About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Does the soul weigh 21 grams?

by Massimo Pigliucci

This myth, reinforced by a 2003 fictional movie by the otherwise rather cryptic title “21 grams” is occasionally thrown to non-supernaturalists as one more “proof” that we are fools, by our own standards of reason and evidence.

It turns out that the only source for the 21 gram figure is a discredited study carried out in 1907 by a Haverhill, Massachusetts, doctor by the name of Duncan MacDougall. He managed (apparently overcoming any ethical qualms over human experimentation) to put six dying people on a bed equipped with sensitive springs, and claimed to have observed a sudden loss of weight – about ¾ of an ounce – at the exact moment of their death. Having reasoned that such loss could not be explained by bowel movements or evaporation, he concluded he must have measured the weight of the soul. A follow-up experiment also showed that dogs (which were healthy, so they were probably poisoned on purpose by the good doctor) don't seem to suffer the same sort of loss, therefore they don't have souls (sorry, you canine lovers).

This is an excellent example of where pseudoscience and belief go wrong, on a variety of levels. Let us start with MacDougall's claim itself: it turns out that his data were decidedly unreliable by any decent scientific standard. Not only was the experiment never repeated (by either MaDougall or anyone else), but his own notes (published in American Medicine in March 1907) show that of the six data points, two had to be discarded as “of no value”; two recorded a weight drop, followed by additional losses later on (was the soul leaving bit by bit?); one showed a reversal of the loss, then another loss (the soul couldn't make up its mind, leaving, re-entering, then leaving for good); and only one case actually constitutes the basis of the legendary estimate of ¾ of an ounce. With data like these, it's a miracle the paper got published in the first place.

Second, as was pointed out immediately by Dr. Augustus P. Clarke in a rebuttal also published in American Medicine, MacDougall failed to consider another obvious hypothesis: that the weight loss (assuming it was real) was due to evaporation caused by the sudden rise in body temperature that occurs when the blood circulation stops and the blood can no longer be air-cooled by the lungs. This also elegantly explains why the dogs showed no weight loss: as is well known, they cool themselves by panting, not sweating like humans do.

Third, MacDougall's allegedly inescapable conclusion (“How other shall we explain it?”) did not derive from any theory of the soul, but was simply arrived at by excluding a small number of other possibilities. In other words, the soul “explanation” won by default, without having to go through the onerous process of positive confirmation. This is yet another version of the “god-of-the-gaps” argument so in vogue among the faithful, and that constitutes the backbone – such as it is – of Intelligent Design “theory.”

But perhaps most damning of all is the very idea that the soul has weight. Whatever it is, the soul since Plato's time has been understood as immaterial, i.e. without mass and, therefore, weightless. Obviously, this in turn raises all the classic problems of dualism: how can something immaterial interact with a material world? How can ghosts walk through walls and yet “see” things or make noises? How can the mind direct our actions – that famous conundrum that stymied Descartes – if it is an incorporeal “substance” (itself an oxymoron)?

Even more basically: why are the so-called “faithful” perennially in search of scientific confirmation of their inanities? Shouldn't faith be enough? Indeed, isn't the very idea of faith as a value that one should hold fast to it, not only despite the lack of evidence, but even in the face of contrary evidence? C'mon guys, I'm beginning to think that somewhere in your subconscious you have this terrifying suspicion that you really believe in nonsense, and are therefore desperate to get science to provide some evidence, however flimsy, that you are right after all. Why not shed the superstition altogether and see what happens? It's a nice, comprehensible world out here.


  1. Oh Max, We wait breathlessly for Cal to weigh in on this one!!!

  2. Of course, we never can resist rubber-necking freeway accidents either...


  3. "It's a nice, comprehensible world out here."

    well, except for quantum mechanics...

    I confronted a supernaturalist with that same question on how a 'soul' can see without any photon receptors or nervous system and the answer was the soul is 'pure energy' - another example of a misunderstanding of the term energy. I pointed out that one can't have energy without mass but this wasn't appreciated.

  4. Alright. If you insist, dennis! :)

    I am not convinced that a soul has to have weight. And for a lot of reasons. The more we know about information theory, the less likely it is that mass is a necessity for something to have an existence. More to be said on that, but i need to run.

    "The Physics of Immortality

    The real you (soul, spirit) is software, not hardware. It is temporarily resident in your present hardware: your present body. But software has no mass. It can even be transmitted invisibly through the air waves. 1

    We know from modern physics that time itself is a physical property, subject to mass, acceleration, and gravity. This is one of the most profound implications of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity (for more information see our Audio Book, Beyond Time and Space).

