Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dowsing for Truth

I should first point out, before I write anything about it, that I do not believe in dowsing in the slightest. Because of this it is likely that I suffer at least some confirmation bias which may lead to my sarcastic and negative point of view. On second thoughts, it's probably just because it's about as much use as trying to find water by repeatedly rolling dice until it begins they begin to wear away at the earth and you eventually hit the water table. Oh, wait that's much more useful then dowsing.

OK, now, onto a more proper look at


According to wikipedia, the god of the internet, "Dowsing, sometimes called divining, doodlebugging (in the US), or (when searching specifically for water) water finding or water witching, is a practice that attempts to locate hidden water wells, buried metals or ores, gemstones, or other objects as well as currents of earth radiation without the use of scientific apparatus. A Y- or L-shaped twig or rod is sometimes used during dowsing, although some dowsers use other equipment or no equipment at all."

I do feel however that wikipedia was a bit blasé on the issue of "or other objects" because it seems that this really does stretch to anything. A good section of the James Randi One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge applications have been one form of dowsing or another. This includes:
  • Connie Sonne - able to dowse for certain numbers when they are written on one side of a piece of cardboard and the other side is blank, and the cardboard is shuffled and placed on a table numbers-down.
  • Greg Price - ability to dowse circular paths that he (or others) had recently walked on. He has since been disqualified from the challenge with the response "I am still unable to see how your claim constitutes a paranormal ability. Please clarify. Are you saying that, after walking a circular path a few times, you are able to walk the same circular path with dowsing rods? Surely remembering where you walked is not a paranormal ability?"
  • Mike Guska - able to tell whether a cannister contains gold, silver, or nothing through dowsing.
  • James Dawson - can tell, with certain information, whether a person is alive or dead and what position they were in when they died.
Though some older studies concluded that some dowsers "in particular tasks, showed an extraordinarily high rate of success, which can scarcely if at all be explained as due to chance ... a real core of dowser-phenomena can be regarded as empirically proven." these 6 out of 43 dowsers (selected as the best candidates out of 500 people) showed only better then statistically probable. Though my knowledge of statistics is limited, I would assume that through chance it would be likely that some would do better then average.

More a recent study however showed no significant results. Also, no one has ever passed the preliminary test of the Million Dollar Challenge.

So, The truth in Dowsing. The Ideomotor Effect

"The ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously. As in reflexive responses to pain, the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action. For instance, tears are produced by the body unconsciously in reaction to the emotion of sadness.

Automatic writing, dowsing, facilitated communication, and Ouija boards have also been attributed to the effect of this phenomenon. Mystics have often attributed this motion to paranormal or supernatural force. Many subjects are unconvinced that their actions are originating solely from within themselves." - Wikipedia

Clearly this is the source of almost all the "Dowsing Phenomena". For me that's a case closed.

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