Robins can literally see magnetic fields, but only if their vision is sharp

By Ed Yong | July 8, 2010 12:00 pm

Robin

Some birds can sense the Earth’s magnetic field and orientate themselves with the ease of a compass needle. This ability is a massive boon for migrating birds, keeping frequent flyers on the straight and narrow. But this incredible sense is closely tied to a more mundane one – vision. Thanks to special molecules in their retinas, birds like the European robins can literally see magnetic fields. The fields appear as patterns of light and shade, or even colour, superimposed onto what they normally see.

Katrin Stapput from Goethe University has shown that this ‘magnetoreception’ ability depends on a clear image from the right eye. If the eye is covered by a translucent frosted goggle, the birds become disorientated; if the left eye is covered, they can navigate just fine. So the robin’s vision acts as a gate for its magnetic sense. Darkness (or even murkiness) keeps the gate shut, but light opens it, allowing the internal compass to work.

The magnetic sense of birds was first discovered in robins in 1968, and its details have been teased out ever since. Years of careful research have told us that the ability depends on light and particularly on the right eye and the left half of the brain. The details still aren’t quite clear but, for now, the most likely explanation involves a molecule called cryptochrome. Cryptochrome is found in the light-sensitive cells of a bird’s retina and scientists think that it affects just how sensitive those cells are.

When cryptochrome is struck by blue light, it shifts into an active state where it has an unpaired electron – these particles normally waltz in pairs but here, they dance solo. The same thing happens in a companion molecule called FAD. Together, cryptochrome and FAD, both with unpaired electrons, are known as a “radical pair”. Magnetic fields act upon the unpaired electrons and govern how long it takes for the radical pair to revert back to their normal, inactive state. And because cryptochrome affects the sensitivity of a bird’s retina, so do magnetic fields.

The upshot is that magnetic fields put up a filter of light or dark patches over what a bird normally sees. These patches change as the bird turns and tilts its head, providing it with a visual compass made out of contrasting shades.

Bird_compass

To test the bounds of this ability, Stapput wanted to see what would happen if she blurred a robin’s vision. She outfitted her robins with somewhat unflattering goggles, with clear foil on one side and frosted foil on the other. Both allowed 70% of light to get through, but the frosted foil disrupted the clarity of the image.

The robins were kept in cages until they were ready to migrate and let loose in funnel-shaped cages lined with correction fluid. As they orientated themselves and changed course, they created scratches on the cage walls which told Stapput which direction they were heading in. These scratches revealed that with both eyes open, the robins flew straight north as they would normally do in the wild. If their left field of vision was frosted, they went the same way. But if their right eye was covered, they became disorientated, heading in completely random directions.

This experiment shows that the internal compass doesn’t just depend on light – birds also need to see a clear image with their right eye in order to find they way. After all, their magnetic sense only provides them with information that lies on top of the images they normally see. If that image is blurry, the magnetic sense is useless. To put it another way, driving with an excellent Satnav won’t do you much good if your windscreen is covered in frost.

But Stapput thinks that birds also need a sharp, focused image to separate the information from their visual and magnetic senses. Since both lie on top of each other, and both involve differences in light and shade, the potential for confusion is high. But thanks to lines and edges, the images that birds see tend to have sharp transitions between light and shade; by contrast, changes in magnetic fields are smooth and more gradual. So sharp changes in contrast are probably due to the boundaries of objects, but smoother changes are probably due to magnetic effects.

Stapput’s study certainly provides good support for the “radical pair” explanation, but it doesn’t rule out an alternative hypothesis. Some birds, such as pigeons, have small crystals of magnetite in their beaks. This iron-rich magnetic mineral could provide further clues about the surrounding magnetic fields, especially in darkness.

Reference: Current Biology http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2010.05.070

Image from Ernst Vikne and Theoretical and Computational Physics Group

More on magnetic senses:

Comments (68)

  1. Chris

    Oh that’s what a European robin looks like.

  2. z

    ‘Orientate’ is not a word.

    [Yes it is. Orientate and orient are both listed in the OED and MW; the former is the more common usage in the UK and the latter is more common in the US – Ed]

  3. Tori

    The time to research this could have better been spent determining the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow!

  4. brooks
  5. matt

    According to MW online, orientate is indeed a word, but only one definition is given, and it is not the same as the definition of orient.

    orientate
    Main Entry: ori·en·tate
    Pronunciation: ˈȯr-ē-ən-ˌtāt, -ˌen-
    Function: verb
    Inflected Form(s): ori·en·tat·ed; ori·en·tat·ing
    Date: 1848
    intransitive verb
    : to face or turn to the east
    transitive verb

    But mostly it just looks and sounds off to Americans.

