Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Human Eye Protein Senses Earth's Magnetism

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the look-at-the-waves-man dept.

Science 103

chrb pointed out a story at BBC News about the discovery of a light-sensitive protein in the human eye that acts like a "compass" in a magnetic field. The molecule at the center of the study is called cryptochrome and is found in every animal on Earth. If removed from the eyes of flies, the flies lost the ability to respond to a magnetic field. From the article: "Despite much controversy, no conclusive evidence exists that humans can sense the Earth's magnetic field, and the find may revive interest in the idea. Although humans, like migratory birds, are known to have cryptochrome in their eyes, the idea of human magnetoreception has remained largely unexplored since pioneering experiments by Robin Baker of the University of Manchester in the 1980s."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Sense of direction (0)

DontLickJesus (1141027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533564)

Some people, my wife for instance, can never seem to get the idea of cardinal directions. Perhaps the content or ability to perceive this just varies greatly among us.

Re:Sense of direction (2)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533666)

There is a lot of research suggesting that women as a whole are less adept at that sort of thing. It also makes sense as to why many men prefer directions with set distances and instructions to turn on specific streets going north, south, etc. Women on the other hand tend to understand directions when they are relative, i.e "Take a left at the dunkin donuts, drive about a mile till you get to the T intersection..."

Re:Sense of direction (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533842)

That seems to have a ring of truth about it, though I've never been crazy about the idea of labeling roads "North/South" or "EastWest", etc.. because few roads actually maintain any consistent kind of vector, or, they often run diagonally. When it's 6pm, and the setting sun is right in your eyes and in front of you as you're driving down a road that claims to run North/South, it's a little disconcerting..

Re:Sense of direction (1)

djdanlib (732853) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534230)

Re:Sense of direction (1)

fifedrum (611338) | more than 3 years ago | (#36541344)

East Blvd is named after someone, East Ave heads East. as West Ave heads West.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36546332)

East Blvd is named after someone, East Ave heads East. as West Ave heads West.

Post offices and license plate plants get the idea to not use conflicting/confusing characters. Why can't city planners 'get it' that names like that are confusing as heck.

So you're heading west-north-west on east ave and I want you to turn south-south-west onto east blvd. ... Yeah.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534446)

The N,S,E,W indicators on streets are usually to indicate the relative direction from a central street or city center. Oklahoma City is the largest city I lived near that did this.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

Lokitoth (1069508) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534852)

Extra points when the same road is Route X North, and Route Y South for some stretches.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

jroysdon (201893) | more than 3 years ago | (#36538198)

How about Interstate 680 South which turns into Interstate 280 North near HWY 101 as you travel southwest? Or going the opposite direction on Interstate 280 South which turns into Interstate 680 North near HWY 101 traveling east (northeast just at that point)?

Yup, you can't make this stuff up:
I680 at I280, Santa Clara, CA [google.com]

Zoom out [google.com] and take a look.

Re:Sense of direction (5, Interesting)

Nos. (179609) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533878)

Up until a few years ago, I could be put in just about any given room in any given city, and if I took a minute, closed my eyes, I could point almost due North without any aid. I never knew how it worked, but I was pretty accurate. When I closed my eyes, I imagined I was standing on the south end of a major road in a city I was very familiar with. With my eyes closed, I'd picture looking up the street (North) as I slowly turned around. As I turned, the image just seemed to feel right, and I knew I was looking more or less North. I'd guess I was never out more than about 10 degrees.

I've since lost that ability. I was on Ritalin for a while in my early 30s, and I don't know if it was the Ritalin, or aging, but the ability went away. Even after I went off the drug, the ability never really returned. At the point I was losing the ability, I didn't realize it, and nearly got my wife and I lost in a city I'd only driven in a few times. I was sure I was headed North, and after years of trusting this instinct, even over other people with a map, I couldn't understand how we weren't getting where I was trying to go. She was insisting we were going the wrong way, and I wouldn't believe her. After I finally realized we weren't getting to our destination, I finally pulled over, looked at the map, and saw she was right. Spent a lot of time apologizing to her for that one.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534176)

It would be very interesting to design and test this with people who claim to have similar abilities to the one you describe. I would suspect that there are a very wide range of contributing factors.

