The Man Who Tried to Weigh the Soul

By Ben Thomas | November 3, 2015 3:00 pm


In 1907, a Massachusetts doctor named Duncan MacDougall performed an unusual series of experiments. Intrigued by the idea that the human soul had mass, and could therefore be weighed, Dr. MacDougall put together a bed fitted with a sensitive set of beam scales, and convinced a series of terminally ill patients to lie on it during the final moments of their lives.

MacDougall was nothing if not detail-oriented: He recorded not only each patient’s exact time of death, but also his or her total time on the bed, as well as any changes in weight that occurred around the moment of expiration. He even factored losses of bodily fluids like sweat and urine, and gases like oxygen and nitrogen, into his calculations. His conclusion was that the human soul weighed three-fourths of an ounce, or 21 grams.

It’s hard to imagine these experiments getting any serious attention from the scientific community today. But the lines of thinking that led to them — and the reactions they generated — remain with us to this day.


New York Times article from 1907. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A Year in the Spotlight

The results of MacDougall’s study appeared in The New York Times in March 1907. The article set off a debate between MacDougall and the physician Augustus P. Clarke, who “had a field day” with MacDougall’s minuscule measurement techniques.

Clarke pointed out that at the moment of death, the lungs stop cooling the blood, causing the body’s temperature to rise slightly, which makes the skin sweat — accounting for Dr. MacDougall’s missing 21 grams. MacDougall fired back in the next issue, arguing that circulation ceases at the moment of death, so the skin wouldn’t be heated by the rise in temperature. The debate ran all the way to the end of 1907, picking up supporters on both sides along the way.

For four years, all was quiet on the MacDougall front, but in 1911 he graced The New York Time’s front page with an announcement that he’d upped the ante. This time, he wouldn’t be weighing the human soul — he’d be photographing it at the moment it left the body.

Although he expressed concern that “the soul substance might become [too] agitated” to be photographed at the moment of death, he did manage to perform a dozen experiments in which he photographed “a light resembling that of the interstellar ether” in or around patients’ skulls at the moments they died.

MacDougall himself passed away into the interstellar ether in 1920, leaving behind a small band of ardent supporters, along with a far larger group of physicians who seemed incredulous that this farce had gone on so long. Members of the public settled down on one side or the other, and the discussion fell off the radar.

Except that it never really did — at least not completely.

A Legacy of Oddity

References to MacDougall’s experiments continue to spring forth in pop culture every few years, from the Victorian era right up to today. The idea that the soul weighs 21 grams has appeared in novels, songs, and movies — it’s even been the title of a film. Dan Brown described MacDougall’s experiments in some detail in his adventure yarn The Lost Symbol.

Mention the soul-weighing experiments to a person who’s into parapsychology, and you’ll likely hear a murmur of approval; after all, the idea of scientific proof for the soul offers comfort in much the same way that tarot readings and hotline spiritualists do. Even among more skeptical folks, it’s a topic that comes up now and then in late-night discussions: “Wasn’t there once a guy who tried to weigh the soul…?”

The experiments’ actual results, and their failure to achieve acceptance as scientific canon, are entirely beside the point. Science has gone one way, and pop culture another. Functional neuroimaging has tied every conceivable function once associated with the soul to specific regions and structures of the brain. Physics has mapped the linkages between subatomic particles so thoroughly that there’s simply no space left for spiritual forces.

And yet…

The idea of weighing the soul remains with us. It’s romantic. It’s relatable. It speaks to some of our deepest longings and fears that gripped MacDougall’s readers back in 1907 and still captivate us today.

A Different Kind of Eeriness

To understand why MacDougall wanted to weigh the soul — and why he thought he could — it helps to understand the environment in which he operated. His work is rife with terms and ideas recognizable from early psychological theorists Freud and Jung. There’s a lot of talk about “psychic functions” and “animating principles” — a grasping for the precise scientific language to describe consciousness, and life itself, in a world still ignorant of fMRI and DNA.

We’re still profoundly ignorant today, as any honest scientist will tell you. Certain behaviors of quantum particles still baffle the brightest minds; and we’re still a long way from understanding exactly how our brains do most of what they do. We keep looking for the dark matter that constitutes more than 80 percent of the universe’s mass, but we haven’t actually seen a single atom of it or know where, exactly, it is.


Dark matter cannot be photographed, but researchers can detect it and map it by measuring gravitational lensing. Its distribution is shown here in the blue overlay of the inner region of Abell 1689, a cluster of galaxies 2.2 billion light years away. (Credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/Yale/CNRS)

And in all these dark corners, we still find people looking for the soul. Some claim we’ll eventually discover it among quantum particles. Others insist it’s got something to do with the electromagnetic waves our brains generate. Most scientists reject these claims. But these researchers and theorists soldier on, unwilling to give up hope that one day we’ll be able to weigh, measure and quantify the hereafter.

MacDougall’s work resonated, and continues to resonate, not because of what he found (or failed to find) but because of what he suggested. The simple idea behind the experiments was appealing, and for many who followed the debate in The New York Times, that idea alone was enough to make MacDougall’s work worthy of discussion.

But in 1907, as today, the real, testable, verifiable universe continually proves to be much stranger than anything parapsychology can dream up. How are photons both particles and waves and yet somehow neither? How can there be so many planets in our galaxy, yet so few that harbor life — we think — as we know it? The universe is full of real unsolved mysteries, whose real answers are out there somewhere.

We don’t need the souls of the dead to craft a haunting series of experiments. The measurable, physical universe is more than eerie enough.


Photo credit: Robert Blair, The Grave (1808)/Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
  • polistra24

    If we define “soul” as brain electrical activity, it’s conceivable that the cessation of all those currents caused a change in attraction-repulsion to the earth’s magnetic field. Would the change be opposite if the bed was facing the other way?

    • Debbie

      Almost everybody who believes in souls defines them not as physical phenomena, but as invisible magic spirits that are somehow separate from the physical world and undetectable by scientific experiment, yet able to interact with the physical world since they can induce bio-electrical signals that move our muscles.

  • OWilson

    Fortunately we do know what its like to be dead.

