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A review of dowsing: Evidence for and against

  1. Jan 17, 2005 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    Previous PF discussion: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=17088&page=1&pp=15&highlight=Divining

    Dowsing: Journal of Scientific Exploration
    ...In 1986, GTZ presented in its series of publications a special report number 183 on a project in the northern dry zone districts of Sri Lanka, where dowsing techniques have been implemented on a large scale for the identification of well sites [1]. The resulting success and the economic benefit turned out to be unexpectedly high, thus justifying this unconventional technique despite all initial doubts and reservations, put forward from various parties ...

    The dowsing competence of an expert appointed by GTZ, Dipl.-Ing. Hans Schröter, was checked within a large scientific research program. A detailed final report of the investigation has been published [2]. It contains all practical procedures and results of the project, performed by a team of 14 scientists from 9 different institutions situated in and around Munich; the financing and control of the study was executed by the German Ministry for Research and Technology, along with another scientific group appointed by the Ministry. A series of rigorous tests showed that Schröter was, amongst some 50 tested persons, the most successful participant and his dowsing talent could be proven with a great statistical significance.

    GTZ examined the speculation that the dowsing technique may also be of practical usefulness in other representative field programs, namely with respect to the increase of success rates. The results obtained up to now are contained in the following report: despite all possible objections, these results lead us to the conclusion that the said speculation is largely corroborated by the facts.

    Within a framework of cooperation between GTZ and a project team from Munich who participated in the above mentioned dowsing investigation, it was agreed to adopt a more scientific approach with regard to relevant future GTZ projects. This includes a field test of particular measuring devices and detailed discussions amongst specialists in the field of earth sciences, regarding the dowsing technique and the corresponding results obtained from GTZ projects. Of course, it cannot be expected that an extremely complex and historically developed problem, such as dowsing in conjunction with its immediate environment, may be satisfactorily solved within a short time and rendered acceptable on a general basis. Nevertheless, it clearly appears that this technique has been gaining more importance for particular, well specified tasks [2]. Former experiences already showed that it could be gainfully and reproducibly implemented in the field of geohydrology, provided that some careful precautions and controls were considered [3]. [continued]

    http://www.scientificexploration.org/jse/articles/betz/1.html [Broken]

    Ekstr|m (1932), professor at the Swedish Geological Surveys suggested that the reaction of the diving rod is caused by slight muscle movements in the hands. Tromp (1949), professor in Geology at Cairo University, made laboratory tests on dowsing using alternating magnetic fields. Histests were followed by many. Rocard (1969) showed that the rod responds to electromagnetic fields. The dowsing reaction occurs at individually different magnitudes of the magnetic field. Rocard also showed that the dowsing reaction cannot depend on induced currents.

    Tromp and Rocard inspired others and several tests have been done in magnetically isolated rooms. Alternating electromagnetic fields operated by random signal generators are used. The dowsers are to locate the magnetic field source. Usually, in field tests, 10-20% can operate the rod but in thesetests 80-99% of the dowsers were successful. The difference between field tests and laboratory tests are supposed to depend on the extreme conditions of the laboratory environment. Tests carried out in the laboratory show that the dowsing reaction occurs in electromagnetic fields.However, Engh (1982) reports about a field test in which the dowsing reactions could not be correlated to magnetic anomalies. One explanation is that it could be a matter of frequency rather than amplitude of the magnetic field. Engh also reports that dowsing reactions occurred when thedowsers walked over a hidden permanent magnet.

    A Rumanian researcher, A Apostol, gave a lecture on dowsing at Luleå University of Technology. He suggested that the dowsing reaction originates from mechanical stress concentrations underground. Stress concentrations occur in fractures and fissures and since such underground openingsin most cases are water conducting the rod can indirectly indicate water. In a field test, at Kallaxmoor where the bedrock is covered with 30 m of sand, he demonstrated his skill with the wooden twig by detecting fracture zones in the bedrock. He could also tell the direction of the fracture zones. His results were found to be remarkably good compared to geophysical measurements carried out before his visit.

    http://www.sb.luth.se/~bon/projects/Dowsing88%20eng.pdf [Broken]

    The use of dowsing for the location of caves, with some results from the first Royal Forest of Dean Caving Symposium, June 1994
    Biolocation, more commonly known as dowsing, is an ancient technique. That it is a cross-cultural technique is evident from the fact that words exist in most languages for the technique, the rod and the operator. However, its recent use for the detection of caves from the surface is a controversial practice which has received much discussion. The paper will commence with the history of the technique and continue with a discussion of the possible scientific explanation of the mechanism involved. The author has researched widely in the geophysical location of caves and hydrological systems. During the last ten years he has become convinced that the traditional dowsing method, when used on site, produces consistent and reproducible results, and that there is a case to be answered. He is not willing to entertain the possibility of a psychic or extra-sensory explanation, and continues to plan experiments with a view to discovering an explanation of the technique within physical and medical science. Case studies have been carried out in all the caving regions of England and Wales, as well as in France and Spain. Many of these studies have suggested the existence of cave systems not yet entered, and several have been proved to be correct by later cave diving and exploration. Publication of the results has aroused much controversial discussion; the results stand as hypotheses, however, until disproved. The paper concludes with some results from the Royal Forest of Dean Caving Symposium held in June 1994. The appendix contains master maps of dowsing traces throughout the Forest of Dean carried out before June 1994.