I always knew that I had a decent sense of direction, but I didn't realize how differently such senses can appear until I spent time with my wife's family. I can drive them down the same street for the 35th time in 8 years and they will swear that they have no idea where they are, yet they have no trouble wandering out into their favorite forest on an overcast day to pick mushrooms and returning to the same place where we entered by a circuitous route. We use completely different sets of cues and methods of remembering and interpreting them. I work well with maps and inertial cues and subconsciously process direction using time of day and angle and direction of sunlight and shadows. Overcast means that I need to think considerably harder about things, but they don't use light cues so they aren't bothered by that.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534246)

I'm exceptionally good at picking North/South myself and have been able to do this since I was a kid, when I first noticed that other people often are unable to do this, and never been able to explain it. Later in life I'd guessed it was just good spatial awareness.

I think it's rather easy to train yourself to have a sense of direction based on the sun and a sense of time of day, and this can become quite a subconscious thing. However I find I can still orient myself on heavily overcast days and without a view of the sky. I seem to have a good sense of direction while others feel completely lost but I quickly run into limitations.

I live at latitiude 41' in the southern hemisphere and when I went on vacation to a pacific island I was utterly lost and couldn't find north and felt oddly disoriented until I had an idea of where I was on the island by looking at maps.

I just atributed this to the position of the sun and unfamiliar territory. Until one day back home I got a little lost driving in a foreign city, once I stopped, got out of the car and walked about a bit I quickly reoriented. After reading this I think I know why, just as a compass might read wrong if you try use it inside a metal car, perhaps that was at work? The sun explaination is no longer entirely satisfactory.

Last time this hit the news a few years back I read that birds are ultra senstive to introduced electromagnetic fields, something like one third of one percent earths field strength could crash the brids geomagnetic sense. This might explan why I can only do this on foot and have no hope in a car, and the only time it worked really well when I got "lost" in the back country with a couple young cousins. I wasn't really feeling very lost, I directed the group on a short cut through some bush in the right direction to the walking track we had missed. Can't explain why it felt like the right direction.

Some people seem exceptionally good at navigating outdoors, indeed indigenous peoples performed quite amazing feats of crossing distances. It should be little suprise that people claim to be able to do this, and indigenous people demostrably can. Yet your average urbanite lost in the woods or desert walks around in circles. I wonder if there really is more than just experience at work? Our animal cousins all seem to have geomagnetic sense built-in, it's probably unlikely that we've somehow completely lost it. There's certainly plenty of annecdotal evidence for justifying some serious scientific study.

Re:Sense of direction (2)

shmlco (594907) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535958)

"...and when I went on vacation to a pacific island I was utterly lost and couldn't find north and felt oddly disoriented until I had an idea of where I was on the island by looking at maps."

Apparently residents of Joplin, MO, are having problems navigating after part of the town was level by tornados. They removed all of the landmarks people used to find their way around, leaving nothing but rubble and flat fields.

Re:Sense of direction (2)

DutchUncle (826473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534274)

I vote for aging. I also used to have a good sense of direction, particularly with maintaining a consistent travel direction despite roads angling and turning, or being underwater (handy as a teenaged lifeguard). I simply assumed that ability, same as being able to imagine a 3D object from engineering plans and projections. Over time, it has become much less reliable.

I don't believe in magic, but I do believe that humans have lots of little abilities that we haven't measured yet because we haven't found the things to measure and haven't invented the units to measure with.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534310)

Up until a few years ago, I could be put in just about any given room in any given city, and if I took a minute, closed my eyes, I could point almost due North without any aid. I never knew how it worked, but I was pretty accurate.

You missed a truly golden scientific opportunity to try before and after taping a magnet to your baseball cap.

From my fooling around with magnetic compasses for orienteering, obviously in the pre-GPS pre-geocache era, I don't think whatever you were doing was magnetic. I suppose it depends on the vehicle, but even something as small as an ATV made orienteering pretty much impossible, aside from the obvious (head 1.0 miles at 23 degrees and the only path is a ridgeline trail with impassible 30 foot cliffs on either side, who cares what the compass says we're taking the trail...)