    Since the real you is "software," not hardware, it has no time dimension. The real you is eternal. The big question is: Where are you going to spend eternity--in the presence of God, or in eternal separation from Him?

    Frank J. Tipler, an internationally prominent mathematical physicist, has recently concluded (using only the laws of physics and mathematics) not only that God exists but that all life is destined for resurrection!2 (While I personally disagree with much of his book, this turnabout for a professed atheist is interesting.)"

  5. Software/hardware.

    As in "The mind is what the brain does?"

  6. (trying to look straight ahead)...must not turn and gawk...must not...damn!!


  7. Hey Massimo!
    I emailed you about his very topic, remember?
    That's me!

  8. Massimo,
    What's the deal with Frank Tipler's pseudoscience?

  9. Mark,

    Tipler is one of those puzzling individuals: obviously smart, clearly as obviously completely deluded. He, I understand, is a good physicist/cosmologist (I have no way to judge that), but his ideas about the anthropic principle, the omega point and the soul are, as far as I can tell, complete garbage. Oh well.

  10. I think the people that beleive in resurrection need to cope with the subconscious problem that we are "orphans" in this universe. The best way to be "immortal" is work very hard in that you enjoy and to print some of your ideas (in a book for example), another way is have childrens (Do you rembember someone named Darwin? :-)), but well, there is a lot of them that haven't parents, don´t you think?

  11. Anonymous Cal said:
    "Frank J. Tipler, an internationally prominent mathematical physicist, has recently concluded (using only the laws of physics and mathematics) not only that God exists but that all life is destined for resurrection!"

    Well whoop de doo! I know of another physicist who has concluded the opposite, I haven't read the book yet, but below is a link to an interview with Victor Stenger, author of the recently released "God, the Failed Hypothesis" And as I recall, I think his other book had something to say about the ideas of this Tipler.


  12. C'mon guys, I'm beginning to think that somewhere in your subconscious you have this terrifying suspicion that you really believe in nonsense, and are therefore desperate to get science to provide some evidence, however flimsy, that you are right after all.

    That's what I say all the time... O ye weak of faith! By the way, very convenient moment for reading this post. Last night (03/08) we had Francis Collins here at VCU, at the "Science, Reason and Faith" lecture series. His talk was titled something like "The Language of God: a believer's look at the human genome". He's written the book, and is also a very prominent geneticist, in case you don't know him. A friend just sent me an edited transcript of his talk elsewhere. I haven't read it yet, but seems like the same thing I heard last night.

    He spent some 1/2 an hour talking basic genomics. Some one, 1 and 1/4 hour talking about the "faith & science" thing, and how he (in his head) reconciles these two. And then some 20 or 30 minutes lambasting the creationists/ID crowd.

    Very likable guy, communicates well and clear. But I was expecting much more, and if that's the best he's got to offer, I won't be reading his "The Language of God" book.

    Well, at least he's very honest. He admits he can't prove God exists (or that it doesn't). But I kinda felt sorry for him. He chose to believe, which is fine, but he's clearly suffering trying to rationalize that choice, while at the same time trying to keep his scientific integrity. That leads him to contradict himself every ten minutes, it seemed to me... He kept "I see this evidence" (which was pretty unconvincing to me), then "science and religion don't mix, different Magisteria, etc.", then back to his "evidence", and so on.

    In the end, the only "evidence" and the thing he says turned him into religion was what he calls the "Moral Law", as he read in a C.S. Lewis book (Mere Christianity, I think?). He even acknowledges that animals display rudiments of moral and that "the circuitry for all this" must have arisen by evolutionary means. But then he says the Mother Theresas and Oskar Schindlers
    of the world are "too much" for this naturalistic explanation, and that risking yourself to such extent goes against the survival of the individual, and therefore couldn't be selected. Oh well, he's just a very busy geneticist. Even he can't keep up with the latest and greatest literature on everything, I guess.


  13. It weighs me 20 kilograms. I have to do diet.

  14. Cal, as the software (i.e., consciousness) is dependent on the hardware (i.e., the physical brain) to operate, with brain death must come software deletion. (We know that the mind is dependent on the physical brain because people who suffer brain damage undergo personality changes, thereby showing a causal connection between the two.) Any other idea is just hogwash.

