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In a nutshell: A dowser uses wooden or metal sticks or rods to find water and other things.

Vintage photo of man dowsing for waterA dowser uses a stick or metal rods to find underground water. Usually, the dowser starts walking with the dowsing rod held loosely in his hands and straight in front of him. When the stick turns downward or two rods cross, the dowser thinks it is because there is water underground. There is no scientific reason why underground water would make a wooden or metal rod move in a man's hand. Scientists think the stick turns downward or the rods cross because the dowser moves the dowsing rod. Dowsers say they are not moving the rod. Scientists say that the movement is very slight, so slight that the dowser isn't even aware of it.

Bodily movements that happen without our trying to make them happen are called involuntary movements. Movements that happen without our being aware of them are called unconscious movements. Dowsers probably make involuntary, unconscious movements when they think they're over water and that makes their dowsing rods point downward or cross.

Dowsers say that they have a special talent and that what they are dowsing for sends off energy, rays, or vibrations that they can sense.

Do dowsers find water? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. When they do, it may be because they only look in places where there is likely to be water underground. They may also be using their knowledge of the land and experience with where water is likely to be found.

If you want to find water, you're probably better off hiring a geologist than a dowser.

Scientists have found that there are many situations where people make involuntary, unconscious movements. They even have a name for it: the ideomotor effect. We often make slight movements in response to some suggestion or expectation.

dowsing for bombsDowsers sometimes dowse for hidden treasure, metal objects, or oil. The scientific evidence does not support dowsing for any of these. Many scientific tests have shown that dowsers don't do well when they don't know where the water or metal is. When tested and they know where the water or metal is, then they do fine.

Recently, some people who are now in prison sold fake electronic dowsing rods to armies and police departments. They went to prison because they said their dowsing rods could find bombs. In fact, the electronics used couldn't find anything. The dowsing rods had fancy names like ADE 651 and GT 200. They were sold for thousands of dollars, even though they probably cost only a few dollars to make.

The crooks showed buyers how a rod will move toward a bomb when the dowser walks by it. They tricked people into thinking that the rod moved because it found the bomb. Actually, it moved because of the ideomotor effect. When testers don't know where the bomb is they are no better at finding bombs than somebody taking a wild guess.

Other fake electronic dowsing rods are still being sold with claims that they can find just about anything: drugs, weapons, golf balls, even lost dogs. One company even claims their device can detect a human heartbeat through thick concrete or steel. If you find anything of interest using one of these electronic dowsing rods, it will be pure luck.

further reading

Australian Skeptics Divining Test By James Randi

Last updated 01-Aug-2011

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