Okay, the dowsing question

In the graveyard post, someone said,

There was much “no you can’t” “yes you can” type arguments going on about dowsing. But I remember as a kid that my dad gave me two L-shaped pieces of coat hanger and told me to hold them out straight and walk around our yard/driveway, whatever, and see what happened. Not knowing where anything was buried, I could walk around and the two pieces of wire would start to converge over a certain area. I can’t remember whether it was the electrical line or the water line, but the wires would consistently move closer together as you got closer to the line and when you were right over it, they would cross. There no easy way to twist two pieces of coat hanger that are held in each fist and there’s no reason that I, at 10, would have known anything about dowsing or trickery or the location of buried utility lines.

So what’s the scoop on that? Is that not considered dowsing? It is definitely repeatable by anyone that wants to try it. I don’t know if I believe in finding water 100 feet down with a Y-shaped wooden stick, but the metal coat hanger thing definitely works - I experimented with it for the rest of the afternoon that day. I know no one in my family has psychic abilities and my sister and dad both tried it out with the same results. My dad wasn’t that surprised or pleased with the whole idea, he just seemed to take it as common knowledge. So what is the “scientific” explanation for it?

I took a workshop in dowsing once. I believe the key to the whole thing is a pretty convincing phenomenon that people can easily see for themselves. If you take a green branched shape like a wishbone and hold it so that the end is pointed up, you can walk around and eventually the stick will bend down rather forcefully. You won’t realize that you had anything to do with it so it seems very mystical. I have heard various explanations on why the stick bends. It seems to depend on subtle muscle movements in your hands or something. I believe the coat hangers are the result of something similar.

If you combine that with the fact that water is easy to find, you can end up with people that are totally convinced some force helps them find water or other things. If a dowser does it many times, he may even pick up on other clues about where the best well should be and not totally realize it.


That explains the movement of the stick, coat hangers, whatever. Nothing special is happening, this isn’t something that even meets the basic level of scientific testing.

How did you actually verify that you had successfully located the power line?

My dad knew where the line was buried. I suppose from when he added my grandmother’s mobile home onto our property and he helped hook up her utilities or what not? We didn’t dig it up that same afternoon or anything.

That website says, “honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations” - but I had no expectations when my dad handed me the wires. Or, I guess, if anything I expected that they would start to point toward the ground at a specific spot, but instead they stayed horizontal and just crossed. Is it just coincidence that they crossed right over our water/electric line?

I don’t know the answer in your particular case, I think I can fairly confidently say, however, that dowsing has never stood up to scientific scrutiny. If it really does work, it ought to be possible to demonstrate it under controlled conditions, but as far as I know, that’s never happened.

For the record, I am a dowsing skeptic. Add to the record that I know well that anicdote<>data.

My dowsing story:
A few jobs back I was working at a company that went through a large growth phase. We were able to rent space in the adjacent building in our office park area. Phone and data lines needed to be run across the parking lot and under the driveway.

The contracter doing the work rented a pneumatic powered “mole” designed to tunnel under driveways and such. I’m not sure what the real name is, but you dig a hole on each side, place the thing in one hole, carefully aiming at the other hole, and it hammers it’s way across, dragging the airhose behind it. When it arrives at the other hole, you use the air hose to pull the wires or whatever through the tunnel it left.

And you are two idiots, and then you don’t aim carefully. And you wait untill the entire 100’ supply of airhose has been used up before it occurs to you that maybe the thing isn’t ever going to appear in the second hole. Then if you are REALLY dumb, you let it run untill that 100’ air hose breaks. And if you are REALLY REALLY dumb, you then pull the entire hose (which you could follow to find the device) out of the hole.

So the contractor starts digging with a backhoe where they think the thing probably is. After digging a hole large as large and deep as they can with a “normal” backhoe, they have not found the device.

So the contractor goes back to the rental place…“I guess I own that thing now, how much?” Turns out it is aroune $50,000 in early 90s dosh.

About this time, one of my coworkers (he was actually a contractor) who is into every crackpot pseudoscience known to mankind, and activly developing a few of his own, goes out there with his l-shaped dousing rods. and plants a flag where he says the thing is. “standard” technique with two L-shaped wire metal rods, not a forked stick.