  15. Cal,
    I was going to bring up a similar point as kimpatsu did, except instead of brain damage, I was going to ask you if mind altering drugs have an immaterial element. Then a funny thing happened. I realized that my prefered mind altering drugs were called "spirits." I guess you win. :-D

  16. Hey, Science Pundit, stick to beer instead. No spirits there...

  17. Spirits. Now that's an interesting topic too.

    SP, so are you about to make the case that someone can be a drinker and still a thinker? I think not.

    An old friend contacted my husband yesterday, one that he use to get drunk with (to excess) and lived in Italy together for a few years while in the military. I had to tell my hub 'you know, come to think of it, I have never been drunk.' And isn't it's odd how some people just need that, and others could care less for it?

    I think so. I guess I just like to be in charge of my faculties all the time. Besides, I could never get away with claiming to my parents that something wasn't my fault because xx. No excuses. So it goes without saying that people that use NOTHING, no prescription drugs etc, will most likely be the clearer thinkers.

    And so, yes, I do think that there is an immaterial element of some sort.

  18. Tony: " as the software (i.e., consciousness) is dependent on the hardware (i.e., the physical brain) to operate, with brain death must come software deletion."

    Some people who have died and "came back" would not agree with you on that.

    It is more or less an assumption that the software must undergo a deletion. You don't absolutely know that to be a fact.


  19. "Some people who have died and "came back" would not agree with you on that."

    Well Cal, I hope you do know that there are other more rational explanations for the "dying and coming back" business? I think it was a featured issue in Skeptical Inquirer some years back.

    The whole software/hardware thing is an analogy, and an imprecise one at that. But taking the anology to its logical conclusion. Once a computer ceases to function electronically, there is no way you can get the software to do what you want it to do. And it isn't floating around in some other dimension looking for a hardrive to be reincarnated into, nor does it go to software heaven.

  20. Who has ever "died and come back", Cal? No one. (Not even that fictional demigod Jesus, or Osiris, Dionysis, or any of the other quasi-immortals of Greco-Roman mythology.)
    Or are you referring to so-called OOBE? That, as any fule no, is merely hypoxia. So nothing paranormal there, then. You say you believe that there is "something immaterial" (don't be coy; call it by what you really think it is--the "soul"). Why do you believe that? On what good evidence do you believe it?
    And as for alcohol, some of the greatest sots in the world have been great thinkers. Winston Churchill springs to mind...

  21. Dennis, how sarcastic you are. Truth is, not a one of you has a clue. In fact, one who says hypoxia is the cause of NDE has absolutely no proof of this. On the other hand, the expert who says soul and divine order are present is equally clueless. Not a one of us really knows. The only knowledge which can be gained is knowledge gathered by each individual walking the individual path.

  22. Anonymous, that is simply untrue. There are mountains of medical evidence demonstrating that hypoxia is the caused of so-called NDE. Stop reading the National Enquirer and start reading some science books.

  23. I agree that this study was clearly not definative evidence in an of its self that the soul has weight or that it even exists. However, this article is agressively skeptimistic. I am curious as to if and if not why this study has not been duplicated. It seems to me that this theory could easily be proven one way or the other. I believe in the soul and I never thought that it necessarily had mass. I would be interested to see a modern experiment on this issue however.

  24. It is not correct that those who believe in God must reconcile religion with science. Given education programs, however, science is usually posited as the only possible explanation and religion is not as an opposing or agreeing view. So, you have a reconciliation somewhat forced.

    I am in the minority of Christians as a formal atheist in philosophy and electrical engineer in education. I had firmly believed religion and science were mutually exclusive on creation and in many other areas. I often questioned the purpose of Genesis 1 in a book that had far more significant things to talk about. But there it was, and in direct 'literal' conflict with radioactive science that was 100% proven (C14 for 50,000 typing and Uranium 238 for 4.5B years).

    I am not a “God of Gaps” person either, but believe that a statement or 'hypothesis' should be proved true or false by data. Otherwise it is simply conjecture and useful for discussion only.

    Since becoming a Christian, I have at times reconciled and discussed areas of science and religion that clearly do not conflict because I have many agnostic friends in my field. Note these people actually do believe in a supreme being and/or soul but they like to discuss provability. So, science enters the discussion, but certainly not as an end-all proof.