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534334)

I think it must be an age thing. 10 years ago I could do this but it has become harder and harder over the years to the point where most of the time I can't tell any more.
Not everyone seems to be able to do it either. When I was growing up no-one believed me that I had a vague feeling in my head of which way was North despite being able to always point more or less North whenever asked.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

Nos. (179609) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535460)

It wouldn't surprise me at all that it was aging. I only mentioned the Ritalin because it was a major change in my life at that point, and I initially attributed it to being on the drug. However, after being off the drug for months (and years now), I doubt it had any affect on losing that ability. I still miss having it, but with GPS in the car (and on smartphones) its not as necessary as it once was.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

Nick Ives (317) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534384)

I can do this, although for me I think it's more to do with having an idea of the orientation of the building as I enter and remembering the changes as I've moved around internally.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | more than 3 years ago | (#36538640)

Likewise. And occasionally I'll catch myself stopping to think about it, like in a huge, non-grid box store (I'm thinking of a particular menards).

We had a discussion about this at work, my boss and I almost always know which way is which, but the women in the office had no idea if they weren't on a major road.

I wrote it off as being and old eagle scout. You spend a little time with a compass and map, finding your way around without obvious landmarks.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

Nick Ives (317) | more than 3 years ago | (#36552040)

Definitely, I think it's more down to practice than to innate gender differences as I know plenty of guys with a terrible sense of direction. I remember I always used to run off in shops, get myself "lost" and find my way back. My mum used to get stressed at me but after a while, she figured out I'd always find my way back and I promised to just never leave whatever shop we were in.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

Fzz (153115) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535660)

I can also do this, though I'm better outdoors than in. I can pretty much always get north to within 45 degrees. I can also pretty much look at a map once, memorize the key features, and then mentally navigate on that map, mentally keeping the map orientated to north even if I'm travelling in some other direction. Few people I've talked to seem to do this.

I'm not convinced any of this is magnetic though. I've travelled a fair bit, and I've noticed several failure modes in my navigation ability:

  • In countries near the equator, I get north and south switched round fairly often.
  • In the southern hemisphere, until I get used to it, I consistently swap north and south.
  • In cities where the grid is at 45 degrees to north, I sometimes get north out by 90 degrees.
  • I'm not as accurate at night and indoors, though I'm still pretty good.

Because my navigation is normally so good, when I do get it wrong, I really believe my error for quite a while, which is not so great.

The north/south swap in the southern hemisphere leads me to believe that the dominant factor is to do with the position of the sun in the sky. I don't do it consciously though, and I live in London, and it still works on frequent cloudy days, so however it works, it's subtle.

The 45 degree grid shift one is strange and very disconcerting. I think what happens is my accuracy is only to the nearest 45 degrees, and I mentally orientate the grid to north. The mismatch between mental model and reality combined with my limited accuracy can cause the whole mental model to jump 90 degrees. Too much thought - should just trust the instinct.

The fact that it all still works at night and indoors could just be that I'm pretty good at dead reckoning. But maybe there is a magnetic aspect - if so it's not the dominant factor.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36538404)

I have the same experience getting confused in the tropics, where I lived for 5 years after 30 years in northern latitudes.

After spring equinox and towards the summer solstice, the noon shadow points the "wrong way" as the sun actually passes over your head and keeps going (so the shadows get short and then get longer in the opposite direction). Once I realized the effect on me, I was able to start to re-learn my orientation by local cues, and make more analytical assessments to compensate whenever I change locales.

I think even with overcast, we still sense the large-scale averages of sunlight direction and intensity over time, registering it subconsciously. I also used to have a better sense of time and date but got mixed up in the tropics. The growing darkness of afternoon thunderstorms would often confuse me into thinking it was evening, and the barely changing length of day throughout the year would leave me really confused as to what month it was sometimes, or even disbelieving that an entire year had passed!

Now, back in my native California, I am re-learning how to function in the mid-latitudes. Some sunny evenings trigger insomnia, and similarly some dim, foggy mornings make it hard to wake up; I guess my body clock got used to the rigid 12 hr phases of light/dark in the tropics.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36538714)

Sounds like you're unconsciously using the sun as a reference. In the northern hemisphere, the sun is somewhere south. In the southern hemisphere it's north. And near the equator, you have the sun above your head depending on the time of the year.