  6. Thanks for this great summary. It is a fascinating reminder that the human conception of perception is a limited/specific one. Also a wonderful example of the amazing abilities of some of our cohabitants on Earth (proving that Evolution is not a ladder leading to humans at the peak).

  7. Anthony

    Tori:

    An African or European swallow?

  8. Jocular Pedant

    “Orientate” and “disorientated” are simply moronic. Constructing a word with additional unnecessary syllables is ALWAYS awkward, and is never the preferred usage, no matter what country you are from. “Oriented” and “disoriented” serve their purposes just fine. Additionally, this article could use some serious editing regarding spelling and grammar…

    Is this really the quality of material coming out of “Discover” at this point? Shameful.

  9. Jent

    when can we put these features into human eyes?

  10. hellblazer

    See this discussion if you want to check your bearings on “orient” vs. “orientate”…

  11. Allan Evans

    Pedant: Have a read of G. Deutscher’s “The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention” … extending words in the manner of “orientate” from “orient” is a very common pattern of language evolution.

  12. Reality

    I see the grammar police are out in full force.

  13. M

    God gave them this ability to test our faith.

  14. NB

    wow the comments barely have anything to do with any thing, its kinda sad :(

  15. Goodfrey

    Yeah, a fascinating article.

    The authors grammar doesn’t affect the validity of the article.

  16. jon

    Jocular Pedant: ‘“Orientate” and “disorientated” are simply moronic. Constructing a word with additional unnecessary syllables is ALWAYS awkward, and is never the preferred usage, no matter what country you are from. “Oriented” and “disoriented” serve their purposes just fine.’

    Assuming you’re American, may I ask if this standard of yours apply to the world “burgle”? It’s a valid word everywhere English is spoken, except in America where “burglarize” is preferred (a form that sounds very odd to those outside of America, believe me).

    According to your standard… “burglarize” is simply MORONIC, constructed with additional UNNECESSARY syllables, ALWAYS awkward and ISN’T the preferred usage (no matter the country!), because “burgle” serves its purpose JUST FINE.

    I’d be willing to guess not. Just shows there’s no point in arguing that one dialect is better than another, because it’s all subjective.

  17. Enough. Robins can literally see magnetic fields with their right eye, and some people are more interested in discussing the usage of orient vs. orientate. This is like standing with one’s back at a sunset in order to stare at one’s shoes.

    If people have issues with the grammar of this article, and I’m more than happy to admit that those exist *when valid*, email me. I will delete any further comments on this topic. Monty Python jokes are welcome though.

  18. Eleanor

    I want to know if those sexy specs affected the bird’s breeding chances… It’s bizarre to imagine what the bird actually sees.

    This whole topic is a fascinating one: I’ve just been diverted into looking up this paper from my undergrad days: http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/abstract/199/1/49 which showed that the orientation of black-cap migration is genetically determined. The meanies did a cross of southeastwards migrating birds with southwestwards migrating birds to give confused offspring that wanted to migrate south (and would have ended up in the Med if given the chance).

  19. Louis

    I’d be interested to know if these results have been replicated with other, more strongly migratory birds which migrate over longer distances. A quick Google suggests Garden Warblers have been shown to use Magnetic fields in migration. It seems odd to perform a study on a species such as the Robin, which throughout some of its range has a large sedentary population. Maybe somebody could try this on an unladen swallow and get the same results…

  20. Craig Stone

    Hi Ed,

    “This is like standing with one’s back at a sunset in order to stare at one’s shoes.”

    what make of shoe Ed? And whereabouts in the world is the sun setting?

    if you are talking new trainers and the sun is setting say, in Birmingham UK (a concrete jungle), then those shoes aren’t necessarily the weaker option…

  21. Alex

    How difficult would it be to get some cryptochrome molecules in *my* retinas?

  22. @19 – Silvereyes and garden warblers too apparently. Robins were the first…

    @21 Alex – Fantastically easy – they’re already there. Cryptochromes are found in animals and plants, and they’re in your eyes just as they are in a robin’s. The big question then, is why does cyptochrome allow a robin to sense magnetic fields without doing the same for us? This website has the answer (well, a possible answer).

