There’s No Place Like Home, but Can You Find It? How I Use Magnetoreceptive Feelings and Symptoms to Orient Myself.
Starting in September 2007, I conducted a research project to determine if I have magnetoreceptive abilities, and, if so, to discover their nature. Beginning with the observation that I felt differently in different places, I did a systematic study of how and where I felt differently, and how various factors affected how I felt. The following summarizes my discoveries, broken down by topics:
My orientational abilities can be described as a “limited functionality GPS,” or LFGPS. This LFGPS allows me to determine if I am north or south of “magnetic home.” Magnetic home has been observed in Utah and North Carolina and extends northwest to southeast in the continental United States, at a ratio of 5.69 degrees longitude east / degree latitude south (on Jan 1, 2008). North of home I feel negative symptoms (i.e. depressed mood), south of home I feel positive symptoms (i.e. tics and involuntary body movements), and at home I have reduced or no symptoms. While I can sense if I’m north or south of home, I can’t reliably determine how far north or south I am.
I term the region north of home the “Negative Zone,” south of home the “Positive Zone,” and home the “Happy Zone.” I can reliably distinguish the transition between the Negative Zone and Happy Zone (the N-H transition) based on an intense psychological and motor reaction, which I term “the peak.” The peak is only about a meter north-south distance. I have a similar intense reaction at the transition between the Happy Zone and the Positive Zone (the H-P transition).
The LFGPS works best (i.e. I have a clear indication of which zone I’m in) when I look directly at the early afternoon sky (not the sun, but anywhere in the sky). I can experience the peak at night, but I can’t distinguish between the different zones. My LFGPS becomes completely suppressed when I’m blindfolded—I can’t feel the peak nor distinguish between the different zones.
The LFGPS doesn’t allow me to distinguish if I’m east or west of home. I have, however, observed peak reactions at about 6.6 degrees longitude west of the city I grew up in as a child (New Providence, NJ), at about 13.0 degrees west of this city (= 2 * 6.5 degrees), and at about 38.6 degrees longitude west of this city (~ 6 * 6.4 degrees). This data has led me to hypothesize that my body divides Earth’s 360 degrees of longitude into 56 Natural Time Zones (NTZ’s) of 6.43 degrees longitude, or 25.7 minutes of solar time, with the Prime Meridian passing through New Providence. The east-west peak measurements come out slightly west of predicted, although there is a wide spread (mean error = 0.11 degrees longitude west, std dev = 0.11, n = 11).
While the east-west (NTZ) transitions seem to be relatively fixed in space, with a clear geographical relationship to the city I grew up in, the north-south (N-H and H-P) transitions are constantly in flux, and show no clear dependence to my childhood home, nor to any geomagnetic model parameters. I have, however, found that the north-south transitions vary in a predictable manner based on three factors: bed angle, circadian rhythm, and seasonal effects.
Bed Angle Effects
The N-H transition (peak) moves north or south each day a varying amount of distance that is dependent on the compass angle in which my bed is oriented, which I term “bed angle.” This phenomenon, known as bed angle drift (BAD), shows a more predictable relationship to bed angle in Utah than in North Carolina. In Utah, the relationship seems to be a quasi-tangent function, with a period of 22.5 degrees of bed angle, and with a peak-to-peak amplitude of about 1 degree latitude. In North Carolina, unlike Utah, BAD is always north when bed angle is close to 45 degrees, and can be up to 0.85 degrees latitude per day.
The Happy Zone Width (HZW), or the north-south distance between the N-H transition and the H-P transition, is a quasi-Gaussian function of bed angle, with a peak near a 45 degree angle. In Utah, HZW varies from 0.02 degrees latitude near the cardinal bed angles (N-S and E-W) to 0.85 degrees latitude near a 45 degree bed angle. In North Carolina, HZW varies from 0.02 degrees latitude to 1.64 degrees latitude.
The effects of BAD can be reset by switching from a bed angle near a cardinal bed angle to a bed angle near 45 degrees, or vice-versa. This bed angle reset (BAR) takes two days. After the first night at the new bed angle, my LFGPS abilities become suppressed, and I can’t tell if I’m north or south of home. After the second night at the new bed angle, my LFGPS abilities return. The location of the peak after the BAR shows a high correlation to future BAD. Regression analysis indicates that about 1/3 of future BAD is associated with peak BAR latitude.
Regression analysis of BAR peak latitude indicates that secular change is about 1.8 km / south per week in Utah. Secular change in North Carolina is too small to be determined via regression analysis.
Circadian Rhythm Effects
The peak shifts north if I’m phase advanced (relative to solar day) compared to reference, and shifts south if I’m phase delayed compared to reference. This shift is not continuous but is based on a fixed interval of circadian rhythm change, which is between 20 and 30 minutes. Evidence for this comes from peak observations after the change to and from daylights savings time, and after a change in bedtime. The change in peak latitude per shift is about 0.29 degrees latitude when bed angle is near a cardinal bed angle, and about 0.35 degrees latitude when bed angle is near a 45 degree angle.
Reference, or ideal circadian rhythm is determined by feelings. I feel much better at ideal circadian rhythm than when I’m phase delayed or phase advanced. I’m calmer, with fewer tics and less shaking.
I observed seasonal effects in Wilmington, North Carolina (which is ~ 6.5 degrees latitude south of New Providence), but not in Salt Lake City, Utah (which is about the same latitude as New Providence). Seasonal effects show the following behavior:
- For both the winter solstice and the summer solstice changes, the peak always shifts north before the solstice, then returns south after the solstice.
- The first seasonal shift occurs when day length is approximately 25 minutes different from New Providence.
- Each subsequent shift north occurs at approximately 5 minutes difference in day length.
I compensated for seasonal effects by adjusting my bedtime later, causing a circadian phase delay and peak shift south. There’s evidence that the seasonal peak shift size is larger than the circadian rhythm shift size, although it’s not clear from the data exactly how much larger it is.
Need for Double-Blind Research
All my data is based, ultimately, on my subjective feelings and symptoms. Although I had few preconceived ideas about human magnetoreception when I began this project, and arrived at the above conclusions based on data, the lack of experimental blindness makes it impossible to rule out the placebo effect. For example, I almost always found the peak while driving alone to the location. Although at the beginning of the project I didn’t know where to find it, by the end I usually could predict its location.
Although my LFGPS ceases to function when I’m blindfolded, thus eliminating one kind of test, there are other double-blind tests that can be done. For example, I can be driven around in a bus with a retractable sunroof and with all windows darkened or covered. If I’m allowed to look directly at the early afternoon sky through the sunroof, my LFGPS will function but I’ll be blind to landscape details. Other tests, including lab tests, are possible. Any testing must be cognizant of the fact that my sleeping behavior needs to be experimentally controlled.
Download research paper by clicking here (PDF format, 1.44 MB).