Excerpted from Facts and Fiction of the Schumann Resonance, by Brian Dunning, Skeptoid Podcast #352
It’s increasingly hard to find a web page dedicated to the sales of alternative medicine products or New Age spirituality that does not cite the Schumann resonances as proof that some product or service is rooted in science. … Today we’re going to see what the Schumann resonances actually are, how they formed and what they do, and see if we can determine whether they are, in fact, related to human health.
In physics, Schumann resonances are the name given to the resonant frequency of the Earth’s atmosphere, between the surface and the densest part of the ionosphere.
They’re named for the German physicist Winfried Otto Schumann (1888-1974) who worked briefly in the United States after WWII, and predicted that the Earth’s atmosphere would resonate certain electromagnetic frequencies.
[What is a resonant frequency? Here is a common example. When you blow on a glass bottle at a certain frequency, you can get the bottle to vibrate at the same frequency]
This bottle has a resonant frequency of about 196 Hz.
That’s the frequency of sound waves that most efficiently bounce back and forth between the sides of the bottle, at the speed of sound, propagating via the air molecules.
Electromagnetic radiation – like light, and radio waves – is similar, except the waves travel at the speed of light, and do not require a medium like air molecules.
The speed of light is a lot faster than the speed of sound, but the electromagnetic waves have a lot further to go between the ground and the ionosphere than do the sound waves between the sides of the bottle.
This atmospheric electromagnetic resonant frequency is 7.83 Hz, which is near the bottom of the ELF frequency range, or Extremely Low Frequency.
The atmosphere has its own radio equivalent of someone blowing across the top of the bottle: lightning.
Lightning is constantly flashing all around the world, many times per second; and each bolt is a radio source. This means our atmosphere is continuously resonating with a radio frequency of 7.83 Hz, along with progressively weaker harmonics at 14.3, 20.8, 27.3 and 33.8 Hz.
These are the Schumann resonances. It’s nothing to do with the Earth itself, or with life, or with any spiritual phenomenon; it’s merely an artifact of the physical dimensions of the space between the surface of the Earth and the ionosphere.
Every planet and moon that has an ionosphere has its own set of Schumann resonances defined by the planet’s size.
Biggest point: this resonated radio from lightning is a vanishingly small component of the electromagnetic spectrum to which we’re all naturally exposed.
The overwhelming source is the sun, blasting the Earth with infrared, visible light, and ultraviolet radiation. All natural sources from outer space, and even radioactive decay of naturally occurring elements on Earth, produce wide-spectrum radio noise. Those resonating in the Schumann cavity are only a tiny, tiny part of the spectrum.
Nevertheless, because the Schumann resonance frequencies are defined by the dimensions of the Earth, many New Age proponents and alternative medicine advocates have come to regard 7.83 Hz as some sort of Mother Earth frequency, asserting the belief that it’s related to life on Earth.
The most pervasive of all the popular fictions surrounding the Schumann resonance is that it is correlated with the health of the human body.
There are a huge number of products and services sold to enhance health or mood, citing the Schumann resonance as the foundational science.
A notable example is the Power Balance bracelets. Tom O’Dowd, formerly the Australian distributor, said that the mylar hologram resonated at 7.83 Hz.
When the bracelet was placed within the body’s natural energy field, the resonance would [supposedly] “reset” your energy field to that frequency.
Well, there were a lot of problems with that claim.
First of all, 7.83 Hz has a wavelength of about 38,000 kilometers. This is about the circumference of the Earth, which is why its atmospheric cavity resonates at that frequency. 38,000 kilometers is WAY bigger than a bracelet! There’s no way that something that tiny could resonate such an enormous wavelength. O’Dowd’s sales pitch was implausible, by a factor of billions, to anyone who understood resonance.
This same fact also applies to the human body. Human beings are so small, relative to a radio wavelength of 38,000 kilometers, that there’s no way our anatomy could detect or interact with such a radio signal in any way.
Proponents of binaural beats cite the Schumann frequency as well. These are audio recordings which combine two slightly offset frequencies to produce a third phantom beat frequency that is perceived from the interference of the two.
Some claim to change your brain’s encephalogram, which they say is a beneficial thing to do. Brain waves range from near zero up to about 100 Hz during normal activity, with a typical reading near the lower end of the scale. This happens to overlap 7.83 — suggesting the aforementioned pseudoscientific connection between humans and the Schumann resonance — but with a critical difference. An audio recording is audio, not radio. It’s the physical oscillation of air molecules, not the propagation of electromagnetic waves. The two have virtually nothing to do with each other.
[Other salespeople claim] that our bodies’ energy fields need to interact with the Schumann resonance, but can’t because of all the interference from modern society [and so they try to sell devices that supposedly connect our body to the Schumann resonance.]
It’s all complete and utter nonsense. Human bodies do not have an energy field: in fact there’s not even any such thing as an energy field. Fields are constructs in which some direction or intensity is measured at every point: gravity, wind, magnetism, some expression of energy. Energy is just a measurement; it doesn’t exist on its own as a cloud or a field or some other entity. The notion that frequencies can interact with the body’s energy field is, as the saying goes, so wrong it’s not even wrong.
Another really common New Age misconception about the Schumann resonance is that it is the resonant frequency of the Earth. But there’s no reason to expect the Earth’s electromagnetic resonant frequency to bear any similarity to the Schumann resonance.
Furthermore, the Earth probably doesn’t even have a resonant electromagnetic frequency. Each of the Earth’s many layers is a very poor conductor of radio; combined all together, the Earth easily absorbs just about every frequency it’s exposed to. If you’ve ever noticed that your car radio cuts out when you drive through a tunnel, you’ve seen an example of this.
Now the Earth does, of course, conduct low-frequency waves of other types. Earthquakes are the prime example of this. The Earth’s various layers propagate seismic waves differently, but all quite well. Seismic waves are shockwaves, a physical oscillation of the medium. Like audio waves, these are unrelated to electromagnetic radio waves.
Each and every major structure within the Earth — such as a mass of rock within a continent, a particular layer of magma, etc. — does have its own resonant frequency for seismic shockwaves, but there is (definitively) no resonant electromagnetic frequency for the Earth as a whole.
So our major point today is that you should be very skeptical of any product that uses the Schumann resonance as part of a sales pitch.
The Earth does not have any particular frequency. Life on Earth is neither dependent upon, nor enhanced by, any specific frequency.