Electromagnetic Radiation and the Human Being

Dr David J. Heaf (UK)

In New View issue 2 (UK), Alan Hall introduced some of the concepts needed to understand electromagnetic radiation (EMR) and shared his discovery that its impact on health is related to interference with the vibrating microstructure of water.2 More background material easily comprehensible to the lay reader as well as details of the ways of reducing the effect of EMR on health appears in his recent book.3 Here we take a brief look at the issue from a different angle.

No hiding place

In addition to the longer established sources of artificial EMR such as radio/TV transmissions and what comes from electrical power lines and appliances, no matter how remote we are from civilisation, we are bathed in a sea of microwaves from over 200 digital phone and broadcast satellites worldwide and thousands of mobile phone transmission towers in the UK alone. In view of what the digital revolution has in store for us, what we endure now is only the beginning of a huge quantitative and qualitative change in EMR exposure facing humanity. Prudent avoidance, therefore, would seem no longer to be an option for us as individuals, even if we can to some extent reduce our personal exposure. However, the fact that there is now really no hiding place has not deterred representatives three political parties in Stockholm from calling for the setting up of EMR-free zones in the city ‘before it’s too late.’

Ongoing health studies

Ongoing media interest in the health implications of mobile phone EMR is exemplified by New Scientist recently devoting its whole editorial, a six page ‘special investigation’ and a forum article to this subject.4 In the present state of conflicting evidence that the phones and the towers are harmful to health the editors obviously felt that they could safely scoff at the worriers, at least for the time being. But a World Health Organisation study is under way which has a $6 million funding and will be completed by 2005.5 To see them in perspective, these figures need to be considered in the light of the size of the mobile phone industry and likelihood that, as with the aetiology of cancer, the harmful impact on the human being, if it occurs, could be a long drawn out process. Incidentally, £6 million bought a sewage plant for the small town of Cricieth, Wales in its attempt, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to rid its beaches of Escherichia coli (a bacterium that lives in the gut). The much smaller sum of $6 million being spent on looking at the global threat of electro-pollution seems ludicrous, especially as the project does not aim to do the basic research but only to specify what research should be done and how it should be done. An even less incisive mandate is to be given to a UK panel whose formation was announced by Health Minister Tessa Jowell in April. Under the auspices of the National Radiological Protection Board it will examine published and ongoing research on the health effects of mobile phones.

The 1997 press release from the WHO project says that over the next four years, international research efforts should be aimed principally at clarifying the extent to which EMR exposure may be associated with the incidence of cancers and diseases of the central nervous system. So far as mobile phones are concerned health risk was once ruled out on the basis that as long as the microwaves did not actually heat the brain, there was nothing to worry about. Happily, risk assessment of EMR is slowly becoming a little more subtle than that. But as the WHO project shows, it is primarily interested in the more extreme potential consequences of the radiation, namely disease and death. Animal and human studies, about which there is still controversy amongst the specialists, do show increases in leukaemia, lymphomas, skin and eye complaints, limb and joint pain etc. But still more difficult to assess are the finer long term risks of microwaving our planet. This uncertainty for the actuaries has prompted a Lloyds underwriter to refuse cover for manufacturers against the risk of being sued if mobiles turn out to cause long-term damage.

Head and root

In the discussion after the agriculture lectures given by Rudolf Steiner he was asked about a specific use of electricity.6 All of his answer is still very relevant, but as it would take up half a page of this article I will select only two extracts: “This life of men in the midst of electricity, notably radiant electricity, will presently affect them in such a way that they will no longer be able to understand the news which they receive so rapidly. The effect is to damp down their intelligence. [...] ...electricity always works on the higher organisation, the head-organisation both man and animal; and correspondingly, on the root organisation of the plant “ This points to much more delicate effects of EMR than are generally conceived by the people behind the WHO project, effects which may nevertheless be of far reaching significance for humanity because they touch on what is fundamentally human, namely thinking which is the basis for action, for behaviour of the free individual. Indeed, a neuropsychologist submitting evidence to an enquiry into siting a tower near a primary school in New Zealand stated that “behavioural changes are the most sensitive indicators of adverse responses in humans or animals to radio frequency radiation. [...] ...behavioural effects are seen as important because they are the ‘smoking guns’ indicative of more fundamental effects of radiation on the nervous system” and cited a whole list of studies pointing to behavioural disturbances close to EMR sources including effects on movement, memory, attention and sleep, together with increases in tiredness, anxiety, and time spent away from homes close to a transmitter.7 That the towers can produce in their immediate vicinity a thousandfold increase in microwave exposure of the public compared with the previous background level is good reason to try to avoid siting them near habitation. Whilst admittedly their full impact is not yet known it is worth noting that last year 16 of the top scientists in the area signed the Vienna Declaration, which recognises that low intensity microwaves can cause biological effects or damage to humans. One possible biological effect, if a causal link is ever established, is the rise in the massive losses of homing pigeons, particularly in the USA.8

