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In a letter, Einstein discusses an “unknown physics” governing the behavior of birds

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In a recently analyzed letter, Albert Einstein suggested that there might be a link between bird migrations and “unknown” physical processes. This thinking comes decades before researchers realized that some of them might be using quantum physics to navigate long distances.

An authenticated letter from Einstein

Three years ago, Adrian Dyer of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia published a study suggesting that bees are able to solve simple addition and subtraction. In front of her radio, the retired Judith Davys, hears about these elementary mathematics recorded in insects, and quickly makes the connection with a letter that Einstein had written to her husband. in 1949 to express similar ideas.

From then on, she contacted the researcher to give him this writing. A team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Einstein bequeathed several of his notes, letters and registers after his death, is responsible for authenticating it: these are indeed the words of the physicist.

At the time, Judith Dvys’ husband was working on the British Royal Navy’s first radar systems. He then seemed to have developed the idea that some animals could use similar methods to navigate. One day, he then took a sheet and a pencil to write to the physicist, notably evoking the echolocation capacities of bats and the perception of polarized light by bees.

An “unknown physical process”

Einstein, who did receive this note (since lost), then replied to him. This typed letter is relatively short (only a few sentences), but it testifies to similar thoughts of the physicist on animal behavior.

He suggests in particular the possibility that studies on the navigation capacities of certain birds during long-distance migrations could “one day lead to the understanding of an unknown physical process“. This discovery could, according to him, allow important discoveries for humanity.

Credits: J Comp Physiol A (2021).

Nowadays, scientists still wonder how animals, such as birds and other flying insects, are able to find their way back over long distances. We have some answers. Some birds, in particular, rely on geography (mountains, rivers and other coastlines) for orientation, as well as on the terrestrial magnetism.

More intriguing, a few years ago, in the review Genome biology, scientists have also suggested that a magnetic sense in birds allowing them to navigate during migrations could be based on quantum physical processes integrated into proteins called cryptochromes. This discovery now echoes the suggestions of the famous physicist.

Although Einstein could not have known at the time that bird migrations could harness quantum physical processes, his letter to Davys shows traces of the exceptional perception of the ideas for which he was famous.“, Concludes Adrian Dyer.


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