It sounds sort of like electrocution, but what lightning may have to do with how most life forms on Earth function is much weirder than that.
Electricity courses through all fauna on the planet. There is a nearly undetectable hum in most creatures. When this sci-fi life force, which sounds like something straight out of Frankenstein, was first discovered in everything from microbes to humans, there was not even a hypothesis for how it could have gotten there. Now an idea of how that happened exists. Researcher Colin Price, of Tel Aviv University in Israel, and his team of scientists have proposed that the extremely low frequency (ELF) range of electricity is eerily similar to atmospheric vibrations caused by lightning.
Mary Shelley would be all over this if she were still around.
“The origin of these frequency maxima is unknown and remains a mystery,” Price said in a study he led, which was recently published in Atmospheric Electricity and Biometeorology. “We propose that over billions of years during the evolutionary history of living organisms on Earth, the natural electromagnetic resonant frequencies in the atmosphere, continuously generated by global lightning activity, provided the background electric fields for the development of cellular electrical activity.”
Price and his team believe the earliest primordial cells somehow synced up with or adapted to prehistoric lightning that struck Earth. There has been lightning striking the planet ever since it developed an atmosphere. As these cells evolved into more complex organisms, how they connected their electrical activity with that in the atmosphere also underwent an evolution.
Different types of brain activity started to use varying frequencies. This could explain the background electrical activity that is always coursing through the nervous systems of animals at such a low frequency (5 to 45 Hz). Humans should technically be able to hear this electric humming—though maybe you wouldn’t recognize it for what it was.
Most living things are thought to vibrate at what are known as the Schumann resonances. Think of Earth as a massive electrical circuit. The atmosphere can conduct electricity, though it is a rather weak conductor, but still enough to hold on to some electromagnetic waves in the space between the ionosphere (part of the upper atmosphere where atoms and molecules are ionized by solar radiation) and our planet’s surface. These waves are the Schumann resonances. This is where certain frequencies connect to certain brain functions again. The Schumann resonances overlap with electrical frequencies in the human brain when we are in a state of deep relaxation—meaning that early forms of life could have also existed in that state. The thought of it is almost as if emerging life on Earth was asleep, just waiting to wake up and flourish. It just took several billion years to do so.
“In some animals, the electrical spectrum is difficult to differentiate from the natural background atmospheric electric field produced by lightning,” said Price.
There are some scientists dismissing his theory as science fiction because there is still so little known about this phenomenon and its origins. Too many questions have surfaced about the way in which life and lightning synced in the first place. There is also doubt about where this process really starts. Because most electrical activity in animals starts at a cellular level via the process of calcium ion transport, in which calcium ions use a pore or other transporter to flow into and out of cells, that is one possibility. Other scientists argue that some frequencies, like the electrical impulses that keep your heart beating, are more closely associated with body mass.
How subtle the effect is doesn’t exactly help with demystifying it. If most living things on Earth had strong electrical currents running through them, any storms that involved lightning would be a nightmare.
At least further study could figure out medical manipulation of electrical frequencies in the body, but sorry, Dr. Frankenstein—that probably won’t be able to bring any zombie monsters to life.