Possible evidence of human ability to detect Earth's magnetic field found

June 28, 2016 by Bob Yirka report
Schematic illustration of the invisible magnetic field lines generated by the Earth, represented as a dipole magnet field. In actuality, our magnetic shield is squeezed in closer to Earth on the Sun-facing side and extremely elongated on the night-side due to the solar wind. Credit: NASA

(Phys.org)—A scientist who has dedicated a significant portion of his life to proving or disproving the notion that humans have an ability to detect and respond to Earth's magnetic field has given a talk at this year's meeting of the Royal Institute of Navigation at the University of London, suggesting that he has found evidence that it is true. Joe Kirschvink with the California Institute for Technology reported that experiments he and colleagues have been conducting have shown reproducible changes in brainwaves of volunteers who sat in a magnetically controllable chamber.

Over the past century scientists have found that other animals do indeed have magnetic sensors and that they respond to them—birds in flight use the Earth's magnetic field at least in part, as a compass, dogs orient themselves north/south to urinate. The list of examples has grown quite extensive, but one problem still remains—no one has been able to figure out how it happens. Scientists have narrowed down the possibilities Eric Hand writes in two extensive News articles on the subject in the latest issue of the journal Science, one is called the Magnetite Model, and is based on the idea that magnetite existing in the bodies of living organisms may be tugged by the Earth's magnetic field, controlling neural circuitry. The other is called the Cryptochrome Model and is based on the idea that chryptochromes in the retina are turned into radical pair molecules by sunlight and are flipped between states when impacted by Earth's magnetic field. Kirschvink, Hand, notes, believes the former is the most likely possibility, though his mission has not been to find out how it might work, but to show that it does in humans.

To achieve that goal, Kirschvink and his team built a Faraday cage—an enclosure just big enough for one person to sit in, which has coils placed around its walls that prevent influence by Earth's magnetic field and any other magnetic field, whether natural or man-made. The cage also allows for the generation of a magnetic field and the allowance of the Earth's magnetic field on command. The volunteers sitting in the chair in the cage were attached to an EEG machine that measured alpha brain waves.

The cage allows for eliminating all sources of stimuli for impacting human brain wave activity. The person sits alone in the dark while the researchers manipulate the magnetic field around him or her. Kirschvink reported in his talk that he was able to record a measurable, and more importantly, reproducible change in alphas brain wave activity in humans based on changes made to the around them. And he did so using the cage in two different locations, one in California, and another in a lab in Japan. He acknowledged that the sample size was small, and that more work needs to be done, which will someday lead to a paper—but he is optimistic that he has at long last proven that humans do indeed have magnetic sensors.

Explore further: News about the light-dependent magnetic compass of birds

More information: Eric Hand. The body's hidden compass—what is it, and how does it work?, Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf5804

Eric Hand. Maverick scientist thinks he has discovered a magnetic sixth sense in humans, Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf5803

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33 comments

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johnhew
1.3 / 5 (12) Jun 28, 2016
There exists a video of Bucky Fuller aligning himself (while standing up) with the rotation of the Earth, apparently sensing rotation directly
katesisco
1.5 / 5 (24) Jun 28, 2016
March 18 2014. The resonance produced a deeply relaxed and peaceful state. If we were all attuned like this it would explain how we were able to exist for millions of years without war.
I further propose the sun, Sol, is a fading magnetar that in its passage from youth to old age indeed has a 'sweet spot', science's reference to Earth ability to preserve liquid water on its surface but in the case of solar magnetism creates a viable life of contentment.
Obviously the level of magnetism bathing Earth to produce this effect has long been lost.
bschott
1.8 / 5 (16) Jun 28, 2016
Obviously the level of magnetism bathing Earth to produce this effect has long been lost.


