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    Thread: Scientist Suggests Human Gene Can Sense Magnetic Field

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      Scientist Suggests Human Gene Can Sense Magnetic Field

      I have often wondered about this. I know that many animals have this ability, and have been curious about whether or not humans may possess some limited form of it. Found this article pretty interesting.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/science/28magnet.html
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      Xei
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      Looks like the NY Times science correspondent doesn't understand basic science... the gene doesn't detect anything, these studies are about the relevant protein (of course).

      Interesting stuff, although this looks extremely speculative. Basically humans have a protein similar to one that correlates with magnetic sense in butterflies (and is also used for sight), though they don't know which bits of the protein do what, or how it then relays the information to the insect's nervous system (and if humans have such a mechanism), and experiments as to whether humans even have any magnetosense are inconclusive.

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      I knew it, I've been feeling the variations in the Earth's magnetic field since as long as I can remember. Nobody ever listened to me.
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      Member nina's Avatar
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      Interesting article. Reminds me of something I was trying to explain on here a few months ago without any real knowledge of that thing and only based on personal experiences and was (of course) told the concept was ridiculous.

      “It may be that our electromagnetic world is interfering with our ability to do this kind of stuff,” Dr. Phillips said.
      This is unfortunate.
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      LD's this year: ~7 tommo's Avatar
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      So this could probably explain why you can tell if someone is behind you. That's if this is correct anyway.

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      Xei
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      Despite the impression you might have got from the special people on DV, humans are not electromagnetic beacons. If we do have a magnetic sense, it's so rudimentary that it can't demonstrably detect the Earth's magnetic field. The magnetic field of a human brain is about 10,000,000 times weaker. Being able to detect that would be like having hearing so poor that you can't make out what song a band is playing at a concert, but you can hear what two people in the crowd are whispering about fifty feet away...

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      Have you done the math's on that?
      I would think being two feet behind you would be stronger than the Earth's.

      Although I think the Earth's may be all around us anyway. Meh.

      I'll go back to my theory of subtle subconscious clues such as lighting, smell, slight air movements etc.

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      Xei
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      Well, I looked up the magnetic field strengths of both.

      Really tommo, have you never heard of a magnetic compass..? They wouldn't be very useful if human fields influenced them.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      Interesting stuff, although this looks extremely speculative.
      I think that, for the most part, it is - but no less interesting. I find the concept must applicable when it comes to more primitive, nomadic humans. It would be really interesting to find out whether or not humans actually do have this ability, and if its strength could be dependent on necessity. (In which case, the advent of things like compasses might have actually been counter-productive to the ability - if it does exist.)
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      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      Well, I looked up the magnetic field strengths of both.

      Really tommo, have you never heard of a magnetic compass..? They wouldn't be very useful if human fields influenced them.
      Well they probably do influence them a little bit.

      Just because one is stronger, doesn't mean the weaker one doesn't have an effect, or can't be detected, especially when it's closer.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      Interesting stuff, although this looks extremely speculative. Basically humans have a protein similar to one that correlates with magnetic sense in butterflies.
      They went further than that:
      "Here we show using a transgenic approach, that human CRY can function as a magnetosensor in the magnetoreception system of Drosophila and that it does so in a light-dependent manner. Thus, human CRY has the molecular capability to function as a light-sensitive magnetosensor, and this finding may lead to a renewed interest in human magnetoreception."

      So, the human variant of this gene can restore magnetoreception in Drosophila, which had it's intrinsic mangetosensor gene deleted. But yeah, it still doesn't mean that this protein really functions as a magnetosensor in human eyes. The term 'exaptation' comes to mind.
      And it still doesn't mean that we have the necessary neural infrastructure to exploit its magnetosensor properties.
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      Quote Originally Posted by SnakeCharmer View Post
      The term 'exaptation' comes to mind.
      I just completed a course on genetics and had never heard this term. Interesting.

      Quote Originally Posted by SnakeCharmer View Post
      And it still doesn't mean that we have the necessary neural infrastructure to exploit its magnetosensor properties.
      I agree. But it's possible.

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      Quote Originally Posted by tommo View Post
      Well they probably do influence them a little bit.

      Just because one is stronger, doesn't mean the weaker one doesn't have an effect, or can't be detected, especially when it's closer.
      I'd liken the effect to gravity. If I stand next to you, there's a gravitational attraction, but it's tiny and overpowered by the attraction between ourselves and the Earth. You wouldn't argue that the force between us is detectable to human senses, just because our centre of masses are closer to each other's than to the Earth's. You look at the actual forces produced and see that the result is insignificant. Hell, just the variance in Earth's gravity alone is many orders of magnitude greater.

      As Xei states, you only have to look at the way equipment and the environment reacts to Earth's magnetic field to see it's far stronger than the one produced by the human body. Some animals can detect fields produced by living creatures, but we can't. Given that we can't detect the relatively massive magnetic field of the Earth - at least at a conscious level - this isn't surprising.