    That’s a good start.

    • Durknit Pentex

      We do? Pray tell.

      • OWilson

        Before you were born.

        How did it feel? :)

        • Durknit Pentex

          You are quite correct! I quite often counteract my natural fear of death by reminding myself that I don’t fear my condition before I was born—so why should I be afraid of going back to it? Brilliant!

          • Joe Blow

            I don’t fear death, I fear missing out on life. There is some cool stuff that hopefully will one day happen, and I don’t want to miss out on it.
            Like a little kid whose parents have guests over. The kid doesn’t want to go to bed because he’s afraid he’ll miss out on something.

          • Douglas J. Bender

            Do you know for certain what happens to you at death? A little kid knows he will still be there at the house once the guests leave, and that his parents will still take care of him. You, on the other hand…?

          • Donovan Nicholson

            I think at death you become dead, Douglas

          • Douglas J. Bender

            Think again, Donovan.

          • Donovan Nicholson

            Have you evidence to the contrary?

          • Douglas J. Bender


          • Durknit Pentex

            This is indeed my fear also; everything I will miss. This is why I don’t understand people who risk their lives doing ridiculous things like climb mountains, as if lives are things that get handed out when you want another one. You just get one chance; why would you throw one chance away? Only stupidity.

          • Kokopelli

            People risk their lives doing “ridiculous things” like climbing mountains, playing football, hang-gliding, etc. for EXACTLY the reason you suggest they shouldn’t: You only live once, so make it as exciting & adventurous as you can! I doubt if anyone has ever said on their deathbed (even if they lived to be 105), “I’m SO glad I played it safe, took no risks, and stayed at home all my life.”

          • Durknit Pentex

            We agree to differ. I find that life is so precious, that everything around us just wants to live, and live as long as possible. You don’t see animals taking unnecessary risks just for thrills. I risk my life walking on the sidewalk and stepping off it every day. I see so many “He died doing what he loved” in someone’s twenties and I just laugh. He died, so he can’t do ANYTHING any more, no love, no sunsets, no laughter, no life. But I’m alive. And I plan to stay that way. thank you very much.

          • Kokopelli

            I’m actually not a big thrill-seeker myself. I wouldn’t try to “base-jump” from a skyscraper or bungee-jump off a bridge, or walk a tightrope between two buildings. Most of my near-misses involve mountaineering, which was one of the things you mentioned. I’ve been caught on the face of a mountain in a thunderstorm, nearly fallen off a cliff a couple of times (with no rope), and once had to hike 5 miles in the dark woods at night with no flashlight. But I wouldn’t trade my hiking experiences for all the money in the world, if that meant I’d be staring at the same 4 walls all my life. I think everyone has to find their own balance between daring adventures and cautious self-preservation. I don’t fault anyone simply because their personal “balance point” is different (in either direction) from my own.

          • Anton Vesely

            Many hold the view that “you are most alive when you risk your life”. Perhaps quality of life is more important to them than quantity. Who can judge them wrong, aside from their dependents?

          • dondehoff

            Anton, I might suggest instead of “many”, you use the word “some” and when you say, “risk your life”, you use the term, “accomplish something well beyond your expectations”. I note that most people who intentionally accomplish hazardous tasks on a regular basis, have fewer deaths than normal daily activities of the populace, as a whole. Very few people participate in an activity where “death” is a significant possibility. One can get killed, just driving to Sunday School or going to work and most people surely try to avoid such an early demise.

          • Durknit Pentex

            True enough. But I was actually just thinking about the single ones. When you factor in a spouse, or Dog forbid, children . . . well, then, it becomes a serious matter of selfish, wanton irresponsibility. Unless they all plummet to their doom with you (or whatever the method of self-destruction is—take your pick).

          • dondehoff

            “Durknit”, I might suggest that humans are the only animals that have a fully developed “evolutionary” ability to “rationalize”, obviously, some more than others.

          • Donovan Nicholson

            Why, you are the idiot, aren’t you?

          • dondehoff

            Come on Durk, one can shorten life by both excessive physical and mental exertion. .

          • Douglas J. Bender

            That assumes you will find yourself in the same state as before you were born.

          • OWilson

            Why not? (Occam’s razor)

            Did you have something more elaborate in mind, like growing wings, maybe mastery of the harp, or a harem of virgins? :)

          • Durknit Pentex

            I see no reason to assume any differently. There are no supernatural forces at work here and if there are, I guess I’ll find out about them in due course. But the strongest evidence of what death is like can be extrapolated by what pre-life was like, ie. nothingness.

          • Durknit Pentex

            I love this quote by Marcus Aurelius in his tome “Meditations”: “Consider everlasting time, think of the rapid change in the parts of each thing, of how short it is from birth until dissolution, and how the void before birth and that after dissolution are equally infinite.”

            Well said, old boy! Just what I was thinking! The Void Before Birth! He nailed it.

          • dondehoff

            Durknit, you are very wrong. It has been clearly documented that the fetus responds to outside factors, such as music, peaceful environment, anger, loud noise, hunger or illness of the mother, etc.

        • Douglas J. Bender

          You are assuming that at death one does not continue to exist in some state. (Not to mention you are implicitly denying reincarnation [reincarnation being false anyway, but that’s another matter…].)

        • Sardondi

          You’re confusing the state of non-existence or pre-existence with death.

  • John C

    Well, when someone can scientifically explain why life exists in the first place I’ll abandon the possibility that it’s a reflection of a deeper consciousnesses underlying the universe.

    • AFulgens

      For that, someone has to define “life” in the first place (e.g., are viruses alive or not?), and that’s an ongoing debate for some decades already :)

      Just to avoid confusion: I agree with you.

      • OWilson

        Life, like time, has an arrow. Evolution is the proof. it’s on a journey to become its own god.

        From blind instinctive organic algorithm to self awareness and the ability to look ahead out of the here and now, and contemplate something which does not yet exist, – the future!

        A construction better than the finest Swiss watch or the fastest computer. Does logic suggest it has no maker, or at least some grand designer, the maker of the laws that govern it?

