A Sense of Direction – BBC Radio 4

From the BBC – Many animals can navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic field. Not humans, though. But might we have evolved the sense but forgotten how to access it? 40 years ago a British zoologist thought he had demonstrated a homing ability in humans. But his results failed to replicate in America and the research was largely discredited. But new evidence suggests that our brains can in fact detect changes in the magnetic field and may even be able to use it to navigate. Jolyon Jenkins investigates, and talks to a Pacific traditional seafarer who has learned to navigate vast distances across the ocean with no instruments, and who describes how, when all else fails, he has been able to access what he calls “the magic”. Is the magic still there for all of us, just waiting to be rediscovered?


Very interesting radio show, particularly for any outdoor educators. It explores animal and human ability to sense direction and evidence of magnetic sensitivity in the brains of animals and whether it is present in humans. Our brain can sense magnetic fields but this is reduced by radio signals. Whether this sensitivity allows some people to sense north is not yet proven. But anecdotal evidence suggests that they are but only in times of physical stress, ie when the cognitive function is compromised by fatigue or stress. This could be interesting to people doing extreme sports, or undergoing rigorous activity needing a sense of direction ie lost on an expedition. It also confirms that when lost we walk in circles.

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