    Testing Dowsing: The Failure of the Munich Experiments
    The notion that certain skilled individuals can discover underground water by using a mysterious talent known as "dowsing" (or "witching" or "divining") is widely regarded among serious scientists as no more than a superstitious relic from medieval times. No plausible physical or physiological mechanism has ever been proposed by which such detection might be possible. Nevertheless, the worldwide persistence of this practice through the centuries might lead open-minded people to wonder whether there could be a germ of truth behind the folklore. After all, valuable additions to the modern pharmacopoeia have sometimes been derived from folk medicine, thus proving that not all folklore is unmitigated superstition.

    http://www.csicop.org/si/9901/dowsing.html [Broken]

    Voluntary involuntariness
    Thought suppression and the regulation of the experience of will Participants were asked to carry out a series of simple tasks while following mental control instructions. In advance of each task, they either suppressed thoughts of their intention to perform the task, concentratedon such thoughts, or monitored their thoughts without trying to change them. Suppression resulted in reduced reports of intentionality as compared to monitoring, and as compared to concentration. Therewas a weak trend for suppression to enhance reported intentionality for a repetition of the action carried out after suppression instructions had been discontinued. _ 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/pdfs/Wegner&Erskine.pdf [Broken]

    The mind’s best trick
    how we experience conscious will We often consciously will our own actions. This experience is so profound that it tempts us to believe that our actions are caused by consciousness. It could also be a trick, however – the mind’s
    way of estimating its own apparent authorship by drawing causal inferences about relationships between thoughts and actions. Cognitive, social, and neuropsychological studies of apparent mental causation suggest that experiences of conscious will frequently depart from actual causal processes
    and so might not reflect direct perceptions of conscious thought causing action.

    How People Are Fooled by Ideomotor Action
    This "influence of suggestion in modifying and directing muscular movement, independently of volition" was given the label ideomotor action by the psychologist/physiologist William B. Carpenter in 1852 [4]. Later the concept was more widely publicized by the Harvard physician-turned-psychologist William James [5]. Carpenter wanted to show that a variety of currently popular phenomena had conventional scientific explanations rather than the widely believed supernatural ones. The phenomena he tackled included dowsing ("water witching"), the magic pendulum, certain aspects of mesmerism, spiritualists' "table turning," and Reichenbach's "Odylic force." Carpenter did not question the reality of the phenomena, nor the honesty of the people who were involved. He only disputed the explanation, arguing that, "All the phenomena of the 'biologized' state, when attentively examined, will be found to consist in the occupation of the mind by the ideas which have been suggested to it, and in the influence which these ideas exert upon the actions of the body." Thus Carpenter invoked ideomotor action as a nonparanormal explanation for various phenomena that were being credited to new physical forces, spiritual intervention, or other supernatural causes. He published many books and articles during the latter half of the nineteenth century expounding his ideas about ideomotor action [6,7].


    Department of Agriculture; Government of Western Australia

    [Note: I am only posting this because, if I am reading this correctly, divining is mentioned as a standard technique used for success. Since I didn't read the report in detail I may be wrong but this seemed to be the gist of things]

    Two landholders use groundwater for stock water. Both pump fresh to brackish groundwater from fractured rock aquifers of unknown extent. The bores were located either by divining (dowsing) or by local knowledge of the drilling contractor. Only partial bore logs andcompletion details are recorded. In one case, the bore is cased over the first 10 m, which is weathered material, and is uncased for the remaining 50 m of its depth. No records of pumping rates or volumes are kept in either case.

    http://agspsrv38.agric.wa.gov.au/pls/portal30/docs/FOLDER/IKMP/LWE/CRS/RURALD/CATCH/tr262_part1.pdf [Broken]