Has anybody thought of looking at the effect of EMR on the ‘root organisation of the plant’? Oddly enough, yes. It was recently shown that in the growing root tips of broad bean the process of mitosis (cell division) was significantly slowed down by exposure to oscillating magnetic fields at ordinary domestic electricity mains frequencies at a strength typical of the vicinity of substation transformers.9

Spirituality and electricity

In view of Rudolf Steiner’s prediction in 1924 that cows would go mad if they were fed animal protein, it could profit us to pay more than passing attention to his comments on our present subject. Ernst Lehrs collected together many quotations from Rudolf Steiner about electricity for his book Spiritual Science, Electricity and Michael Faraday including the following from a lecture: "Man's thinking has been altogether enwebbed by electricity... The concepts that were held before the present age of electricity ... allowed the thinkers about nature of that time to imagine – at least abstractly – the spiritual in nature. ...electricity then began to affect man's nerves, expelling from them everything that tended towards the spiritual."10

From this, we might expect Steiner to advise people to avoid this enwebbing by electricity in any enterprise that is tending towards the spiritual. For instance, Steiner designed a building for a school of spiritual science called the Goetheanum at Dornach in Switzerland. Was it lit by gas? Not at all, it was lit by electricity. And when it was burnt down in 1922 it was replaced by the present Goetheanum which not only uses electricity but also generates surplus electricity from its gas turbine for sale at a profit to the public electricity supply! Insight into the background of this seeming paradox, this apparent lack of practising what was preached is provided by the following words of Steiner from the same lecture which Lehrs did not quote: “And if anthroposophy were to adopt a fantastical attitude, if anthroposophy were aesthetic, it would thunder against the modern civilisation based on electricity. Of course, this would be nonsense, for only world conceptions that do not reckon with reality can speak in that way. For the very people who thunder against Ahriman11 and tell us to beware of him, go downstairs after their sectarian meeting and enter an electric tramcar!” If we indeed are in the grip of ahrimanic adversaries seeking to destroy, through artificial EMR and other forms of pollution, the physical basis of our manifestation in the world, namely the human body, it is clear that those adversaries first took hold of us through our minds when we first thought and desired EMR and their impact on physical health is thus secondary.

Evolving consciousness

It is clearly therefore a matter of our becoming as conscious as possible of our entanglement in the web of these electrical technologies, and conscious of the deceptions in thought, particularly in scientific thinking used to play down the danger. No doubt a future age will see so-called clean electricity as a very dirty technology indeed, just as we see the technology of coal and steam. People may look back with mirth upon a civilisation of people who on entering their homes were content to step into a basket woven of pulsating, radiating electric wires – for that is indeed the modern home if one imagines it without its building materials. In this light, the sustainable generation of electricity through wind farms and the like does not look as morally desirable as certain environmental groups would claim. And in response to the increasing public concern about the harmfulness of EMR – not least amongst the ever growing number of people who appear to have developed an adverse hypersensitivity to EMR12 –, an increasing assortment of devices are being marketed which are designed to abolish its unwanted effects.

After much less than a century of electrification of large parts of the UK, knowledge of the interaction of EMR with living organisms, and particularly their intrinsic relationship to electricity is still in its infancy. There are certainly processes in the body which can be detected on special instruments as oscillating electromagnetic fields. Their study is the subject of the discipline of bioelectromagnetics. It is now a very respectable area of the sciences with a journal of the same name and in the 1990s alone many thousands of papers published on cell, tissue and whole organism research including therapeutic aspects of the subject. A particularly interesting discovery in this field is the Schumann oscillation of the earth’s magnetic field which has a frequency of eight Herz (cycles per second) and corresponds to the frequency of human brain waves. And bodily circadian rhythms, the daily cycles of metabolic activity accompanied by changes in hormone secretion such as pineal melatonin which are a necessary part of life in organisms including human beings, are strongly influenced by environmental electromagnetism. With the earth’s magnetic field and the complex rhythmic changes it undergoes being closely connected with the movement of the planetary bodies it is easy to picture, purely at the level of electromagnetism, the delicate connectedness of the human being with the whole cosmos. And yet without a full understanding of this connectedness we year by year add ever more EMR to our surroundings.