Very interesting insights Kate, but I have to disagree. There are still "contented societies" on earth and still "content" people. What I disagree with is that a whole scale magnetism change is the culprit, and point the finger squarely at "society" and how we "live". (All the variables from being bathed in frequencies that weren't around even 30-40 years ago to developmental interference in all aspects of our lives). I would bet interfering with the field could be as harmful though.
shavera
4.7 / 5 (13) Jun 28, 2016
So is this like the nerves sending signals to turn our ears toward a sound? Our ears don't pivot, so such signals are meaningless in our species. Ie, is this a "sense" that doesn't provide meaningful or useful input, or is there some measurable property? Can people align themselves with magnetic north, say, more often than chance would predict? Can someone train themselves to align to magnetic north/south? Repeating the experiment in a controlled magnetic field environment, would they align to 'local' north? (ie, not remembering, even subconsciously, which wall is 'north' by how they entered the building). So many more questions.
bschott
1.6 / 5 (14) Jun 28, 2016
so such signals are meaningless in our species. Ie, is this a "sense" that doesn't provide meaningful or useful input, or is there some measurable property?


Considering the measured effect was on brainwaves, I would wager it is our "perspective" that is affected, although the study did not appear to discern whether the increase in Alpha waves corresponded to a decrease in Beta or a simultaneous increase in theta waves. Bear in mind this is all they were measuring. Instrumentation sensitive enough to capture changes in neurons may illuminate even more subtle effects caused by the presence or lack of the field.

I still maintain that the debilitation suffered by astronauts is partially due to being out of the earths field for an extended period of time, along with the micro gravity.
Eikka
4.6 / 5 (10) Jun 28, 2016
Can people align themselves with magnetic north, say, more often than chance would predict?


If there is a vestigal magnetic sense, it's going to be paired with some other left-over system that affects how it works - such as preferring to face south when it's cold and north when it's hot - as if you were a migrating bird.

Or the magnetic field can simply influence the electrical function of the brain in general, without being a "sense" in the usual sense of the word. That means you won't be able to tell the direction of the field per se - you just feel or think slightly differently under it.
Whydening Gyre
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 28, 2016

Or the magnetic field can simply influence the electrical function of the brain in general, without being a "sense" in the usual sense of the word. That means you won't be able to tell the direction of the field per se - you just feel or think slightly differently under it.

This makes sense. It's also been conjectured that 'handedness" plays a part.
Ie - lefties have a better sense of direction.
komone
3 / 5 (6) Jun 28, 2016
Strongly doubt this to be valid.
cantdrive85
1.9 / 5 (17) Jun 28, 2016
Question, are the building blocks of matter (protons, electrons, etc) affected by magnetic fields?
If so, why would one assume that stuff that is made of such matter would not be affected?
Could it affect the alignment of some of that matter?
Does that mean we can sense in which direction north lies?
Being that magnetic fields affects matter, how about electric fields?
Bees apparently "communicate" with flowers via their electric fields, do humans have them as well?
If so, can we "communicate" via these fields as well?
It should not be forgotten that along with the magnetic also goes the electro, their like two peas in a pod.
Otto_Szucks
1.3 / 5 (15) Jun 28, 2016
The human body is made up of trillions of individual single-cells that have coalesced into a multi-celled organism. It may be possible that it is each individual cell that makes up the body that has the ability to detect Earth's magnetic field. And, taken as a whole, the human organism who listens to his own body and what it tells him or her could be more in tune with that primordial ability. Such an ability to listen and to follow what the magnetic field dictates is most likely the very reason why multi-celled organisms such as mammals are able to tune into the changing of seasons and changes in the weather.
Generally, humans don't listen to their own body due to intense outside influences and, most often, they prefer a more social construct where there is a barrage of ideas from other organisms who also conceptualize their ideas in one form or another. e.g. art, science, religion
Certain religions such as Buddhism encourage self-meditation and looking inwards to find oneself.
antigoracle
1.8 / 5 (16) Jun 28, 2016
Hmm... can't feel the Earth's magnetic field, but my bullshit detector is going haywire.
Otto_Szucks
1.5 / 5 (17) Jun 28, 2016
@cd85
Matter is held together by electromagnetic fields. Atoms and molecules bind together through the Force of ElectroMagnetism. An electric field alone doesn't bind matter to matter. A magnetic field alone also doesn't bind matter to matter. Both fields working in concert with each other as one are required to keep material components from flying apart. It is the glue/adhesive of the Universe. Electric currents run through the EM field and it is those currents that excite the atoms and its 'quantum' components in matter.
Otto_Szucks
1.8 / 5 (16) Jun 28, 2016
Hmm... can't feel the Earth's magnetic field, but my bullshit detector is going haywire.