    How Does Fact Confront Myth When it Comes to Water?
    Boucher, Kurtis W., School of Geology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater OK, 74078
    See p. 88-91 [of 106]
    Abstract: This paper offers an insight to whether or not dowsing is fact or myth by evaluating thoughts of skeptics and the experiments that have been done on this belief Does fact confront myth when it comes to water? If adequate methods of testing hypotheses aren’t known or applied, faulty explanations of actual phenomena can live on through generations, simply because the only thing that matters is that “it seems to work”. There are strong indications that the popular activity called dowsing is such a phenomenon. Many believers in the art of dowsing don’t believe so. Since ancient times, dowsers have claimed they can find water by using their senses – and a few special tools, such as rods or pendulums. They believe that objects, including water, possess a natural magnetic, electromagnetic or other unknown “energy” they can detect with their senses. To a dowser, sensing this energy is natural and can be developed through practice.
    This ancient divining technique has many adherents, but it has never been scientifically proven. Unfortunately, water diviners have not been prepared to master the “rudiments of ground water geology or other relevantsciences, preferring instead to elaborate their own naive theories about dowsing.”(1) Due to this ignorance,dowsers have never been able to present their claims in a form acceptable to scientists. Therefore, scientists react toward water dowsers with distaste or even hostility.

    http://faculty.okstate.edu/halihan/GEOL4453/2001hydropapers.pdf [Broken]

    15 of 68
    3.2 Dowsers and Water-Witches
    see pdf page 15 of 68
    In hard-rock terrain, whether it be in Nigeria, Norway or Cornwall, dowsers are very often used to locate underground water and often seem to achieve similar results to hydrogeo-logists (see Text Boxes 1 and 2). The authors would venture to argue that this is not because of special prowess on behalf of the dowser, but often because of lacking insight on the part of the hydrogeologist. Dowsers will often try to locate water using forked twigs, bent clothes hangers, German sausages or pendula (Figure 5). Some may even ply their skills in the office over a map, without venturing into the terrain. The most honest dowsers will admit that it is difficult to conceive of a physical explanation for dowsing and that their skill is purely "spiritual".Agricola (1556) tells us that, "..wizards, who also make use of rings, mirrors and crystals, seek for veins with a divining rod shaped like a fork; but its shape makes no difference... for it is not the form of the twig that matters, but the wizard's incantations which it would not become me to repeat". It is likely that customers use dowsers for three reasons:


    Précis of: The Illusion of Conscious Will
    Abstract: The experience of conscious will is the feeling that we’re doing things. This feeling occurs for many things we do, conveying to us again and again the sense that we consciously cause our actions. But the feeling may not be a true reading of what is happening in our minds, brains, and bodies as our actions are produced. The feeling of conscious will can be fooled. This happens in clinical disorders such as alien hand syndrome, dissociative identity disorder, and schizophrenic auditory hallucinations. And in people without disorders, phenomena such as hypnosis, automatic writing, Ouija board spelling, water dowsing, facilitated communication, speaking in tongues, spirit possession, and trance channeling also illustrate anomalies of will cases when actions occur without will, or will occurs without action. This book brings these cases together with research evidence from laboratories in psychology and neuroscience to explore a theory of apparent mental causation. According to this theory, when a thought appears
    in consciousness just prior to an action, is consistent with the action, and appears exclusive of salient alternative causes of the action, we experience conscious will and ascribe authorship to ourselves for the action. Experiences of conscious will thus arise from processes whereby the mind interprets itself—not from processes whereby mind creates action. Conscious will, in this view, is an indication that we think we have caused an action, not a revelation of the causal sequence by which the action was produced.
    http://psylux.psych.tu-dresden.de/allgpsy/Goschke/Goschke_Lehre/WS2003/Volition%20und%20Kontrolle/Wegner%20BBS.pdf [Broken]

    What is the Fundamental Nature of Consciousness?
    The nature of consciousness is fundamental to philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

    Science has made very promising progress on the "easy problem" (Chalmers, 1996) - the working out of the neural mechanisms of behavior and physiological correlates of mental states. However, despite thousands of years of philosophy and over a hundred years of hard science, the "difficult problem" - the issue of how first-person experience, and the raw feels of awareness can accompany the physical processes of neurobiology - remains intractable. A crucial aspect of this problem in the philosophy of mind is the question of ontology. Does mind or consciousness exist as a real feature of the world? Materialism asserts that only matter and energy comprise the universe, and all phenomena are products of their interactions. In contrast, dualism asserts that the universe also contains "mind", which cannot be reduced to matter or energy, and is responsible for consciousness. Which (if either) of these basic theories is true is an issue that is crucial to the way we understand normal and pathological human cognition, and the nature of the psyche. The data of parapsychology has direct relevance to these and other issues in cognitive science. In this paper I discuss the contribution that parapsychological research can make to the study of consciousness. Besides promising approaches to the "other minds" problem, and possible applications to the evolutionary origins of consciousness, the greatest contribution of parapsychology consists in what it has to say about materialism vs. dualism. I briefly mention a few arguments against materialism
    from the mainstream sciences, and then focus on the powerful implications of parapsychological research, some of which are very telling against the sufficiency of materialism as a framework within which to explain consciousness. The paper concludes with major problems which parapsychology must address to flesh out its contribution to ontology.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. May 27, 2011 #2
    I've seen it done. Had bought a country cabin in Virginia, didn't know where the septic tank was but thought it would be a good idea to have it drained. Good ole country guy, maybe 30, came up in a truck and solved the problem. Borrowed a coat hanger from me' made two L-shaped rods from it, found the tank almost immediately. "Don't know why it works, but it always does', he told me.
  4. May 27, 2011 #3
    Oldfart - I have tried this also, and know several people that can do it, too. Quite simple, really. But who knows how it is done!

