Maybe You Really Can Sense Magnetic Fields

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We’ve known for years that many animals can somehow sense magnetic fields. Birds apparently use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Dogs can find a box containing a magnet better than they can find a similar box with a food treat in it. But humans, apparently, can’t visualize magnetic fields without help. Several scientists at California, New Jersey, and Japan have done experiments that seem to show that people’s brains do have changes when a magnetic field rotates. If the paper, titled “Transduction of the Geomagnetic Field as Evidenced from Alpha-band Activity in the Human Brain” is a bit much for you, might enjoy the video from Veritasium, below, which is much easier to parse than the paper.

To see it work, a subject sits in a dark isolated room with an electrode cap that picks up the subject’s EEG. The study shows that different people have different sensitivity to the field. Also, picking up a magnetic field in an isolated chamber is different from picking it up on the sidewalk and using it to navigate with.

However, there is some evidence that human cultures may have been shaped by this in the past. A number of human languages lack specific works for things like front and back and instead use cardinal directions like north and south.

If you really want to sense magnetic fields, your best bet might be to implant a magnet in your finger. Then again, you don’t actually have to use your finger.

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