        The earth has also evolved to a stage of equilibrium, that defies the dire extremist predictions of the Global Warmers and the Global Coolers.

        Scientists should bow there heads in its presence and be humble.

        • dondehoff

          While far from being an expert on any subject, I believe logic and deductive reason dictates evolution is involved, combined with the undetectable minute “survival” changes that occur over a million or so years, which leave many evolutionary questions unanswered. I believe Stephen Hawking and those who will follow him, will eventually come up with a mathematical solution.

          • OWilson

            The arrogant certitude of dismissiveness is always more dangerous to logic, than the open mind.

            Science does not believe in miracles, but our very existence on this speck in the universe is nothing less than miraculous.

            There’s a life force present in an acorn that wants to be a majestic giant oak.

            Its cousin, the lifeless pebble on the beach, can never aspire to becoming a majestic mountain.

          • dondehoff

            “OW…..”, that “life force” present in that acorn, is there, having evolved and survived over the eons, ditto for animal life. Such evolutionary processes are so slow that they are imperceptible over a generation or perhaps even a million years. We have people who believe mere “birth” of a child or “growing old” are miracles—-while a “great events”, they are a result of known evolutionary processes—and I would say that logic and an open mind are equal parts of a single equation. The evolutionary process “weeds-out” and discards those that do not successfully evolve. Look to the exact definition of “miracle”—-evolution is a “known” process and does not require any outside “entity” other than great amounts of “time”.

          • OWilson

            The miracle that is there is anything at all rather than nothing.

            That includes atoms, space and the time for them to interact.

            The definition of miracle is a unique event which cannot be scientifically explained, or reproduced.

            Science is the study of cause and effect, In creation (Big Bang) the “cause” has not been identified.

            Your pebbles can sit there for eternity, and will never self organize themselves into a ski run.

            There’s something about that “life force” which defies scientific analogy or reproduction.

          • Fatal Sick

            The acorn doesn’t self organize itself to become an oak tree neither. It seeds soil, water, oxygen, & sunlight to create that miracle oak tree you’re talking about. All materials from an exploded star.

          • OWilson

            Space ship navigator on observing a floating object in space, “Say, Captain, isn’t that a superfast computer made from materials we have never seen before?”

            “Relax, Otto, it’s just a random assembly of star stuff, no point in trying to find out who made it, or where it came from”.

          • OWilson

            If all it takes is enough time, let us know when you find life on the other billion year old planets!

          • Crookid

            Yes, an open mind indeed. Which is why most of the greatest scientists are agnostic over atheist.

            To exclude the possibility of anything is the opposite described. To exclude the possibility of a creator, albeit increasingly questionable, would be as dubious as the opposite.

            Hell, aren’t some scientist offering the idea that we live in the matrix or a super computer due to quantum mechanics and the dual slit experiment?

            As the article exclaims — there is enough eery information (or lack thereof) in what is already measurable.

          • Fatal Sick

            Oh but you’re so wrong! When this planet of ours dies by Armageddon, the Armageddon where our Sun ages into a Red Giant Star and becomes so big it will engulf the inner planets Mercury, Venus, & Earth (not what the Bible says), that pebble that you claim can’t become a mountain will indeed become part of the recycled material from our solar systems death to create a new star, planets, & mountains on those planets. Even right here on Earth, with the dynamic forces of tectonic plates rubbing underneath each other, that pebble can fuse into molten rock which when cooled & thrusted upward, can indeed become part of a newly formed mountain on this planet. These are definite facts!

          • OWilson

            It can also be a gall stone in an elephant’s uretha, or a pet rock on a schoolteachers desk, but left alone it will remain so.

          • dondehoff

            “FS”, your ranting and ravings are remote possibilities, not facts! Also, our present limited abilities to examine the historical universe (but which is getting more exact), reveals most all natural space objects are “born, mature and eventually die” and I assume that will apply to this planet—-and there is no “divinity” involved. When that hyp0osisi was developed the peoples on this planet had gods for many things, like the Sun, Moon, water, lightning, thunder, fire and even “golden calves”. and most of the people were illiterate and relied upon mere hearsay and innuendo.

        • Andrea RGB

          Don’t be silly… The designer appeared from thin air right? And because something looks like it was designed is not definite proof of anything. Religious people…

          • OWilson

            You would say the universe suddenly appeared from thin air.

            Same thing.

            That’s the point!

            Unless you know something we don’t know :)

          • Fatal Sick

            Actually speaking strictly scientifically, science can’t explain where the big bang came from. The scientific explanation is that one universe collided with another causing the initial bang. That still leaves to question where did the other two universes come from that collided together to cause the big bang which birthed our universe. I’m not saying any religion knows that answer, but other than the first atoms appearing out of no where seens to be the only answer.

          • Inani Schroedinger

            I know where everything came from! It didn’t! All things have prior conditions, something never arises from nothing. There never was an ultimate beginning. The “big bang” just describes the limitation of human tools and perception. The big bang arose from some phenomena that occurred prior to our earliest ability to understand and detect. I’m as curious as anyone to know what conditions those were, but I don’t need to know that to know there is no definitive “beginning” to the universe. Look at the evidence around you. Can you name one thing that did not arise from a prior state? That is the actual truth of the universe. Observe what is right before you. No beginning, No origin. If you are a Deist.. why is that hard for you to conceive of? If you believe in a perpetual god, why is a perpetual universe so unfathomable? God is just perpetual universe with “extra steps”. It is the assumption that there is an ultimate origin at all, that is misapprehended.

          • atul kumar

            You are totally a silly person.
            Creation or creativity cannot exist without designer in any form.

            See infinite complexity and intelligence in form of human body, non human living beings, universe and nature around you which nobody can explain.
            How can we think that such an intelligence and evolution can exists without interruption of anything.

            Take and example of some pieces of paper. Somebody appears from nowhere and sees pieces are scattered all around and on the other hand somebody comes and notice some arrangement of pieces in form of let’s say any English letter. Now what is the difference between two situations. In second one, the first thing will come in anybody’s mind that there have been somebody who has created this arrangement.

          • Crookid

            Knew it wasn’t long before I came across a new-atheist. I swear, the way you all act makes me want to go back to Christianity.

