A poem telling the story and a mystery found in the same month 110 years ago – by Psyche Chong
Dr. Duncan “Om” MacDougall (c. 1866 – October 15, 1920) was an early 20th-century physician in Haverhill, Massachusetts who sought to measure the mass lost by a human when the soul departed the body at death. Dr. MacDougall attempted to measure the mass change of six patients at the moment of death. His first subject, the results from which MacDougall felt were most accurate, lost “three-fourths of an ounce”, which has since been popularised as “21 grams”[iii].
Indeed, it is a blending belief of science, religion and culture around the world.
An American movie titled “21 grams” directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu from a screenplay written by Guillermo Arriaga was released in 2003 which actually referred to and was based on Dr. MacDougall’s theory[iv].
Needless to say, Eastern and Western religions do believe in life everlasting, a continuation of the life force that reaches far beyond the limitations of mortal flesh. For instance, in the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Michael[v] is the Christian angel of death who, at the hour of death, carries the souls of all the deceased to heaven where they are weighed in his perfectly balanced scales[vi].
In Chinese folk stories, 21 grams is the most pure love representing 21 spirits: to tolerate, to accept, to support, to express, to remember, to romance, to interact, to pray for, to apologise, to admit, to consider, to understand, to appreciate, to hear, to comprehend, to cheer up, not be harsh, not to question, not to demand, not to forget, and last, but not least, not to casually reach out while also not easily let go[vii].
And here we present the author’s belief in the form of visual art & poem:
“The 21 Grams behind the Doors”, Oil & Craft on Wood, on April Fools’ Day 2017, Psyche Chong
As pure as white
But canvas plain contains
As heavier as pig[viii]
While ancient myth sneaks
The 21 grams
It’s the weight
Of my eternal faith
And all towards
in the last life scene
My 21 grams
Bear everything of his
Though I can’t explain
Anymore of it
Just my love
Unmixed as previous
If open the doors
Will see all the spirits
And the white is preserved
For his colour vivid
[i] The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research and the medical journal American Medicine both in April, 1907
[ii] On March 10, 1907, before MacDougall was able to publish the results of his experiments, New York Times broke the story in an article titled “Soul has Weight, Physician Thinks”.
[iii] Information retrieved from Wikipedia
[iv] 21 grams on Wikipedia
[v] the special patron of the Chosen People in the Old Testament and is guardian of the Church
[vi] Hence Michael is often depicted holding scales. In particular, his was depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel[vii] Baidu.com
[viii] Pig means an oblong mass of lead rather than the mammal
Duncan MacDougall on Wikipedia
21 grams on Wikipedia
Saint Michael in the Catholic Church on Wikipedia
Weight of Soul @ snopes.com
Note from author: All information retrieved from Wikipedia and/or Baidu is not first-hand source and thus may not be accurate. Interested readers please conduct your own research and excuse the author for the information cited for ease of reference only.