For a very long time, humanity has been tormented by this question. For some, religion has provided the answer. Others kept searching and oftentimes employed strange methods to test whether death is the end of it all.
Here are some of the most intriguing and bizarre ways people have gone about proving or disproving this conundrum.
The 21 Grams Experiment
You might be familiar with this one but it makes for an interesting, albeit flawed theory. In 1901, Dr. Duncan MacDougall, a physicist from Massachusetts performed a series of experiments intended to prove whether the human soul had weight. Not in the mystical term but rather weight as a physical property.
MacDougall wanted to measure if any significant change in his patients’ mass occurred at their time of death. He placed six terminally ill patients who suffered from tuberculosis on an industrial scale which was sensitive to two tenths of an ounce.
According to MacDougall, all six of the patients lost three fourths of an ounce or approximately 21 grams after taking their last breath.
As a control measure, he subjected 15 dogs to the same experiment and noticed no change in weight. He therefore concluded that the difference in weight could be accounted as the weight of the human soul.
As interesting as his theory might be, it has no scientific basis and it turns out MacDougall had been cherry picking when he published his results. In fact, only one of his patients had lost 21 grams after death and there’s a reasonable explanation for the loss: after death, the lungs no longer cool the blood and sweating might occur.
The water lost through post-mortem sweating could add up to the missing 21 grams. As for the poor dogs, they didn’t have any sweat glands through which they could have lost water.
EVP, short for Electronic Voice Phenomena refer to strange sounds that sometimes show up on electronic recordings. Those with a penchant for the paranormal believe these sounds are the disembodied voices of the departed.
The sounds aren’t usually heard at the time of the recording but show up during playback.
The first man who tried taping the spirit world was American photographer Atilla von Szalay. His first experiments were done using a 78 rpm record in 1941 but he had little luck with them.
Szalay registered his first ‘success’ in 1956, when he began using tape recorders. Among the first messages he got were “Hot dog, Art!”, “This is G!” and “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!”
Over the years, many people have tried communicating with the dead through EVP and some even claimed to have built devices specifically designed to do so. Among the most famous were William O’Neil’s Spiricom and Frank Sumption’s Ghost Box.
Houdini’s Secret Code
Houdini took great pleasure in exposing mediums as frauds. His animosity towards mediums had come from the unpleasant experience he had as he attempted to contact his deceased mother, Cecilia, with the help of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s wife.
She and other clairvoyants had supplied Houdini with messages they claimed came from his mother.
Houdini noticed the messages were far too inconsistent to have come from Cecilia. For starters, the messages were in English although his mother never spoke English.
Psychics also made mentions of crosses although his mother was Jewish. This led Houdini to believe that the séances he had attended were nothing but shows put up by charlatans. He still considered the possibility of an afterlife waged war to those who wrongfully claimed to present evidence.
In order to prevent mediums from claiming to have contacted him after his death, Houdini established a secret code that only he and his wife knew. The code consisted of ten random words picked up from a letter he had received from Doyle.
After his death, Houdini’s wife held séances on Halloween for ten consecutive years. He never showed up.
The God Helmet
Inventor Stanley Koren and neuroscientist Michael Persinger teamed up to create the God Helmet. The device consists of several coils attached to a snowmobile helmet.
According to Persinger, the coils generate fluctuating magnetic fields that lead to experiencing “mystical experiences and altered states.” The fields generated by the God Helmet aren’t as strong as those used in transcranial magnetic stimulation; they’re about as strong as those generated by an ordinary hair dryer.
People who participated in Persinger’s experiment reported sensing presences, such as angels or deceased relatives and one participant even claimed to have perceived God.
His account was all that the press needed to call Persinger’s device the God Helmet. Persinger himself maintained that four out of five people who put on the helmet felt some kind of presence or sentient being.
In 2004, a team of Swedish researchers attempted to replicate the experiment under controlled conditions but had no success. They concluded the results of Persinger’s experiment had been skewed by the participants’ own susceptibility and found no connection between the weak magnetic fields generated by the helmet and altered states of perception.
Undeterred, Persinger and his team developed another device called The Octopus. It’s an alleged mood enhancer and altered state generator.
A team of researchers tested it and found out it had the same effect(none) whether it was turned on or off. However, “additional investigations… are warranted,” as they concluded.
This controversial documentary was made in 1983 by Australian psychologist Peter Ramster and focused on past life regression through hypnosis.
His experiments uncovered some interesting details. One of his patients Cynthia Henderson recalled the past life she had led during the French Revolution. Under hypnosis, she fluently spoke French and remembered places that no longer existed.
The places she remembered were featured in old maps and documents that she had no access to prior to the experiment.
Another patient Gwen MacDonald, was a staunch skeptic before her regression. She remembered life in Somerset between 1765-82. Many facts about her life in Somerset which would be impossible to get out of a book were confirmed in front of witnesses when she was taken there:
– when taken blindfolded to the area in Somerset she knew her way around perfectly although she had never been out of Australia
– she knew the location of a waterfall and the place where stepping stones had been. The locals confirmed that the stepping stones had been removed about 40 years before
– she pointed out an intersection where she claimed that there had been five houses. Enquiries proved that this was correct and that the houses had been torn down 30 years before and that one of the houses had been a ‘cider house’ as she claimed
– she knew correctly names of villages as they were 200 years ago even though on modern maps they do not exist or their names have been changed
– she was able to correctly describe the way a group of Druids filed up Glastonbury Hill in a spiral for their spring ritual, a fact unknown to most university historians