Magnetoreception (also magnetoception) is a sense that allows an organism to detect a magnetic field to perceive direction, altitude or location. This sensory modality is used by a range of animals for orientation and navigation, and as a method for animals to develop regional maps. For the purpose of navigation, magnetoreception deals with the detection of the Earth’s magnetic field. —Wikipedia
What we perceive with our eyes is less than one percent of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, the range of wavelengths over which EM radiation extends. This tiny portion of the EM spectrum, called visible light, consists of the colors red through violet. Making up the remainder of the spectrum are extremely low frequency (ELF) waves, radio waves, microwaves, infrared, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays.
Although we cannot see these energies, they are an ever-present part of our environment and affect our minds and bodies in profound ways. Every living creature on the planet is immersed in a sea of EM radiation from both natural and artificial sources. Common sources of artificial EM radiation include cellphones and cellphone base stations, power lines, electrical appliances in the home, and TV and radio transmitters. Natural sources include Earth’s magnetic field and ELF waves generated by global lightning activity.
As we continue to ‘electrify’ the planet at an alarming rate through technological means, natural sources of EM radiation that have been present throughout our entire evolution and to which we are synchronized biologically are gradually being drowned out by artificial sources of EM radiation. We seem to forget that the use of electricity on a large scale is a fairly new development in the history of humanity, having only really started in the twentieth century with the establishment of power stations and electricity grids.
Our harnessing of electricity is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has improved our standard of living in ways our ancestors would never have dreamed possible. Computers, MRI machines, refrigerators, and bomb disposal robots—all of these devices require electricity to operate. On the other hand, there are numerous health issues to consider.
The World Health Organization (WHO) remains adamant in its position that “to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low-level [non-ionizing] electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health.” And yet an abundance of scientific research argues otherwise, some of it dating back more than half a century. Studies have revealed a connection between exposure to EM fields and such health problems as brain cancer, leukemia, and depression.
There’s compelling evidence that such exposure suppresses production of the hormone melatonin by the pineal gland, resulting in disruption of the sleep-wake cycle and an increased risk of developing certain cancers. There’s evidence, too, that EM-field exposure can induce in the body a state of chronic stress, which in turn compromises the efficiency of the immune system and increases one’s susceptibility to illness.
Radar, which uses beams of pulsed microwaves to ‘sense’ distant objects, was developed to perfection during the Second World War. In the years following the war, the finding emerged that radar operators have a tendency to suffer from health problems that include internal bleeding, leukemia, jaundice, cataracts, headaches, brain tumors, and heart conditions. Although it’s true that microwaves, which belong to the radio frequency (RF) portion of the EM spectrum, can heat and therefore damage bodily tissue, the adverse health effects experienced by the radar operators were nonthermal in origin.
In the 1970s, Eastern European and Soviet researchers began to use the term ‘radio-wave sickness’ to refer to a clinical syndrome in those occupationally exposed to EM fields, particularly RF fields. The symptoms they listed for radio-wave sickness include headache, increased fatigability, increased irritability, dizziness, loss of appetite, sleepiness, difficulties in concentration or memory, depression, emotional instability, and rashes.
A growing number of people around the world are reporting symptoms characteristic of radio-wave sickness. This writer suffered from symptoms that I ascribe to radio-wave sickness when, for a period of eight months beginning in mid-2012, I lived in a house fitted with a smart meter. (Smart meters, which have been introduced as a replacement to analogue electricity meters, emit brief, sharp pulses of RF radiation.) Radio-wave sickness can be extremely debilitating—so much so that it’s not uncommon for sufferers to flee from their home to an environment with lower levels of EM pollution.
More debilitating still is electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), a condition that emerged during the 1980s and has been increasing rapidly in incidence ever since. Those afflicted with EHS find they become ill when exposed to virtually any form of artificial EM radiation, whether it’s from a cellphone, a washing machine, or power lines. Symptoms of EHS include fatigue, anxiety, concentration and memory difficulties, digestive disturbances, ringing in the ears, and dermatological issues such as redness, tingling, and burning. More and more evidence is accumulating to suggest that EHS involves a response on the part of the immune system in a similar manner to that of a conventional allergic reaction.
If indeed we humans are sensitive to both natural and artificial EM fields, to what do we owe such sensitivity? There is strong evidence for the existence of particles of magnetite in both human brain tissue and in bones from the region of the sphenoid/ethmoid sinus complex. What makes this evidence significant is that numerous living things endowed with magnetoreception—the ability to detect a magnetic field to perceive direction, altitude, or location—contain magnetite crystals in their bodies.
In addition to being a celebrated ability of homing pigeons, magnetoreception has been observed in turtles, mice, mole rats, bats, fruit flies, honeybees, and even bacteria. A series of experiments conducted throughout the 1970s by a British biologist named Robin Baker, one of which involved taking blindfolded school children on bus trips throughout the countryside and asking them to point in the direction of ‘home’ once the bus had reached its destination, showed that humans most likely possess a magnetic sense of direction like that of other animals, albeit one that operates on a subconscious level and is relatively weak.