LOL that's understandable. This is the first I've ever read of this ability. But it does make sense (to me).
Whenever you FEEL pain or a good feeling, those are your groups of cells talking to you. Nerves are cells that transmit the sensation of pain to your brain cells, which have to determine the source of the pain (or pleasure) and try to find options to alleviate pain.
The Earth's magnetic field, in this case, is about some other ability... more of a geographic and atmospheric sensory nature, IMO
Graeme
5 / 5 (5) Jun 30, 2016
For this sort of test, you would need a double blind trial where neither subject or experimenter knows the field. Otherwise it would be like a telepathy test.
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
1.3 / 5 (12) Jul 02, 2016
Certainly interesting. But I would prefer to see some progress in scientists detecting and understanding waves that are emitted from humans and other beings and can be detected and reacted to by other life forms. We are thus for example puzzled by the fact that flowers (take mimosa) react to the fact of a person in the room being mentally/physically in a bad condition.
tear88
4 / 5 (4) Jul 02, 2016
Hmm... can't feel the Earth's magnetic field, but my bullshit detector is going haywire.

OK, that's as content-free as komone's comment, but it IS funny.
Whydening Gyre
4.7 / 5 (12) Jul 02, 2016
Question, are the building blocks of matter (protons, electrons, etc) affected by magnetic fields?

Of course.
If so, why would one assume that stuff that is made of such matter would not be affected?

One would not.
Could it affect the alignment of some of that matter?

Highly likely.
Does that mean we can sense in which direction north lies?

Quite possible.
Being that magnetic fields affects matter, how about electric fields?
Bees apparently "communicate" with flowers via their electric fields, do humans have them as well?

Yes.
If so, can we "communicate" via these fields as well?

with the right sensory equipment, yes.
A reasonable set of questions, CD.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (8) Jul 02, 2016
I wonder if this has anything to do with hunter gatherers being constantly aware of where north is? I read this somewhere, did a quick search, came up empty. From a book maybe.

Take them inside, up a staircase, no windows, and they can still tell you where north is.
The Earth's magnetic field, in this case, is about some other ability... more of a geographic and atmospheric sensory nature, IMO
Atmospheric? As in magnetic fields have something to do with which way the wind blows?

IMO WTF are you talking about as usual.
Captain Stumpy
3.8 / 5 (13) Jul 03, 2016
I wonder if this has anything to do with hunter gatherers being constantly aware of where north is?
i was actually wondering the exact same thing

.

.

I still maintain that the debilitation suffered by astronauts is partially due to being out of the earths field for an extended period of time...
@bullsh*tt
WTF????

if only there was a way to check out if LEO was still in the magnetosphere to validate your claim
[sarc/hyperbole]

http://www.nasa.g...dex.html

https://en.wikipe...th_orbit

http://helios.gsf...net.html

http://science.na...osphere/

https://en.wikipe...tosphere

the ISS and astronauts are never out of the magnetic field

perhaps you should stop playing with your magneto-super-cancer-fighting non FDA approved toy?
it seems to be impairing cognitive ability
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2016
i was actually wondering the exact same thing
Maybe we read it a physorg article?

Here's to the day when our personal AI will give us total recall-
and7barton
5 / 5 (8) Jul 03, 2016
A hunter-gatherer, or indeed, anyone who spends time outdoors, knows roughly what time of the day it is, and from the direction of the Sun, or the shadows it casts, or even if it's overcast, the general brightness of the sky in a particular direction, would be conscious of which way north is. Heck, I'm just a townie who does the odd country walk, and I use that method.
Steelwolf
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 03, 2016
There has always been a saying that 'Some people just have a 'nose' for direction. I think that may be literal, what with the amount of dust that gets filtered into the primate and human sinuses, and that dust will invariably carry very tiny magnetite fines (very small particles). Local magnetic fields would act upon the grains, and the sinuses are particularly sensitive areas of the body. I feel that after a certain age, and a person has enough of the right dust in their sinuses, and if they are aware enough of the way it changes feel according to the direction they face, that this is an entirely plausible possibility. I have tried to identify Why I myself always knew which way was North, and not even by looking, just by accurately Feeling, and now know/remember that it was the feelings of the sinuses that I could depend on, just like my forehead and cheeks could sense heat and it's direction, the sinuses gave me my internal 'compass'. Good study.
Captain Stumpy
3.8 / 5 (13) Jul 03, 2016
anyone who spends time outdoors, knows
@and7barton
yeah. that is what makes studying the topic in humans hard
fascinating, but hard

