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Rob Sheldon: Migrating birds’ mysterious quantum sense is “spooky”

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Birds like the European robin pack a $10,000 lock-in amplifier into a 2 micron cell:

Earlier this year, the night-migratory European robin (Erithacus rubecola) made the headlines. Evidence has emerged that it may be using quantum mechanical effects to sense Earth’s magnetic field in order to migrate. Few expected to find quantum mechanical manipulation in the eye of a bird. Zoologist Eric Warrant, who was not involved in the research, says, that magnetic direction sensing is “the last sense we know, effectually, nothing about.” But this mysterious intelligence appears essential to migration, and hence, to the survival of many birds. So how, exactly, do they do it?

News, “Physicist: Migrating birds’ mysterious quantum sense is “spooky”” at Mind Matters News

Experimental physicist Rob Sheldon notes,

Magnetic effects are so small, the molecule needs to be in a very fragile “excited” state to sense the magnetic field. It is thought that the “cytochrome” molecule gets excited by blue light, and in the excited state, magnetic fields preferentially cause it to de-excite in a certain direction.

They tested this in the lab, by coupling the cytochrome to a fluorescing or glowing molecule, shining a dim blue light on the cell, and watch it glow. Then when they passed a magnetic field over the cell, the glow was dimmed, proving that the cytochrome molecule was doing something in response to magnetic field.

Since this sensing is happening at the level of electron spins and excitation, it is an inherently QM [quantum mechanical] effect, hence the title of the article.

This isn’t spooky, and isn’t unusual. Lots of molecules have QM effects. Most of the odor receptors in your nose employ QM effects to identify odorants. Chlorophyll that makes leaves green absorbs light through a QM cascade of electrons. And of course, when the rods & cones in your retina sense photons, it is a QM effect.

What makes the magnetic QM effect so unusual, is that magnetic fields are perhaps 1000 times smaller than the other QM effects I mentioned. So the system has to detect a very weak signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR).

In the lab, we often use difference circuits that are modulated by a frequency and the result is integrated. The difference knocks out the common signal, so its called common mode rejection. The modulation averages over the noise, where real noise always has a zero sum. Then SNR can be boosted by factors of 1000 to 1,000,000, and somehow that is happening in a single cell. That’s the part that is spooky. Packing a $10,000 lock-in amplifier into a 2 micron cell.

News, “Physicist: Migrating birds’ mysterious quantum sense is “spooky”” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: This mysterious intelligence, magnetoreception, seems essential to migration, hence, to the survival of many birds. They may even “see” Earth’s magnetic field.

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent and The Long Ascent, Volume II


You may also wish to read:

We knew crows were smart but they turn out to be even smarter. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the mysteries of animal intelligence. Questions abound: How did crows come to be smart when other birds did not? Most birds would survive better if they were smarter but that doesn’t make it happen.

and

Do birds really understand what they are saying? Remarkable claims are made for some birds. To understand what they are saying, birds would need to understand abstractions; it’s not clear that they can.

13 Replies to “Rob Sheldon: Migrating birds’ mysterious quantum sense is “spooky”

  1. 1
    martin_r says:

    What makes the magnetic QM effect so unusual, is that magnetic fields are perhaps 1000 times smaller than the other QM effects I mentioned. So the system has to detect a very weak signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR).

    Then SNR can be boosted by factors of 1000 to 1,000,000, and somehow that is happening in a single cell. That’s the part that is spooky. Packing a $10,000 lock-in amplifier into a 2 micron cell.

    how else …. blind unguided darwinian process figured that out … as we can see, in Darwinian fantasy world, any miracle is possible … a miracle after a miracle after a miracle …. the most challenging engineering problems are always easily solved by blind unguided processes (AKA miracles) …

    Human engineers are clueless, but blind unguided natural process always knows how to …

    WHAT EDUCATED RATIONAL 21st CENTURY PERSON CAN BUY THIS DARWINIAN NON-SENSE?

    CAN SOMEONE TELL ME WHEN THIS DARWINIAN CRAZINESS WILL END ?

  2. 2
    Hanks says:

    CAN SOMEONE TELL ME WHEN THIS DARWINIAN CRAZINESS WILL END ?

    This is a spiritual war that is not solved with human logic.

  3. 3
    zweston says:

    In the words of RC Sproul…. Chance can’t do anything, because it itself isn’t anything. It isn’t an agent and can perform no act.

    The same can be said of time.

    Chance + time cannot do anything…because they aren’t something. In order to “do”, it must first “be”.

  4. 4
    jerry says:

    The average person accepts Darwinism because it is so logical and obviously true. The issue is that it has nothing to do with Evolution.

