Thursday, October 28, 2004

21 Grams

I've just watched the movie, 21 Grams, and it was quite good. It is a slow moving film of a jigsaw puzzle of scenes where in the end it all comes together. The film explores questions about life, death, identity, guilt, transcendence, and rebirth. The title interested me the most because it comes from the theory that at the moment of one's death, the body loses 21 grams (the weight of five nickels) instantly. It is thought to be "the soul." The soul is described in the dictionary as "the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life." With no soul, dead is dead. The concept of the soul is merely an article of faith. But if it was scientifically proven that the soul exists, a great deal of anxiety over what happens when we die could bring ease and also more questions about who we are. Christians believe in the life everlasting, a continuation beyond the limitations of mortal flesh. Death is not the end, but a transformation of leaving the world and joining the Lord. The soul poses very interesting questions.

In 1907, Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Haverhill, Massachusetts attempted to prove the theory that the soul was material and therefore had mass. He constructed a special bed in his office "aaranged on a light framework built upon very delicately balanced platform beam scales" sensitive to two-tenths of an ounce. He had tested six patients in the end stages of terminal illness and observed them before, during, and after the process of death measuring any corresponding changes in weight. He took into consideration as many possible factors as he could that would affect the results like evaporation of moisture in respiration and evaporation of sweat.

His results were published in The New York Times and the medical journal American Medicine in March, 1907. It was later learned his results were flawed due to the high potential for experimental error because of one of the key factors being the difficulty in measuring the precise moment of death. After 1911, MacDougall did not make any more experimental breakthroughs in measuring the human soul. He died in 1920 and his legacy lives on with the expression that the human soul weighs 21 grams (MacDougall's first patient decreased in weight by three-fourths of an ounce, which is 21.3 grams). It is still a myth to this day.
(Reference used: Urban Legends Reference Pages, 2004)

The soul is an interesting subject to explore. I can't imagine a human being without one. Whatever we call it, I believe there is something within us that identifies us and is important to someone, namely God. The things that differentiate one human being from another astounds me. The film made me think about the question "How much does life weigh?" One day, I could be on top of the world fulfilling my dreams, the next day I could be gone.



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