That fits nicely with switching north/south in the southern hemisphere and often switching around near the equator.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36535822)

Sure you lost your magnetic sense?

Maybe it is just the car. Steel sometimes get magnetic all by itself. Do a regular magnetic compass work well in there?

Re:Sense of direction (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36536308)

You'd 'guess'? Cool story, bro.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36538064)

Are you sure the problem is with your own body, and not with increased levels of electromagnetic pollution? Your issues could be due to the advent of wifi and other, more powerful and more commonplace forms of wireless communication on the electromagnetic spectrum. After all, there have been studies showing issues with bee migrations due to inability to sense direction...maybe you're just another casualty...

Re:Sense of direction (1)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | more than 3 years ago | (#36538342)

You'd pretty much have to wear a wireless router cranked up to the max legal broadcasting strength as a hat for it to have a any effect. I have one sitting not six feet from me, putting out 251mW to a fair, aftermarket, omni antenna and north still feels just as northy as it ever has.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

fifedrum (611338) | more than 3 years ago | (#36544308)

eyeball goo changes somewhat over the years, Vitreous Humor it's called, and perhaps that change is what caused your direction finding to fade

Re:Sense of direction (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534032)

I learned about this in some college course. The theory is, women were mostly gatherers. They gathered things from plant sources that were usually in the same place. Best way to find those things is via landmarks.

Men hunted. They hunted things that ran and roamed around. Best way to keep track of where you are is vector navigation.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535528)

You learned patriarchical gender roles in college? Must have been a private college...

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36536376)

Men are stronger than Women. Men have sharper eyesight than women. Men are larger than women.
Women have better hearing than men. Women live longer than men.
From these differences and the fossil record, it is inferred than men generally had/have more violent lives, leading to the selection of larger and stronger men.
Don't let you fucking ideology get mixed up with facts. You're stupidating us all.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534692)

Yeah, I wonder what that says about my brain, seeing as how I much prefer the "relative" ones but am not female.

Re:Sense of direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36542094)

It says that evolution hasn't completely obliterated the path back to women performing relative navigation well, which will certainly come in handy in case natural selection should ever begin to kill off the ones who don't.

Which is rather doubtful... but still.

Oblig. C.S. Lewis quote... (1)

SockPuppetOfTheWeek (1910282) | more than 3 years ago | (#36541804)

"Girls," said Edmund. "They never can carry a map in their heads."
"That's because our heads have something inside them," said Lucy.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

jcoy42 (412359) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534192)

Maybe at some point she had her nose broken, since that's where the compass is for humans. [blogspot.com] .

The book The Compass In Your Nose: And Other Astonishing Facts About Humans [amazon.com] is a fun read for all.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

DontLickJesus (1141027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534482)

Funny enough, I have a deviated septum and I can still do this just fine.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534474)

Apparently some road builders have problems too. In Buck County, Pa, Route 202 south and Route 611 north share the same bits of concrete for a few miles. (As an interesting aside, 202 north and 611 south do too...).

I believe that they both are running east/west at that point.

Re:Sense of direction (1)

rdebath (884132) | more than 3 years ago | (#36539080)

All this is actually rather simple; for people there are two main methods of navigating, call them the cartesian and graph.

The mechanics is easy, you have a rather effective giro-compass in your inner ear most of the time it works very well, but it's not attached to any particular absolute directions. To provide the base for this you have what could be described as "local knowledge" -- at some point/times you know which way is north because there's a sign that says 'to the north' or the sun is in the south or main other similar clues. Though some people never base it in this way, instead they give themselves a 'journey base' and their "north" is the direct route to the destination.

If you navigate by "graph" you're not really using the giro part; you're going to landmarks, you're taking left and right turns you're following the route. If it's used your giro is just giving you a feeling that you're headed in the right general direction.

If you're navigating by cartesian you're not really following the map until you get near the end of the journey, you're just heading off "thataway" for "this long" near the end of the journey you have to "recognise the area" and switch to the graph method so you don't "overshoot" or "miss the turning".

Both methods have problems but normally it all works very well with the known capabilities; there's no need for magnets.

So mama don't take my cryptochrome away... (2, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533624)

Damn it. I read "cryptochrome" and now I have the song Kodachrome [wikipedia.org] running through my head...

