by Gerald Epling

One way to find out if something is important to you is to remove that thing from your world.  If the absence makes no difference then maybe it wasn’t necessary at all.  How could you find out if something like the electromagnetic field of the Earth was important for human life?  Removing the Earth’s magnetic field isn’t practical or desirable.  We already know that plants, bacteria, and other lives depend on the magnetic field for information.  The field protects us from things that might otherwise come crashing down upon us.  Why even consider the effect of the Earth’s electromagenetic field on life?  One good reason is space travel.  What will people miss about Earth when they are traveling outside of the protective electromagnetic field?

Rutger Wever of the Max Planck Institute found a good way to simulate the loss of the Earth’s electromagnetic field.  Wever had two underground rooms constructed for his studies.  Both rooms were completely isolated from normal daily changes in light, sound, and temperature.  One of the rooms had an additional feature – it was shielded against natural magnetic and electrical fields. These two rooms allowed Wever to study what might occur when the light is always on, the temperature doesn’t change, and the evening breeze never comes. Eventually, Wever would also manipulate the electromagnetic field as a variable.

For people who volunteered and were assigned to the world without clues to the time of day, there were changes in how they slept and spent their waking hours.  Without the cues of sunrise and sunset, the wind, and normal daily variations in temperature, the 24 hour rhythm grew a bit longer or stayed about the same.  For those who did not have the time-of-day cues or the influence of the natural magnetic and electrical fields, there was a real desynchronizaton of chemistry and perception of what was a day. Their daily sleep/wake cycle grew longer, about twice as long as a 24 hour day.  For both groups, lunch was taken around mid-day and sleep times were adjusted freely.

Next, the electrical and magnetic fields were manipulated. No effect was noted with changes in steady or DC electrical fields.  Also, there was no effect found by changing the steady state of the magnetic field.  All of these changes in the electric and magnetic fields were below the level of conscious perception for the people in the study.  Continuing with the study, Wever found that adding a weak electrical field with an alternating frequency of 10 Hz. (cycles per second) led people to shorten their sleep/wake cycle to more closely match a 24 hour day.  Additionally, when this weak 10 Hz field was added, people began to resynchronize their excretion of sodium, potassium, and calcium.  This indicated that their bodies were re-adjusting to the normal daily rhythm of the planter.  The conclusion was that the natural electromagnetic fields have the effect of shortening the otherwise uninfluenced sleep/wake cycle, which expanded to about two days in the absence of natural electromagnetic fields.

There are many time keepers in the human body.  Isolation from the natural electromagnetic fields of Earth desynchronizes these natural oscillators.  Being in touch with the Earth makes a difference and is beneficial to your health.  Consider taking some time today to find a clean piece of ground, pull off your shoes and enjoy contact with the earth.  The instant that you touch the ground, your skin conductance will change.  If you like plants, gardening can provide you with an enjoyable way to interact with the earth and to be grounded.

Relevant Reading

 Aschoff, J. & Wever, R. (1976). Human circadian rhythms: a multioscillatory system. Fed Proc. 35(12):236-32.

Becker, R. & Marino, A. (2010). Electromagnetism and life (Facsimile ed.). Belcher, LA: Cassandra Publishing.

Hunt, M. (2007). The story of psychology (2nd Anchor Books ed.). New York: Anchor Books.

Wever, R. (1970). The effects of electric fields on circadian rhythmicity in men. Life Sci Space Res. 8:177-187.

Photo of Earth from space courtesy of NASA.