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Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

人类有磁感吗?生物学家知道其他动物有。他们认为这有助于蜜蜂、乌龟和鸟类等生物在世界迁徙。

Scientists have tried to investigate whether humans belong on the list of magnetically sensitive organisms. For decades, there’s been a back-and-forth between positive reports and failures to demonstrate the trait in people, with seemingly endless controversy.

科学家们试图调查人类是否属于磁敏感生物。几十年来,在正面报道和未能在人们身上体现出这种特质之间,一直存在着一种反反复复的关系,争议似乎永无止境。



Over the past 50 years or so, scientists have shown that hundreds of organisms in nearly all branches of the bacterial, protist and animal kingdoms have the ability to detect and respond to this geomagnetic field. In some animals – such as honey bees – the geomagnetic behavioral responses are as strong as the responses to light, odor or touch.

在过去50年左右的时间里,科学家们已经证明,在细菌、原生生物和动物王国的几乎所有分支中,都有数百种生物体有能力探测到这种地磁场,并对其做出反应。在某些动物中,如蜜蜂,地磁行为反应与对光、气味或触摸的反应一样强烈。

Biologists have identified strong responses in vertebrates ranging from fish, amphibians, reptiles, numerous birds and a diverse variety of mammals including whales, rodents, bats, cows and dogs – the last of which can be trained to find a hidden bar magnet. In all of these cases, the animals are using the geomagnetic field as components of their homing and navigation abilities, along with other cues like sight, smell and hearing.

生物学家已经在脊椎动物身上发现了强烈的反应,包括鱼类、两栖动物、爬行动物、许多鸟类,以及各种各样的哺乳动物,包括鲸鱼、啮齿动物、蝙蝠、奶牛和狗——最后一种动物可以通过训练来寻找隐藏的条形磁铁。在所有这些情况下,这些动物都在利用地磁场作为它们的归航和导航能力的组成部分,同时也利用视觉、嗅觉和听觉等其他线索。



In normal life, when someone rotates their head – say, nodding up and down or turning the head from left to right – the direction of the geomagnetic field (which remains constant in space) will shift relative to their skull. This is no surprise to the subject’s brain, as it directed the muscles to move the head in the appropriate fashion in the first place.
In our experimental chamber, we can move the magnetic field silently relative to the brain, but without the brain having initiated any signal to move the head.

在正常的生活中,当一个人转动他的头部时——比如,上下点头或者从左到右转动头部——地磁场的方向(在空间中保持不变)将相对于他的头骨发生改变。这对受试者的大脑来说并不奇怪,因为它首先引导肌肉以适当的方式移动头部。
在我们的实验室内,我们可以相对于大脑无声地移动磁场,但大脑没有发出任何移动头部的信号。

This is comparable to situations when your head or trunk is passively rotated by somebody else, or when you’re a passenger in a vehicle which rotates. In those cases, though, your body will still register vestibular signals about its position in space, along with the magnetic field changes – in contrast, our experimental stimulation was only a magnetic field shift. When we shifted the magnetic field in the chamber, our participants did not experience any obvious feelings.

这与你的头部或身体被动地被别人转动,或者你是一辆旋转汽车里的乘客时的情况类似。然而,在这些情况下,你的身体仍然会随着磁场的变化,记录下前庭在空间中位置的信号——相比之下,我们的实验刺激只是磁场的变化。当我们改变房间里的磁场时,我们的参与者没有任何明显的感觉。

The EEG data, on the other hand, revealed that certain magnetic field rotations could trigger strong and reproducible brain responses. One EEG pattern known from existing research, called alpha-ERD (event-related desynchronization), typically shows up when a person suddenly detects and processes a sensory stimulus. The brains were “concerned” with the unexpected change in the magnetic field direction, and this triggered the alpha-wave reduction. That we saw such alpha-ERD patterns in response to simple magnetic rotations is powerful evidence for human magnetoreception.

另一方面,脑电图数据显示,特定的磁场旋转可以触发强烈的、可重复的大脑反应。
现有研究中已知的一种脑电图模式称为阿尔法-ERD(事件相关的去同步化),通常出现在一个人突然发现并处理一种感官刺激时。大脑“关注”磁场方向的意外变化,这触发了阿尔法波的减弱。我们在简单的磁旋转反应中看到了这种阿尔法是—ERD模式,这是人类磁接收的有力证据。



Moreover, our series of experiments show that the receptor mechanism – the biological magnetometer in human beings – is not electrical induction, and can tell north from south. This latter feature rules out completely the so-called “quantum compass” or “cryptochrome” mechanism which is popular these days in the animal literature on magnetoreception. Our results are consistent only with functional magnetoreceptor cells based on the biological magnetite hypothesis. Note that a magnetite-based system can also explain all of the behavioral effects in birds that promoted the rise of the quantum compass hypothesis.

此外,我们的一系列实验表明,受体机制——人体的生物磁力仪——不是电磁感应,可以区分南北。后一种特性完全排除了所谓的“量子罗盘”或“隐花色素”机制,这种机制目前在有关磁接收的动物文献中很流行。我们的结果仅与基于生物磁铁矿假说的功能性磁受体细胞相一致。请注意,一个基于磁铁矿的系统也可以解释鸟类的所有行为效应,它们促进了量子罗盘假说的兴起。



A human response to Earth-strength magnetic fields might seem surprising. But given the evidence for magnetic sensation in our animal ancestors, it might be more surprising if humans had completely lost every last piece of the system. Thus far, we’ve found evidence that people have working magnetic sensors sending signals to the brain – a previously unknown sensory ability in the subconscious human mind. The full extent of our magnetic inheritance remains to be discovered.

人类对地球磁场的反应似乎令人惊讶。但是,考虑到我们的动物祖先有磁感应的证据,如果人类已经完全失去了系统的每一部分,这可能会更令人惊讶。到目前为止,我们已经发现有证据表明,人们使用磁性传感器向大脑发送信号,这是人类潜意识中一种以前未知的感觉能力。我们磁性遗传的全部内容仍有待发现。