    That is what the average person and scientist don’t understand and ID contributes to this by focusing on Darwin. ID actually supports Darwin’s basic premises because they are observed working in nature. It’s called genetics.

    Accept Darwin and his incredible insight but focus on what his ideas actually explain.

    People seem to want to demonize good people when what they have is a misunderstanding. Focus on the misunderstanding if one wants to win the argument. Not the person who holds the misunderstanding.

    The latter is a losing strategy.

    Instead, postulate that Darwin’s ideas are great design for adaptation.

  5. 5
    ET says:

    The average person doesn’t care about Darwinism.

  6. 6
    jerry says:

    The average person doesn’t care about Darwinism.

    True, and they don’t care about the sun rising in the morning either because it is so obvious. But they understand both and accept both because both things obviously explains the world they see.

    The winning strategy is to tell the truth.

  7. 7
    Seversky says:

    The theory of evolution was constructed to explain the observation that living things change over time. The only random elements are the genetic mutations that can cause changes in an organism which may be either beneficial or detrimental or have no effect at all depending on the environmental context in which they occur.

    Evolution does not produce miracles. It is not expected that it will. The vast majority of species that ever existed are now extinct. Pretty shoddy design and engineering judged by human standards but what you’d expect from unguided natural processes.

    As for spiritual wars, evolution is not trying to pick a fight with anyone although it seems to bring out a distinctly un-Christian belligerence in some people.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    There still isn’t any scientific theory of evolution. But it would be a miracle if blind and mindless processes produced eukaryotes from starting populations of prokaryotes. It would be another miracle if blind and mindless processes produced metazoans from single-celled eukaryotes.

    The concept of unguided, natural processes producing the diversity of life is pure imaginary nonsense. It is untestable and as such cannot be science. You have to be desperate and in denial to believe in such a scenario.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    No, Jerry. Most people don’t give a hoot about Darwinian evolution. Their lives don’t need it. It hasn’t helped them in any fashion.

  10. 10
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    The only random elements are the genetic mutations that can cause changes in an organism which may be either beneficial or detrimental or have no effect at all depending on the environmental context in which they occur.

    The environment itself is another random element in the process. Selection depends on these two random elements, and therefore evolutionary outputs are mostly random.

    Evolution does not produce miracles.

    That bacteria could evolve into human beings would be a miraculous occurrence. Even just this “Packing a $10,000 lock-in amplifier into a 2 micron cell” defies imagination.

  11. 11
    jerry says:

    Most people don’t give a hoot about Darwinian evolution

    I believe that is what I said.

    I was at a reunion recently and someone was wearing a Lincoln t-shirt. I mentioned that there was a more famous person born the same day as Lincoln. When I said Darwin, the reply was he could care less about Darwin.

    That is the only time Darwin has come up in any normal conversation I have heard in the last 5 years. And I brought it up. But I bet everyone knows and most believe his ideas about evolution.

  12. 12
    Hanks says:

    The only random elements are the genetic mutations

    Darwin understood nothing :the mutations are not the engine of evolution ,he watched on the wrong end of binoculars. It’s the other way around. The engine of adaptation is the Central Nervous System( that receive stimuli from environment and from body itself ,make a predetermined computational analysis and will trigger automaticaly the best “answer” ) and the mutations are the signs of CNS instructions sent to genome.

  13. 13
    PaV says:

    Seversky:

    The theory of evolution was constructed to explain the observation that living things change over time.

    Let me quote Stephen J. Gould at length:

    “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our text- books have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils. Yet Darwin was so wedded to gradualism that he wagered his entire theory on a denial of this literal record:

    The geological record is extremely imperfect and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find interminable varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps, He who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject my whole theory.”

    Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution. In exposing its cultural and methodological roots, I wish in no way to impugn the potential validity of gradualism (for all general views have similar roots). I wish only to point out that it was never -seen- in the rocks.

    Paleontologists have paid an exorbitant price for Darwin’s argument. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life’s history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study.
    [Evolution’s Erratic Pace – “Natural History,” May, 1977]”

    Stephen Jay Gould

    Quite an indictment of Darwinism!

    So, Seversky, are those “changes” you’re speaking about ‘gradual’ or ‘sudden’? Are they long periods of slow change or “explosions” we hear so much about these days?

    Of course, Gould made this remark when he was able to be honest. Eventually he was pummeled by the Darwinist hierarchy as to compel him to walk back–at least with words, not demonstrable fact, what he said: that is, that he really wasn’t saying what he was saying. Otherwise, he would have been driven out of the Academy.

    The 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of Darwin in vain.”

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