    A couple weeks ago this 21 grams experiment was mentioned to me. I had thought it was an urban legend. I was very surprised it was an actual experiment and had 1) been done by a doctor, 2) been done in 1901, 3) no other experiments have been done since given that his observations were nontrivial. Given the significant number of people who have agreed to donate their bodies to science (as I), I believe the sample size could become statistically significant to prove or disprove, but no other experiment has been done for over a century? At least not one that I can find…

    By the way, faith is defined as being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see. It is also active and not passive. God encourages throughout the wisdom scriptures and elsewhere to explore the world and develop science (Newton for instance). I do think He is baffled when the scientific community contends belief in God is nonsense. A scientist or student, who believes otherwise, is derided not just for his work but personally. “Why not shed the superstition altogether and see what happens?”

    You will even find some in the creationist crowd who are educated in science and engineering and are called foolish for believing in nonsense, again as this blog has done. Why is it nonsense? These creationists don’t necessarily disagree with proven science about the earth’s age. Are the data from anthropologists, physicists, chemists, biologists so scientifically convincing as to prove “statistically” it is nonsense, or is it another fill the gap approach in underpinning another school of thought?

  25. "Tony: " as the software (i.e., consciousness) is dependent on the hardware (i.e., the physical brain) to operate, with brain death must come software deletion."

    Some people who have died and "came back" would not agree with you on that. "

    Well I am a little late in responding but either way... Even those people who have died and been saved by doctors or other means can be convinced that their "software" is deleted upon death. Software obviously cannot be deleted in an instant. Software deletion takes some time, and depending on the programs installed, one could possible recover the software before it is completely deleted. Also, the more time a person is officially dead before being brought back the more chances that they will suffer permanent brain damage.

  26. this is the first post on this blog in some time...maybe we can re-open a conversation.
    to point out, the original point was on the mass (presumed) of a soul. of course we can not completely accept this experiment that's 100 years old! as was mentioned by another post, there hasn't been an experiment like this ever since. but can we accept the input from other's who have posted??
    doctors nowadays rely strictly on experience(precedent). they can drop a body and tell you exactly when it will hit the ground. they can weigh a body and tell you exactly how much it weighs. but there's one thing that they can't guarantee...how a human body reacts! how many times have cancer patients recovered against doctor's word. paralysis has been overcome. sickness has been overcome. what do these "doctors" really know?? (and i'm definately not undermining their work in any way) what they "KNOW" is that this human body is something supernatural in itself. it's something that can't be explained by science. a lot of it can. but who knows how much can't?!!
    i have to admit that i don't have a degree in anthropology or philosophy, as many may appear to. but it just seems common sense to me that the fact that these "highly esteemed doctors" can't figure out what's wrong with my heart or brain....well, then somebody has to know...

  27. Provided there were willing volunteers, I would like to see the experiment repeated with modern equipment etc. If the body does lose weight at the moment of death, all theories as to why that could be would be interesting to revisit... if it doesn't then surely the argument (at least regarding whether a soul has mass) would be settled.

    There may be things which went unnoticed before - and you never know, we might learn something useful.

  28. As someone who was always scientific in nature(graduated in maths/physics)i was a bit of a dilema to most of my god sceptic friends as i do believe in the soul and god despite usually approaching everything else in life from a very black&white point of view.

    Of course the curious scientist in me loves to analyse everything but ultimately i believe just because i believe as it has been siad the whole point of faith is to believe in something when it looks extremely improbable otherwise why would you need faith,it is easy to believe in anything we know is reality or can almost certainly be explained but real faith requires a leap of imagination and i guess you either have faith or you don't and that's the bottom line.

  29. It seems to me the debate over wither the soul is real by wither it has weight is unresolvable in these terms, because the domain of the subject and the question are non congruent and yet in a manner of speaking the answer is all but self evident.

    The concept of a soul and wither it is a true concept is inapplicable to a measure of something like weight and just goes to show how our perceptions cause us to interpret reality in a subjective way.

    It is as asking what color is intelligence, or is math real ? I might say weigh math to prove to me that it exists if you can't weigh it then it's not real. You might put a calculus book on a scale and say see math weighs 4.6 pounds. To this I reply no the book weighs 4.6 pounds, the book is not math. Then you say look when I tear out pages to remove it the math it is lighter!. I say I could white out the pages, the math is gone and it still weighs the same or I could put a book of equal number of 400 pages and equal dimensions 11 x 14 that has nothing to do with math what so ever on this scale and it could weigh the same.