    Our recent reports offer an intriguing answer. In sensing the earth’s magnetic field, cryptochrome relies on redox reactions, which exchange electrons between molecules. Such reactions are crucial for life, but can also be damaging. Antioxidants to keep them in check are produced and used naturally in the body and marketed commercially in pharmacology and as dietary supplements. For magnetoreception, cryptochrome requires small quantities of negatively charged molecular oxygen, superoxide (O2−). It is fortunate that only low doses are needed, because superoxide is toxic, despite being used elsewhere in the body for signaling. Humans have an extremely efficient antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, that keeps superoxide at a very low concentration level, apparently too low for human cryptochromes to use. It seems that somewhere in our evolutionary history we might have traded our magnetic sense for longevity.

  23. Parker

    So the question from an engineering standpoint then becomes: Are there any other redox reactions which would produce the same effect with Cryptochrome?

  24. Tim

    [Looking at the sunset] Is this the same biological compass that lobsters and sea turtles have? Based on the view of the blue sky, I could orient on north pretty easily, but this would seem more difficult in the diffused light underwater.

  25. Mike

    It strikes me as odd that only one eye is capable of this type of vision, and not both. Is it because only the right eye has enough Cryptochrome, or is only the left side of the brain able to process that kind of input?

    Any speculation as to what kind of advantage there would be to only seeing magnetic fields with one eye, as opposed to both? Maybe having a “plain” view out of the left eye helps the bird compare images and separate their visual and magnetic senses.

    Regardless, this is very, very cool.

  26. I love the aviator’s goggles on the bird. He looks just like a WWI flying ace. Who has been shot down, captured and humiliated.

    HJ

  27. @ Tim – Lobsters and sea turtles do indeed have a magnetic sense, but to my knowledge, we only know that they have it, rather than how it works. Magnetoreception has been most thoroughly studied in birds, by some way.

    @ Mike – I suspect that you nailed it here: “Any speculation as to what kind of advantage there would be to only seeing magnetic fields with one eye, as opposed to both? Maybe having a “plain” view out of the left eye helps the bird compare images and separate their visual and magnetic senses.”

    Everyone – there’s a really good primer on this topic in Nature, for those with access: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v464/n7292/full/4641140a.html

  28. Peter Cottontail

    Vision, just another one of lifes mundane senses…

    [Yeah okay, I’ll accept that one. Perhaps “everyday” rather than “mundane”. Apologies to fans of vision – Ed]

  29. How much light do birds need for this to work? European Robins and most small passerines are nocturnal migrants.

  30. @31 – Julie, this is where the *other* magnetic-sense mechanism comes into play. See last paragraph – they have alternative tech in their beaks for hours of darkness.

  31. rick

    Something seems wrong with the sharpness assumption. Would birds do as humans to and favor one eye over another if the other is hindered. In human sight a burred vision eye will be disfavored.

    I was thinking a blurred eye is just not being processed if the other is fine. The real test would be to only slightly blur both eyes perhaps?

    I’m no scientist!

  32. i really enjoyed your post, its very intresting to know these animals can see these frequency… and specially when you mention the bluelight crossing those particles creating its magic!
    Keep the work up , thanks for the info!

    Now, someone must develop this cryptomolecule for persons.. cause im sure i have none of that orientation sensor in my brain hehe.

  33. Are there other examples in animals of one eye having a capability that the other eye doesn’t?

  34. Al

    I had no idea they could actually SEE the magnetic field. That is just too cool for words. I wonder how many other critters have this ability and we just haven’t realised it yet. Perhaps we are in the minority.

  35. Alsee

    “Humans have an extremely efficient antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, that keeps superoxide at a very low concentration level, apparently too low for human cryptochromes to use. It seems that somewhere in our evolutionary history we might have traded our magnetic sense for longevity.”

    That suggests a reduction or inhibition of superoxide dismutase might be all it takes to activate magnetic vision in humans. A quick search revealed that mice engineered to knock out this gene die within days of birth due to massive oxidative stress, which would presumably also kill any human infant born with an equivalent mutation. However it does still leave open the possibility that some people have been born with mutations that merely reduce the effectiveness of superoxide dismutase rather than knocking it out completely. Such people would suffer from a number of negative health effects but it seems plausible that they might be able to see magnetic fields. If it only occurs in severely ill children with short lifespans it seems very possible this extraordinary vision ability has been overlooked. Such children would have no idea that normal people lack their special magnetic vision ability. They would have little or no ability to explain it to adults around them. Those adults would likely be dismissive of any inexplicable behavior or comments by such children relating to this vision ability. Children who see “invisible things” simply have active imaginations.