            “Pressure in society’s beliefs make you religious and if you’re religious you’re stupid”.

            Any intillectual atheist can see the irony and stupidity in these sentiments. One can choose to believe and not be religious. One can believe and still contain intellect.

            Get off the atheist Reddits and YT channels and watch genuine debate among intillectuals and educate yourself on both sides of the argument. Otherwise, you’re no more intelligent than the most devout theist.

        • wadood

          I thoroughly concur. All your post on this page put together make a solid argument, one that mirrors my own. I have no doubt in my mind that a higher being has brought about what we see around us into existence. Doesn’t imply It’s controlling everything, but rather the inception was through This power. Scientist/ materialist simply refuse or don’t understand that they haven’t discovered life/ being/ self/ consciousness or if one may – qualia. I sincerely believe science is the most widely studied and accepted religion- at best.

        • wadood

          Oh well.. maybe I didn’t all your comments :)
          Either ways, life in itself is the extra ordinary evidence required for the extra ordinary claim that a creator exists. If evolution was true (from nothing to something I.e.) there would be species on all planets that would have “evolved” given the circumstances of that planet.
          To answer the question: who created the creator, well, if a being that it’s indeed capable of creating all that which is in existence, hell I’m ready ready to believe it is everything there was, is and will be.

        • Dr. Ward

          Time is not an arrow. It’s a construct we create, it doesn’t exist. “Time” exists, past, present, and future, together in the same moment, our “observation” creates our impression of time. This is one of those concepts that’s been proven, but folks can’t wrap their minds around.

      • Fatal Sick

        A lot of viruses (HIV, Ebola) are man-made for biological warfare purposes & absolutely have nothing to do with how life arose. They have absolutely everything to do with resources & greed.

    • Debbie

      You can cling to the possibility of cosmic consciousness, I’m going with: the Flying Spaghetti Monster created Life, the Universe and Everything so that humans would evolve, cook pasta in its image and revere it.

      It makes just as much sense.

    • shawn king

      see my post below

    • Stephenie Devitte Keating

      Well said John.

    • Chip

      Life was invented by water as a way to get itself from one place to another.

    • Kamran Rowshandel

      That’s the racist dream of Shem get out of here semitism isn’t real any longer

  • Uncle Al

    [I so so enjoy censorship. E pur si muove.]

    Certain behaviors of quantum particles still baffle the brightest minds” A statement of profound ignorance. Tell that to Luboš Motl.

    We keep looking for the dark matter that constitutes more than 80 percent of the universe’s mass, but we haven’t actually seen a single atom of it [emphasis mine] or know where, exactly, it is.” Also a statement of profound ignorance. Dark matter can have no interaction except gravitation – it cannot be baryonic or leptonic, much less an “atom,” though it must be massed. Collisional scattering is indistinguishable from zero to about at leas 40 decimal places. The Tully-Fisher relation that dark matter curve fits can be universally replaced with MoND’s Milgrom acceleration whose origin is testable on a bench top in existing apparatus. Somebody should look.

    Look it up before you spit it out. (The soul is small, pale green, and slightly wrinkled. It travels orthogonal to 3 + 1 spacetime. Shinola and crapola are tthus distinguishable.)

    Planck satellite: 13.82 Gyr old; 68.3% dark energy, 26.8% dark matter, 4.9% baryonic matter
    WMAP satellite: 13.75 Gyr old; 72% dark energy, 23% dark matter, 4.6% baryonic matter (older, coarser measurement)

  • Pithecanthropus

    Poor science from the start. “I am going to weigh the human soul,” is not how you start an experiment.

    • Small_Businessman

      Actually, it is a good start. Take a theory and create a means of testing that theory. Exactly what he did.

      • Pithecanthropus

        Starting with the assumption that the human soul exists. Bad science.

        • Small_Businessman

          Can you scientifically prove the human soul does not exist? If so, please tell everyone how. Scientists have been trying to prove it one way or the other for millennia.

          • Pithecanthropus

            :Buzzer: One cannot prove a negative. Obviously, you don’t know how science works, either. Conversation over.

          • Small_Businessman

            BZZZZ!. I know how science works. But obviously you don’t. Just because YOU don’t believe a soul exists does not mean it does not exist. And trying to determine the weight of the soul is perfectly good science.

          • Pithecanthropus

            Science would ask the question: is there a weight difference when one dies? If so, every possible physical explanation would have to be exhausted before the mere suggestion of something supernatural could even be entertained as a possibility. My personal beliefs have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that this was bad science from the start. Re-read the article, including the last few paragraphs.

          • Small_Businessman

            That is ONE question science could ask. And the one asked is another one.
            Yes, I have read the article. And I see nothing wrong with the science behind it. Unlike you, I don’t let my personal beliefs affect my scientific inquisitiveness. Now THAT would be bad science.

          • Pithecanthropus

            One last time: he started with the assumption that the human soul exists, something that no one ever has proven exists in the first place. He may as well have been trying to measure how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. He did bad science, and I’m really sorry that your own personal belief system can’t let you see or admit that. Now I am truly done with you. Have a nice, blissfully ignorant day.

          • Small_Businessman

            That’s right. He started with an assumption that no one has ever proven existed. Just like Copernicus started with an assumption of a heliocentric universe – something no one had ever proven before. And James Maxwell proposed electrical waves could travel through free space – even though that had never been proposed. In fact, virtually every major discovery in history came from someone who created experiments to prove the existence of something that had never been proven before. That is the basis of science – come up with a theory and see if it works. Some, like cold fusion in 1989, fail. Others succeed.
            But to not try something because it’s existence has never been proven is totally against scientific methods.
            Sorry, but you’re the ignorant one – someone who refused to open his eyes to other possibilities because you are blinded by personal beliefs. That is NOT scientific.
            Keep your ignorance, if it makes you happy. The rest of the world will continue to make progress while you stagnate. Your pseudonym is quite appropriate.

