HUMAN NAVIGATION AND THE SIXTH SENSE by R. Robin Baker

HUMAN NAVIGATION AND THE SIXTH SENSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Small ripples in the press were created a year or so ago with reports of University of Manchester biologist R. Robin Baker's finding of a magnetic sense in people. Blindfolded and transported with appropriate zigs and zags from home base, the subjects showed a surprising ability to orient themselves to their starting point. They were confounded, Baker avers, when wearing bar magnets or helmets with batteries and coils that created artificial magnetic fields. Predictably, the reports were followed by a round of skepticism; and as yet the findings have not been replicated. Now Baker has expanded the earlier reports into book length--describing the experiments in detail, reviewing earlier studies of animal and human navigation, and proclaiming that not only does a human magnetic sense exist, but males possess it to a higher degree than females. That hypothesis is defended in broad evolutionary terms: males are the explorers and defenders of terrain, while females stay close to home; males surpass females in judging spatial relations, reflecting male-female brain differences, etc. It could be so, but Baker's assertions don't make it so. The experiments--involving a few dozen high-school or college students at a few locales under a variety of conditions--are not sufficient to prove his case; and they leave a lot of loopholes: how good were the blindfolds, how familiar was the countryside, what about magnetic anomalies in the terrain covered--among others. Baker, moreover, admits to qualms about discussing a sense that no one has any consciousness of--and he even reports that his subjects, given a chance, were much happier using visual cues, sun, wind, or smells in order to orient themselves. Apparently no one has done any anatomical homework either--looking for a magnetic sense organ, say, in homing pigeons, or other species reputed to use magnetic sensors. (Baker does provide some interesting background material on ""non-industrial"" people: Polynesians, for example, use currents, wind and salinity--as well as horizon stars--in their long seafaring treks.) More propaganda than proper science, then, but perhaps the book will prompt a few experiments.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster