Did The Ancient Egyptians Prove The Soul Exists?

duncan macdougall
Dr. Duncan McDougall 1866-1920

Those of you who have read Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol will remember the scene where an experiment was carried out to determine whether a human soul had mass. A dying man was laid on an elaborate and highly sensitive weighing scale and at the moment of death any change in the weight was recorded.

What you may not know is that this experiment was carried out for real over a hundred years ago by Dr. Duncan McDougall, a physician from Massachusetts. He believed that the soul had mass and could be measured when it exited the body at death.

His experiment was carried out on the 10th of April 1901 on six patients who were all dying from tuberculosis. Their condition made it relatively easy to predict time of death to within a few hours. McDougall’s intent was to place each patient on a set of specially made Fairbanks scales, sensitive to the gram, and measure any difference in weight. There were four other doctors present throughout the experiment who could verify the findings.

At the death of the first patient, a remarkable thing happened. There was a weight loss of three quarters of an ounce (21.26214 grams). The same occurred for three other patients. Of the other two patients, one died before they could be put on the scales, and a technical malfunction meant the other was inadmissible.

Everything else had been taken in to account, from air in the lungs to loss of bodily fluids, but there was no explanation for the sudden weight loss and McDougall concluded that the human soul had a mass of 21 grams.

He did further experiments on dogs and mice, none of which showed any loss of weight at death. Therefore, he believed only humans had a soul.

As far as I am aware the experiment has never been reproduced, but whilst I was reading up on this I was struck by the fact that the Egyptians believed that before you were allowed admittance to the afterlife, your heart was weighed against a feather to see how pure it was. The Egyptians also believed that the soul was housed in the heart. Were they already aware of the mysterious weight loss phenomenon or was the similarity in this belief to Dr McDougall’s experiment a coincidence?

I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe we all have a soul that somehow inhabits our bodies but remains intact after death. But can its presence be detected as it leaves the body? I don’t know.


What do you think?

Nel Ashley is the author of Black Feather and Immortal, the second book in the Black Feather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Dandelion Time, a time slip romance novel.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook


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