About Duncan MacDougall (doctor)…   Leave a comment


Duncan MacDougall (doctor)…

Died September 15, 1920 (age 54)
Residence Haverhill, Massachusetts, USA
Citizenship American
Nationality American
Fields Biologist
Known for 21 grams theory

Dr. Duncan MacDougall (c. 1866 – 15 October, 1920) was an early 20th century physician in Haverhill, Massachusetts who sought to measure the mass purportedly lost by a human body when the soul departed the body upon death.

Ideas about the soul…

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.

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