On this date, Duncan MacDougall, MD, performed his first experiment to test a hypothesis, to wit, “If personal continuity after the event of death is a fact, if the psychic functions continue to exist as a separate individuality after the death of brain and body, then it must exist as a substantial material entity.” This implies that this entity should have mass, so MacDougall asked himself, “Why not weigh on accurate scales a man at the very moment of death?”
The following is an extract of a letter written by Dr. MacDougall to a Richard Hodgson, MD and dated 10 November 1901, describing MacDougall’s first experiment. The letter was published in May 1907, along with a report of his subsequent experiments, in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research:
Interestingly, in a commentary published with the report, the editor of the Journal wrote that he “does not share the hopes which many entertain regarding the possibility of ‘weighing a soul,’ but this does not preclude his [MacDougall’s] recognition of the value of experiment, whatever its outcome. The main point is to have a definite conclusion established, whether it be negative or affirmative.”
According to The New York Times, MacDougall was a “reputable physician” and “at the head of a Research Society which for six years has been experimenting in this field.”
- Duncan MacDougall, MD. (May 1907) Hypothesis concerning Soul Substance together with Experimental Evidence of the Existence of Such Substance. Jrnl Am Soc Psychical Res Vol 1, no. 5, pp. 237-244.
- Correspondence: On Dr. MacDougall’s Experiments. (May 1907) Jrnl Am Soc Psychical Res Vol 1, no. 5, pp. 263-276.
- Soul Has Weight, Physician Thinks. The New York Times, 11 March 1907.