      Interestingly, apparently humans do possess the mineral magnetite in certain bones, similar to other species which can detect magnetic fields.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6823284
      Last edited by Photolysis; 06-28-2011 at 10:09 AM.

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      Who says we can't detect the magnetic field of the Earth though?
      This study is suggesting we may be able to. Not like we'd really know it coz it's there all the time.

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      Xei
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      What...? It points in a certain direction. That's why it's useful. I'm getting the feeling you've never actually played with a compass..?

      There have been experiments on this. One of the best ways to do it is to face somebody North (for instance) whilst blindfolded, then disorientate them, and see if they can guess which way they're then pointing better than average. One experiment indicated better than luck guesses, but it couldn't be replicated.

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      Quote Originally Posted by tommo View Post
      So this could probably explain why you can tell if someone is behind you. That's if this is correct anyway.
      You can tell when someone is behind you because their body blocks/reflects some sound, and usually the body gives off enough infrared radiation that it can be felt from some distance away. Not to mention that they most likely make at least some noise.

      That's nothing magic. If you're not super aware, then those cues are likely subconscious to you, and you "just know" someone is there, without realizing the cues that alerted you.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      What...? It points in a certain direction. That's why it's useful. I'm getting the feeling you've never actually played with a compass..?

      There have been experiments on this. One of the best ways to do it is to face somebody North (for instance) whilst blindfolded, then disorientate them, and see if they can guess which way they're then pointing better than average. One experiment indicated better than luck guesses, but it couldn't be replicated.
      I have nfi what you're talking about. Your first paragraph has nothing to do with my post.

      Forsaken, I already said that I have gone back to my theory of subtle subconscious hints.

      All I said was this "could" be an explanation. Not that it is or that it's even probable.

    18. #18
      Xei
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      Who says we can't detect the magnetic field of the Earth though? ... Not like we'd really know it coz it's there all the time.
      Suggesting magnetic field only has magnitude.

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      Nope.

      If I'm at the South magnetic pole, I'm not going to be detecting the North magnetic pole.

      Since I don't know what the other pole "feels" like, there's no reason I should and no way I could know if I am feeling or detecting the magnetic field at all.

    20. #20
      Xei
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      Most animals don't spend their lives on top of the South pole...

      I don't get what you meant by 'we wouldn't know if we can detect the magnetic field because it's there all the time'. Magnetic fields are like flows... the point is that when you turn by an angle, you feel that relative to you, the flow has changed. That's how birds navigate by them. That's how magnetic sense works. The strength of the field, and the fact is doesn't vary, isn't important. Magnetic sense is about being able to sense the direction. We'd notice it if we had it.

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      Maybe.

      On the other hand, you don't notice your liver metabolising chemicals.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      Magnetic sense is about being able to sense the direction. We'd notice it if we had it.
      That's a pretty big absolute, don't you think? Abilities rise and fall due to necessity (evolution). If we, in our generation, have been so far removed from our need to be aware of this ability, the fact that we are not able to (consciously) feel/identify it does not mean it isn't there. It would mean it's possibly dormant. There is a difference between the two.
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      Xei
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      Thanks but that's not really relevant to what I was saying; if you leave the quote in context it makes sense. I was just responding to the idea that we wouldn't notice it because we're never exposed to any changes; we are, and so if we had the ability to sense variations, we would. I'm not sure to what extent you can say somebody has a 'sense' when they aren't conscious of sensing anything, but hey, that's a semantic issue. If we wanted to be clear, you're talking about a 'physiologically potential sense'. That's what's up for debate.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      Thanks but that's not really relevant to what I was saying; if you leave the quote in context it makes sense. I was just responding to the idea that we wouldn't notice it because we're never exposed to any changes; we are, and so if we had the ability to sense variations, we would. I'm not sure to what extent you can say somebody has a 'sense' when they aren't conscious of sensing anything, but hey, that's a semantic issue. If we wanted to be clear, you're talking about a 'physiologically potential sense'. That's what's up for debate.
      Even though I see what you're saying, you are kind of missing my point. Just like people in different regions develop different skin tones and people in different conditions develop different musculoskeletal structures, etc; how do we (you and I, in our modernized generation/environment) begin to say that just because we don't "sense" this possibly-dormant trait, that humans can't? That wouldn't be necessarily true assumption. You know a previously-unconacted tribe has just been discoverred, a few days ago? I wonder how much more or less developed their survival senses (even the ones we are aware of; smell, sight, etc) are than ours. If they can fluctuate, due to what's necessary to survive in your environment, then our inability to sense it does not mean it's not a human ability.
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      I like the post a lot I doubt that skin tones is a good analogy as that's genetic. Your second analogy with musculoskelatal structures is much more on point.

      Also, not being aware of a sense in no way means that it's not there so long as one can measure its effects. We don't know why we do half the things that we do, we're just good at justifying them after the fact.
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