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Many years ago, I read an article that has stayed with me about a doctor who tried to determine if the soul had weight. Over the years, I have seen that same story retold in various contexts: religious, scientific and New Age pseudoscientific.
You may have seen a film 21 Grams whose title refers to the early 20th-century research of physician Dr. Duncan MacDougall. He attempted to show scientific proof of the existence of the immortal human soul by recording a loss of body weight immediately following death. His hypothesis was that if any small amount of weight was lost at the moment after death, it was due to the departure of the soul.
MacDougall only had six patients in his experiment and the result he selected from one of them was that there was a loss of “three-fourths of an ounce.” That was, to him, the “weight of the soul” and it has since been popularized through the film and online as “21 grams.”
Though MacDougall’s results were published in the peer-reviewed journal American Medicine, his experiment has met with mostly criticism as sloppy research or even pseudoscience.
First off, MacDougall assumed that any weight loss was an indication of the soul, which is not the territory of science. When I first read about this experiment, my own thought was that since energy cannot be created or destroyed and since the living body does create and hold an electrical charge that can be measured, where does that charge go after death?
Talking about this with a friend, he suggested (only part jokingly) that the energy leaves the body at death and joins “The Force” (as in Star Wars) and becomes part of a larger energy field. I found later that he is not alone in his belief in The Force as a kind of global soul or energy field that can be tapped by all of us – if we know how. In the Star Wars series, The Force is used for both good and evil, but it is never explained as being the soul. Anima mundi is the concept of a “world soul” connecting all living organisms on planet Earth.
I have done further reading over the years about all this and asked a few real scientists that I taught with at NJIT and it seems like a reasonable answer to my question and my friends answer is that the electrical charge gets grounded.
Our bodies generate electricity and that allows your nervous system to send signals to your brain and control the rhythm of your heartbeat, the movement of blood around your body and more.
The Earth also carries an enormous negative charge and our bodies connect with the Earth’s energy. Without getting too New Age, when you put your bare feet on the ground, you absorb large amounts of negative electrons (those are the good ones) through the soles of your feet. This effect maintains your body at the same negatively charged electrical potential as the Earth. This simple process is called “grounding” or “earthing,” and it is viewed as an antioxidant effect.
Dr. MacDougall was pretty careful for his time. He recorded patient’s exact time of death, total time on the bed, used the most precise scales available, recorded any changes in weight that occurred at the moment of death. He thought about other explanations for weight loss (bodily fluids like sweat and urine, and gases like oxygen and nitrogen) and factored that into his calculations.
The only modern experiments I have ever come across about finding the soul or the energy were using a kind of photography that could see energy fields and attempted to see the energy leaving the body. Those were inconclusive. I just recently found that MacDougall did another experiment in 1911 attempting to photograph the soul when it left a body.
He said (and it was reported in The New York Times then, that doing a dozen experiments, he photographed “a light resembling that of the interstellar ether” in or around patients’ skulls at the moments they died.
Science still has no interest in this line of soul research. I doubt that any research was done using a much larger sample size. There is even some controversy as to when the precise “moment” of death occurs. Is it cellular death, brain death, physical death or heart death?
Maybe the soul, if it exists, has no physical form that can be measured.
Dan Brown even references MacDougall’s experiments in his novel The Lost Symbol. A scientist character placed a dying man in an air-tight capsule, fitted with very sensitive micro weight detectors, and after his death showed a difference in weight “though microscopic, is quite measurable.” The novel’s experiment has some of the same flaws as MacDougall’s experiment.
But wouldn’t it be comforting to prove that we each have a souls that lives on after we die?
We have been considering this idea of a soul for a very long time. Religious, philosophical and mythological traditions often view the soul (perhaps by a different name) as essence of a living being and it can be mortal or immortal.
In Judeo-Christianity, only human beings have immortal souls. Thomas Aquinas attributed soul/anima to all organisms but argued that only human souls are immortal. Hinduism and Jainism hold that all biological organisms – your pets and the flea on your dog – have souls. Aristotle also believed that. In some philosophies (animism), even non-biological entities – rivers and mountains – have souls.
Science still isn’t interested. I have read that functional neuroimaging has mapped every function once associated with the soul to specific regions and structures of the brain.
Physicists have mapped the connections between subatomic particles and need no spiritual explanations. But they have also said that dark matter makes up more than 80 percent of the universe’s mass, but we haven’t actually seen a single atom of it. That requires at least some non-religious faith.
I agree with Hamlet that still “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Our Moon is always up there and one half is always illuminated by sunlight and the nighttime half is in its own shadow, even though we don’t always see that.
I post a lot about the Moon and I’m hardly alone in being fascinated by it. You may have an astronomical interest in it, or maybe a more Romantic interest. Either way, you probably only think of the view of the Moon from Earth and not the other way.
Right now we are in the last quarter phase when we see half the moon’s day side, and half its night side. I recently discovered that the shadow line dividing day from night is called the lunar terminator.
Here’s another way to view the moon, if only theoretically. If you were on the moon now while it is in its last quarter phase, as it is today, and you were looking back at Earth, you’d see the Earth at its first quarter phase.
Perhaps some day, a lunar-living blogger will post regularly about the phases of the Earth.
I’m a weather watcher. I’m also a nature watcher. Sometimes the Venn diagram overlaps those two areas.