This is obviously wrong, as they measure from the compressor and it would require about 20-25’ more than the 100’ of hose that was known to have been used. A metal detector (T-R type) is rented but nothing is located. Must be deeper.

So they cut a ramp, run the back hoe down into the hole, and dig as deep as the backhoe is able to lift dirt from the hole. Still no joy.

So they rent a bigger backhoe. and dig as deep as that one can go. Still no joy.

Oh, did I mention that this in the middle of the parking lot of the contractor’s customer? That would be the front parking lot where only customers and the two owners are allowed to park, not the one where the pions have to park. Did I mention that the primary owner developed a tic which got pretty noticeable every time he walked past that hole?

Once the hole was as deep as the large economy-sized backhoe could lift dirt from (the hole was big enough for IT to drive into now) they started expanding the search horizontally.

You know where this is going:

The thing was about 4’ under ground. Directly below the spot where the wack job had planted his flag. It turns out that 100’ of pneumatic hose will stretch about 20-25’ before it breaks.

It didn’t make a believer of me, but while still a skeptic, I am not a vocal one when it comes to this particular flavor of hokum.

Did you witness all of that first hand, or did someone relate it to you? I ask because it all sounds a bit too perfect a story (especially the bit about the flag being there all along while they ignored it and dug elsewhere).

A wooden stick suddenly plunging downwards? Ideomotor movement or fraud, almost certainly.

Two conductive metal objects of similar shape and size bent to pivot freely in the same plane held parallel converge or diverge inside an electromagnetic field? I’ve seen it happen, I’ve done it myself, and I can’t tell if it’s wishful thinking or not. Most likely it’s the same as above, but note that there is nothing fundamentally magic about metal moving in even a slight electromagnetic field (be it of a powerline, a TV or a person). For one, two similar conductive objects held using non-conductive holders by a human being provides all sorts of neat things like a temperature gradient, capacitance and inductance, all very slight but perhaps sufficient to provide a ‘compass needle’ like effect. If I had the time I’d do a few experiments but up until now I have not seen a single study that can confirm or deny this (because it’s a rather retarded thing to study to begin with), so the question remains open.

Is it repeatable if all participants DO NOT know where “the spot” is? Tests done under proper conditions have never shown that to be true.

Many dowsing “indicators” such as the forked stick and “L”-shaped rods in handles are constructed in a manner that slight movements of the person make large movements in the device. If the person makes tiny, unconscious movements which are magnified by the device, those are often interpreted as movements within the device itself.

Let’s take the L-shaped, parallel (sometimes single) rods,with the short end inserted in a vertical tube handle. If you hold one very steady, then tilt the handle ever so slightly, you can make the rod rotate. It’s a delicate balance and is subject to minor hand movements and even wind currents. I can make a set of rods “prove” there is water anyplace I want, and I doubt that you can tell that my hands are tilting as I walk along. It’s simple physics, folks.

Then let’s take the typical forked stick. If held in the typical manner, sprung upright with a strong hand grip, as you tighten or loosen your grip, the rod will tilt down or up or some other direction depending on slight hand movements. You can do this consciously and some people do it unconsciously, expressing surprise. I can make a rod show “water” anyplace I want. It’s simple physics, folks.

How about the pendulum? It’s very difficult to hold a pendulum still for long. Slight hand movements will cause one to swing, and the swinging has been interpreted as meaning something or the other (no two people seem to agree). It’s simple physics, folks.

And just because a device seems to move in what non-physicists think is a strange manner doesn’t mean they are detecting anything underground. And just because a well is sunk and water is found where a dowser says they should dig doesn’t mean much, either, since water can be found almost anywhere on earth. As James Randi says, the challenge is to find a place where there is no water, now that would be hard!

Dowsing is ignorance of physics and wishful thinking. Nothing more.

Do you believe him? :rolleyes:
Personally, I think Randi is ill-informed, not very bright, and incapable of running a proper test. I have it on very good authority that water is actually pretty hard to find, requiring expert geological knowledge and careful study of the territory. AIUI, anyone drilling a hole without a proper survey first is highly likely to hit a dry spot.

