Here is a short, 6 page, research paper I wrote for my English class during the fall of 1998. I have lost the references due to computer formatting. Besides, the Web pages I used are no longer available due to the ever changing web. I did use a Popular Mechanics article on dowsing. And the scientific study that once was available for free on the Web is now found at: http://twn.co.nz/dowsing_jse_com.html
The paper is quite interesting. A lot of scientist disregard dowsing as unscientific. However it just adds an element of mystery. It is just another clear example that not all things are explained by science.
Dowsing is the human body's ability to detect water and other hidden materials. It is most recognized by a person with a forked stick walking the grounds until the stick bends upwards. Dowsing's applications include locating where to drill for wells and early 16th century mining prospecting. It is not the stick or other object the dowser holds that detects the water. The movement of the object is due to the human body's response to the water. Everyone contains the ability to dowse. With the technique of dowsing, it is possible to find many things which includes electromagnetic fields, noxious rays, and lost objects. Although, people are most familiar with its application to find water.
Learning to dowse is a fast process. At least, receiving a reaction from underground water occurs quickly. This something everyone is born with the ability to perform, so a reaction to underground water should come naturally. However, to accurately detect the location and depth of water takes years of experience. One of the best materials for a beginning dowser to learn the technique are angle rods. Bend two rods (wires) (a length of 1/8 to 3/16 inch diameter and 18 to 30 inches long) six inches from the ends to form a right angle ( ). "Hold the rods at waist level pointing forward like two pistols. As you walk forward, mentally ask for whatever it is that you seek. The rods will swivel, wither crossing inward or diverging outward, as you pass over the target. As you pass beyond it, they should resume their original position ( )." Basically, the dowser just holds the two wires in each hand with the bend perpendicular to the ground. The pistol shape best describes it. This technique also works with one long, flexible wire that has handles bent at right angles on both sides and a slight bend in the middle. The dowser holds it in the same manner with the concave end perpendicular to the ground and pointing away from the dowser.
The preceding information is a straight-forward explanation of dowsing. However, dowsing is often criticized as not actually existing. Finding water or hidden objects by the human body sensing them might seem impossible. There are also aspects of dowsing, such as dowsing to determine what is wrong with a sick person's body, which appear mystical or magical. In fact, dowsing is often thought as paranormal phenomena. Paranormal phenomena include the things which can not be explained scientifically such as esp or psychic ability. There are types of dowsing which appear to be more supernatural than realistic. Map dowsing is an example of this. This is a technique where the dowser dangles a pendulum over a map divided by grids and where the pendulum falls is the grid which contains the water. The map is of any area, and the dowser does not have to be in the location the map depicts. This appears to be more of a psychic ability than the body's ability to sense water. Discussing all these types of dowsing is complicated. For simplicity, water dowsing is discussed.
There are scientific techniques used to find water. Topography (elevation) and contour of the land are factors which help to identify where the water lies. Soil samples determine which soils absorb the most and where each type of soil lies. Rain water soaks into the ground and soaks into the soil. The bedrock layer of earth does not absorb water. The bedrock's location helps determine where the water lies. Since the location of the bedrock cannot be seen visually, topography, land contour, and soil samples help determine its location. This scientific area of study is hydro geology. Even though this process is scientific, trail and error highly influence the results. The process is not as accurate as desired.