    Ivan, are there any new studies since this last one was posted? Did any of the dowsers in the other thread ever get tested at a university? I am wondering if this subject could be delved into again, or is it now a taboo subject?
  5. May 27, 2011 #4
    Anybody who can demonstrate dowsing ability under reasonable experimental conditions can win one million dollars from the James Randi Educational Foundation. Nobody has claimed the prize.

    The only "evidence" for dowsing is anecdotes and case studies. No controlled experiments have ever shown that dowsing works.

    http://www.randi.org/library/dowsing/ has some first-hand information about testing dowsers. It's not a scientific report, but the JREF has tested many dowsers, and the accounts of the tests are available, and not a single one has ever passed.
    Last edited: May 27, 2011
  6. May 28, 2011 #5
    Sounds like a guy who already knew where it was and figured he could make a few bucks...
  7. May 28, 2011 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    Can you post a link to the actual tests?
  8. May 28, 2011 #7
    I don't believe they're available online, but the link I provided tells you where you can find details. I'll poke around when I get home to see if I can find any.
  9. May 28, 2011 #8


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    Well, what follows is only "personal anecdotes" about my late grandfather, who used to make regular money from dowsing for the local farming communty, but I think they illustrate a gap between what Randi is demanding as "proof" and what he actually did successfully enough to get regular repeat business. I personally saw him do often enough when I was a kid and a teenager.

    The local arable farm land was mostly drained by what were called "tile drains". These were made of clay pipes (made the same way as clay roofing tiles) about 500mm long, which were laid underground with short gaps (5 or 10mm) between them. Water soaked from the soil through the gaps, then flowed along the hole formed by the drain into a ditch at the side of the field.

    This worked fine, except that the drains could get blocked by tiles collapsing under the pressure of farm machinery, or by dead animals etc. There was no dispute about where the drains were, or which ones were blocked (you could see if water was flowing out of them into the ditch, or not). The problem was knowing where, across the length of a large field, to dig a hole and replace the broken tile. From the description, it should be clear that there would be water backed up in the drain behind the blockage.

    Reading Randi's website, it's hard to see how to turn that scenario into a double-blind trial. If you deliberately blocked a drain as a test, the surface disturbance to the field would be pretty obvious. In reality, if a drain got blocked iby normal farming operations in spring or summer, most likely nobody would notice till the next winter because there was no excess water to be drained.

    Anyhow, my grandfather could dowse for the blockages with a high enough success rate to get asked back year after year by the same farmers (who were not well known for parting with money for nothing). He had no idea how it worked, but he said that sticks or rods were just for show. If his customer didn't need "proof", he would just walk around for a while, then put a stake in the ground to mark where to dig.

    Of course this might not have been "dowsing" at all. Maybe he was just good at detecting changes in mosture content in the soil or the air by some unconscious (but scientifically explainable) method. Since he's now dead, there's no way to find out.
    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  10. May 28, 2011 #9
    This isn't dowsing for water, but rather dowsing for gold. I see no reason why the experimental procedure would be any different.

    http://www.randi.org/jr/032902.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  11. May 28, 2011 #10
    As I recall, the guy was working for a fixed price, he didn't gain by pretending to find the tank. Seemed to me like he was just trying to get the job done.
  12. May 29, 2011 #11
    Some years ago, there was a flurry of interest in 'Near Infra-Red' and self-claimed dowsers' sensitivity to it. I suppose that we'd now call that EM region 'TeraHertz'...

    FWIW, I'm a sceptic, as Dowsing and such never seems to work when I'm about...
  13. Jun 28, 2011 #12


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    As a rational person, I believe dowsing is absolute nonsense. However one of my family friends, an old man who was also a famous tiger hunter and missionary in pre - Mao China, and of impeccable integrity, insisted to me that he could and had found well water this way many times. He also asserted firmly that the tree limb bent in his hands, and would break if he tried to hold it back.

    The people I know of were never interested in persuading scientists, they just wanted the water, and they claimed they got it this way. I can only assume that a man familiar with his landscape can predict accurately where water will be found. But some practitioners reportedly walk all over the lot until the twig bends; i.e. they do not make a beeline for the most promising looking area.

    To me this is not plausible enough to be scientifically arguable, but if some one has a good track record of finding water, and I needed water, I would let him use whatever he wants.
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