Got Soul, Part II

Regarding my recent post on the soul, Isabella commented,

What loaded questions. That nobody can answer. I don’t know if you’re a reader of fiction (heck, I barely know you at all), but your entire post reminds me of an SF novel — Terminal Experiment, by Robert J Sawyer. I don’t think he’s a very good writer, but he grapples with some very interesting ideas, starting with the 21 grams that leave the body when you die.

Twenty-one grams that leave the body when you die? I’d never heard of this. Being a skeptic, I immediately thought, “Urban legend,” but I thought I’d poke around on the internet a while and see what turned up.

In an article entitled “Soul Man“, I found that the the 21-gram idea can be traced back to an early-twentieth century physician, Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill, Massachusetts. He did a relatively crude experiment in which the beds of six terminally ill patients were put on scales to check for weight loss at the moment of death. He claimed to have accounted for evaporation of any sweat that might be on the patients skin, and reasoned that the effect of bowel movement or urine elimination would be negligable because it would remain on the bed. His results were far from uniform, but they indicated some weight loss at death. (The full text of the 1907 AMA paper is here.)

From this, it’s safe to say:

Urban Legend.

But were the questions I asked really “unanswerable?” That depends on what we mean by “unanswerable.” Science is not usually about “definitely” answered questions, and after all, it is science than can answers this question for us while we’re still alive.

All bets are off once we’re dead, though.

The saddest part about not believing in a soul, though, is that we’re right, we’ll never know.

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