    Ah then you say ok it's just a book but if there is no such thing as math how dose the scale work , why did you yourself say to me it is the book that weighs "4.6" pounds and then talk of "equal mass" "400" pages, and "11 x 14". Surely these things are all representation of math at work. With out it no one would be trying to weigh anything, we might say this object tires my arm to carry more than another one dose but never that this weighs this and that weighs that. Surely math has existence as a system describing very real perceptible organization to patterns and order in the universe. It can be expanded to apply it to new perceptions at the sub atomic level or revised as aspects no longer fit with our perceptions yet it can be used to explain order, predict and alter our reality. Oh what grand things we invent and discover via math.

    Dose not math help an engineer build a suspension bridge ? Is it not then a thing which without the conception and preservation of, the physical manifestation of the bridge could not exist as it dose. We in fact call this process of application of this not material non thing math in facilitating the arrangement of matter based in information over the decades technological progress.

    So it is with the self the mind and the soul. I can say it's not real I can't see , touch , smell , feel or weigh it. I don't find it physically in the neurons any more then I find actual math physically in the book. I could say perhaps in the back of your mind your afraid the soul is nonsense and so you are desperate to have science confirm other wise. Then you could say ahh but the fact that we are on here debating wither a soul exists or not talking of "I" in my "mind" using explanations for the others intentions such as "afraid" , "feel" "want" "need" or "faith" is the representative of the phenomenon, that invokes the term soul or mind, at work. If I format my hard drive have I destroyed "Windows" or dose it still exist ? Is Microsoft going to press charges for my destruction of their product ? It dose not matter what state the pattern of binary data scribed via interaction with an electromagnetic field upon my disk platter now represents to me.

    In fact every time a file changed I could have viewed it as not the same os and thus destroyed if I choose too so best to reinstall it and call it resurrected.

    Sure we all die but are you the same person you were when you were 2 years old ? Why that poor 2 year old person has ceased to exist! This is probably the only person whose fate after ceasing to exist you actually can ever know.

    He is dead but for the occasional memory of those that knew him including those of the grown man who now bears the same name. Is 2 year old you then in heaven eating a Popsicle and watching sesame street ? Is he in some non land of non existence sitting in an empty dark room really bored ? Nope thought doesn't hang out where their is no action it's got things to do.

    Perhaps our notion of individual and eternal ownership of the quality of mind and soul rather than that we are endowed with it as a real property is really the question. Do we manifest it or dose it simply define the organizational pattern we call ourselves for a time?

    The book is not math and the cells of our body are not the soul. While we may be able to comprehend these things to exist within the other perhaps our reality simply consists or energy , matter and thought.

    Thought appears stored on the pages of a book or is transmitted over sound waves on a telephone or displayed on a computer screen but is it nothing but the interpretation of an arrangement of patterns in matter as facilitated by energy ? Why are it's outcomes non random or self logical ?

    Unlike matter or energy we ask where did thought come from in the first place and what is it doing here anyway ? We don't seek to understand it's rules and how it interacts with the universe as we do matter or energy but we question it's existence. If matter or energy can be observed to simply have laws and to be what we observe it to be through it's interactions with other matter and energy then why not thought as well.

    If I see a land scape I feel is pretty and decide to paint it on canvas, then has thought not just transformed the matter of canvas so as to reflect a different specific pattern of the visible light spectrum ?

    Surely it's hard to argue groups of rocks dirt and trees as direct predictable causes capable of altering the light reflective properties of fabric stretched over pieces of wood as part of it's their inherent physical scientific nature. The cells of a human body neither can be said to cause this phenomenon.

    Though all were involved on some level what physical properties of the rocks and trees mathematically and scientifically acted upon the canvas to make it change color and in what way precisely ? What calculation explains their physical measurable action upon the matter of the canvas ? Some properties of them as they reflected or absorbed light were perceived as a representation of data transmitted to and transformed in the visual center of a brain and sending impulses to the cerebral cortex of that brain of a painter. At no point was there previously a reason to believe however the rocks or trees had the physical properties capable of creation of paintings out of thin air and things have veered off into the improbable realm of the intangible, having undergone a process that can not be calculated or explained easily in terms of pure physics. Least not unless you can calculate 100% probability of every atomic partial in the world and it's probable effect on the state of every other one so as to predict this bizarre and random occurrence. Then how using such a formula dose one predict when rock or tree next will result in the generation of a painting occurring. Yet presto a painting emerges in physical reality as a result of those trees, rocks dirt, the waves of the visible light spectrum, the dna of a cotton plant, and billions of organic cells in a humans body, random synaptic firing of billions of neurons in response to fictitious ethereal mental constructs that represent interpenetrated symbols of past and in anticipation of ideas of a future combined with acquired knowledge and skill and an appreciation for beauty and desire for artistic expression all come together with intention and follow though resulting in the creation of a painting. All these things and infinitely more coming into the random occurrence in spacetime just right.

