Einstein’s ideas about bees, birds and physics


The 1949 letter by the physicist and Nobel laureate Einstein discusses bees, birds and if new physics fundamentals could come from studying animal senses.

It’s a position still being calculated within physics for this day, with a developing body of research and understanding of how animals like bees and birds find their way around.beh

Now a study headed by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, discusses how recent discoveries in migratory birds back up his thinking 72 years back.

The previously unpublished letter was shared with researchers by Judith Davys – Einstein had addressed it to her late husband, radar researcher Glyn Davys.

RMIT’s Associate Professor Adrian Dyer has released significant research into bees and is the lead author of the new paper on Einstein’s correspondence, published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A.

Dyer said the letter shows how Einstein envisaged new discoveries might come from analyzing animals.

“Seven decades after Einstein proposed new physics might come from animal sensory perception, we’re seeing discoveries that push our understanding about navigation and the fundamental principles of physics,” he said.

The letter also proves Einstein met with Nobel laurate Karl von Frisch, who was a leading bee and creature sensory researcher.

In April 1949, von Frisch presented his research on how honeybees navigate more effectively using the polarization patterns of light scattered out of the sky.

The day after Einstein attended von Frisch’s lecture, both researchers shared a private meeting.

Though this meeting wasn’t formally documented, the newly found letter  supplies insight into what they might have discussed.

“It is thinkable that the investigation of the behavior of migratory birds and carrier pigeons may someday lead to the understanding of some physical process which is not yet known,” Einstein wrote.

Professor Andrew Greentree, a theoretical physicist at RMIT, said Einstein also suggested that for bees to expand our knowledge of physics, new types of behavior would have to be observed.

“Remarkably, it is clear through his writing that Einstein envisaged new discoveries could come from studying animals’ behaviors,” Greentree said.

More than 70 years since Einstein sent his correspondence, research is revealing the secrets of the way migratory birds browse while flying thousands of kilometres to arrive at an exact destination.

In 2008, research on thrushes fitted with radio transmitters showed, for the first time, that these birds use a form of magnetic compass because their primary orientation guide during flight.

One theory for the origin of magnetic perception in birds is that the usage of quantum randomness and entanglement. Both of these physics theories were first suggested by Einstein.

Related Journal Article: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00359-021-01490-6

einstein letter

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