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How does dousing work?

How does dousing work? I don’t believe in any of the mystical, new age reasons but I can do it – and with a bent metal coat hanger. Why do the rods react when they are above water? How do they sense that water is there?
Felicity Martin from Powys (Age: 55+)

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2 Responses

  1. Something which both sceptics and believers in dowsing (mostly) agree on is that the rods do not move on their own, they are moved by the practitioner. The rods are thought to amplify small imperceptible movements of the hands. This is called the ideomotor effect, and is also the sceptic’s explanation of Oiuja boards.
    Some of the scientific experiments of dowsing have failed to show any dowsing ability in people who thought they were able to do it, even though they were utterly convinced of their ability. There are a number of psychological effects which make people think they have these kind of abilities when they do not. For example you might be more likely to remember the successful attempts than the failed ones. Think carefully about how many times your rods have moved when above water vrs the number of times they move when not above water, it is important for this that you do not know that water is there before the dowsing or there may be an unconscious psychological effect going on.
    But I have heard of experiments which have found a very small number of people who did seem to be significantly better at detecting water through dowsing than chance would suggest. These studies seem to be in the minority and it could be said they were poorly carried out. Or they may have just been a fluke, which is going to happen if enough experiments are carried out.
    If we accept that dowsing is a real phenomenon (which is far from being proven), what possible explanation could there be. As it seems that only some people are capable of it one explanation sometimes given is that it could be that they have some sort of hypersensitivty to electromagnetic currents which may be produced by water flowing through rock. Alternatively they may be (consciously or unconsciously) picking up on cues such as changes in the texture of the soil or colour of the grass due to the presence of water underneath.

  2. Sadly, like most other alternative ideas, properly controlled experiments show that there is no tendency for dousing to be reliable.

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