Magnetoception

Magnetoception is the ability to detect magnetic fields (which are very weak). We’ve known that many birds have a biological magnetite in their bodies (usually the beak) and as we saw in European Robins can see a quantum effect of the magnetic poles. Bees can detect magnetic fields, and Sharks, stringrays and chimeara have an electroreceptive organ called an ampullae of Lorenzini that let them detect small variations in electric potential (such as a magnetic field). But can humans detect magnetic fields. Two studies show that they can.

Vibrating belt experiment
Peter König, Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrück developed a feelSpace belt lined with 13 vibrating pads and sensors that detected the field – when a subject wears the belt the pad pointing north vibrates constantly. Studies with this device changed the subject’s direction perception. The study took a few weeks but subject starting perceiving the world geographically different – sensing where home was, making mental maps of their towns, and having an enhanced since of direction and north even after removing the belt. Some subjects stated that the sense was difficult to explain, that they felt it had always been there, but that the feelspace belt helped them be aware of it.

Faraday Cage experiment
Dr. Joe Kirschvink build a Faraday cage where he could control the magnetic field that subjects were experiencing. “When the magnetic field was rotated counterclockwise—the equivalent of the subject looking to the right—there was sharp drop in α waves. The suppression of α waves, in the EEG world, is associated with brain processing: A set of neurons were firing in response to the magnetic field, the only changing variable. The neural response was delayed by a few hundred milliseconds, and Kirschvink says the lag suggests an active brain response. A magnetic field can induce electric currents in the brain that could mimic an EEG signal—but they would show up immediately.’” This experiment yielded a consistent, repeatable effect.

Two possible explanations

  • The Cryptochrome Model: is that magnetic fields trigger quantum chemical reactions in proteins called cryptochromes in the retina, which may turn into radical pair molecules by sunlight and are flipped between states when impacted by Earth’s magnetic field.
  • The Magnetite Model: miniature compass needles (magnetite) in receptor cells (near the trigeminal nerve behind animals’ noses or in the inner ear) are tugged by the Earth’s magnetic fields.

Dr. Kirschvink states that we definitely have the mechanism for detecting magnetic fields, but that much more study needs to be done to determine if we can actually perceive those fields.

Web Applications
I’m not going to even speculate

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