    If you think of thought as being real and acting upon matter via energy and vise versa this makes sense but it is harder to envision matter and energy acting upon it self randomly to transform itself sans thought or intelligence and without purpose yet arriving at this result as being very probable.

    yet each time when you see that someone has painted a land scape you don't spill coffee on you self and yell "holy crap did you see that! The odds of predicting that happening when it did on a subatomic level using scientific calculation of physical laws and properties has got to be right up there with the odds of getting stuck by lighting 600 times in the same finger of your left hand while riding a flying pig.

    This idea we extend to the inanimate universe as well causing the notion that everything has intention of organization behind it even if it lies infinitely beyond our ability to break down sufficiently the structure in order to find the source and catch it in the act.

    The outdated fanciful and simplistic specifics of a religion fall easily but the root concept of intelligence at work may be impossible to disprove. Even as we go about intelligently manipulating matter and energy as we seek to do in science this certainty will never provide a moment in which we say "ah ha intelligence dose not arise out of the fundamental nature of the universe! We have studied experimented and thought long and hard to prove that this universe designs no intelligence and nothing is born of a willful intention.

    If you except the soul then man is different from nature and maybe you could say man intends and thinks but nature is but random coincidence. Then if you say man is but a phenomenon of physics in nature, his neurons fire his cells divide he only thinks he has a soul and a purpose, then as he is but a process of nature there fore nature however by that logic has just demonstrated will, intention, and thought through him and anything he dose is but nature acting deliberately and upon itself with intention.

    What if you allowed that intelligence and soul were qualities of the nature of the universe concentrated in contained in complex structures and readily observed in the action on matter and energy ? Then mind or soul may be thought of as different theories in the description of the nature of thought as phenomenon observed by it's appearance in the structures of matter and energy in the same way math describes energy and mass based on observed reactions and states. While this would mean no heaven (perhaps) it would also mean thought is never created or destroyed just dispersed and gathered represented in the structure of matter it acts upon and without matter is not perceptually manifest and without energy has no action potential.

    If I told you I was going to move a glass of water across a table with my mind you'd say I was pulling your leg. However if I sat at the table saying man I'm thirsty over and over you'd say then just get that glass of water and drink it. This is still a method that when broken down is a practice of thought manipulating matter though energy, (motor neurons fire in my brain and the cells in my muscles contract , the atoms in my hand are flung through space to the coordinates of the glass billions of subatomic particles are moving through spacetime at the command of a thought from my mind as I grab the grass and pull it towards me.

  30. This is all so interesting! Something that really surprises me is that the original experiment of testing the body weight upon death hasn't been attempted again... Why do you think this is?? It would't be that difficult... I'm interested to know your theories...

  31. I think what's irrational is the thought that the sum of a being's life is just somehow, obliterated at the moment of death. That is irrational. A rational person, would conclude the value of life is nearly immeasurable. Our bodies are made of a variety of inert products of the universe. Yet, as a person made from those materials I can contemplate the universe. I am essentialy, proof that the universe thinks about itself. That's just too special to be an accident. The brain and the heart are life support systems to what? A purposeless existence? Anyone?

  32. In what sense do you believe us to be special? As Douglas Adams would say you need to look into the total perspective vortex. To me we are, as far as we can tell, just what would be statistically expected in an unfathomably massive universe. I find it hard to feel particularily special under those circumstances.Also if you believe in evolution as well as some sort of afterlife, and I'm not sure you do, than you will have a difficult time making both these views consistent with each other.

