Dr. Duncan MacDougall, Weigher of Souls
Everyone has a hobby, but some are weirder than others. Take Haverhill’s Dr. Duncan MacDougall, for example. He was obsessed with the idea that personality is contained by the soul, and that the soul is physical and therefore measurable.
To prove this theory, he conducted tests on six subjects. According to a 1907 article in The New York Times: “The method followed was to place a dying patient in bed upon one of the platforms of a pair of scales made expressly for the experiments, and then to balance this weight by placing an equal weight in the opposite platform. … The instant life ceased the opposite scale pan fell with a suddenness that was astonishing — as if something had been suddenly lifted from the body … all the usual deductions were made for physical loss of weight, and it was discovered that there was still a full ounce of weight unaccounted for.”
MacDougall died in Haverhill in 1920 at the age of 54. The good doctor’s work has been criticized as having too small a sample size and using a flawed scientific method. But his idea has endured, inspiring the title of the 2003 movie “21 Grams,” appearing in a Science Channel program, and showing up in Dan Brown’s novel “The Lost Symbol” (Doubleday Books, 2009).