    It’s just a wild speculation, but an intriguing one.

  36. jdmimic

    Awesome! I’ve read about several studies concerning how birds sense magnetic fields, but I’ve never run across anything that even hinted at actually being able to see them. This is very intriguing stuff.

    I know Ed has called an end to this, but I just wanted to say that “orient” versus “orientate” has nothing to do with American or British. I’m American, I hear both all the time and I’ve never heard anyone voice a problem with either version.

  37. R. McC

    This is very cool, if maybe slightly disappointing that another sense is merely wrapped into one of the conventional ones we already know about. It takes away a bit of the mystery.

    And though Ed has called in the dogs, I did find the extra syllables very distracting in an otherwise good article. Delete this comment if you wish. My reason for writing it is not to get my name in print, but to encourage an improvement which would make reading this more enjoyable for me, and obviously others as well. Telling people to stop pointing out it’s distracting doesn’t make it less so.

    Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to take the aluminuminum foil off my bananana pudding and have lunch. ;-)

    Rob

  38. @36 Alsee – Awesome comment. Really good. Much food for thought.

    @38 – Right, I’m allowing this but it really is my last word on the topic. Hellblazer (@10) has a link that nails the non-issue. Telling me that one form is more distracting than the other is like me saying that my hackles are raised whenever I read “color” rather than “colour”.

  39. jt

    “It seems that somewhere in our evolutionary history we might have traded our magnetic sense for longevity.”
    Do non-migratory birds generally have longer life spans than migratory birds by any chance?

  40. Dudley Brooks

    How does the retina produce a distinct band of illumination, as shown in the photos? Surely the field is not “focused” by the lens. If all the molecules in the retina were similarly oriented, I would think that they would all experience the same degree of stimulation, all changing by the same amount as the bird changed direction — overall bright in one direction, overall dim in another. Or if the retina had bands (or other patterns) of molecules with different orientations, changing orientation would change the brightness of different parts of the pattern. But how can a stimulus be produced that looks like an “image” of an exterior “object”?

  41. John D

    Julie with comment #30 hit the biggest question, and I am not sure it has a complete answer. It was my impression that MANY birds migrate mostly at night, when cryptochrome would be of no use. True, it was stated that “Some birds, such as pigeons, have small crystals of magnetite in their beaks. This iron-rich magnetic mineral could provide further clues about the surrounding magnetic fields, especially in darkness.” Evidently, as usual, there is more work to be done. BUT, the article is absolutely fascinating!

  42. Wow – had no clue that was even possible. Thanks for explaining it in such an easy-to-understand manner.

    Seems like “magic”.

    And makes me wonder if the left eye has some as-yet-unknown special skill… lol.

  43. magetoo

    If all the molecules in the retina were similarly oriented, I would think that they would all experience the same degree of stimulation

    Well, an eye is a three-dimensional structure after all. All you need is for the retina to stick to the eyeball, which as far as I know it does; and for the cryptochrome molecules to be oriented relative to the retina and not something else. (Why on earth would they be similarly oriented? Do you mean that they’d align to an external magnetic field?)

    And from one of the links in the post:

    […] it is likely that cryptochrome is distributed similarly to photoreceptor cells perpendicularly to the retina. The cryptochromes are unlikely perfectly aligned, even if bound to the ordered membrane structures found in the outer segments of rod-shaped photoreceptors.

    Or that seems to be the theory at least.

  44. Josh

    Did this research give any consideration to the possibility, or an indication thereof, that the “mundane” imagery generated in the left eye serves a complementary purpose? This kind of sensory lateral asymmetry is very fascinating, and rare in nature. In fact I’m not aware of any instance (although I am hardly an expert) in which reverse-sidedness in a sensory organ does not occur in a minority of the population. For this magnetic imaging ability to be built into birds’ left brains and right eyes, and only their left brains and right eyes, is very remarkable and could have ramifications for our understanding of sidedness in evolution.

  45. neurosine

    I had a friend from Britain who used the word orientated. I corrected him and he politely deferred to my judgement. I later learned that the use of orientate is common even here in Australia. Adhering too strongly to your preconceived notions can make you become an imbecile.
    He probably assumed that it would be pointless to argue with an arrogant American.
    I have apologized to him since. Lesson learned.

  46. Dan

    The birds are not seeing the magnetic field. They are seeing the effect of the magnetic field on light. This is like saying we can see magnetic fields because iron filings are aligned in one.

    In fact, it’s impossible to “see” a magnetic field, as it does not emit energy of any kind.