Re:So mama don't take my cryptochrome away... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36533718)

And thanks to you, so does everybody else who's read this far in the thread.

Well played, sir.

Re:So mama don't take my cryptochrome away... (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534038)

Nah....most of us barely read the summary, much less click the links.

Re:So mama don't take my cryptochrome away... (1)

jbengt (874751) | more than 3 years ago | (#36540978)

"Kodachrome" was a big hit the summer I worked in a GAF film processing plant. We had radios playing while we worked, and, of course, the GAF employees turned up the volume every time "Kodachrome" came on the radio (which seemed like it was at least once an hour). So I've had that song seriously stuck in my head before, and it's hard to get rid of, damn* you.

*It's actually a harmless little song, I just got sick of it through overexposure.

Things are looking north (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36533636)

I mean up

Re:Things are looking north (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36533918)

A common and very frustrating mistake to those of us who understand how maps work.

in related news (5, Funny)

demonbug (309515) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533686)

It turns out that breasts contain high concentrations of magnetic material.

Re:in related news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534174)

It turns out that breasts contain high concentrations of magnetic material.

That explains why I can't stop looking at them. My eyes must have an unusually high level of cryptochrome.

Re:in related news (1)

Ginger Unicorn (952287) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535990)

that's the joke [garage208.com]

Re:in related news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36536180)

the idea of human magnetoreception has remained largely unexplored since pioneering experiments by Robin Baker of the University of Manchester in the 1980s

Pioneeringly wrong.

Re:in related news (1)

kybred (795293) | more than 3 years ago | (#36538018)

It turns out that breasts contain high concentrations of magnetic material.

I guess that's why I'm attracted to them!

Haidinger's brush (2)

fremsley471 (792813) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533740)

Always amazed that so few people haven't been taught that you can see polarisation. It's so clear that it's visible in the large white space on this submission screen. AFAIK, we don't credit this further sense with any value. No surprise that little credence is given to any subtle magnetic influence.

Re:Haidinger's brush (2)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534122)

Polarization is really easy to see on the Internet.....all you have to do is say: Which is better, vi or emacs? You'll get a very polarized field almost instantly.

Re:Haidinger's brush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534292)

phfsha *AMATEUR*

Do you like to watch FoxNews or not?

Re:Haidinger's brush (2)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534642)

vi's been around longer than Fox News.
And it will be around long after it.

I was going to make a crack about it being a arcane tool of the elder gods from the time before history, but that's actually emacs.

Re:Haidinger's brush (1)

smbarbour (893880) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534616)

I, personally, am unable to perceive the Haidinger's Brush effect, which may be related to my poor night vision (in low light situations, I perceive an effect similar to the white noise static seen on televisions). In normal lighting, I have no apparent adverse conditions.

Re:Haidinger's brush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36535750)

The scribblies?

Any solid color surface since I was a kid.

Re:Haidinger's brush (1)

astar (203020) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534628)

I have run across this a few times. Here is something cute: the last time was some recent larouche organization research articles on multiple related phenomena. I guess you could search for "extended sensorium" there. If you are enough of a cartesian, you will have a lot of fun playing there.

Did you know that all the way back to Ben Franklin people have puzzled over audio sensations around Aurora. But we can at this point pretty much guarantee there are no air waves involved. But we can guarantee that the sounds are real, for some value of real.

Hah, I felt obliged to put in a link and found one I need to read. Try this:

www.larouchepac.com/files/SkyShields-ElectricMagneticSense_0.pdf

Re:Haidinger's brush (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36538118)

Always amazed that so few people haven't been taught that you can see polarisation.

I'm amazed, too. I never knew my eyes could do that until a few minutes ago.

And now that I do know that they can do this, and have been toying with it for a few minutes, I will henceforth be distracted by it forever.

Thanks, or something.

(Haidinger's brush [wikipedia.org] at Wikipedia, for the lazy.)

The "color" of north (3, Funny)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533856)

It has a faint tinge of purple, like when you put a magnet up to an old CRT and screw up the ion gun.

Re:The "color" of north (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36538196)

Sounds like "The Color of Magic" ... i know ... Terry P required comment ...

Hmm... (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36533976)

While it sounds like the evidence is quite strong that we have a known-magnetic-sensitive protein in our eyes, it seems likely that (if we use it at all) we do so in only a very subtle way.

