Navigating without a compass

One of the thorniest problems in all of biology is how exactly a bird finds its way home. Most animals migrating over great distances appear to find their way by detecting tiny signals from the earth itself. Birds, butterflies, whales and even bacteria all respond to the  earth’s geomagnetic field.

This begs the question of whether humans possess an innate ability to navigate, much in the way that animals do. 

Native aborigines were said to have a perfect ‘compass sense’—that is, they could navigate and return home over vast distances.

European explorers wrote home about the seemingly fantastic ability of native guides to negotiate through apparently featureless expanses of woods, jungles, oceans and fields of ice.

But are they using a sophisticated means of environmental cues or reading something deeper—an invisible energetic signal from the earth?

Blindfolded children
The most in-depth investigation into this subject was carried out by a zoologist called Dr R. Robin Baker, a reader in physiology at the University of Manchester. Baker carried out a series of experiments, testing his hypothesis that humans, like animals, have a sixth sense about direction. In his initial experiments, he simply blindfolded his student participants and drove them, following winding and circuitous roads, away from the university and dropped them off at locations as far as 50 km away.

These students were able to give relatively accurate descriptions of the direction of the university while remaining blindfolded; only when the blindfolds were removed did they lose a sense of the direction of home.

Convinced that he was witnessing some weak form of what is called ‘magnetoreception’, Baker then recruited a large group of schoolchildren, divided them into two groups and blindfolded them, too.

Scrambled frequencies
He then attached a bar magnet to the foreheads of the children in one group; in the others, he attached a considerably weaker magnetized piece of metal, but which was similar in shape and size to the magnets. After bussing them to a spot some distance from home, he set them loose.

As he suspected, the children with the magnetized metal were far less able to find their way home. As with similar studies where magnets interfered with the ability of homing pigeons to return home, the bar magnets were scrambling the earth’s magnetic cues.

Other studies by Baker show that humans automatically point north in the absence of other clues.

Baker’s studies have been strongly criticized for their design, their conclusions and their failure to be adequately replicated.

Nevertheless, although some studies have failed to obtain the same results, a number of them have supported Baker’s findings – so much so, that Baker himself put together all the evidence and discovered robust evidence that humans have a non-visual ability to orient and navigate based, at least in part, on magnetoreception.

One such study was carried out by University of Keele researcher Mary Campion. But her results showed that the sixth sense was variable — more developed in some than in others.

Teenaged girls tune in
Indeed, it may even differ between the sexes. At a special conference on animal navigation, one researcher named Gai Murphy presented a paper describing her own fascinating experiments with children and teenagers.

Her studies tested the ‘homing’ instinct in children as young as four. She discovered that this sixth sense was weak in children aged between four and 11, and was only marginally developed in boys. However, in girls, this facility suddenly blossomed at age nine and continued growing in acuity until it reached a peak at 18. 

Murphy concluded that humans, and especially girls, are able to tune in to the earth’s magnetic field. 

Murphy’s study throws up many tantalizing possibilities. Are there true biological differences in our ability to ‘read’ the earth’s energies? Or could it be that women, who are encouraged to listen to their intuition more than boys are, simply have more practice in tuning in to these infinitesimally tiny cues?

But if humans are indeed magnetoreceptive, what is the exact mechanism that enables us to tune in?

Much of the recent research suggests that, in addition to an actual magnetic particles in the brain, the human pineal gland is also magnetoreceptive and able to ‘feel’ any changes in the earth’s magnetic field. The brain hormone melatonin is produced at night according to geomagnetic fluctuations. This could mean that this highly misunderstood (and very likely underutilized) gland could assist in establishing direction.

Rhythmic light
Besides the pineal gland, we may also be tuning in on a more subtle level. German physicist Fritz-Albert Popp who discovered that all living things constantly emit biophotons — tiny packets of light —recently demonstrated that the biophoton emissions of humans follow daily and weekly patterns that mirror the rhythms of the sun. They have even recorded measurable differences between the emissions during the day and at night.

It appears that the frequencies of our body work in tandem with the body’s reaction to light and possibly to geomagnetic fields. Their work also shows that a constant exchange of energy occurs between living organisms and quantum electromagnetic fields.

According to Popp: “There is no doubt also about the correlation be-tween [biophoton emissions] . . . and day–night rhythm. We know also from this work that the [biophoton emissions] of all points of the body follow the same rhythms.”

The biophotons would solve the difficult question of how we can tune into weak magnetic fields, such as those of the earth, rather than the noisier fields we are bombarded with during everyday living. In this case, the quantum frequencies of our bodies could be carrying on a constant dialogue with the electromagnetic waves of the earth. Rather than using one centralized processor, we may be listening the music of the heavens through every pore of our bodies.

The big task before us in the developed world is to learn once more how to actually hear it.

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