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Weighing the Soul – The Evolution of Scientific Ideas

ISBN 0297645552 (hb);  0753819910 (pb)
Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2004)

In April 1901, Dr Duncan MacDougall, a physician at a small municipal hospital in Massachusetts, placed a dying man on a set of platform scales. His aim –  to determine the weight of the soul as it departed the body.

Throughout history scientists have pursued ideas that seemed bizarre, peculiar or downright daft. In this sharp and witty overview of the great – and not so great – moments of scientific experimentation, Len Fisher illuminates the true process of discovery, where the brilliant has often met the bizarre and only hindsight allows us to distinguish between the two.

‘On the surface this book is about quirky ideas, such as how to cure a headache by zapping yourself with an electric eel … Under the surface, it’s about the evolution of scientific beliefs’ Focus Magazine

Weighing the soul

Chapter Headings

1. Weighing the Soul

The story of an American doctor who attempted to weigh the soul, and the remarkable parallels with scientists’ attempts to weigh heat


2. Making a Move

About Galileo

3. Two Fingers to Newton

Thomas Young and the wave theory of light

4. The Course of Lightning Through a Corset

Benjamin Franklin and the story of the lightning rod, not to mention the story of the lady whose underwear was removed by a bolt of lightning while her outer garments remained intact

5. Fool’s Gold?


6. Frankenstein Lives

Luigi Galvani and biological electricity

7. What is Life?

Do living beings have a “vital force”?

8. Necessary Mysteries

The bizarre things that scientists are forced to believe

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