          • Pithecanthropus

            Not a single scientist you mentioned started their process by saying they were trying to prove something. Each and every one was trying to explain an observed or theoretical process based on the known laws of physics. None of them went into their experiments or calculations with any preconceived notion of what the outcome was going to be. A scientist who says, “I am going to weigh the human soul,” is not making a scientific statement, and their findings will be influenced by what they are trying to prove. The final nail in the coffin of Dr. MacDougall’s so-called experiments is that he did not prove the existence of the human soul. And your belief in such a thing does not make it fact.

          • Small_Businessman

            Sure they were. Copernicus was trying to prove the Earth was not the center of the Universe. Maxwell was trying to prove electromagnetic waves could travel through space. Fleischmann and Pons were trying to prove fusion could occur at low temperatures. They were all trying to prove something which went against the accepted “facts” of their time.
            Saying a person is going to attempt to weigh the human soul, then creating a series of experiments which can do just that is valid science. No, he did not prove the existence of the human soul – just like Fleischmann and Pons did not prove the possibility of cold fusion. But in neither case did failure mean the experiment was not scientific.
            The *real* problem here is people like you who allow religious and other views to interfere with valid study, just because you don’t think something exists. Good scientists are open to all possibilities. Close-minded people do not make for good scientists.
            I find your pseudonym to uncannily reflect your prehistoric view of science.

          • OWilson

            “Good scientist are open to all possibilities”, and I hope that wouldn’t exclude some grand designer of the “grand design” :)

            But your point about Copernicus and Maxwell is wrong.

            They were trying to explain a phenomena, not prove a hypothesis.

            They and the other greats, like Galileo, Darwin, Newton and Einstein, went where their observations took them.

            They were, by our standards, religious people, who found answers that contradicted their religious beliefs, and the teachings of the churches to which they belonged.

          • Small_Businessman

            Ah, but it is not wrong. The beliefs of the time had Earth as the center of the universe, and there were numerous commonly accepted theories as to stellar bodies presented the motions they did – such as retrograde motions by the outer planets being explained by complicated mathematical calculations.
            Instead, they tried to prove an alternate – and much simpler mathematical theory (heliocentric) where the sun was the center of the universe (actually the solar system since the rest of the observations moved so slowly as to be unmeasurable at the time).
            It took a lot of courage at the time to go against the Church, since the penalty was death. But they did so, anyway.

            Yes, they were religious. But they were also willing to go against the commonly accepted science to prove an alternate theory,.

            But you never answered my question. Why is attempting to weigh a consciouness nonsense? If there is a weight, something obviously exists.

          • OWilson

            Those great scientists didn’t “go against the commonly accepted science”, they went against the dogma of the church.
            It wasn’t until Galileo looked through his new telescope and saw the moons of Jupiter revolving, was there actual proof that everything did not revolve around the earth.
            Pure observation, not confirmation of a theory that Jupiter even had moons.
            Darwin had no theory of evolution before his observations.
            As for “weighing the soul”, ideas, memories also exist, but trying to weigh them would be a fool’s errand.
            There is not even a scientific definition of a soul.

          • Small_Businessman

            Ah, but the “dogma of the church” WAS the commonly accepted science of the time. Sure, Galileo saw Jupiter’s moons. But he was jailed and convicted of heresy for his statements. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and his books were banned. Maybe it was church dogma, but it was still the science of the time.
            And who said the soul was the same as memories? You’re comparing apples and oranges. You’re trying to say because weighing memories is meaningless that trying to weigh the soul is meaningless. That is a common fallacy in logic used by non-scientists to support an invalid argument.

          • OWilson

            It wasn’t the “science of the time”.

            Aristarchus and Eratosthenes understood that the earth was round and actually measured it, some 2,500 years ago. Columbus knew that too, but believed the diameter was much smaller.
            Aristarchus is credited with being the first on record to put the sun at the centre of the solar system, and us a very good approximation of the circumference of a round earth.
            The soul is a “concept” not a pound of cheese!
            It has no defined location, or dimensions.
            It is exactly the same as trying to measure its length, width, depth and volume.
            Good luck!

          • Small_Businessman

            Let me know when you understand history. The people you mentioned may have figured it out centuries before- But in Europe, it was the generally accepted science of the time.
            Good luck trying to change history.
            It is also closed minded individuals like you who are the bane of scientists everywhere. Prove that the soul is a “concept”. And I mean do it SCIENTIFICALLY. It’s your claim – you need to be able to prove it.

          • OWilson

            You are mixing up science in Greece and Rome, Islam and India and China, with Catholic Church dogma that DID prevail in Europe. That’s why they were called the “Dark Ages”. The church controlled what literature there was.

            If you didn’t believe, well, they had ways to bring you around to their way of thinking.

            Remember the Inquisition?

            That’s the problem with dogmas, their proponents are intolerant of other views. We see that today with the AGW issue.

            I keep an open mind, and wish you well on your quest to weigh a “soul”.

            But one would think you might have to physically describe what it is you are seeking to physically weigh.

            I may be wrong :)

          • Small_Businessman

            No, I’m not mixing up science. Galileo was Italian, and that was the recognized science of the day. Same with Copernicus. Neither had anything to do with with Greece, Islam, India or China. And the Catholic Church WAS the science of the day.
            It has nothing to do with why it was called the “Dark Ages” – I suggest you read up on that.
            But you’re mixing things up. I never said *I* was trying to weigh a soul. I haven’t even mentioned whether I believe a soul exists or not – because it makes no difference to me from a scientific viewpoint. All I’ve said is that the experiment is a valid scientific experiment. Many experiments fail. That does not make them invalid.
            And weighing something is one property which would need to be described. Sure, there are others. But nothing says you can’t start with weight.

          • OWilson

            I’d recommend a great book by, Sir James Jeans, “The Growth of Physical Science”, which explains how “natural philosophy” as it was once called, developed from as far back as written records go.

            Knowledge was passed down, traded and stolen, (at times suppressed, even burned) all the way from Mesopotamia, through Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Islam, Europe to the present in a continuum, much like evolution’s “punctuated equilibrium”.

            “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” – Isaac Newton
            Einstein himself shared this modesty.

          • OWilson


            Trying to weigh a conciousness, an idea or an opinion, is no way to prove it exists, one way or the other.