The earth's magnetic field, the one that would be mostly likely to be relevant across evolutionary time, is a puny .3-.6 Gauss, depending on where you happen to be.

By comparison, an MRI will put a magnetic field of ~1-6 Tesla, depending on the system, across the subject being imaged. Even a boring HDD magnet(at it's surface, a magnet of such size will have its field strength drop to nearly nothing at even modest distances) can be good for more than a Tesla. Humans are exposed to such fields with reasonable frequency and don't seem to notice anything unusual. If our 'magnetic sense' were something clearly perceived, simply holding a rare-earth magnet against your closed eye should be a weird, disorienting experience. It doesn't seem to be.

Re:Hmm... (3, Funny)

slinches (1540051) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534160)

If our 'magnetic sense' were something clearly perceived, simply holding a rare-earth magnet against your closed eye should be a weird, disorienting experience. It doesn't seem to be.

That's because you can't sense a single magnet, the poles are too close together. You have to use two of those hard drive magnets, one on each side of the eye to notice it.

(Warning: Don't put strong magnets around remaining eye)

Re:Hmm... (2)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534200)

Great! Now I can't get this damn magnet off my eye. BASTARD!!!

Re:Hmm... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534382)

Don't forget flicker. We're immersed in pretty strong alternating 60 hz fields... almost everywhere. If the 60 hz magnetic fields interacted with eyes, then we should be able to see absolutely crazy interference patterns when looking at 60 hz TV screens.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36535182)

Dozing off to sleep while looking at a monitor, I have seen what looked like interference patterns. It looked like flicker and signal noise on certain parts of the screen (a still image). This was in a room with fluorescent lights, and a monitor operating at 60hz refresh.

The effect was probably my eyes wiggling slightly (as they do when falling asleep), and probably had nothing to do with actually seeing 60hz flicker... But, who knows.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36538468)

There are examples of humans being able to orient themselves based on the cardinal directions with no visible means:

"For example, in Pormpuraaw, a remote Aboriginal community in Australia, the indigenous languages don't use terms like "left" and "right." Instead, everything is talked about in terms of absolute cardinal
directions (north, south, east, west), which means you say things like, "There's an ant on your southwest leg." To say hello in Pormpuraaw, one asks, "Where are you going?", and an appropriate response might be, "A long way to the south-southwest. How about you?" If you don't know which way is which, you literally can't get past hello...
Differences in how people think about space don't end there. People rely on their spatial knowledge to build many other more complex or abstract representations including time, number, musical pitch, kinship relations, morality and emotions. So if Pormpuraawans think differently about space, do they also think differently about other things, like time? To find out, my colleague Alice Gaby and I traveled to Australia and gave Pormpuraawans sets of pictures that showed temporal progressions (for example, pictures of a man at different ages, or a crocodile growing, or a banana being eaten). Their job was to arrange the shuffled photos on the ground to show the correct temporal order. We tested each person in two separate sittings, each time facing in a different cardinal direction. When asked to do
this, English speakers arrange time from left to right. Hebrew speakers do it from right to left (because Hebrew is written from right to left). Pormpuraawans, we found, arranged time from east to west. That is, seated facing south, time went left to right. When facing north, right to left. When facing east, toward the body, and so on. Of course, we never told any of our participants which direction they faced. The Pormpuraawans not only knew that already, but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time."
        --Taken from The Wall Street Journal of July 24, 2010 from an article called "Lost in Translation"

Although I do not have the names on hand, there are other peoples who orient themselves similarly. This would seem to suggest at least the possibility for human sensing of magnetic fields.

Bad logic (1, Interesting)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534002)

There's some bad logic going on here:

* Flies need that protein for magnetic sensing.
* Humans have the protein.
* Therefore humans can do magnetic sensing.

Obviously humans also do photosynthesis:

* Plants need water for photosynthesis.
* Humans need water.
* Therefore humans do photosynthesis.

Re:Bad logic (0)

djdanlib (732853) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534244)

See, that's what I used to say, when I was accused of being a couch potato. I was actually being quite productive at a cellular level.