i'd like to see this done on more primitive people rather than grad students, though i can understand the lack of availability of the former

.

I feel that after a certain age, and a person has enough of the right dust in their sinuses, and if they are aware enough of the way it changes feel according to the direction they face, that this is an entirely plausible possibility
@steel
not sure i agree
this was also discussed by Baker (1983) though the claim was sinus boned were magnetic (if i remember correctly)
it was also not reproducible

it would be easily tested too
I myself always knew
do you spend a lot of times outdoors?

this could be other cues subconsciously noted and tracked but not consciously aware of
like the autonomous breathing that you can also control

Captain Stumpy
3.8 / 5 (13) Jul 03, 2016
Maybe we read it a physorg article?
@Otto
perhaps... but i am not so sure

i looked around (no, not hard) but didn't see anything that specifically said it

perhaps when i have more time later i will look deeper
if you find something let me know - TIA

there was a 2012 article i remember, but i don't remember it being on PO
http://www.seeker...846.html

given that it's Discovery News, perhaps we read about it on Discover?
i don't get TV, so i didn't see it on D Science or D News there...

i'll look up some of my saved studies too and see if it came up in other threads or studies in the past two years

PEACE
Steelwolf
2 / 5 (8) Jul 03, 2016
Stumpy, I will admit, i did do a lot of outdoors stuff, often in conditions that were dusty, and I think it may well make a difference Where the dust comes from, as obviously not all dust is going to carry the magnetite fines to anywhere near the same degree. So, I can see how reproducing it would likely depend not only upon locale, but the age one got the right kinds of dust, and likely having to travel many places is a pre-requisite as well as it thus gives a perspective of the changing gradients of the magnetic field. I understand that there has been some consideration with local balance control and possibility of ferromagnetic particles being in with the normal calcite crystal liquids within the inner ear. So there are several possible mechanisms possible, part hereditary, part from the geology and ecology of the area, travel, and possibly training. It would add to the mystery of the Trackers and Guides, and so was important to retain through breeding.
Steelwolf
2 / 5 (8) Jul 03, 2016
Also, I am not thinking of dust in the bone, but embedded into the thin layer of membrane over the bone, that same membrane and flesh that is so sensitive to smell and to dust or chemical irritation: there are Plenty of sensing nerves here. I think it may be even a passed down train, but one that also has to have the right dust, and likely training to know what to look for in Feeling the magnetic field. To me North feels like a crowding of the Field, South feels like an Opening wider area (I am about 47 degrees North) and I can tell East and West from that. So it is something I experience, and am trying to give an idea of How I do it, as well as the likely route. Dad also sharpened the house knives regularly, so the magnetic iron fines would have certainly been present through much of my life. We did much outdoors stuff, and while, yes, I can tell North and South by solar and by night sky, I also do so with heavy clouds or overcast at night, and still make my way, accurately.
Captain Stumpy
3.8 / 5 (10) Jul 03, 2016
It would add to the mystery of the Trackers and Guides... retain through breeding
@Steel
not sure about this: trackers & guides lineage aren't always producing better or even similar abled trackers and guides

it is also easily taught. the best trackers aren't so much the ones with the knowledge though, but the ones who are experienced and continue to *use it* regularly

i've taught my kids & grandkids tracking but they couldn't find a muddy st. bernard on a white sofa (hyperbole) - it's because they don't use it all the time like i do
LOL
Plenty of sensing nerves here
tell me about it. i have sensitive sinuses - i get sinus headaches all the time due to dust/mold/etc
I can tell North and South by solar and by night sky
how about when you're blindfolded?
can you also do this in unfamiliar territory?

