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44645.  Tue Jan 10, 2006 6:55 pm Reply with quote

Except that, of course, we do question all those things - in the sense that we enquire into them. It would be perverse to exclude dowsing, uniquely, from enquiry.

46016.  Mon Jan 16, 2006 12:39 pm Reply with quote


46197.  Tue Jan 17, 2006 7:38 am Reply with quote

I was shown five years ago how to dowse and, to my surprise, found that it worked. The wires in the holders in my hands did swivel, without my conscious control, and crossed all by themselves whenever I passed over the path of a water main below the lawn I was walking across. An odd feeling - but it does happen. Magic?

46211.  Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:30 am Reply with quote

Flash has accurately divined my attitude. The only way to distinguish dowsing from, say, predicting the position of water by throwing some bones on the ground and reading their positions, or reading tea leaves, is to ask questions. Testing is the practical side of asking questions - simply try it and measure quantitatively how well it works.

Why question it? Why not question similar 'strange' abilities, like perfect pitch, hunter's eye, idiot savant, eidectic memory? Many people possess these abilities, and cannot explain or justify them. So, as you say, don't mind him.

Perfect pitch can be measured - it is utterly repeatable. Even though there isn't a clear understanding of how it works, it can definitely be shown to work. It's the same with vision - I don't need to believe in it to see how effective it is. Sure, I am fooled by things like optical illusions, but they must constitute only a tiny percentage of things that I see. The fact that I can read a post and reply to it is a bit of a giveaway.

Things that are testable can be measured. Things that do not - or cannot - be submitted to some kind of testing cannot be distinguished from nonsense. I could argue that invisible leprechauns that only I can see are guiding me to the water, and that would be just as good (or poor) an explanation because it can't be tested or repeated by anyone else.

We're all aware how fallible and open to suggestion people are in terms of how special their powers are. We want to believe we can do something, and we're far more impressed with something that works once than by the dozens of times something doesn't work. We have very selective memories. Have you ever counted the number of times you go somewhere and don't meet someone you know, or someone with whom you have a mutual acquaintance? It happens a lot, but we only think about and remember the occasions when we get a startling coincidence...

The only way to leave human fallibility out of the loop is to test to see if something does actually work. Only then is it worth looking into finding a mechanism. Dowsing, as far as I can find, does not satisfy even the first of these criteria. No conclusive, repeatable tests have ever been done. Not one.

That's not true for perfect pitch, or seeing, which are testable, replicable, and, to some consistent extent, mechanistically explainable.

Having said that, many mammals display an uncanny ability to sniff out water - evolution would select very strongly for this - but unless it can be shown to exist, quantitatively, for a human, it's just not a serious contender for credibility.

46293.  Tue Jan 17, 2006 11:40 am Reply with quote

Proof or disproof?

46352.  Tue Jan 17, 2006 1:44 pm Reply with quote

I'm surprised no-one has mentioned James Randi yet. He is the guy whose foundation offer a million dollars to anyone who can prove any of a number of "paranormal" powers under strict scientific conditions. Dowsing is one of these powers.

I know Randi is a bit of a "funny" character, and a self publicist of the highest order, but the fact that no-one has even come close to proving that dowsing works beyond statistical error, in these tests or others, surely says something. I wonder if you fancy taking up the challenge and pocketing the cash Mckeonj?

As for deBroglie, like Dr B says, it is he who hypothesised that all matter can act like a wave. However it is not just little objects which can be described as such, you or I, or even neolithic stones can be described as having the properties of a wave (but one of an infinitecimal DeBroglie wavelength)*.

However, what Dr Bob wrote above seems to imply (and this is consistant with what's left of my physics knowledge), that for a macroscopic object like a neolithic monument to behave like a wave it would have to have a momentum (i.e. it would need to be moving). I don't see how there would be anything around this rock to detect deBroglie-wise.

I always like to try to take a neutral point of view with these things, but the lack of credible evidence on one side, and the few failed experiments on the other, I'm finding it hard to believe it's more than wishful thinking. That's not to say I wouldn't mind going into a field and trying it out for myself, to try to understand why those who believe in dowsing are so voiciferous. (as long as there was a good pub nearby)

*If my physics doesn't fail me**.