Re:Bad logic (1)

samriel (1456543) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534248)

That's not beautiful logic either. A better comparison:

-Plants have chlorophyll, which they use for photosynthesis.
-Humans do not have chlorophyll.
-Therefore humans cannot perform photosynthesis.

Re:Bad logic (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534442)

Humans DO do photosynthesis [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Bad logic (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535148)

That's not beautiful logic either.

Which is the whole point. It's another example of the same flawed logic, in an example where the flaw is very obvious.

Re:Bad logic (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534280)

Your logic is impeccable. Cryptochrome is also found in plants, so human magnetic sensors imply photosynthesis ability.

Everything checks out.

Re:Bad logic (1)

Uhyve (2143088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534488)

You've got to remember the step where they removed the Cryptochrome from its eyes, and the fly lost its ability to sense electromagnetic fields. So, we actually know that Cryptochrome has something to do with that ability, even if it doesn't actually prove anything about humans. It's just not a very apt analogy.

Re:Bad logic (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535100)

Yeah, and without water, plants cannot do photosynthesis. Indeed, the whole point of photosynthesis is to produce sugar from water and carbon dioxide.

Re:Bad logic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36535852)

That's your logic, not the logic in the article. Even the title says it's a human protein sensing the field, not humans.

Evolutionary uses of magnetic senses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534042)

The reason this ability has evolved is so we can find where we parked.

Men vrs Women (0)

TheRealQuestor (1750940) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534076)

I think men have more of these midichlorians then women do and that's why men can tell direction better than women :)

Ask a dude which way is North and most can tell you without much thought. Ask a woman the same question and they have to ask thier friends first.

that's what I'd like to think anyway

Re:Men vrs Women (0)

kryliss (72493) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534928)

Ask a woman the same question and they have to ask thier man first...........(I'm just kidding!!!! It was there and I had to say it... sorry!!)

Biochemical reactions? (1)

Taibhsear (1286214) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534166)

I'd be really interested in seeing the structure of these proteins and what possible biochemical reactions could be taking place in the eye that could affect our brain/perception. Perhaps it's a vestigial protein that we no longer actually use or maybe the relative amounts that we make aren't large enough to actually use the ability as smaller creatures do.

Viral Marketing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36534188)

This is viral marketing scheme that didn't take off until after X-Men First Class was released. - www.awkwardengineer.com [awkwardengineer.com]

Possible uses that Humans have for this protein? (3, Interesting)

Jstlook (1193309) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534298)

What uses do you think humans have for a protein like this? How does it present?

Some thoughts I had just sitting here:

1) Supplements instinct to seek higher ground (mountains are traditionally heavy metals, which will even distort gravity slightly).
2) Couldbe responsible for migranes in people that are exposed to high electrical fields. 3) Could possibly cause unexplained dizziness from time to time. 4) Could be responsible for the moving light fragments (phosphene) I see when my eyes are closed.

Why isn't it more noticeable? Perhaps in animals that demonstrate magnetic knowledge, the eyeball mass to body mass difference is significant compared to humans, so we can't readily discern what our eyes are telling us in this regard.

Re:Possible uses that Humans have for this protein (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535740)

It helps maintain circadian rhythms by detecting blue light. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CRY2#In_mammals [wikipedia.org] It just happens to, when excited by blue light, have the ability to effect the speed of other reactions, depending on the magnetic field. But humans don't seem to produce the proteins that participate in those other reactions, hence, no magnetovision.

Re:Possible uses that Humans have for this protein (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36536570)

"mountains are traditionally heavy metals, which will even distort gravity slightly"

Mountains are less dense than plains, which are less dense than ocean crust. Otherwise mountains would sink into the astenosphere. See https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Isostasy

Re:Possible uses that Humans have for this protein (1)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#36536764)

Some humans have a fully developed ability to consciously 'see' electromagnetic/etc energy fields around biological systems. I've seen flashes of auras before, but not all the time.

Many devotees of Scientism deny that the human body has energy fields that science doesn't know how to measure, but they do concede that magnetic fields are created by electrons in motion, and that nervous tissue communicates with electrical impulses. Electrons are in continuous motion in the human body, so that's a very complex magnetic field that's generated! All tissues have quantum field effects too...

The term is cognitive dissonance [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Possible uses that Humans have for this protein (4, Insightful)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 3 years ago | (#36536904)

Psst.. Your moron is showing.