Which is why I’ve accepted Randi’s challenge, quoted above by Musicat. www.proverandiwrong.net

Musicat, if you believe Randi’s statement to be true, then you must regard my claim as false. Please do write to him and encourage him to actually conduct this test which he suggested. I’m willing to prove my claim. Is Randi willing to honour the challenge that he set?

We just had a thread within the last month about this subject where I chimed in, but I can’t find it.

I used to locate underground utilities. Every once in a while, when worse came to worse, and the equipment wasn’t registering, or the plans were hopelessly inadequate, we would get out two little flags, bend them, cross them, and start walking. It worked. Now, I think, honestly, that there is some sort of electro magnetic force with utility lines, that is different that trying to locate water 100’s of feet down. Most utility lines are much shallower, and the materials of the lines and conduit are different. Could part of it be educated guessing? Sure, why not. But some of the experiences I had were completely out of the blue as to location, places where you wouldn’t normally expect lines to be. Am I psychic, or have extraordinary powers? Nope, no way. But it happened, and repeatedly.

Peter Morris reminded me of that trainwreck, here are my earlier comments



“This job was 13 years ago, folks, sorry my description of locating technology is so sketchy. Didn’t really discuss the line hoodoo with many people, either.”

And then the thread was closed.

This is an interesting page on dowsing from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. A key quote:

Another useful cite on the subject of groundwater generally isthis one from the United States Geological Survey. A key quote is:

The JREF challenge is just made for testing and rewarding the type of feat that you describe, Samm, **Kevbo ** and dahfisheroo. There are those that criticise the JREF challenge for failing to water dowsers on actual groundwater. But testing an ability to locate a buried power line or water line or metal object is easy under controlled conditions that pretty precisely replicate the conditions described in the anecdotes above, and as I understand it the JREF has often done so in the past.

If you actually truly believe you can do this, then I don’t understand why you wouldn’t take the JREF challenge. I don’t mean that rhetorically: I honestly don’t understand why you wouldn’t. There could be few ways on the planet that you could earn an honest one million dollars for so few hours work.

If you won’t take the challenge then I really wonder if you truly believe you can do what you said you did. And until you take the challenge or otherwise participate in objective testing, sorry if I take somewhere between insignificant and no notice of your stories.

Sorry, my second last sentence should read: "If you won’t take the challenge then I really wonder if you truly believe that what you said you did, can be done.

Sorry about the quadruple post, but I should also correct myself on one more point. Of course, **Kevbo ** didn’t say he did anything. But if you really believe your coworker did what you said…

At the least I believe there may be a $50,000 spotters fee if you get him to take the challenge and he wins.

Off to Gret Debates.

samclem GQ moderator

Is Gret Debates where Debates that are not Great go?

Well, you know, the ones that want to have it done under their special conditions are so happy when a stupid person tries to do that for them.

Now, I’m not into this too much but I devised a plan that pretty workable but all the smart guys would not use it. They want the guy who found metal pipes to find water and they wanted the guy who found electric cables to find water pipes and of course they failed.

One that I set up, the smart guys said was fake. :: shrug ::

Guy ( not me ) said he could do 1" metal pipes at up to 1 ’ depth. So we did not ask him to do electric cables at 3’.

We went out and randomly laid 10 foot pipes of 1" at 3-5 inches under the surface of a dirt road, 90° to the road. 5 were PVC, 3 were galvanized 1’ water pipes and 2 were 1’ black pipe. The were about 10 -15 feet apart. We set up rope guide line, blindfolded the guy and brought him to the site. He was only told that there were some buried pipes in his path and that he would be told when he was to the end of the walk.

We all stayed way back so that he couldn’t hear us breathe or anything.

He got it 100% right. Found only the metal ones.

I have no idea if this actually means anything. The comments of the ‘smart’ guys did prove to me that they were not interested in testing what he could do but in proving by the way they wanted the test run that it could not happen and the guy was a fake.

Oh, he was a forked stick user.

This was about 1959.

All through my aerial mapping career, I did a lot of surveying. When it came to finding pins under a dirt road where there is no surface indication, I would sometimes beat our surveyor if the pin was big nuff and close nuff to the surface before he could get the description read, take the measurements and fire up his metal detector. It was a little game we played. Never tried to ‘prove’ anything by it though.

It is fun to see people foam at the mouth in denial that anything of this sort can happen at all.

YMMV of course.