As the Mexican author, Guillermo Arriaga Jordán, puts it: “How many lives do we live? How many times do we die? They say we all lose 21 grams at the exact moment of our death. Everyone. And how much fits into 21 grams? How much is lost? When do we lose 21 grams? How much goes with them? How much is gained? Twenty one grams. The weight of a stack of five nickels. The weight of a humming bird. A chocolate bar. How much did 21 grams weigh?”

A belief propagated by the early 20th century research of physician Dr Duncan MacDougall attempted to show scientific proof of the existence of the immortal human soul by recording a small loss of body weight, representing the departure of the soul immediately following death. He put six dying people on a bed equipped with sensitive springs, and claimed to have observed a sudden loss of weight at the exact moment of their death.

The research by MacDougall showed 21 grams weight loss from the death. This cannot be attributed to the weight of the soul, as the shrinking of various body parts after death can have a significant contribution towards the loss of 20 grams. This is the case if we look at it medically.

So what do we know about a soul? A soul is like a breath of air inhabiting a body, causing it to function. It is threaded through the physical body to the very tips, and saturates the mind down to the subconscious. It is like an invisible clone of the self, living inside the physical self. When the physical self dies, the spiritual self departs and leaves the body behind, yet carries with it all experiences the self underwent.

In philosophical context, this loss of 21 grams carries within itself our whole lifespan of losses and gains, as we swim across the ocean of our visible existence. It is a parapsychological belief about the weight of the human soul, depicting as a metaphor for the fragility of life. It does deal with death, but it also deals with life lost, regained, and impending. It also draws a line between existence in this world and non-existence in another dimension of life. Just a matter of 21 grams. Here or there.

Living is not easy. If you look inwards, our life, in all its shades, includes the sufferings, the hurts, the obstacles and the miseries that no matter how much we try to avoid, we simply cannot. Life goes on, but, more importantly, what kind of life does it become in the end?

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From the day we are born till the day we die, there is always something missing. Always something we are running after, something that we seek, want, need or desire in our living experience. And we meet obstacles upon obstacles on our journey to find peace midst the deafening noise around us. No matter what we seek, we seek it to experience emotional equilibrium.

Moving backward and forward in time, this riveting drama speaks to our souls with its incessant probes into the importance of human choice and the degradations brought on by others and owing to one’s own self-destructiveness. It absorbs one and dissects its tale of life, death and re-birth with inventive force.

Figuring out the meaning behind them, focusing on the reasons why so much diversification is present in our lives is the only attitude that will elevate our souls to the spiritual height from where we can really understand life. As Albert Schweitzer, the German philosopher, puts it: "Whenever we penetrate to the heart of things, we always find a mystery. Life and all that goes with it is unfathomable."

This life is a floating mysterious entity that we all share. Lives are lost. Another life is restored. Another is devastated. Is there a way to go on? The presence or absence of the 21 grams commands a running discourse, which runs as a constant thematic thread through all of humanity and the life beyond. It is a mosaic of moments, lost or gained, as we fluctuate and dive into the deeper depths of our mortal immortality.

How much does 21 grams weigh? Does it carry the imprint of whatever we went through in life? Does it settle in the dust as we are lowered in our grave or evaporates and submerges in the limitless atmospheric layers. We are not sure and, probably, will never be. Science is restricted by the umbrella of time and space, while the presence of non-existent weightless and body-less spirit or soul has much more to do with religious spirituality.

So here we are, all of us, sitting in random queues in the death's waiting room. Who will be next? We do not know. But what we do know for sure is our disappearing while leaving behind 21 grams less.

 The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College London and a social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight Magazine. He has authored two books titled Understanding Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers.  Email: drirfanzafar@gmail.com   Twitter: @drirfanzafar