Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Little Mussar for Rationalists

Here’s an article by Elizabeth Mitchell, Science reporter, BBC News . A Mussar Haskeil follows, by Barzilai.

Have you ever noticed that herds of grazing animals all face the same way?
Images from Google Earth have confirmed that cattle tend to align their bodies in a north-south direction.
Wild deer also display this behaviour - a phenomenon that has apparently gone unnoticed by herdsmen and hunters for thousands of years.
In the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say the Earth's magnetic fields may influence the behaviour of these animals.
The Earth can be viewed as a huge magnet, with magnetic north and south situated close to the geographical poles.
Many species - including birds and salmon - are known to use the Earth's magnetic fields in migration, rather like a natural GPS.
A few studies have shown that some mammals - including bats - also use a "magnetic compass" to help their sense of direction.
Dr Sabine Begall, from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, has mainly studied the magnetic sense of mole rats - African animals that live in underground tunnels.
"We were wondering if larger animals also have this magnetic sense," she told BBC News.
Dr Begall and colleagues first decided to study the natural behaviour of domestic cattle.
The researchers surveyed Google Earth images of 8,510 grazing and resting cattle in 308 pasture plains across the globe.
"Sometimes it took hours and hours to find some pictures with good resolution," said Dr Begall.
The scientists were unable to distinguish between the head and rear of the cattle, but could tell that the animals tended to face either north or south.
Their study ruled out the possibility that the Sun position or wind direction were major influences on the orientation of the cattle.
Dr Begall said: "In Africa and South America, the cattle (were) shifted slightly to a more north-eastern-south-western direction.
"But it is known that the Earth's magnetic field is much weaker there," she explained.
The researchers also recorded the body positions of 2,974 wild deer in 277 locations across the Czech Republic.
Their fieldwork revealed that the majority of grazing and resting deer face northward. About one-third of the deer faced southward.
"That might be some kind of anti-predatory behaviour," speculated Dr Begall.
Willy Miller - a Scottish cattle farmer - remarked: "I've never noticed that my cows all face the same way."
Cows are social animals: "[They] all sit down before it rains [and] huddle together in a circle formation during blizzards. But from a cow's point of view, that's just sensible," he told BBC News.
Professor John Phillips, a sensory biologist from Virginia Tech University, US, commented that this sixth magnetic sense might be "virtually ubiquitous in the animal kingdom".
He added: "We need to think about some really fundamental things that this sensory ability provides in animals."
The challenge remains for scientists to explain how the animals behave in this way - and if Scottish cattle are the exception to the rule!

So, just interesting, another fact of little relevance. Mah Rabu Ma’asecha Hashem!

But, then you see the other half of the information, from

Although not seen before in large mammals, birds, turtles and salmon are known to use the Earth's magnetic field to guide their migrations, while rodents and one bat species have been found to possess an internal magnetic compass.
The researchers noted that humans and even whales are suspected of having an innate magnetic compass.
Some studies suggest humans who sleep in an East-West position have far shorter rapid eye movement or REM sleep cycles, in which dreams occur, compared with North-South sleepers who got more REM sleep."Our results call for an in-depth study of this phenomenon and challenge neuroscientists, biochemists and physicists to study the proximate mechanisms and biological significance of magnetic alignment," Begall and colleagues wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

We all know the halacha in Orach Chaim 3:6, based on the Gemara (Brachos 5b,) that one should not place his marital bed in an east-west axis. But, I think many of us really don’t care about this.  We apply the well-worn hetteirim of inertia and willful ignorance, or we say, "Well, there’s a Zohar (brought in the MB, and see here) that might mean that you davka should put your bed mizrach ma’arav, so I can’t go wrong whatever I do."  All of a sudden you follow the Zohar? You prefer not to think about the Gaon that says that’s not what the Zohar means, that the Zohar means exactly what the Mechaber says?

But then, you read about the scientific findings that sleeping in an east-west axis may be less restful, and suddenly you start seriously thinking about moving your bed around. So what position, exactly, do Chazal occupy in your life?


  1. I would think that the cow /animal theory would be readily testable. All one would need due is place the animals in a pen with a magnetic field oriented in direction A and then alter the field to direction B and note if the animals reorient themselves.

  2. True emunah perhaps means we accept what chazal say 100%, but neverthless we are pleased when science reinforces it.
    The trick is to remember that Chazal is always first and foremost in the life of a true yid, and scientific corroboration is nice but not essential.

  3. אריה שאג, מי לא יירא(Amos:3,8)-The Lions Roars who will not tremble?:אריה
    אלול ,ראש השנה,יום כיפור, הושנה
    רבא-all the days of judgment ,yet we dont.
    A Personal Favorite of Mine
    אלול if done right is אני לדודי ודודי לי or if not it is אוו לי ויי לי