**which it often does these days.

46399.  Tue Jan 17, 2006 4:41 pm Reply with quote

I am not very interested in 'proving' dowsing one way or the other. All I know is that it works, for me and for many other people, and that it is in practical use every day, with a high success rate. It is interesting to note that the traditional contract between dowser and client is 'no well, no fee'. This would seem to indicate a high degree of confidence.

46404.  Tue Jan 17, 2006 4:52 pm Reply with quote

What we're discussing here is the difference between 'believing' something works, and it actually working. If no-one can demonstrate that it does actually work, it's in Uri Geller country.

I'm much less inclined to believe these newspaper reports that say that such-and-such a company or organisation uses a dowser. I've heard claims that the army do, and some oil prospectors, but I'd be very surprised if it was worth their while.

Mind you, there are also reports of the police using mediums, and even presidents using astrologers...

gerontius grumpus
46431.  Tue Jan 17, 2006 6:39 pm Reply with quote

There's nothing new about scepticism over dowsing.

In 1830 the Thames and Severn Canal was enjoying increasing trade but water was in short supply due to leakage. Various schemes were suggested , including the search for additional sources by seeking theservices of a water diviner.
The committee minutes record a comment by the chairman that he liked
"a recommendation above ground better than the old one of sending a Staffordshire conjuror to tell where water is to be found below the surface".

46483.  Wed Jan 18, 2006 7:30 am Reply with quote

Jenny wrote:
Proof or disproof?

Very QI article, Jenny. Thank you.

Also an excellent example of the power of scientific method. Even when the scientist carrying out the experiment is predisposed to finding a particular result, if the experiment is well designed and the data published in a public forum, it is possible for someone else to point out the errors made in the analysis and show what the data really means.

46489.  Wed Jan 18, 2006 8:10 am Reply with quote

I like his analysis of their skill were they to have guessed that the water source was at the mid-point every time: they would have scored better than their dowsing scored.

Incidentally, I'd just like to point out that although I might appear to play a rather aggressive game when it comes to discussing science and non-science, I absolutely do not mean to hurt anyone's feelings, or attempt to make them feel silly. It's occurs to me that I might come across this way, but I am trying quite hard to leave ego out of this, and just concentrate on the issues.

I'm sure we can all be calm about issues like this that really do need discussion (after all, we're managing it in the various religion threads, amazingly!), and I really do rate very highly the people on this talk Forum in their ability to avoid both causing and taking offence. I'm fairly sure no-one has, but I just get this feeling occasionally... I hate the stemming of discussion by bullying tactics more than anyone.

Anyway, on...

46516.  Wed Jan 18, 2006 10:37 am Reply with quote

I agree Gray. As a veteran of the Guardian Unlimited Talk boards, I have seen far more than my fair share of virtual blood spilled over this kind of discussion, but when we can concentrate on the issues it is so much more interesting.

46557.  Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:23 pm Reply with quote

eggshaped wrote:
//However, what Dr Bob wrote above seems to imply (and this is consistant with what's left of my physics knowledge), that for a macroscopic object like a neolithic monument to behave like a wave it would have to have a momentum (i.e. it would need to be moving). I don't see how there would be anything around this rock to detect deBroglie-wise.//

I claim no specialist knowledge and make no suggestions about the accuracy or otherwise of dowsing but I though I'd say that the monolith is moving as it is on the surface of the earth. It's even moving relative to the observer to some extent, it has angular acceleration (angular velocity is directional and the direction is slightly different for the object and the observer).

46570.  Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:59 pm Reply with quote

Well that's sold me,

<grabs a pair of coathangers>

46641.  Wed Jan 18, 2006 7:36 pm Reply with quote

Another topic related to dowsing is chicken sexing, as practised in poultry farms and markets. Day-old chicks are sorted into male and female by a person who simply picks up the chicks one by one and puts them into separate pens according to gender. The sexer works very fast, hardly looking at each bird, sorting 200 birds in 2-3 minutes. Usually, day-old chicks have no visible gender differences in feathering or cloaca, so how do the practitioners do it? Mostly, they don't know how they do it, they just do it.
I checked this in Wikipedia, and got this link:


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