  33. Science and Religion don’t mix. Why not? Take Genetics, for example. We have the mapping of a genome with letters, we know the double helix is the way it would look if we viewed it through a microscope. We are still limited to viewing the world through site, sound, taste, and touch. Everything comes from this. The knowledge we acquire about the genome might allow us to manipulate it. It would otherwise allow us to observe it. We are limited to a course of physical action of body and mind in our response to scientific learning. Whereas, religion is a way for us to relate to what exists beyond our realm of understanding, beyond our physical world, and beyond our consciousness – our existence. What is comes down to is an acknowledgement of something else, something beyond. Creationism vs. Evolution? Can we really prove what happened of the course of billions of years with science? Can we trust in the written word passed through generations by religion? I would be more concerned with the question of free will vs. destiny. Do we have a choice in what we do? Only after knowing what the word choice means. Words are one of the greatest way of controlling actions.
    As far as the software vs. hardware debate. All software is at its most basic level binary code, which is just a way of manipulating very small physical machinations - circuits. In the original argument software was compared to our soul, it was a way for us to have a soul that isn't physical. But once again it boils down to what we are and what we are not. Say software is an "idea". Idea is a word that you read on this paper that produces an emotion or associations of other memories in your mind. So again it comes back to the hardware, and do we have a choice or are we simply moving parts that can be mapped out. If religion then is a way to relate to what is beyond our physical world it begins as a doubt, an admission that something cannot be explained. And a conundrum presents itself - how does a doubt become faith? The evolutionist says faith and hope are good for keeping us moving forward, the lubricants of reason, mental tools for survival that still exist in the races they helped make it here to the present day. The creationist says they are necessary for salvation and co-existence with God.

  34. I don't know if I'm the first to raise this point (don't feel like reading all the posts before writing mine), but what exactly is considered to be the "exact moment" of death? Cardiac arrest? Cessation of breathing? A flat EEG (which by the way more or less flattens out over a period of time)?

  35. In my limited understanding, a soul is an energy body, an entity composed of positive and negative energy flows. This being the case, and according to E=mc2 (where energy and mass are directly equivalent), the soul would have a weight, a measurable mass.

    But it wouldn't be anywhere near 21 grams. That's just silly.

  36. aint nothing comprehensible about even the most banal experiential things: the smell of a rose, the feeling of an orgasm, the extraordinary experience of watching and feeling a mosquito sting you. wittgenstein was right: best say nothing.

  37. Wow there is so much wrong with this article. First, if the soul does exist than by current scientific understanding it "has" to have mass, therefore it doesn't make sense how you can conduct any experiment exploring such a claim.

    Second of all i agree with all the criticisms of the experiment but your "god of the gaps" argument doesn't even make sense in this particular example. The experiment wasn't trying to measure the "gaps" in our scientific knowledge. In fact it is quite the opposite.

  38. Massio, I have been PLAGUED for YEARS by the absence of not just the soul from the realm of reason, but also free will. I have come to the following for now. Thoughts, commenters?

    Faith vs. Belief

    I think I have faith. I do have faith. I lack belief.

    Accepting or rejecting a belief requires an appeal to reason. If it did not, we would have no ability to choose beliefs in things like the sun over things like unicorns. Faith does not require an appeal to reason.

    Strength of faith perhaps ought not require belief. Beliefs are dangerous and arrogant, they are presuming. We are fallible, our beliefs prone to falsehood.

    I have faith that there is a difference between right and wrong, that I have free will, and that there is something more meaningful about a human life than a piece of drift wood.

    Now, if forced to wager the life of a loved one on the existence of the soul, of God, or even in my own free will, I would side on the negative of any of these things, but such a wager would be made in the realm of reason. My faith would be unshaken.

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  40. The existence of your soul is interesting. You have one, i have one. Can we scientifically exclude that when you die your soul will cease to exist? Of course not.

    I believe that we have an eternal soul that will never die.
    I belive in heaven and hell. If we accept Jesus in our hearts we recieve eternal life because of the cross.
    But remember it's a gift. It is our choice to reject or recieve him.

  41. First off this has never again been attempted in any experiment I know off. Second how do you know there is no such thing as a human soul? And if you say you do agree there is, then we here would it go after death? One of life's age old questions. Also why should I be afraid if I am wrong in my belief in Christ? Scientists say I'll cease to exist, so I wouldn't even be conscious or existing. However on the opposite what if Christ is real? Then its a terrifying thing, dreadful in fact. Not because God is bad, but because He is good, and we are bad. Thats whats scary about God, He IS good. What does a good judge do in criminals? Invoke fear, because they know he is just and will not tolerate that which is lawless and bad. So if all we ever do is bad in God's sight, do, and He is just, do we not fear Him because of His justice? Theres nothing scarier than being in the prescence of Good when were guilty and bad. I don't believe in Christ because it gives a source of comfort, or peace, or its a nice idea, I believe because its truth.