions continue to exist as a separate individually or personality after the death of brain and body, then such personality can only exit as a space occupying body, unless the relations between space objective and space notions in our consciousness, established in our consciousness by heredity and experience, are entirely wiped out at death and a new set of relations between space and consciousness suddenly established in the continuing personality. This would be an unimaginable breach in the continuity of nature.
It is unthinkable that personality and consciousness continuing personal identity should exist, and have being, and yet not occupy space. It is impossible to represent in thought that which is not space-occupying, as having personality; for that would be equivalent to thinking that nothing had become or was something, that emptiness had personality, that space itself was more than space, all of which are contradictions and absurd.
Since therefore it is necessary to the continuance of conscious life and personal identity after death, that they must have for a basis that which is space-occupying, or substance, the question arises has this substance weight, is it ponderable?
The essential thing is that there must be a substance as the basis of continuing personal identity and consciousness, for without space-occupying substance, personality or a continuing conscious ego after bodily death is unthinkable.”
“In 1907, MacDougall weighed six patients while they were in the process of dying from tuberculosis in an old age home. It was relatively easy to determine when death was only a few hours away, and at this point the entire bed was placed on an industrial sized scale which was apparently sensitive to the gram. He took his results (a varying amount of perceived mass loss in most of the six cases) to support his hypothesis that the soul had mass, and when the soul departed the body, so did this mass. The determination of the soul weighing 21 grams was based on the average loss of mass in the six patients within minutes or hours after death.
Other studies were soon put forward to confirm the results. Experiments on mice and other animals took place. Most notably the weighing upon death of sheep seemed to create mass for a few minutes which later disappeared. The hypothesis was made that a soul portal formed upon death which then whisked the soul away.
MacDougall also measured fifteen dogs in similar circumstances and reported the results as ‘uniformly negative,’ with no perceived change in mass. He took these results as confirmation that the soul had weight, and that dogs did not have souls. It should be noted that MacDougall’s scientific methodology in conducting these experiments has been the target of criticism. In March 1907, accounts of MacDougall’s experiments were published in the New York Times and the medical journal American Medicine.
Although generally regarded either as meaningless or considered to have had little if any scientific merit, MacDougall’s finding that the human soul weighed 21 grams has become a meme in the public consciousness. It lent itself to the title of the film 21 Grams.”