[Editor's Note: This is our first installment of our first regular column here at the new queerplanet.net. "Things that make you go hmmm..." is a chance to answer some of those question that you can't typically find or to settle a debate between you and someone you know.
If you've got a question that you want us to try and answer or a queer fact that you want to share, then e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll feature the best questions or most interesting facts here at queerplanet.net with the rest of our abnormal news and world wide weirdness. Now, here's our first installment of "Things that make you go hmmm..."]
Question: Does the human body really lose 21 grams at the time of death? If so, where does it go?
Answer: This seems to be one of those controversial tidbits that leaves us guessing. Evidently, there have been several studies that show the body does loose up to 21 grams at the time of death. The hard part is explaining what those 21 grams are and where they go. Many people seem to have accepted the fact that this is the human soul, and that it instantly leaves your body upon death.
There was even a movie made about this question in 2003 called “21 Gramm.”
Here’s more from ABC Science:
People have believed that the “soul” has a definite physical presence for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years. But it was only as recently as 1907, that a certain Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill in Massachusetts actually tried to weigh this soul. In his office, he had a special bed “arranged on a light framework built upon very delicately balanced platform beam scales” that he claimed were accurate to two-tenths of an ounce (around 5.6 grams). Knowing that a dying person might thrash around and upset such delicate scales, he decided to “select a patient dying with a disease that produces great exhaustion, the death occurring with little or no muscular movement, because in such a case, the beam could be kept more perfectly at balance and any loss occurring readily noted”.
He recruited six terminally-ill people, and according to his paper in the April 1907 edition of the journal American Medicine, he measured a weight loss, which he claimed was associated with the soul leaving the body. In this paper, he wrote from beside the special bed of one of his patients, that “at the end of three hours and 40 minutes he expired and suddenly coincident with death the beam end dropped with an audible stroke hitting against the lower limiting bar and remaining there with no rebound. The loss was ascertained to be three fourths of an ounce.”
He was even more encouraged when he repeated his experiment with 15 dogs, which registered no change in weight in their moment of death. This fitted in perfectly with the popular belief that a dog had no soul, and therefore would register no loss of weight at the moment of demise.