I know by my blog stats that my posts here about predicting the weather by observing nature have a perennial popularity, even though they are not usually backed by science and are more of “weather lore.”
Meteorologists, on the other hand, look at things such as the La Niña conditions as very real. She is showing her effects in the Pacific now with cooler than normal sea surface temperatures across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. It started in October and continued into this month.
I suppose it’s not exactly “chaos theory” when it comes to weather patterns, but I find it fascinating that cooler than normal sea surface temperatures far from where I live will affect my local weather. That is a big butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world.
Don’t confuse La Niña with its opposite partner El Niño which is officially the “El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. La Niña (Spanish, “the girl”) and El Niño (“the boy”) used to be seen as one thing and was once called El Viejo (“the old man”).
With all the talk about climate change, you often hear about what seem to be very small changes in the temperature of the oceans. But very small changes – a degree or two – have very big effects and La Niña and El Niño disrupt normal patterns of precipitation and atmospheric circulation not only in the Pacific but across the globe. A La Niña often, though not always, follows an El Niño.
During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3–5 °C.
It is expected that weak La Niña conditions will continue through the winter until probably February. But what does that mean for North America’s weather?
Usually, La Niña means below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures in the southern part of the United States, and colder and wetter conditions across the northern U.S. and Canada. It even affects the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
Though my East Coast has been in a drought, the Pacific Northwest had a very wet October, though that probably can’t be explained by just La Niña.
I hope the colder and wetter than normal prediction for the Paradelle area is wrong, but I’ll add it to what the wooly bears and other winter predictions showed this year and check back in the spring.
Mirror scratching is not about making scratches on a mirror (and not DIY on how to remove them). It is about one of those odd mind-body phenomenon.
You have an itch, so you scratch it. Except sometimes scratching is not a good thing to do (poison ivy, scabs, eczema) because it makes things worse.
There was a study done to test “whether central mechanisms of scratching-induced itch attenuation can be activated by scratching the limb contralateral to the itching limb when the participant is made to visually perceive the non-itching limb as the itching limb by means of mirror images.” In simpler English, try scratching your left elbow if the right elbow itches.
Crazy, right? But it worked! By scratching the non-itching place it seems to have activated a “mirror condition” so that the non-itching place was visually perceived as the itching place.
We have in our brains what are referred to as mirror neurons but this isn’t about that. This particular experiment used a real mirror placed between the participant’s forearms “to create the visual illusion that the participant’s itching (right) forearm was being scratched while in fact the non-itching forearm was scratched”
The mind not only plays trick on us, but we can trick the mind.
I think it is pretty safe to assume that everyone has heard of Galileo Galilei. Not as well known is his eldest daughter.
Galileo was born on February 15, 1564, in Pisa, Italy. A mathematics professor, he made observations with implications for the future study of physics. He constructed a telescope (did not invent it) and made significant improvements to it. He supported the Copernican theory of a sun-centered solar system and so was accused twice of heresy by the Catholic church.
He had three children, but was closest to his eldest, Virginia. He saw her as much like himself in intellect, sensibility, and with an always-seeking spirit.
Virginia was born of his illicit affair with Marina Gamba of Venice. Her birth was in the summer of a new century – August 13, 1600.
That year was also when a Dominican friar, Giordano Bruno, who believed the Earth traveled around the Sun, was burned at the stake.
On her thirteenth birthday, Virginia entered a convent and remained there for the rest of her short life. She was devout but loved her father and remained in constant correspondence with him.
I learned about her when I read back in 1999 Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel which used whatever surviving letters (never published in translation) between them as a major source. It is a good tale of that divide and connections between science and spiritual belief that still exists.
Virginia became Maria Celeste as a nun. We can surmise that Celeste might be a celestial nod to her father. In the convent, she was the apothecary – a kind of science of that time. She sent her father herbal treatments. She asked her father for financial help for the convent. She may have helped him prepare some manuscripts.
It is not really clear how father and daughter reconciled his heresy and her devotion. But they did. Love conquers all?
Galileo was not an atheist. He remained a Catholic and believed in the power of prayer.
Unfortunately, though letters from Maria Celeste were discovered among Galileo’s papers, his responses to her have been lost. Maria Celeste’s letters are published as Letters to father, translated and edited by Dava Sobel.
We remember Galileo mostly for the telescope, which he found out about in 1609. It was a Dutch gadget and initially known as a spyglass or eyeglass. It was curiosity that made faraway objects appear closer and they were being sold in Paris. Galileo saw it as a device of use in the military and promoted it as that to the Italian government.
He improved the design, as others were also doing in other countries, grinding and polishing lenses himself. The Venetian senate was so amazed and obsessed with using it to look for distant ships from bell towers of the city, they renewed his contract at the University of Padua for life, and Professor Galilei’s salary jumped to 1000 florins per year (a 500% raise from his starting pay).
That telescope cause a huge shift in the way we perceive the world we live in and the universe beyond or world.
Galileo used his improved telescope to make detailed drawings of the Moon’s phases, and he discovered 4 of Jupiter’s 67 moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto), though he considered them to be planets. In a 1610 letter, Galileo commented on them and said “I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.”
He reminds me of Charles Darwin in that both had a hard time with their discoveries knowing that this new knowledge would clash with existing religious beliefs. Galileo wrote a famous letter about science and religion and that conflict obviously concerned him – and his daughter, and probably some of you reading this today.