            Now let’s start again!

            Where were we?

          • Small_Businessman

            And exactly why is it nonsense? If there is a difference in weight, then something obviously exists.

          • Donovan Nicholson


          • Small_Businessman

            Ah, yes. When you can’t argue the facts but insist on making a fool of yourself anyway, you can always make ad hominem attacks. The last refuge of the incompetent.

        • AFulgens

          Starting with the assumption that there is a universal constant (i.e., “nothing can go faster than light”). Bad science.

          • Pithecanthropus

            No one did that. It was discovered, and it has held up in almost every experiment.

  • Keln

    A soul would be supernatural in origin, thus not a part of nature, meaning science cannot measure it in any fashion. We can’t observe a supernatural “place” anymore than we can observe another universe (which would technically be supernatural itself as it is outside of nature – our own universe).

    A scientist thinking he can weigh or photograph a soul is as silly as those who think they must choose between science and religion. They have nothing to do with each other.

    • Debbie

      They do have a little something to do with each other because as our scientific knowledge grows, the gaps where the god of the gaps live shrink.

      If this soul thingie can’t be detected with physical instruments (and it can’t), then it stands to reason that it cannot induce bio-electric signals to move our muscles and it has nothing to do the with the measurable electrical activity that happens in a brain when it’s doing things like imagining that souls exist.

      • Rick Mossop

        The “God of the gaps” meme is at best an argument made by atheists who don’t understand/haven’t studied any of the rational philosophical arguments for God’s existence and at worst a made up straw man argument to manipulate people who desperately want to believe that God doesn’t exist.

        • Debbie

          Klein doesn’t strike me as somebody who desperately wants to believe that God doesn’t exist, I wasn’t trying to manipulate him, and I don’t put much value on rational philosophical arguments that something exists absent evidence that it exists.

          Belief in the “god of the gaps” is an observable historical phenomenon. When people were much more scientifically ignorant about how the natural world works, they generally explained many more things with invisible magic spirits (omnipotent or otherwise) than they do now.

          • OWilson

            As an atheist I upticked your post.

            But reading it further (did you edit it?) I came back to my conclusion that there is no rational (human) explanation for our existence, especially one that is governed by somebody’s inviolable laws, rather than disorganized chaos.

            I’d say it’s a tie.

            At least until science can create life!

          • Debbie

            If I edited something, I did it nine days and wouldn’t remember. But I know that no change I would have made would have changed the meaning of anything already there other than expanding it, ‘cuz that’s how I roll.

            There is a very rational outline of an explanation for human existence — evolution. What is missing is a complete and proven theory of abiogenesis. I believe that advances in computational power and computational chemistry and other sciences will help yield a solid theory this century. But of course, that’s a leap of faith.

            It’s not clear to me whether we have a point of disagreement.

          • OWilson

            Evolution explains how life developed to what we see around us to date.

            But religious cults have their ideas on how it all started, which is THE BIG QUESTION.
            “In the beginning…. ” they solemnly explain, invoking some Grand Designer.

            Science has no such explanation except to also invoke a miracle, It all started from some infinitesimal singularity which expanded, they tell us. A Big Bang.

            It doesn’t quite match what we see in the universe, so they invoke another miracle, INFLATION, a period when, after the initial pop, it somehow expanded at a greater rate, and then somehow slowed to the present rate, so that it conveniently fits the current consensus mathematical model.

            I’m saying both explanations are equally questionable :)

          • Debbie

            The explanation of why anything, not just humans, exists is a bigger, harder-to-close gap which could always be the last refuge of the god of the gaps.

            A creator explanation can’t really close it, because it leaves the question: where did the creator/god thingie come from?

          • OWilson

            A chicken and egg analogy (crude to be sure).

            A creator, or no creator, an equally valid conclusion, until a majestic god descends from the skies, and announces, “Hola, mi amors!”.

            (Or, scientists finally succeed in mating two pebbles and produce a mountain :)

    • OWilson

      “The end is nigh. Give up your worldly goods, and ye shall be saved”.

      Same scam :)

      Second oldest profession!

      • Debbie

        “The end is nigh. Give up your worldly goods, and ye shall be saved”

        That sounds like an Al Gore quote!

    • shawn king

      Scientist don’t have ultra fine sensing equipment that would be required to detect such energies a spirit would exist as. They will eventually.

      • Donovan Nicholson

        You fool

  • Latinos Unite

    i believe energy beings reside in other dimensions. it’s possible this is where we go after leaving the physical world.

    • Debbie

      It’s also very possible that there is no “we” that is separate from our bodies, and that there are no dimensions that are not part of the physical world.

      Immortality sounds like great fun, but I nevertheless accept my mortality rather than trying to project a wish for immortality onto reality.

    • Uncle Al

      I believe counting to 1023 on your ten fingers is the gateway to Heaven – if you do it clean and fast enough, enough times.

  • Press_to_Digitate

    The statement that “Functional neuroimaging has tied every conceivable function once associated with the soul to specific regions and structures of the brain. Physics has mapped the linkages between subatomic particles so thoroughly that there’s simply no space left for spiritual forces.” is the most ignorant, unscientific, and unsupportable drivel ever to grace these pages.

    In the first place, no attempt at replicating MacDougall’s findings has ever recorded a negative result; every such experiment documented over the course of more than a century has effectively validated his data – with no alternative explanation that has stood up to scrutiny.

    Second, nothing in neuoscience has made contact with any process, form, structure, or data pattern that even remotely correlates with an identifiable “self” – the only part of us that we know a’priori to actually exist. Only the Theory of Quantum Consciousness (Hameroff, Penrose et al) and the widely replicated hard data on Presentiment using Random Number Generators (Radin, Nelson et al) demonstrate an instrumental, empirical scientific contact with that Self – or

    Denying the reality of the ethereal, the immanence of the Infinite merely on “faith” alone is as dangerous as mythological god-people antropomorphized for someone else’s political agenda.

    • Kokopelli

      Dr. Dean Radin is doing some fascinating research, to be sure…I’d love to be one of his “guinea pigs” one of these days, or even a lab assistant. TY for the shout-out!