Further reading

For an esoteric perspective on electricity I recommend as a starting point articles by Nick Thomas13 and Hedley Gange14 and the collected indications by Steiner the articles contain. There are many local action groups in existence worldwide devoted to the single issue of EMR, many with their own newspapers and web sites. Two outstanding UK based web sites which contain extensive bibliographies to the key publications – lay and specialist – and many articles on different aspects of EMR are provided by Alasdair Philips15 and Roger Coghill.16 Coghill’s site also leads into bioelectromagnetic phenomena known to ‘fringe technology’, such as Kirlian photography and includes papers on work to test the author’s intriguing hypothesis that the mammalian brain influences cells at other parts of the body through direct information transfer through endogenous electric fields. UK’s NRPB has produced several well designed leaflets and posters dealing with EMR from a wide variety of artificial sources.17


1. This article is inspired by work for a presentation at the meeting of the UK group of the Science Section of the School of Spiritual Science, Stourbridge, 20th March 1999.

2. Hall, A. (1996) New View, issue 2, Winter 1996. Anthroposophical Association, London. 22-23.

3. Hall, A. (1997) Water, Electricity and Health. Hawthorn Press, Stroud.

4. New Scientist, No. 2181, 10 April 1999. Pages 3, 20-25 & 51.

5. Project title: International EMF Project: Health and Environmental Effects of Exposure to Static and Time Varying Electric and Magnetic Fields. For details contact: Dr M. H. Repacholi, Radiation Specialist, Office of Global and Integrated Environmental Health, World Health Organisation, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Fax +41 22 791 4123. Tel +41 22 791 3427. E-mail: repacholi@who.ch or visit the project’s web site at: http://www.who.ch/emf/.

6. Steiner, R. (1974) Agriculture. 8 lectures 7-16 June 1924, Koberwitz, Silesia. Biodynamic Agricultural Association, London. p. 153.

7. Beale, Ivan (1997) Statement of Evidence deposited with the Environment Court, Christchurch, NZ, in the matter of an appeal under section 121 of the Resource Management Act 1991 between Telecom Mobile Communications Limited (Appellant); Shirley Primary School and others (Appellant); Christchurch City Council (Respondent). This document is available in MS Word format by email from Dr Beale at ibeale@clear.net.nz.

8. Senator Allison (Victoria). Extract from the Current Senate Hansard, Australia, 29 March 1999 (22:15) Page: 3116. Adjournment Debate on Electromagnetic Radiation.

9. Rapley, B. I. (1998) Weak ELF Magnetic Fields Slow The Celll Cycle Clock In Root Tips of Vicia faba L., The Broad Bean. Proceedings of 2nd International Conference on Bioelectromagnetism, February 1998, Melbourne, Australia.

10. Steiner, R. (1982) Lebendiges Naturerkennen. Intellektueller Sündenfall und Spirituelle Sündenerhebung. GA 220. Lecture 12. Dornach 5-8 January 1923. English translations: 1st quote from Spiritual Science, Electricity and Michael Faraday, Ernst Lehrs. Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1975, p. 17; 2nd quote from Rudolf Steiner’s Comments on Energy, Nick Thomas, Anthroposophical Review 2(2) Summer 1980, 15-19, Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, London and taken from the translation of the full lecture published in the Anthroposophic News Sheet, 9 June 1940.

11. ‘Ahriman’ is a Persian word for an aspect of the Devil which, for instance, tempted Christ to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4: 4).

12. For more information on this condition contact Sarah Benson, convenor of Electromagnetic Awareness Network, c/o Australian Democrats, 62 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne, Victoria 3002, Australia. Tel: + 61 3 9416 1880. Fax: + 61 3 9417 1690

13. Thomas, N. (1980) see note 10.

14. Gange, H. (1992) Electricity and the Search for Meaning. Anthroposophy Today, No. 12, Spring 1992, 27-46. Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, London.

15. Powerwatch UK site: http://www.powerwatch.org.uk. Email aphilips@gn.apc.org. Fax: 01353 777646.

16. Coghill Research Laboratories Gwent NP4 5UH. Web site: http://www.cogreslab.demon.co.uk/

17. National Radiological Protection Board, Chilton, Didcot, Oxon OX11 0RQ. Tel: 01235 831600. Fax: 01235 833891. Email: nrpb@nrpb.org.uk.


David Heaf edits the Newsletter of the Science Group of the Anthroposophical Society of Great Britain. The Science Group’s newly opened web site is at http://www.science.anth.org.uk/

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