Researcher finds possible evidence for a human sixth sense

29 Jun 2016

Could it be possible that humans have a sixth sense after all? A researcher who has dedicated his life to analysing how human’s interact with the planet’s magnetic field has suggested we might have the ability to detect it.

While our first reaction to hearing discussions about the sixth sense might make us think of the 1999 horror film about a child who could ‘see’ dead people, researcher Joe Kirschvink believes it does exist and that it intrinsically links us with the workings of the planet.

According to, Kirschvink recently spoke at a talk at the Royal Institute of Navigation at the University of London proclaiming that his life’s work to determine whether humans can detect and respond to the Earth’s magnetic field may not have been in vain.

Locked in a Faraday cage

Based on a series of, apparently, replicable experiments run by Kirschvink and his team from the California Institute of Technology, he said a series of volunteers showed noticeable changes in brainwaves while contained within a electromagnetically-controlled chamber known as a Faraday cage.

The enclosed space, just big enough to fit one person, is surrounded by a series of powered coils that keep the person inside free from influence by any electromagnetic influence, whether natural or artificially generated.

Each volunteer was connected to an EEG machine that measured their alpha brainwaves and was then locked in the dark cage with the research team manipulating the electromagnetic field within the cage.

Not unprecedented in nature

Kirschvink claimed that from his findings – which he said could be made available for scientific scrutiny – a measurable change in the alpha brainwaves of participants in the experiment suggested that humans are unknowingly reacting to changes in the planet’s magnetic field.

Adding further credence to his claim, he said that he conducted these experiments in two locations – the US and Japan – but has admitted that his sample size was too small to categorically prove the existence of this sixth sense, meaning a larger volunteer group will be needed to categorically prove its existence.

As for how this will go down with the wider scientific community, the potential for humans to detect the Earth’s magnetic field would not be without precedent given that we now know that some animals – such as birds and dogs – can sense it to their own advantage.

But how could humans detect it?

While one concept suggests that the Earth’s magnetic field triggers ‘quantum reactions’ in proteins known as cryptochromes found in affected animals, Kirschvink believes it’s more likely that we have billions of cells that act as compass needles in the body.

These receptor cells contain the magnetic iron mineral called magnetite and align themselves with the planet’s magnetic field.

“It’s part of our evolutionary history,” Kirschvink said in a recent interview with Science. “Magnetoreception may be the primal sense.”

Faraday cage image via Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock

Update 04/07/2016

This article has been amended to reflect that Faraday cages eliminate electromagnetic background noise, rather than magnetic fields.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic