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No. 13: Winter 1981

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The Human Compass

In recent years, scientists have found magnetic material (magnetite) in birds, snails, porpoises, bacteria, and other animals. The utility of these biologically manufactured compasses is obvious. Humans, too, seem to have a magnetic sense, although no one has yet dissected the human head to search for magnetite crystals. Rather, the proof of a magnetic sense comes from direction-finding experiments by Robin R. Baker, in England.

In a series of tests involving many subjects, blindfolded humans have been taken far afield and then asked, while still blindfolded, to point "home" and north. The results were surprising. Sense of direction was not lost despite long journeys. Furthermore, tests after removal of the blindfolds showed a marked deterioration of the directionfinding ability. The attachment of magnets and simulated magnets to the subjects proved that the magnets upset di-rection-finding capabilities. The controls with brass "magnets" retained their magnetic sense.

(Baker, Robin R.; "A Sense of Magnetism," New Scientist, 87:844, 1980.)

Reference. To read more about the human navigation sense, see BHT18 in our Catalog: Biological Anomalies: Humans I. This book is described here.

From Science Frontiers #13, Winter 1981. � 1981-2000 William R. Corliss