Dowsing

  1. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04035/268864.stm

    This is a funny issue for me. My dad - now 70 - does not believe in ghosts, UFOs, ET of any kind, ESP, or anything else "supernatural", however years ago he used dowsing to find power lines and water pipes on a fairly regular basis. He never realized that this isn't supposed to work. He was quite incredulous when I explained that this is considered nonsense by most scientists. It usually worked well for him and for the salt of the earth uncle who showed him how to do it. They have both used this to solve real, everyday problems in a professional setting. He also showed me how to do it but I have never tested my own skills.

    My best guess: I saw a science program about a study of this. High speed video shows that dowsers react before the rods - the muscles in the arm can be seen to flex before the dowsing rod responds. In other words, the dowser causes the action of the dowsing rod, not the water or power lines. At a glance this implies that dowsing is a bogus skill, but I think this relates to some primitive, natural ability within us to find water. It seems to me that the dowsing rods only act as motion amplifiers that alert us to our own subtle reactions.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. This is a very cool story.
    You ought to write an article or pamphlet on how to dowse relating what he taught you.
     
  4. dlgoff

    dlgoff 3,093
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    And what's funny, they're still in use.

    A few years ago I watch a City of Topeka Kansas employ use a stanless steel rod with a ball bearing handle find and mark waterlines.

    What the heck?
     
  5. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    I think dlgoff provides evidence of my point. The dowsing mechanism is rather unimportant, but the technique is widely used with much success. I am told that one of the best water locators around here uses dowsing also. I have seen on TV that one of the best people in Texas for finding water uses dowsing. They claimed that his hit rate meets or exceeds anyone else's in the area. The video footage that I saw - the experiment that shows the muscles acting first - did in fact yield success rates far beyond random chance. The fact that his muscles were seen flexing first was used to argue the experiment as invalid.

    The technique is very simple. My dad used two pieces of wire fashioned from clothes hangers. Each wire should be straight and about 18" in length, with another six inches bent at a 45 degree angle as a handle. All of the approaches to this that I have seen indicate that ease of movement of the rods is the key [hence the ball bearing in dlgoff's example]. The rods much be held level with the long portions pointing directly forward and able to cross each other; and they must be able to rotate within your hands with even the slightest perturbation. In effect they are held in a state of unstable equilibrium. Then, just walk slowly while trying to keep your hands steady and even. When the wires "insist" on crossing, mark the spot and continue. Again though, I never have gotten serious about testing this myself. Knowing my dad I have little to no doubt that it works...at least for some people. I don't know if everyone is supposed to be able to do this. I suspect not.


    btw dlgoff, did you see the guy who does this while driving in his truck? I think this is the same person.

    Edit: I hadn't noticed that you live in Kansas. Did you see him in person or on TV? Maybe the ball bearing assembly is the option of choice now.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2004
  6. Just a couple points:

    1. Dowsing is a relatively easy ability to test scientifically. And so far no dowser in a double-blind test has performed better than random chance.

    2. Dowsing success rates are very misleading, since many of the things dowsers look for are very easy to find. In areas with underground water, you can dig almost anywhere and hit water.
    Moreover, if ones job involves finding power lines and water pipes, you'll have quite a bit of success at just guessing the location. It isn't like those things are just laid out randomly.
     
  7. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    One would think. However, I already cited one example of a study that yielded success but was ignored; this because it was assumed that since the dowser caused the action of the rods, the test was fixed.

    I don't agree with this point. I live in rainy and wet Oregon and people commonly hit dry wells here. This is a big concern to anyone who builds in an undeveloped area.

    Here I am in the rare position of arguing for a claim based on personal observations. I can only give the following to defend my position. First, my dad is not prone to fanciful notions. Honestly, he is the last person to buy into fringe topics, or even anything beyond Newtonian Physics...heck, he still doesn't buy into Relativity; it’s just too weird. He merely assumed that some logical explanation must exist. Next, this "skill" is widely practiced by people in the water business. I suggest that decades of experience may count for more than a few possibly flawed experiments. Next, since we don't know how this might work, how do we know that we gave fair tests? Perhaps some factors not recognized affected the tests. Perhaps "test anxiety" could have affected the ability of the dowser to focus. It happens in college, why not real life?