    • Donovan Nicholson

      You idiot

  • Kokopelli

    The nature of consciousness has been one of my favorite topics for study & speculation for well over a decade. I’ve looked into it from both scientific and spiritual perspectives. I’ve discussed the topic with everyone from atheist scientists to Buddhists and New Agers. The crucial question, to which I’ve never found a totally conclusive answer, is this: Is the physical brain the ORIGIN of what we call “consciousness,” or is it a RECEIVER of consciousness? Scientists (especially life scientists) argue for the former. Spiritual/mystical perspectives (and some physicists, btw) appear to argue for the latter.

    Yes, I know with fMRI, we can “map” the parts of the brain that are associated with certain thoughts and impulses, and if some part of the brain is impaired, a person is incapable of certain thoughts or emotions. But we can also map the parts of a computer’s processor core that receive various signals via WiFi. If you knock out that part of the computer, you can’t get good reception anymore (or any reception, depending on the extent of the damage). But does that mean WiFi ceases to exist? If a person is colorblind and can’t see the color green, does that mean the color green doesn’t exist? (I could go on for probably 100 more pages, but I’ll save that for my book…)

    That said, the idea of “weighing the soul” (i.e. consciousness) is as ridiculous as weighing a WiFi signal or a radio transmission. Even if consciousness does exist apart from the physical brain, I would imagine it as more of a universal, all-pervasive field (like energy, perhaps), but not something that would have mass.

    • OWilson

      You are asking questions that have been asked in different forms, for thousands of years. There has been no definitive answer.

      The beauty of life is for each of us to wonder and come to our own conclusions, like you and I did. To look at the stars and contemplate why.

      Some would tell you with certitude exactly what happened one trillionth of a trillionth, of a trillionth after the “Big Bang”, others would say with equal certainty that we are doomed in the next nth number of years, for a variety of doomsday scenarios. with more added every day.

      To keep an open mind and remind ourselves of what we DON’T know, will keep our minds, and spirits free from the priests, seers, fortune tellers, doomsayers, oracles, medicine men, rain dancers and snake oil salesmen.

      To address your main point, there is no consciousness (soul) without a brain, as before you are born with one, and after you die, but that is not really the difficult question, which is:

      Since, despite all our technology, and sweeping statements about the habitability of other planets, we have been unable to create life, what exactly is life that it defies a scientific interpretation or reproduction?

      • Kokopelli

        I agree with about 99% of what you said, OWilson. But my main point is that it’s impossible to PROVE that “there is no consciousness without a brain.” Science concerns itself with postulates that are potentially falsifiable. Anything that can’t be proven or disproven is outside the realm of science. But that doesn’t, per se, mean it’s UNTRUE. Millions of people around the world have had ecstatic religious epiphanies, past-life memories, etc. For any scientist, this doesn’t (& definitely shouldn’t) count as “evidence”. But on the other hand, if you experience something yourself, you’ll probably tend to believe it’s true.

        Bottom line: Scientists should avoid casting aspersions upon anyone who believes in something that’s “unscientific” & calling them morons or “sheeple”. If it’s unscientific, and you’re a scientist, doesn’t that mean it’s outside your field of expertise? If you don’t believe in it, that’s fine with me. But don’t tell someone they’re stupid for believing in something they’ve personally experienced. There are a lot of atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) who are as dogmatic as any religious fundamentalist I’ve ever met. I say they should just sit down & shut up, and leave it to the philosophers & the mystics to puzzle over!

        • OWilson

          Epiphanies, past life memories, deja vu, and near death experiences are all valid personal experiences, but still result from the firing of neurons in the human brain.

          Without a brain, it would be impossible to experience them.

          And, for practical reasons, these experiences that originate in our individual brains and cannot be shared with others, will have little effect on society at large.

          As for “out of body” experiences, without a brain, you have no memory, and no means of communication, so that experience also emanates from the brain.

          The brain is a truly wondrous thing in its own right and I have often woken up sweating, from a terrifying dream experience that is as real to me emotionally, as reality itself.

    • shawn king

      If you want to capture proof of a spirit, you wouldn’t weigh it, you would need an ultra fine, energy sensing probe, that would show it’s presence on a spectrometer. This isn’t available yet, but is not to far in the future.

      • Donovan Nicholson


  • shawn king

    Confusion about what the soul is can be blamed on the false teachings from religions. The soul exists in the solar plexus and is dissolved into fine energy at death. Emotions come from the soul. It, and the personality, becomes fine energy as all the accumulated wisdom gained in this lifetime is absorbed into the spirits storage banks and a new personality is created from the dissolved energy of the prior personality. The person doesn’t reincarnate, the spirit does. The Creational Universe, like the human spirit, evolves in its existence from the gathered wisdom of all its creations. The human spirit, in its existence, which is truly enlivened by a tiny part of Creation, evolves through its gathering of wisdom by the human beings consciousness in its physical world. Our reason for life is to evolve in our spiritual nature through millions of incarnations and learn to begin creating life ourselves.

  • Overburdened_Planet

    From wiki:

    Science writer Karl Kruszelnicki has noted that out of MacDougall’s six patients only one had lost weight at the moment of death. Two of the patients were excluded from the results due to “technical difficulties”, a patient lost weight but then put the weight back on and two of the other patients registered a loss of weight at death but a few minutes later lost even more weight. MacDougall did not use the six results, just the one that supported his hypothesis. According to Kruszelnicki this was a case of selective reporting as MacDougall had ignored five of the results.

    The physicist Robert L. Park has written MacDougall’s experiments “are not regarded today as having any scientific merit” and the psychologist Bruce Hood wrote that “because the weight loss was not reliable or replicable, his findings were unscientific.

    • dondehoff

      “Over…..”, I agree with your thought -processes. The sample of “six” was far too small to determine most anything, especially with all of the other conflicting data.

      • Overburdened_Planet

        And aside from those points, he didn’t attempt to disprove his own theory, so fail.

