In the same way death and taxes are inescapable, so are these two questions: Is there such thing as a human soul? And, if so, what happens to it when the physical body dies? Regardless of where you fall on the afterlife spectrum, everyone asks these questions at some point in their life.
Duncan MacDougall’s Experiment: Trying to Prove the Soul
Massachusetts physician Duncan MacDougall sought to answer that first question in the early 1900s in one of the most famous metaphysical experiments to date. Using a total of six bodies of people who died of tuberculosis, he sought to, in essence, weigh the soul. After completing to small yet measurable experiment, MacDougall concluded that the human soul weighed around ¾ of an ounce (or 21 grams).
At first, MacDougall’s findings sound incredible – especially for the time he was conducting these experiments! Not only does it suggest there’s a soul but that it’s somewhat tangible, too. However, skeptics have pointed out flaws, for example:
- MacDougall’s published findings failed to mention the bodies that exhibited no weight loss
- Any weight loss he recorded could be attributed to mere physiological factors (e.g., evaporation)
Has Anyone Else Studied Where the Soul Goes When You Die?
From philosophers to neuroscientists and everyone in between, countless theories have been formulated. Some “confirm” the soul’s existence while others “deny” it.
For anesthesiologist and professor at University of Arizona, Dr. Stuart Hameroff and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose, they’ve proposed a theory of consciousness called Orchestrated Objective Reduction (aka Orch-OR). Very simply, their Orch-OR theory suggests that inside your neurons, you have brain neuron microtubules that can potentially – among other things – hold memories (i.e., quantum information) at a subatomic level.[4, 5]
Experts: There Is No Death of Consciousness, Just the Death of the Body
When discussing everything, but especially matters of the soul and existence, definitions are vitally important. So, for the purpose of explaining Hameroff and Penrose’s theory, we are assuming that both human consciousness and the human soul could be the same thing.
If someone dies temporarily, according to Penrose, all those memories being held by microtubules in your brain are released into the universe. However, as reported by Express, “if [a person is] resuscitated, the quantum information is channeled back into the microtubules and that is what sparks a near-death experience.”
In the documentary “Through the Wormhole,” Hameroff explains it a bit further in human terms (thank goodness).
“Let’s say the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing; the micro-tubules lose their quantum state. The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can’t be killed, and it just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large.
If the patient is resuscitated, revived, this quantum information can go back into the microtubules, and the patient says ‘I had a near-death experience.’ If they’re not revived, and the patient dies, it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul.”
In other words, once you die, your consciousness/soul may return to the universe and thus, not die! At the very least, the two scientists’ theory of consciousness is exciting to think about. For anyone who believes that we are more than a bunch of atoms purposely bouncing off of each other, this is one of many theories that offers some hope. One thing is important to remember…
Theories do not equate to truth. Arguably, the soul (whatever its true definition is) seems unable to be proved or disproved entirely by science. Even for the logical and scientific mind, there’s a mystery to the human soul that requires a degree of faith. In any case, it’s a question all of us seek answers to and it’s a worthwhile journey to go on.