That's why! (1)

Fishbulb (32296) | more than 3 years ago | (#36534996)

That's why heading south always feels like going downhill. I thought I was just a descendant of Treebeard. Ba room.

Re:That's why! (1)

bware (148533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36536174)

That's why heading south always feels like going downhill.

Well, for miles and miles around here, downhill is south.

Re:That's why! (1)

vegiVamp (518171) | more than 3 years ago | (#36539062)

And on the other side of the mountain, downhill is north. Your point?

Colour of Magic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36535038)

Terry Pratchett saw this coming a long time ago. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colour_of_magic

Nothing new. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36535752)

Dr. Robert Becker predicted this in his books. ("Cross Currents", and "The Body Electric").

He wrote about a research study using carrier pigeons. They placed a device that blocked magnetic fields, around the pigeon's head. The pigeon then lost its ability to find its way home.

He noted how even bacteria have evolved to use the Earth's magnetic field. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetotactic_bacteria

Is it such a stretch to say that ADVANCED life forms like Homo sapien have as well? Becker pointed this out, and predicted that humans most likely have a similar ability like carrier pigeons, located somewhere in the nasal or occular regions. He was right.

Like birds? (1)

Windwraith (932426) | more than 3 years ago | (#36535768)

Birds have been proven to be able to see magnetic fields by default, is this the same thing as birds?

Use It or Lose It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36535942)

It wouldn't surprise me to know that

1. All animals can detect magnetic fields.
2. Humans have ignored their magnetic sensors for so long that don't even realize they have them.
3. Some mutation or mutations have left us magnetically "blind".
4. A few people can still magnetically "see" to varying degrees.

dirty mind (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36536402)

this brings new meaning to protein shot.

dirty mind (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36536536)

this gives new meaning to protein shot

Ladies tell guys... (1)

leftie (667677) | more than 3 years ago | (#36536564)

..to use their eyes to look at a map, and see if they can sense what way is north now?

Do Australian Aborigines already do this? (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 3 years ago | (#36537150)

In studying linguistics, one of the examples we were given was that Australian languages don't generally have "left" or "right" but describe everything in cardinal directions. If I recall correctly, there were experiments done that found that Australian Aborigines could tell cardinal directions even inside a windowless room in an entire other hemisphere (i.e. Northern hemisphere) from their home. I don't recall if this particular ability was considered miraculous or simply neat, and of course we were interested in the linguistic aspects of the idea, not the actual "sensing North" part of it.

Maybe this is how they did it?

Re:Do Australian Aborigines already do this? (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 3 years ago | (#36537180)

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/linguafranca/stories/2010/3007980.htm [abc.net.au] has a reference to the linguistics details of what I was recalling poorly, with details more accurate than mine. And of course, Wikipedia has something about this too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuuk_Thaayorre_language [wikipedia.org]

Nothing about the indoors stuff though.

Re:Do Australian Aborigines already do this? (1)

Shompol (1690084) | more than 3 years ago | (#36538776)

Very intriguing. This still does not prove they can use magnetic field, though. Quite the opposite: if the culture/habit requires an aboriginal to constantly keep track of direction, he can simply keep track of all turns he made when entering the said windowless room. Normally, I always know my orientation inside a building relative to the streets outside. Of course, the rectangular shape of structures makes this skill pretty mundane. On the other hand, if any humans could sense magnetic field, aboriginals would probably be be among them.

Earlier species (1)

Mephesh (2106520) | more than 3 years ago | (#36537654)

There must a common ancestor between us and birds that developed the first magnetism sensitive protein. Hope someone does the study to pin point which gene was responsible and when it occurred.

I can sense north... (1)

ittybad (896498) | more than 3 years ago | (#36537716)

I and a few of my friends who have spent a large portion of our lives backpacking and doing other out-doorsie things can tell where north is sans compass just by feel. This is not looking at moss or the sun or the stars -- it is really sensing north. In a closed room we can do it with very high success rates. I can recall a story from ./ some time ago that had a fella who wore a belt with a vibrating magnet that always "pointed" north, and after wearing the belt for some time, he claimed that he could naturally sense north. I can't find the link. Perhaps someone else knows it.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?