Work, magnetosense, and character

Work. A violin and cello duo at the 42nd st. station absolutely tore up the Rihanna classic “Work”. Found via @theferocity.


Maybe the magnetite found me/the sense field of magnetism. There’s pretty strong evidence that animals can sense magnetic fields. Some rely on it for navigation. And not just birds.

“…flieshoneybeesants and termitessnailsnewtsvarious fishfrogssea turtleslobsterspigeonsmicebatsmole ratsfoxescattle and deer all have a magnetosense.”

There’s mounting evidence and a fascinating history to the research around whether that same sense exists in some form in humans. You can read more in this great essay, Human Magnetism.

If you follow the narrative traced in this article, there was a pocket of good experimental evidence for that from the late 70’s through the late 80’s that was extremely compelling but resisted efforts at repeatability for a good long while. That and the inability to get financial backing for further experiments (it seemed like a pretty far out topic after all) stalled out exploration quite a bit. But just in the last several years, DARPA has supported new experimental approaches that confirmed the human brain’s reactivity to magnetic field changes.

“‘The alpha wave is the thing to look at in the brain – it’s the resting state. It monitors the senses. If a signal comes in, this alpha-wave hum sharply drops. That was the huge discovery.’ (-Joe Kirschvink, lead researcher) The magnetic field was the only signal the participants’ brains could be responding to – they were sensing it.

This new evidence for a human magnetosensory capacity implies that our early primate ancestors and even hunter-gatherers, our relatively more recent descendants, had access to magnetoreception because they needed it for survival. But if we had this mechanism so long ago, can we still use it or has it been phased out in antiquity?”

As a side note, one of the stepping stones in this story was figuring out what organ is the seat of magnetosensing in animals and humans. All the other senses we have tend to reside somewhere in the body. The search for what makes magnetosense work brought researchers like Joe Kirschvink to a magnetic iron ore called magnetite, which can be found in the kinds of creatures that react to magnetism, from bacteria to bees to…yep, human brains. Kirschvink confirmed that you can find magnetite in human brain samples by 1992.

When I came across the first mention of magnetite in this article, my own brain lit up. When I was a kid up to my early teenage years, as part our vacation car trips my parents took us to pan for gold in Northwestern Maine, on the Swift River. In the shovelsful of riverside dirt, we’d find the occasional fleck of gold, but we also found a bunch of magnetite. I hadn’t really thought about that stuff until I came across this article. Maybe I was drawn to it.

I found this article through Twitter friend who recently finished a book on the subject of magnets that seems like it’ll address some of this area of study and much more. It’s coming out in mid-September. It’s a part of a really great series of books called Object Lessons, which are extended and deeply researched essays on particular topics of everyday interest. The authors and their unique perspectives are always well-chosen. The book is called Magnet, by Eva Barbarossa. Please consider buying it direct from Bloomsbury or putting an order in at your local indie bookstore. Here’s a tool that may help with that. Consider this mode of purchase for many reasons, some of which Lucy Bellwood beautifully lays out here.

And do check out that essay on human magnetosensing.


Christopher McQuarrie’s method. I’m not sure if this was an answer given during a twitter film chat or just a random tweet, but it crossed my timeline somehow and caught my eye. It’s a rare glimpse into a master screenwriter’s technique. McQuarrie wrote one of my favorite low key action movies, The Way Of The Gun, which is also one of James Caan’s most enjoyable late career performances. This answer is simple, direct, and straightforward, and leaves you with something concrete to think about.

I’m turning it over again and again as I think about narrative podcast pacing and how to pick just the right moments and how to go from node to node on the path. He follows it up in the thread, too:


Bonus banana: The history of Soviet arcade games is fascinating, and very different from the same in the US. Check out this snippet: “The main producers of Soviet arcade machines were military factories, because they had funds and the skills to produce them, usually using leftover parts from real weapons, electronics and redundant pieces of industrial equipment.”

These are the bananas I found for you this week. If you like these, forward the email along to someone who might be in to it too. That’ll help us grow.

You can hit “reply” and drop me a note, and it’ll go only to me.

Thank you.