Do human bodies weigh less after death ?
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: misterfine-ga
List Price: $25.00
15 Sep 2005 09:05 PDT
Expires: 15 Oct 2005 09:05 PDT
Question ID: 568373
I have a bet with my wife that I need to resolve. In attempting to prove that there is a soul, she has stated that there are studies that have shown that a human body weighs less after someone has died. That if you weighed someone while alive and immediately after being pronounced dead, that the dead body will weigh more (taking into account any loss of waste products or other obvious physical mass). I contend that is ridiculous. I would like a list of any studies that have been made on this urban myth in order to dispel the notion. If any research has been produced, published or cited on the web, I would like a referecne to it.
Re: Do human bodies weigh less after death ?
Answered By: justaskscott-ga on 15 Sep 2005 10:54 PDT
Hello misterfine, The belief that the human body loses weight -- soul-weight, perhaps -- upon the moment of death was popularized a couple of years ago by the film "21 Grams," and is based on results of experiments by Dr. Duncan MacDougall published in 1907. This belief is apparently unproven. "Soul Man" (Last updated 27 October 2003) Snopes.com http://www.snopes.com/religion/soulweight.asp "Take 21g idea with 0.0015mg of salt," by Ian Sample (February 21, 2004) [including views of Robert Stern, a pathologist at the University of California, San Francisco, which dispute Mr. MacDougall's hypothesis] The Age http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/02/20/1077072838871.html "Great Moments in Science -- 21 Grams," by Karl S. Kruszelnicki (2004) ABC [Australia] http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/moments/s1105956.htm Dr. MacDougall's findings are reprinted at: "Hypothesis Concerning Soul Substance Together with Experimental Evidence of The Existence of Such Substance," by Duncan MacDougall, M.D. of Haverhill, Mass (posted by Dave Oester, 1997) International Ghost Hunters Society http://www.ghostweb.com/soul.html An editorial last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine takes issue with the methodology of Dr. MacDougall's study. "Blinded by the light" by P McCrory (2004;38:381) British Journal of Sports Medicine http://bjsm.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/38/4/381 A 2001 paper asserted transient weight gains in animals at the moment of death. (If true, this would be consistent with the belief in "dead weight" noted in the Snopes article.) "Unexplained Weight Gain Transients at the Moment of Death," by Lewis E. Hollander Jr. (Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 495?500, 2001) Society for Scientific Exploration http://www.scientificexploration.org/jse/articles/pdf/15.4_hollander.pdf For comments to a previous question on this topic, see: "Unexplained Weight Loss at Moment of Death" Google Answers http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=343392 - justaskscott Search strategy -- Searched on Google Web and Google Scholar for the following terms, individually or in combinations: "21 grams" snopes "duncan macdougall" "dead weight" "hypothesis concerning soul substance"
Re: Do human bodies weigh less after death ?
From: dangoggle-ga on 24 Sep 2005 21:32 PDT
It's my understanding that at the "moment of death"?there is some uncertainty as to what that is?all the muscles relax, the pores open, residual sweat is released, the body temperature rises slightly. Assuming the body is lightly covered with sheets, this could well account for the rapid loss of an ounce or two of weight, as the film of sweat flash-evaporates and rises from the warm body. Whether or not this is explanation is consistent with the 'rapid' change in weight recorded by MacDougall in 1907 (rapid enough to register a noise with no rebound as the balance beam lowered) would be difficult to say without a repetition of the experiment with modern equipment. But it nicely corresponds with the lack of loss in dogs. Canines, and most fur-bearing animals have no sweat glands over their bodies. Naturally we would want to see the experiment repeated with a light polyethelene sheet draping most of the body, or a hydrophilic fabric. The hypothesized warm water-vapour would be retained long enough to prevent weight-loss. As has been mentioned elsewhere, modern ethical considerations would preclude such an experiment, although many have expressed an interest and willingness to take part. My only misgivings would be the usual round of acrimony between skeptics and believers as to purported experimental bungling, lack of 'controls', and the unrepeatability that plagues so many of even the most innocuous, carefully conducted, and uncontroversial of experiments.
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