Although magnetoreception could hardly be classified as a paranormal faculty, there are an abundance of instances whereby the paranormal and electromagnetism intersect. Many alleged psychics, including the British healer Matthew Manning and the Israeli-born spoon bender Uri Geller, suffered at a young age a severe electric shock. The development of psychic abilities is a claim also common among lightning strike survivors. Many survivors further claim that electrical devices go haywire whenever they touch or go near them and that their bodies have an unusual tendency to become highly charged with static electricity.
The buildup of static on the body and the experience of making electrical devices go haywire for no apparent reason are both key symptoms of a condition called high voltage syndrome (HVS). Those afflicted with HVS are termed ‘electric people.’ Besides lightning strike and electric shock as initiators of HVS, the condition can arise after suffering an emotional crisis or as a side effect of severe illness. In 1920, thirty-four convicts at Clinton Prison, Dannemora, New York, developed what was described as ‘peculiar static electric power’ after becoming ill with botulism poisoning. Oddly, the patients remained statically charged even when immersed in water. As the health of the patients improved, their static abilities vanished.
A fifty-year-old electric person from New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast, named Kate R, mentioned to me in an email that streetlamps “go on and off” when she approaches them, a phenomenon known as streetlamp interference (SLI). She added:
“Radios turn to static if I am close to them, watches go backwards on me, and digital watches only last a few days before the battery is drained. A compass is useless to me because it either just keeps spinning or it insists that true north is wherever I am. If I am really stressed, I cause things to blow up—light bulbs either blow or explode out of their sockets. My kids won’t let me touch anything electrical if I’m stressed because I have blown up two televisions, two fridges, a cake mixer, a vacuum cleaner, and more light bulbs than I can count.”
The phenomena claimed by Kate and other electric people are similar to those reported in connection with poltergeist agents. A poltergeist agent is someone around whom poltergeist disturbances occur. Such disturbances typically involve objects being thrown about and banging and rapping sounds, but it can also take the form of electrical devices malfunctioning for no apparent reason. Most parapsychologists view poltergeist phenomena as instances of recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK), which is equivalent to saying that the subconscious mind of the agent is responsible.
The message is clear: by continuing to pollute and thereby alter our EM environment, we are also altering ourselves. In particular, these changes infringe on the psychic side of our being.
Louis Proud is a writer and researcher specializing in anomalous, or Fortean, phenomena. He is the author of Strange Electromagnetic Dimensions: The Science of the Unexplainable (New Page Books, 2014).
Magnetoreception Molecule Found in Eyes of Dogs and Primates
Cryptochromes are light-sensitive molecules that exist in bacteria, plants and animals. In animals, they are involved in the control of the body’s circadian rhythms. In birds, cryptochromes are also involved in the light-dependent magnetic orientation response based on Earth’s magnetic field: cryptochrome 1a is located in photoreceptors in birds’ eyes and is activated by the magnetic field. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany have also detected cryptochrome 1 in photoreceptors in several mammalian species. Therefore, it is possible that these animals also have a magnetic sense that is linked to their visual system.
The perception of Earth’s magnetic field is used by many animal species for orientation and navigation. A magnetic sense is found in some insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals; whereas humans, according to some researchers, do not appear to be able to perceive Earth’s magnetic field. Some researchers think the situation is much more complicated. (See Louis Proud’s accompanying article.)
The magnetic sense in migratory birds has been studied in considerable detail: unlike a Boy Scout’s compass, which shows the compass direction, a bird’s compass recognizes the inclination of the magnetic field lines relative to Earth’s surface. Surprisingly, this inclination compass in birds is linked to the visual system as the magnetic field activates the light-sensitive molecule cryptochrome 1a in the retina of the bird’s eye. Cryptochrome 1a is located in the blue- to UV-sensitive cone photoreceptors and only reacts to the magnetic field if it is simultaneously excited by light.
Cryptochrome-Distribution Among Mammals
Together with colleagues from the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, the Goethe University Frankfurt, and the Universities of Duisburg-Essen and Göttingen, Christine Niebner and Leo Peichl from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt investigated the presence of cryptochrome 1 in the retinas of 90 species of mammals. Mammalian cryptochrome 1 is the equivalent of bird cryptochrome 1a. With the help of antibodies against the light-activated form of the molecule, the scientists found cryptochrome 1 only in a few species from the carnivore and primate groups. As is the case in birds, it is found in the blue-sensitive cones in these animals. The molecule is present in dog-like carnivores such as dogs, wolves, bears, foxes, and badgers, but is not found in cat-like carnivores, such as cats, lions and tigers. Among the primates, cryptochrome 1 is found in the orangutan, for example. In all tested species of the other 16 mammalian orders, the researchers found no active cryptochrome 1 in the cone cells of the retina.
The active cryptochrome 1 is found in the light-sensitive outer segments of the cone cells. It is therefore, researchers believe, unlikely that it controls the animals’ circadian rhythms from there, as this control occurs in the cell nucleus which is located a considerable distance away. It is also unlikely that cryptochrome 1 acts as an additional visual pigment for color perception. The researchers thus suspect that some mammals may use the cryptochrome 1 to perceive Earth’s magnetic field. In evolutionary terms, the blue cones in mammals correspond to the blue- to UV-sensitive cones in birds. It is therefore entirely possible that the cryptochrome 1 in mammals has a comparable function.
Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, Germany (Press Release: February 23, 2016)