  • A Parr (Miss Unique)

    Hmmmmm, very interesting. Why don’t u all squabble about it some more so that I can read it later for my amusement…lol

  • Small_Businessman

    Statements of profound ignorance. We don’t know what dark matter is – much less whether it can interact with regular matter through other than gravitation or not,.
    You’re good at quoting what you find on the internet. You’re not so good at UNDERSTANDING what you post.

  • Old Salt

    I am alive in this instance forever. It is here. It is now. and it never goes away. I just move away from it.

    • dondehoff

      Old salt, you left me at the “starting gate”. Which “instance” and what or where is “it”? Grammatically, you are saying this “instance” is “now”, never goes away, yet you move away from the “instance”. If an “instance” never goes away, why am I now 83 years young, and hoping for more such “instances”? Can we get back to the original issues?—-or have they also gone away?

  • dondehoff

    First, let me say that I appreciate the wide-range of discussion, for the most part, void of profanity, obnoxious nicknames and gutter talk. I am a Deist and believe there is “room out- there” for a deity, but at this point,such a force or deity has not become involved in this planet’s day-to-day ongoing catastrophes. As for “miracles”, I suggest they, as reported, are nothing more than events involving the “laws of large numbers and mere happen-stance”, along with the “powers of positive thinking”. Now, let us face facts, we, as mere mortals can now communicate world-wide on a moments notice, via cell-phones and the internet. Surely, a god who can do anything and everything, would also have the capability of communicating with the masses. That alone, would have eliminated the overwhelming problem of requiring “faith”, as such an “All Knowing God”(AKG) would have made himself available to “one and all”, and eliminated all hearsay and the necessity of relying upon prophets for the “spoken word”. It would also have eliminated the requirement for prophets, most who appear to have been, “self-appointed”, especially those with very questionable prior backgrounds. I also believe all Holy Books were compiled years after the deaths of Jesus and Muhammad, by groups of mere mortals, using very scant materials, provided by second-hand information. Those groups all had someone in charge, also a mere mortal, who dictated what would and would not be included in the “final” drafts. Such a compiling and editing process clearly voids the concept that any Holy Book is the exact “spoken word” of a deity. To believe otherwise, defies all logic, deductive reason and plain common sense. We are now looking at objects in the universe that are hundreds of light-years away, and have yet to find other verifiable “facts of life”. We just are not yet capable of wrapping our minds around such long time-frames. I have no doubt that soon, we will be able to resolve these issues and come up with a far clearer concept of the birth, evolution and future of not just this planet but perhaps even the entire universe.

  • Danny

    Uh Christ

  • Bu Cephalus

    How much did James Brown weigh? Therein lies the answer.

  • boShank

    I have read research, as well as many replies on this study on several different blog forums (e.g. spiritualist, theist, deist, agnostic, atheist, mathematics and physics), and I was surprised to find that no one seemed to be able to fathom the factoring in of the most common law of physics. That law states that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction.

    Since the intent of MacDougall’s experiment was to prove the existence of the human soul, his scope and method of research was flawed from the start. Nearly all life forms produce bioelectric energy, and as a result of that, those life forms produce an electromagnetic field. Depending on polarity, electromagnetic fields are capable of attracting and repelling.

    When a bioelectric producing life form dies, it basically ceases producing bioelectric energy. When that production ceases, so does the electromagnetic field, and with the cessation of the magnetic field, any actions being produced by the electromagnetic field will also cease to act upon the environmental universe.

    If the electromagnetic field being created by a human being was causing any amount of attracting force to the magnetic field of the Earth, then when the human electromagnetic field ceased upon death, it would have the effect the weight of the remaining dead mass, which would make the remaining dead mass lighter than it was before death.

    The weight data of MacDougall’s experiment could have very well been true and valid. What made his experiment flawed from the start is that his assigning of value to that weight data was prejudiced. Brain dead is the most common determining factor of “time of death”, but the cells of the human body continue to produce bioelectric energy well after that point.

    That could explain why some of his weight data suggested that the weight disappeared in stages, rather than all at once.

  • Veronica Lane

    Ben, I hear your skepticism coming through, your discourse. It is sad, but when human kind finally wakes up to the True reality, we are so painfully unaware of, we will seem so very foolish and ignorant! You can be an atheist and deny all sorts of things, if you want! It doesn’t make you right, or any kind of authority on any subject, concerning the supernatural!
    There is a “club”, and their motto is,
    “We Still Have Very Much to Learn”!
    You should join that club, Ben!

  • joseph2237

    Scientist can’t measure the Mind or the Soul because they don’t know where it is. It’s here ,there and anywhere. Can’t weigh what you can’t see, touch, or hold. Why does this mystery persist after thousands of years we are still no closer than we were thousand of years ago.

  • Manan Aron

    isnt soul a form of energy and ,energy cannot be created nor destroyed

  • Elias Daoud

    most of this document is not true, the experience has lot of error and mistakes and assumption. also the dark matter is not true, even most of scientific men said that. some are reject it and I can explain many things without introduce the dark matter (I am Mechanical Eng.) also black hole and Einstein theory has lot of wrong theories. Sure many scientific have my idea (I started to publish them since 2001)

  • Boriga D Cezar

    It’s the weight of the air !

  • Hamish Mcleod

    The human body is made of molecules and atoms and baryonic and quantum particles. Essentially all of these are manifestations of energy; an electron is merely a concentration of energy coalesced and drawn into the orbit of a proton and neutron cluster that itself is energy. Everything if fuzzy, buzzy and indistinct at the smallest scale. Effectively nothing is hard or soft, but in fact merely resonating at a slightly different frequency and that creates the apparent density of everything.
    The difficulty in trying to locate a soul is the presumption that it would be a finite thing in a finite place, but all of the combined energies of the constituents of a human being generate force upon which gravity both conditions their resonance with each other and their relationship to the world. If looking for something extra among all of that energy it should be easier to suppose that it would permeate the whole combined energy field of the human body and would similarly also be an energy that once released would change the properties of all that remains. In other words it would become an aurora as it left and leave the now low energy body to resonate more slowly. So if you are looking for an aura, an aurora or a soul, then you would need to look for an ultra high energy field that would be most easily observed at the point of death.


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