  47. “In fact, it’s impossible to “see” a magnetic field, as it does not emit energy of any kind.”

    Yes it does if you are an electrical charge or a conductor moving through it.

    Obviously it does because you can do work with it – either generating electrical current, or using power from the electrical current to move things.

    It might not radiate energy out into space, but the robin is an electrically charged object actually inside the field. So from the robin’s POV it emits energy.

  48. Alex

    “The birds are not seeing the magnetic field. They are seeing the effect of the magnetic field on light. This is like saying we can see magnetic fields because iron filings are aligned in one.”

    They are not seeing the effect of the magnetic field on light, they are seeing the magnetic field’s effect on certain molecules in their eyes. And if this is not “seeing,” then we don’t “see” light. We just see the effect of it on our eyes…

  49. RossM

    So. Robins always look on the bright side of life.

  50. Sweet! It turns out, humans can see sound (…check it out: mycolormusic.com). What a crazy world we live in.

  51. Jimbo

    Is it possible that the ability to detect a magnetic field is a combination of the magnetite in some bird’s beaks, and the cryptochrome in their eyes? That is, the beak with iron in it, and the bird moving through the magnetic field in space, generates a dynamic effect that the eye can detect?

    I wonder if it has been determined whether birds can detect a magnetic field when they aren’t moving? If movement is required, a combined effect seems more likely.

    Also wonder if magnetite could be removed from beaks without chopping of the critters’ beaks.

    This is fascinating! Maybe this will lead to a better understanding of how magnetism actually works. Because we don’t really know that yet. Any more than we do inertia and gravity. Though some quantum/string theorists would disagree with me.

    Excellent article. Thanks!

  52. Simon

    To say that robins don’t see magnetic fields, but instead see the effect of the magnetic field on light may be technically correct, but we could also say that humans don’t see colours, they see the effect of lights on objects. Again this is true, but pedantic, and a bit pointless.

    Of course some would argue that humans don’t see colours, but do see colors….

  53. OurSally

    Robins are my favourite birds; they always look so perky and now I know why. I hope she found a way to remove the little goggles later?

  54. dv

    And what about the effect of electromagnetic pollution on all this? Once one is acquainted with this exquisite apparatus, how can one go one participating in its disruption by participating or acquiescing in the wireless
    mania (cell phones & base stations, etc) set loose on a cryptochromatic world?

  55. Avian Rehab

    This is a fascinating study with serious implications regarding the releaseability of injured avian wildlife in the rehabilitation setting.

  56. hahahaha

    Good article, great comments. I especially liked the “when will this be available to humans” comment. Can you imagine how distracting it would be to visualize all magnetic fields? Walking on a sidewalk would be very tricky. Functioning altogether would be tricky if the ability to see magnetic fields were acquired after living with typical human vision for any time period. I fail to see how being able to see magnetic fields would help one, say, I don’t know, contribute to the progress of the human race. Translating all animal brain waves to a human abstraction like language would be an amazing feat. We could finally see if birds have any spiteful motivation for shitting on us.

  57. I don’t think that the conclusion follows logically from the results of the study. The experiment involved using lined paper in the cage that held the birds. Frosted foil over the right eye made the birds disoriented, but frosted foil over the left eye had no effect. The authors attribute the disorientation to the birds inability to see the lines in the cage. But birds are normally oriented in unlined cages, as the authors mention in the paper. So birds don’t need to see lines in the cage to be normally oriented. Also, when the frosted foil covered the right eye, a clear foil covered the left eye. So they could see the lines with the left eye. To prove their point that image formation is necessary for magnetoreception, the authors should repeat the experiment with an unlined cage. If the frosted foil over the right eye makes the birds disoriented with an unlined cage, then they can’t conclude anything about image formation.

  58. Nonya Beesnest

    Robins don’t need the magnetic resonance imaging during the nighttime darkness. They use the northern lights… and alternatively the southern lights in the southern hemisphere.

    Now there’s an example of being able to see magnetic fields! The collision of solar energy against the atmospheric gases can enable any person to “see” what the robins can “see”.

    And I’m sure with all the EMF humans are creating, those birds have one hell of a time migrating. Quite possibly this occurs with other animals too, like with whales and their migration being affected by navy ship and sub sonar.

    Curiously, I never see birds around cell phone, radio or television towers.

  59. I know I’m a little late in replying considering when the article was posted.

    #36 prompted my thoughts on this. Could there be a link between Synesthesia and levels of superoxide dismutase, specifically with regard to sound → color synesthesia?