    I don’t know I can only guess… I do know that many very practical people use this as a tool in their jobs. This goes beyond the classification of a fringe claim for me. In this situation, when one depends on success in order to put food on the table, a person does not continue to use failed techniques. If it doesn't work people simply wouldn't use it. While the dowser is out walking around and looking like a fool with their rods, sticks, or wires, the scientifically knowledgeable person should be able to steal the account every time based on their success rates. Since this doesn’t happen I must assume that dowsing works.
     
  8. dlgoff

    dlgoff 3,093
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    I was right there on the sidewalk watching him walk and paint the ground. I could see how the device worked. The handle was wood, I think, and from the ease of movement of the rod I probably assumed ball bearings. However I was close enough to see what appeared to be a bearing in this handle.
     
  9. This doesn't inspire confidence to me. I would trust the judgement of someone who evaluates claims based on evidence, not whether or not they seem "weird".


    Besides, my point wasn't that dowsing fails, my point was that it works no better than random chance. If dowsing were actually less successful than random chance, that would actually be surprising.


    As for the test anxiety...that's a cop out. That's the same as a fortune teller who claims his/her ability is negated by the presence of skeptical people.
     
  10. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    LOL, now you are into a long term father son debate; about the evidence supporting GR and SR. The point was his refusal to accept extreme ideas and fanciful tales.


    I don't think this is true if done by a "talented" practicioner, however your position is completely reasonable and mine is not based on science. What can I say? I became convinced by observation and by knowing who uses this.

    In many cases I would agree, but in this case I think your objections may not apply. I don't know how else to explain both that observed, and the typical scientific opinion of this "art form". Also, test anxiety does exist in a very real way. To completely ignore this possibility I think is a cop out. It is possible for anxiety to affect tests and I can prove it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2004

  11. Well, I don't deny that test anixety exists. And if I usually try to help people who have problems writing tests. But I still don't consider it to be a valid excuse for failure.

    Lets say I'm given two people, one who failed for lack of effort, and one who failed because of an inability to perform under pressure. I would be more willing to try and help the person who made the effort, but I wouldn't consider their failure to be any less of a failure.

    What I'm trying to say is that test anxiety is a reason to practice and try again. It isn't a reason to discard previous results.
     
  12. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    This issue or potential test anxiety, or the inability to perform while being scrutinized could be very significant to a number of paranormal claims. If we don't accept this possibility then we effectively ignore the spirit of Heisenberg.

    Many alleged "skills" or "abilities" may require extreme and unimpeded concentration. If any interference with this concentration can affect the results then this must be factored in. The difference between your example and mine is that people make a living doing by this in a success dependant environment. The results are seen in the real world everyday.

    Let’s turn this around. Are you saying that we can conclude that a student who fails due to test anxiety did not know the material?
     
  13. That's a tricky question to answer. In order for me to know a student has test anxiety, I need to already know that they understand the materials.

    For example, if I give a student a rigorous calculus test (which doesn't count for marks) and they perform well, but then they subsequently fail a midterm, that is an indication to me that the student has test anxiety. They know the material but are unable to perform under real pressure.

    On the other hand, if a student I know nothing about fails a midterm and then claims it is test anxiety, I would still conclude that the student not knowing the material is the best explaination. Until I'm given evidence that the student does know the material, I can't conclude that test anxiety is anything more than an excuse.

    And that evidence would have to be significant. For example, if the student brought me an assignment they completed with good marks, I would consider that to be weak evidence at best...enough to warrant further consideration, but not enought to change my opinion. Even weaker evidence would be classmates telling me that the student did know the material.


    Test anxiety is an explaination for failure. But given no other information, the best explaination is still lack of ability. An ability which always fails under any kind of rigorous testing is not an ability. Furthurmore, it is the responsability of the subject to work around this problem, not the testers.

    Note: "Avoid testing" is not a valid workaround. I'll accept paranormal abilities without testing after you convince my profs to pass me without testing.


    PS. Obviously, if you aren't interested in scientific testing of any kind then this isn't a problem. It's just that you can't expect an ability to be accepted within any scientific context if it can't pass such tests.
     
  14. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    You keep missing one of my essential points: This does pass in real applications. This is what bothers me about the negative scientific results. Also, I have serious doubts about the amount of testing done on this issue. We need many, many trials in order to compare the results to random chance.

    Ah, but you concede defeat too quickly. Maybe we just need smarter tests. You assume without any good reason that the tests done were fair and reasonable.

    I refer you to the "UK man foils ghost" thread as a possible example of the scientific community jumping on the easy explanation. Like Zooby, it seemed to me that this guy was virtually irrefutable, but I just didn't buy his explanation. Now it appears that his position is not so safe as it first seemed.
     
