By Scott Mattison (@FoolsPizza)
Before we dive into this, I must first admit that I am not an avid reader of the X-men comics; however, I have really enjoyed a lot of the X-men movies, specifically X-men: First Class. Throughout the X-men series, Charles Xavier and Eric Leschner have often been depicted as two sides of the same coin, both working to further the cause of mutants. Xavier believing that advancing the mutants’ cause must be done (mostly) through working with humans and finding common ground; whereas Magneto believes that mutants and humans are destined to be enemies that mutant rights can only be ensured through force. I am sure there are many others out that could have a much more thorough discussion regarding the symbolism and underlying messages that are rooted the relationship between these two characters; however, I am here to pose a much more important theory. Magneto and Professor Xavier share the same base ability: the manipulation of magnetic fields.
I am not going to waste time arguing that the manipulation of magnetic fields is Magneto’s power, it is literally in his name! Now for the harder one, Charles Xavier.
In the X-men comics Professor Xavier is depicted have the ability to both read the minds of others as well as implant thoughts into the brains of others through what is known as telepathy. Telepathy is the communication of thoughts and ideas between individuals without the use of the traditional senses. Most of you are thinking Charles Xavier is a known telepath, how you could possibly argue that manipulation of magnetic fields is his power? The answer to this question are two fundamental laws of physics, Ampere’s Law and Faraday’s Law of Induction.
Let’s start with Ampere’s Law. Ampere’s Law defines the generation of magnetic fields due to electricity. Ampere’s Law states that magnetic fields may be generated by the motion of an electrical current or by changing electrical fields.
Our thoughts are complex firings of neurons within the brain, transferring electrical potentials from one brain cell to another. One way scientists study the brain is by tracking these electrical potentials through what is known as electroencephalography (EEG). An alternative to EEG is called magnetoencephalography (MEG) and tracks the small magnetic fields generated when neurons are communicating. This is a practical application of Ampere’s Law. From this, we see two possible ways that Charles Xavier could be telepathically reading the minds of others, either through interpretation of the electric fields (similar to a really fancy EEG) or the interpretation of the magnetic fields (a really fancy MEG). We still do not know how he could possibly place thoughts into the minds of others.
For the answer to this, we go back to physics, our good friend Faraday, and his law of induction. Faraday’s Law of Induction states that any change in the magnetic environment of a coil of wire will cause a voltage to be induced in the coil. This means that by changing a magnetic field, we can actually cause the generation of electricity. If the firing of neurons is just changes in voltage potentials across the neuron cells, this means that a magnetic field could cause a neuron to fire.
In fact, this has been demonstrated in medical science. The FDA actually places limitations for how fast the magnetic field inside of an MRI machine can change to prevent muscle spasms in patients.Additionally, there are new fields treatments for depression and anxiety being developed that use targeted magnetic fields to stimulate regions of the brain. So far, these approaches have been shown to be highly targeted and extremely safe. (Author’s Note: MRI machines are extremely safe and none of the discussed technologies could in anyway control your mind).
Scientists are still working to map the complex neural interactions that occur in the brain. While research has begun to be able to map out emotional responses and regions of the brain linked to various types of thought, we are still a long way from reading someone’s mind. However, despite current limitations of science, by combining the concepts of Faraday’s Law and Ampere’s Law we can see that Professor Xavier could gain the abilities of telepathy from a very precise control and interpretation of remote magnetic fields. Of course there are alternate interpretations, Xavier could easily be manipulating and reading the electrical fields in the brains of others. Perhaps more concerning is that regardless of whether or not Xavier can control magnetic fields, with a little practice Magneto could definitely gain the abilities of telepathy.