Hanne S. Finstad, Scientist Factory.
When we hear about a sixth sense, it usually has to do with either past lives or clairvoyance. I would never want to ridicule people who have these experiences. Still, I sometimes think it’s strange that unproven supernatural phenomena get so much media attention when there is a real and scientifically documented sixth sense. Many animals have a magnetic sixth sense that lets them feel the earth’s magnetic field.
I first heard about this sense in 1999. Scientists from New Zealand showed that the rainbow trout has a magnetic sensory organ in its nose. The cells that compose this organ have tiny magnetic particles that sense magnetism and send signals to the brain with information about magnetic fields via neurons. This incredible sense has many practical applications. For example, it makes it easier for the trout to get back to a good feeding spot. The scientists used a magnetic microscope and found that the magnetic particles inside the cells hung together in long chains. They were polarized just like ordinary magnets, with positive and negative poles.
I’ve kept a folder in my archive about this topic ever since I first heard about it in 1999. The folder was pretty empty initially but gradually grew over the following years at an increasing pace. Eventually, articles about a magnetic sixth sense appeared in some of the world’s leading science journals, such as Nature and Science.
In a few years, I read about how this fantastic sense helped everything from sea turtles, lobsters, and pigeons navigate. Even animals that are real homebodies have this sixth sense. Laboratory experiments showed that chickens, flies, insects, and many other animals could feel the earth’s magnetic fields. Even cows appear to be affected.
When we study vision and hearing, all we have to do is look to the eyes and ears. But magnetic fields penetrate the entire body. Therefore, we don’t yet know how the body detects magnetic fields or where the sense organ is. The evidence suggests that magnetic crystals like the ones found in the rainbow trout have something to do with it. These crystals can form inside living organisms, and they would arrange themselves following Earth’s magnetic field inside the body, which could be detected by nerve cells. Birds have these crystals in their beaks. Some researchers hypothesize that birds can also see magnetic fields through their eyes. The field would look like a shadow on top of everything else the bird perceives. Crystals are not responsible for this magnetism. The electrons of a molecule inside the eye are affected by magnetic fields.
Nobody knows if humans have a magnetic sixth sense. Scientists speculate that we might be subconsciously using magnetic particles as aides to sense our complicated surroundings. Such a sense could explain why Polynesian navigators find the right direction in the open sea when there are no sun, moon, or stars by which to navigate.
I hope you found this article interesting. Perhaps our selection of magnetic building toys will interest you.