  15. If you take someone's home remedy for a cold, you'll probably get over the cold in a few days. That hardly proves the remedy helped with the cold, yet it seems that the remedy works in a real application.

    You can always say that you feel we need more tests. But that leads to another problem. If we tested a dowser today, would you expect the statistical significance of the test to be determined just on the basis of todays test? If we perform a large number of tests, eventually dowsing will perform significantly better than chance in some of the tests.


    As for having "smarter tests", how would one go about conducting them? Usually people asking for a "fair test" are actually asking for an "easy test". I'm not saying that unfair tests don't happen, but most people refuse to accept that a test is fairer unless they get a better mark. If a "fairer" test was conducted and dowsing did not perform better, would you conclude that we have evidence that dowsing does not work, or would you conclude that we have evidence that the test is unfair?


    Besides, I don't claim that the scientific position is irrefutable. If it were, it would hardly be scientific. It's just that there isn't really any scientific evidence that supports dowsing. Not only that, systematic testing error is also a scientific claim, one that doesn't have any evidential support right now either.

    Also, I would assume that the tests are fair if both the dowsers and the scientists (ones who don't believe in dowsing) agreed the test was fair before the test was conducted. This is only a heuristic, and to make a final decision I would have to review the tests individually, but it generally works pretty well. Indeed, the dowsers have something of an advantage over me...I don't get to see my tests before I take them.
     
  16. I have heard of a semi-plausible "explanation" for dowsing, based one charges and stuff in the rods. I'm rather neutral on the whole thing, since there is very little as far as I can tell in terms of studies into - so long as dowsers don't come to me spouting new-age mumbo-jumbo, I'm happy to ask for further tests, especially to determine a mechanism.

    As to test anxiety, I agree that it is a real possibility. But it is no crutch - if test anxiety is so omnipresent - and in most cases, this would be rather unreasonable, then dowsing cannot be considered to be scientifically valid. The dowser, given practice, should experience no more test anxiety than in the testing environment of his own occupation.
     
  17. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    I think I have pretty well elucidated my position: To some extent I think dowsing must really work. I also think science must play a role if one is to accept this "art form" as valid, but I question whether or not that role has been effective as yet. I will ponder this a little more and I may say more later.

    One adder: I talked with my dad today and told him that he is a source of irritation for scientists all over the world.

    I asked him how often this actually passed and failed. He said that he HAD to completely rely on this about 6 times and that it worked every time. On one occasion it was necessary to cut a trench in someone's patio based on the results of his dowsing. The pipe was just where the dowsing had indicated. He insists that he was previously clueless as to the location of the pipe. Note also that he was helping a neighbor who was paying for all of this...now that's confidence!

    He also passed on his own thoughts about a potential mechanism. First I told him about the experiment that showed the dowser's muscles flexing before the action of the rods is seen. I then explained my guess as to a mechanism to explain these results. He guesses that we might be sensing minor perturbations in the local magnetic field.
     
  18. Any time a trench was dug to lay a pipe or utility line it would certainly disrupt the alignment of the ferrites in the soil with the earth's magnetic field. In this case, at least, there is an authentic disturbance to be senced. (I'm not sure if an underground spring would have any effect on the magnetic orientation of the particles of ferrites in the soil above it, or the earth's magnetic field in general.)

    The question to be explored is whether or not the human body can actually sence magnetic fields and also distinguish between oriented and disorganized fields.
     
  19. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,529
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    I'm not sure about this, but it seems that somewhere I have read that humans may be able to sense magnetic fields. Clearly this ability does exist in nature so the possibility of such seemed reasonable. Also, at least in the case of my father and uncle, I would imagine that all applications involved buried pipes. This may be significant. A steel pipe will definitely affect local fields. Whether or not such a perturbation could be sensed by any animal is anyone's guess.... In either case its pure speculation but it seemed worth mentioning.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2004
  20. I read awhile back a small blurb in some science magazine about a group of scientists at MIT, I think it was, working on a theory that consciousness was the electromagnetic field of the brain. Aparently everyone's is unique.. Like a fingerprint. I don't know amything beyond that. Have any of you heard of this?

    It seems to me that if this could be so determined, it would have rather far reaching ramifications regarding all sorts of areas like dowsing and other psychic or metaphysical matters.
     
  21. This is the 64640000 dollar question: how does the action of neurons lead to the phenomenon of consciousness?
     
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