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NYTimes

While it would be easy to tap Aleister Crowley, Kenneth R.H. Mackenzie, Anna Sprengel or John Dee as material for this Occult Day, we decided to bring you something possibly a little more obscure.

The existence of the human soul has always been of great interest to theologians, philosophers and scientists alike. Its seeming lack of physical evidence coupled with the pervasive feeling that there is a ghost in the bioelectric machine called the body, makes saying it does exist rather difficult and saying it doesn’t existence rather hard to swallow. In the early 1900’s, one man attempted to end the argument for once and for all.

1901, the beginning of a new century…

In a strange blending of science and the supernatural, Dr. Duncan Macdougall of Haverhill, MA, began a set of experiments to prove the existence of the soul by measuring the weight of six people before and after death. In each case, Dr. Macdougall and his four colleagues took a person who was near the moment of death and placed them on a special scale which was, according to the 1907 New York Times article written about the experiment six years after its execution, “sensitive to a weight of less than one-tenth of an ounce”.

According to the Dr. Macdougall, there was a measureable loss of weight of about an ounce after the death of his first patient and each succeeding patient registered weight loss after death. He went on to mention that one patient with what he called a “sluggish temperament” did not lose weight for a full minute after his death, the implication being that the patient not only had a lazy body, but a lazy soul as well.

While Macdougall’s work was intriguing, it was also inadequate. What he failed to mention at the announcement of his work was that his findings weren’t consistent. Two patients had an initial weight-loss that then continued to fall. One lost weight at the time of death and then regained it. Two more were discounted because of “technical reasons”. Only one of Dr. Macdougall’s patients lost a finite amount of weight and this weight loss is purportedly where we get the 21 gram measurement for the weight of the human soul.

Since Dr. Macdougall, there have been others who have tried to prove the existence of the human soul. Most notable are Dr Stuart Hameroff and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose who say they can prove the existence of the soul through quantum physics.

How the times change…

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