I saw an interesting movie poster on Wednesday while going to see Kill Bill. The title was 21 Grams and at first I thought hmmm, another film about drugs and then I read the tagline: “How much does life weigh?”. Ah, right. I can remember hearing something about this some time in the past. The questions this meme asks us are both intriguing and scary but ultimately beneficial to our growth as a society. Is it possible that the human body loses an amount of mass when a person perishes?
I was determined to investigate. I first decided to hit the straight dope as I figured this question would have to have been asked before, and this site seems to be a great place to find The Truth. Entrusting someone with the truth is getting harder and harder these days; it seems everyone has their own particular perception of what the truth is. I could not find the answer though I did get pleasantly sidetracked on the way. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get through all of those but I bookmarked them and hope some day to have the chance to read them.
Google was most helpful. I found an urban legend site which tells the tale of Dr. Duncan MacDougall “who has experimented much in the observation of death” and took it upon himself to actually measure terminally ill patients in the stages of before, during and after death. I recommend you read that article for it gives a much more unbiased evaluation of the experiment that unfortunately could not settle upon a solid conclusion. However there were noticable losses of weight ranging from “one-half ounce to nearly an ounce and a quarter” within a minute or two upon the moment of death in all of the human subjects that were experimentally valid tests.
It’s an interesting supposition because it leads one to believe that there may be empirical evidence for proof of a soul. It’s unfortunate that there haven’t been attempts to return to this experiment (conducted in 1907) because if nothing else people need some explanations that these questions answer in this time of uncertainty. Souls. Spirits. Forbidden words in the hallowed walls of science. Perhaps those of us heading down the path of science and logic should heed our own advice and open our deepest beliefs to question and examination. If we disregard fundamental questions about ourselves then we stagnate inner growth and our self withers as a malnourished potted plant in a lazy man’s apartment.
I feel regret that my path did not make me a scientist as I would be very interested in redoing Dr. MacDougall’s experiment. I think that in today’s day and age this experiment could be conducted with a lot less room for error and with less ethical dilemmas. Would not terminally ill patients sick of their life of pain want their death to mean something to science? I know if I was on my deathbed I would probably volunteer my body for this experiment; I mean it is after all in the name of Science. Better for my death to mean something besides just a loss for loved ones.
There was some controversy over his comparison to the death of dogs. It is assumed that he took sick dogs and injected them with poison – this had many greatly upset as his acts could be acknowledged as unethical. However again, there are probably many dog owners who wish to have their terminally ill friend ease away in a manner that benefits mankind. At the very least, how many dogs are put to sleep every day because of irresponsible owners? Surely their death can mean something too. It is important to compare because according to Dr. MacDougall’s experiment there was no loss of weight at the time of death. This too is an important meme to digest – if human’s have ‘souls’ why don’t dogs?
For some this may be a strange topic to think about. A lot of people go through their day to day routine without giving a thought to the meaning of their existence, to the truth that lies beneath all the layers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – everyone has their own agenda in life because ultimately you’re only responsible for one perception: yours.
I can’t stress how important examining phenomenon like this is to our evolution as a species because as our medicine and hazard free environment ease the workload of survival, evolution needs to follow new paths that aren’t necessarily biological. Evolution is adaptation of life to a hostile environment but always with the agenda of increasing complexity. That’s my theory anyways.
I also have some theories that may explain this phenomenon but I’ll save that for another time as it’s getting quite late. I’ll leave you with this quote of some of Dr. MacDougall’s conculsions for his experiment:
I am aware that a large number of experiments would require to be made before the matter can be proved beyond any possibility of error, but if further and sufficient experimentation proves that there is a loss of substance occurring at death and not accounted for by known channels of loss, the establishment of such a truth cannot fail to be of the utmost importance.