WTF Fun Fact 12954 – Is the Soul Weighing 21 Grams a Lie?

There’s no reliable way to weigh the human “soul,” though one person has tried. Still, the myth that the soul weighs 21 grams and that scientists have confirmed it still persists. And that’s because of a movie.

The weight of the soul

“21 Grams” is a 2003 film starring Sean Penn in which he plays a mathematician who experiments to find the weight of the human soul. It’s based on a story about a scientist, to some small extent, but the movie is pure fiction.

The man who attempted to weigh the human soul was a physician named Duncan MacDougall from Dorchester, MA. He assumed that if humans had souls in their bodies, those souls must weigh something. Therefore, upon death, the soul leaves the body and a person’s corpse should therefore be lighter.

In 1907, he wrote about his effort: “Since … the substance considered in our hypothesis is linked organically with the body until death takes place, it appears to me more reasonable to think that it must be some form of gravitative matter, and therefore capable of being detected at death by weighing a human being in the act of death.”

A flawed experiment

According to LiveScience, “MacDougall teamed up with Dorchester’s Consumptives’ Home, a charitable hospital for late-stage tuberculosis, which at that time was incurable. MacDougall built a large scale, capable of holding a cot and a dying tuberculosis patient. Tuberculosis was a convenient disease for this experiment, MacDougall explained in his paper, because patients died in ‘great exhaustion’ and without any movement that would jiggle his scale.”

We’re already on shaky ground here, but it gets worse.

“MacDougall’s first patient, a man, died on April 10, 1901, with a sudden drop in the scale of 0.75 ounce (21.2 grams). And in that moment, the legend was born. It didn’t matter much that MacDougall’s next patient lost 0.5 ounce (14 grams) 15 minutes after he stopped breathing, or that his third case showed an inexplicable two-step loss of 0.5 ounce and then 1 ounce (28.3 g) a minute later. MacDougall threw out Case 4, a woman dying of diabetes, because the scale wasn’t well calibrated, in part due to a ‘good deal of interference by people opposed to our work,’ which raises a few questions that MacDougall did not seem eager to answer in his write-up. Case 5 lost 0.375 ounce (10.6 grams), but the scale malfunctioned afterward, raising questions about those numbers, too. Case 6 got thrown out because the patient died while MacDougall was still adjusting his scale. MacDougall then repeated the experiments on 15 dogs and found no loss of weight — indicating, to his mind, that all dogs definitely do not go to heaven.”

Despite being a poor experiment with few samples in which his own first result was undermined by everything that came after it, he sent in his write-up to the journals American Medicine and the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, and his results were also reported in the New York Times.

No one except a sheep rancher in Oregon has ever tried to replicate the experiment, for ethical reasons.

So science has neither determined the existence of a soul nor its weight.  WTF fun facts

Source: “How much does the soul weigh?” — LiveScience

WTF Fun Fact 12695 – Male Mice Are Scared Of Bananas

We may have never noticed on our own that male mice harbor a fear of the humble banana. But scientists studying the fear responses of male mice to pregnant and lactating female mice made the connection.

Long story short, male mice can be very aggressive towards baby mice (or “pups), especially virgin male mice who see them as genetic competition. That’s why female mice have evolved to produce a compound, called n-pentyl acetate, in their urine that produces a stress and fear response in all male mice (but especially virgins).

Bananas enter the equation because they also happen to emit a compound that produces a fear response in male mice. They don’t contain n-pentyl acetate but rather isoamyl (or isopentyl) acetate.

Of course, bananas didn’t evolve to scare mice, that’s just a coincidence.

According to IFL Science:

“The team bought banana oil extract from the supermarket and placed it inside the cages of male mice to measure their stress levels, which increased significantly in response. The team believe that the stress response in the mice is similar to the stress response when about to engage in a fight.”

At least now we know one more strategy for getting rid of male mice! – WTF fun facts

Source: “Researchers Accidentally Discover Why Male Mice Are Scared Of Bananas” — IFL Science

WTF Fact 12428 – A Goldfish Can Hold a Grudge

Sorry, Ted Lasso, but “be a goldfish” might not be the best advice for those ready to hold a grudge. Despite the widespread belief that a goldfish has a memory of just a few seconds, it’s simply false.

We’re not sure who made it up or when, but the first sign that it’s a made-up “fact” is that the information changes based on where you are in the world. Some say the goldfish has a 10-second memory, while others say it’s just 3 seconds. Regardless, none of this has ever been proven by science.

However, scientists have studied goldfish and tried to ascertain how long their memories might be. And you might be alarmed to know that these ubiquitous fish retain can memories for days, months, and even years. There are 60 years worth of research to back up those facts.

Of course, we can’t know exactly what goldfish think, but it’s not all that challenging to test the memory of just about any creatures through experimentation.

Culum Brown is an expert in fish cognition at Macquarie University in Australia. He told Live Science: “We’ve known about the reasonably good memories of goldfish since the ’50s and ’60s. Despite what everybody thinks, they’re actually really intelligent.”

Brown believes that one of the reasons we are so ready to believe that goldfish have almost no memory span is the way we treat them. If a fish had a 3-second memory, that boring glass bowl wouldn’t be cruel. And assuming they’re unintelligent allows us to rest easy believing our scaly pets don’t need any stimulation. Unfortunately, that’s just not true.

According to Brown, goldfish are often used in fish cognition and memory experiments. Research has shown that goldfish can remember where their food comes from, how to manipulate situations to get rewards, and even make their way through mazes.

Maybe it’s time to upgrade that fishbowl. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “Do goldfish really have a 3-second memory?” — LiveScience