Bird Brained Quantum Mechanic

For the first daily pseudoscience update of the month of May, Frank Sherwin has found a short article in the Smithsonian called How Do Birds Find Their Way Home? Building on its subtitle alone, he has given us the equally short Bird Brains and Quantum Mechanics.

It's all about spin, folks. Source caption: "In this diagram representing the head-on collision of a quark (red ball) from one proton (orange ball) with a gluon (green ball) from another proton with opposite spin, spin is represented by the blue arrows circling the protons and the quark. The blue question marks circling the gluon represent the question: Are gluons polarized? Ejected from the collision are a shower of quarks and a photon of light (purple ball)."

The quoted subtitle in question is “Birds must be geniuses because they use quantum mechanics to navigate.” Apparently pigeons ‘use’ quantum mechanics, along with every other potential sensory system under the Sun, to help them find their way home. To Frank, of course, that’s evidence of Design.

However, it seems that he hasn’t talked to his colleague, Brian Thomas, as the other primary ICR News writer is on record as saying:

[R]esearchers use the phrase “quantum mechanics” in place of a realistic and transferrable explanation for these mysterious observations.

Yes, he said that.

But ignoring that, what makes quantum = unevolvable? Frank merely says:

Quantum mechanics may explain how birds actually see the earth’s magnetic field, at a subatomic level, and how they can tell a northern direction. Evolution has no explanations for such subatomic sensing. But this design feature is “clearly seen.”

It doesn’t? The meat of the Smithsonian article is:

Work by Roswitha and Wolfgang Wiltschko in Germany, among others, suggests that this sense relies on quantum mechanics—that is, birds detect something happening in the eye at a subatomic level. Light striking the retina seems to stimulate chemical reactions that produce pairs of molecules with electrons that are “entangled,” meaning they share certain quantum properties. One of those properties, called “spin,” is affected by a magnetic field. That effect could tell the bird which way is north.

So, what makes this unevolvable? Indeed, what makes this any different from any other sensory-related chemical reaction from the point of view of the organism? Evolution can and will exploit anything it can, even if we don’t understand it. This isn’t the first case of ‘quantum’ in the field of biology, and it wont be the last.


Entering the month of May now I’ve nearly been at this blogging thing a whole year. To celebrate I’ve paid my longstanding library fine and got out some Dinosaur/Geology books, and – as a special bonus – I might just remember to post this month’s Acts & Facts. Anything’s possible…

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3 thoughts on “Bird Brained Quantum Mechanic

  1. “Evolution has no explanations for such subatomic sensing. But this design feature is “clearly seen””.

    Hebrews 11:1 anyone?

  2. @ashley: Nice!

    In regard to the post, I’m convinced we’re dealing with wilful ignorance, not stupidity. But then, since they’re trying to persuade others, surely they need to understand the arguments in order to refute them?

    These are the most baffling people on earth.

    • While quantum physics is famous for being ununderstandable and thus, in the public mind, extremely poorly understood, this (like most) articles do indeed look like wilful ignorance if not outright deception. I mean, it’s always possible that they know but won’t tell – this latest one is a great example of that.

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