    Great read, Ed!

  60. Brian Too

    I heard a few years back that some migratory birds can hear very low frequency sound. The idea was that they could navigate using environmental sound cues, particularly the sound of wind passing over or through obstacles. I believe the term was ‘infrasound’.

    I know that people can feel very low frequency sound if it is strong enough. You don’t hear it but you can feel it. Would hearing infrasound be overlaid upon a bird’s regular hearing or would it be like the human experience, feeling it in your chest? Or would it just be an extended range hearing experience, like a super-wideband receiver?

    Any news on that front?

  61. Melissa

    Ok, so help me out here…I’ve been able to see something around bodies and objects (don’t think furry animals…too much fuzz) that I always knew wasn’t an aura and so assumed it was an emf. For instance when I look at my fingers I just have to look closely at the outside edge and I can see a thin thin outline- thinner than a hair and greyish/blue. I expected it was something everyone saw and called an illusion, except when I bring my fingers near each other or just focus on it those lines act like lightning between my fingers or an object. It’s that faint tingling sensation you feel when you are a couple inches away from something…not QUITE touching… So I can also sometimes see it in the air, kind of scattery, like snowy image on tv…but less so and always faint.
    Promise I’m not crazy. I noticed it when I was 12, I’m 28 now with a husband and kids and I’d rather this didn’t mean I exchanged my longevity for seeing magnetic fields.
    Anyone know what it could be that I can see???? PLEASE????????????

  62. vivzizi

    hmm.

    if the trait is hereditary it means it could also appear in other animals as a recessive trait -even those distant on the evolutionary tree.

    it could also appear in other animals as a spontaneous mutation.

    this means there could be a reasonable method by which even humans could sense magnetic feilds.

    It might be a possible method that so called “aura field seers” could be seeing electrostatic or magnetic fields around people and places.

    It would be interesting to find the gene that codes for this ability in birds or other animals.

    vivzizi

  63. Mikhael N

    I know that migrating bird fallow the magnent fields because because I’ve been watching the birds follow them ever since I was little. As I got older I realized that what I what seeing was the earth’s magnetic fields. I would try to explain what the magnetic fields look like but its hard to descirbe it all I can is that it looks kind of like water. When I’m lost in a large store I can use the magnetic fields around me so I can sense my relative or friends magnetic field and head in that direction, and I always seem to find them. I’ve also seen when a solar flare hits the magnetic field of the earth that it makes it goes crazy until it goes away.

  64. Peter

    It would appear that the birds actually invented the navigational head-up display (HUD).

    [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head-up_display] for more about the HUD.

    Also, I wonder if the superoxide dismutase (or bird equivalent) is locally inhibited in the eye. This would reduce the negative impact on the lifespan of the bird, yet still allow the magnetic vision.

  65. Vi Sitor

    @Melissa #62

    The fringes of color you see around the edges of objects (and especially when you look through a small opening like pinched fingers) are the result of light diffracting (bending) around the object. Everyone with sufficient eyesight can see these fringes, but it’s just one of those little bits of perception only acknowledged by artists, scientists, and children who haven’t been told it’s silly to pay attention to such things.

    Your faint snowy perception is most likely something called “blue field entoptic phenomenon” and is a sign of healthy retinas. The little specks of light that dance about even when your eyes are motionless are actually the afterimages of white blood cells passing through your retinal blood vessels.

    As for the tingling sensation, it’s possible that you’re feeling electric (not EM) fields. I think a more likely explanation, though, is that it’s an illusion caused by your brain waffling on the questions of self/non-self and actual touch/anticipated touch.

    Bravo for paying closer attention to the world than most people. You haven’t discovered any superhuman abilities, but you have discovered the benefits of quiet contemplation and childlike wonder.

  66. Orientate actually is recorded before orient, acc. to the OED.

  67. Michael C Grant

    The article is really very interesting, and the debate over the language (which we are lead to understand is an evolutionary experience also) does not detract from the amazing discovery of biological evolutionary processes at work here. I have long been fascinated by the laterality of the human brain. Simply, left brain is linear logical, right brain creative and imaginative, in humans. Darwin was interested in facial expression, which is essential to distinguish between a smile and a menacing grin, for survival. Work on this laterality concludes the brain works faster, rather than transmitting between the two halves, one side takes responsibility for the decision. So to find work on the Robin’s demonstrating this sophisticated laterality really absorbed my interest. Thank you, a great contribution and simply put. I must research more on the electron pairs.

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