It is easily understood why finding water is so important. People need water for their bodies to function. People use water to perform work from cleaning to fire fighting. It is so important that it determines the locations that people live. Contaminated water causes 80% of all diseases in third world countries.( )
It is the need of finding efficient ways to locate water that lead to the German government to fund a ten year study. A group called the GTZ (Deutche Gesellshaft fur Technishe Zussommenarliest or German Association for Technical Cooperation) experimented to find the best techniques to find water in arid regions. "Motivated by both the high cost and modest success rate of purely conventional hydro geological methods, the GTZ project teamed geological experts, experienced dowsers and a scientific group led by Professor Betz to monitor and evaluate the results ( )." The results of dowsers in the field showed that the dowsers find water accurately and consistently. The success rate of the dowsers surpassed the chance of randomly finding water. The dowsers had and overall success rate of 96% ( ). A success rate of 30 to 50% is expected by conventional techniques alone ( ). Hundreds of the dowsers determined the depth and rate of yield of the water source within 10% accuracy ( ). The GTZ also hid water in underground pipes. They formed areas with and without water. The dowser determined which areas had water. In this test the dowser's success equaled that of random guessing. The difference in results lead Bentz, the professor in charge of the research, to conclude that dowser's abilities may be due to the human body's ability to detect subtle electromagnetic energy. The electric properties of rocks and soil result from fissures and underground water flows. This fact is surprising but not unbelievable. The human body possess six senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing, and equilibrium) that receive information from the environment. However, these sense to not detect all things in the environment. Things such as heat and ultraviolet rays go unnoticed. Many animals such as sharks and bacteria contain non visual electric and magnetic sensing organs. Biologist found no such organ in humans. Betz states his findings after the tens years of research:
I'm a scientist, and those are my best plausible scientific hypotheses at this point. But there are two things that I am certain of after ten years of field research. A combination of dowsing and modern hydro geophysical techniques can b both more successful and far less expensive than we had thought. And we need to run a lot more tests, because we have established that dowsing works, but have no idea how or why( ).
Betz states that according to his team's research dowsing is effective in finding water. He also states that it is a real phenomena, even though, it is not known how it works. Betz concludes that the combined efforts dowsing and current water finding techniques are the most effective.
Opponents of dowsing claim that a field success rate is not enough to prove dowsing works. They want scientific proof in the form of scientific experiments to believe that dowsing exists and is not just some form of divination. In fact, a group, JRI, is willing to pay 1 million dollars to anyone who proves dowsing works. The proof must be in the form of a scientific experiment. Skeptics state that the reason for movement of any object the dowser is holding is due to ideomotor action. This is involuntary movement of the muscles which the conscious is unaware. This means that the dowser isn't even aware that his own muscles are moving the object. The dowser incorrectly forms conclusions to what the movement means.
The object moving because of the dowsers own muscles means that the dowser isn't receiving any information about the location of the water. It also means every correct place to drill they find is strictly due to chance. This argument states that any success of the dowser is due to probability. Skeptics explain that if a person looks for water using a certain technique (dowsing) and they find what they are searching for that they will believe the technique works. In other words, if the technique works often, people assume it is reputable. Skeptics want more information in the form of "rigorous and precise empirical testing of theoretical and causal claims( )." Betz, the professor assigned to the GTZ project, argues his findings. He admits that probability is always an influencing factor, but explains that high success rates for large prospecting programs, such as the arid regions of Sri Lanka, are not explained by the oppositions argument ( ). Even though the GTZ's experiments in the field is in an natural area, so the probability of finding water is not a controllable factor. This complicates trying to prove statistically the rate of how the dowsers success compares to chance. However, numerous dowsers consistently performing above the rate of chance in areas where random success is very low invalidates the chance hypothesis. Secondly, dowsers often succeeded when the team of experts failed.
Many experts in water location are not surprised by dowsers success. Areas such as the United States are so vast in water that any spot produces. This situation does occur. However, in the cases in the GTZ's experiments, the chances of finding water by guessing was extremely low. Using conventional methods alone only had a success rate of 30% ( ). In the GTZ's experiments trivial success was not a factor.
Some critics argue that " the dowsers are endowed with perfect hydro geological knowledge and, thus are enabled to identify appropriate drilling points on account of topography, morphology, flora, and fauna ( )." Even with such knowledge it is still difficult to determine the exact location of water. When the probability of finding water becomes smaller and hydro geological information only produces results with a larger chance of error, this knowledge is less influential in the dowsers judgment. Judgments passed on hydro geographical knowledge often leads to many possibilities. In the GTZ's experiments, the dowsers chose the depth of very narrow fissures often within 1 meter. This is not possible with any current scientific techniques.
If dowsing is credible or not is still debatable. Dowsing lasted for hundreds of years. With the success of dowsing and the GTZ's research, it is hard to deny that there is credibility. The criticism comes from the fact that dowsing cannot be explained scientifically. No one explained why dowsing works. Currently, it is not really possible. Skeptics claim that Betz's speculation that dowsers are hypersensitive to subtle electromagnetic gradients does not seem to be based upon scientific data. The skeptics prefer to see this theory tested. This theory is difficult if possible to test. Although, Betz never said that he finished his exploring of dowsing.