there are a lot of ways to test it-contact the study author and appeal to them
maybe they'll pay for travel, at least?
Captain Stumpy
3.9 / 5 (11) Jul 03, 2016
@steel cont'd
We did much outdoors stuff, and while, yes, I can tell North and South by solar and by night sky, I also do so with heavy clouds or overcast at night, and still make my way, accurately
this can also be attributed to experience and training

one thing that happened a lot in the past (and still today):
city folk tend to get lost when they traveled out from the well traveled route/road.wagon train (especially at night) because of the inexperience and lack of training

farm or country folk don't tend to get as lost

i am sure you've had to "rescue" a city person or two in your day because they got lost, eh?
we do it a lot around here (in the mountains)

as i noted above: you should consider offering your time to the authors of the study as a test subject
you can e-mail Joe Kirschvink at CalTech in Pasadena
easily found here:http://web.gps.ca...schvink/

or his Admin. Asst. julie lee
http://www.gps.ca...ulie-lee
leetennant
4.2 / 5 (10) Jul 03, 2016
You know what would be more convincing? If he actually *found the sensor*. This is like saying we think we have the ability to detect sound waves but we haven't yet found the ears.
FredJose
1.8 / 5 (10) Jul 04, 2016
@katecisco
it would explain how we were able to exist for millions of years without war.


Dear Kate, seems like you are privy to knowledge/information that no one else has. Just how do you KNOW that we existed for millions of years? Do you have some verified and documented observation that humans existed for millions of years? Please provide us with such.
Further, just how do you KNOW that humans lived for that many years without war? Were you there to observe this as a definite fact?

If you cannot provide positive evidence for the above assertion then your theory of passivity by magnetic field induction flies out the window.
FredJose
2 / 5 (11) Jul 04, 2016
@Eikka
If there is a vestigal magnetic sense,

Here is the usual evolutionary obeisance - the useless vestigial organs. So far all the vestigialness of previously so-called vestigial organs have been turned on its head. Misleading evolutionary science has done much harm to people whose appendix had been removed or whose tonsils were obliterated.
It's quite laughable how the Wikipedia entries about vestigiality contradicts themselves in every sentence. Point is that there are NO useless organs, DNA or small structures. They all have a function. It's just the evolutionary myth that wants those functions to be other than what they currently are - without any proof whatsoever of such supposed ancestral inheritance.
[Darwinian] Evolution is futile.
Steelwolf
5 / 5 (1) Jul 08, 2016
Cpt. Stumpy, ya, some of it IS experience, was taught young, but was also taught to use that 'sense' as well. My dad had perfect direction sense, blindfolded in a dark room, same as granddad and great grand, and apparently the trait goes Way back in the Family. I used to be able to feel high tension lines, arc welding would plain make be buzz with excess magnetic energy, it would 'boost' me and it would take me a couple of hours after work to completely ground out again.

But my dad taught me how to be aware of how the sinuses, temples, ears, back of the neck and the whole spine. To be able to stand and FEEL and with the whole body felt, to reach out with our own magnetic field, and feel what is there around you, to feel the local currents, but also the long term, overall structure that it is in stone around you, to be able to turn a bit, and regain bearings, and then where 'North' is becomes easy. But, again that was trained, even though it is there inherently with practice.
Steelwolf
5 / 5 (1) Jul 08, 2016
And, there is also another mechanism at work here: City Folks don't Need the perfect sense of direction, they just need to be able to visualize their local set of grids and how the city is laid out generally and so the 'having a sense of direction' is no where near as important as it is to a Country or Farm person. Someone who can find their way no matter where they are were very valuable people and so it figured into the set of things a Country Gal is going to look for in a guy, and I certainly prefer to be with someone that does not get lost all the time as well!

Certain Families have been hunting and/or fishing guides for certain areas, and they all say similar things, that they just Feel where they are on the land, Where they are in that magnetic field, where it goes tighter, where it loosens up, and they also tend to know why they get goosebumps going under high tension lines. So, I would say that it IS a possible genetic enhancement of that ability already there.

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