Experiments in Weight and Mass

In the early 1900’s it was an experiment to weigh a body before and after death to determine the weight of the human soul. It’s one of those charming anachronisms of human history, that we once sought to prove the existence of the intangible using nothing more sophisticated than a scale.

How odd, quaint, peculiar it is that we once thought the human soul had weight. Still and all, how very intuitive. If you are the sort that believes that there is a soul at all: the very essence of what it is to be you or me, a form of consciousness that leaves us after death – proving its existence is a noble thing.

If you believe in the soul I think you understand that a soul can be both the world’s heaviest weight and during times of joy, a thing that flies free of the earth.

Weight defines heft and is defined by the gravity of the situation. Then there is mass. Your weight changes, is added to and subtracted from by a million incalculable things, your mass is fixed.

This is what those the doctor’s were really looking for – that which stays the same. A mathematical accounting of a fundamentally human thing – our need to live beyond ourselves and know that others value us for who we really are. A fundamental core that does not change, no matter what the circumstances. A requirement we know that when you cannot contain your own mass, when you can not accurately gauge it, someone else can and will. Someone else will haul you onto a scale and recite the mass that is you. They will not mistake it for weight.

I’m looking at things said and unsaid, done and undone. We are none of us perfect. The truth is that we have an innate sense of what our friends are good at, and perhaps in a more literal sense, what they are good for. We know, or at least have a pretty good idea of, whom you can call on in the dead of night and speak the words “I’m lost. Frightened. Alone. Help me.” 

There is no scale to weigh a, perhaps, dying friendship on, so use a question. Sent across the ether in bits and bytes, displayed on a screen in pixels. The question will have no weight at all when it arrives. That’s ok. I’m not looking for the weight of the answer but the mass of the friendship.

Perhaps I do so as foolishly as the doctor’s who weighed bodies looking for proof of the soul. It is possible that I am looking for one thing and will find another.

I used to smile when I thought of those doctors in the 1900’s. I used to chuckle at their naïveté, be amused by their earnestness.


I know their desire to quantify the intangible by whatever means they have at their disposal, to call an imperfect answer to the wrong question better than an endless wondering.


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