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Friday, September 7, 2012

A Dip in Dowsing

We take pleasure in things that confound our senses, which is why conjuring tricks are delightful and science can seem a killjoy. The physicist Richard Feynman once said that "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself". What he didn't say was just how much fun fooling yourself can be.

Dowsing is an ancient way to find different underground formations: various water formations, precious metals, oil or one of the many forms of earth energies.  Because of the somewhat mysterious way that dowsing works, its history has had numerous moments of rejection, ridicule and even strong accusations.

The classic dowsing rod is a simple forked stick cut from a tree branch which is held in both hands with the single and longer branch part or "pointer" facing outward. When gold is located, the pointer will drift downward until it is pointing directly at the ground, marking the spot to dig or search. Gold dowsing rods being sold these days are typically L-shaped brass rods that the user grasps lightly in both fists with the longer portions of the rods pointing outward. When gold, silver, or other treasure is detected, the 2 rods will cross over one another, with the center of the crossing point being the "X marks the spot".

Dowsers ‘believe’ they can dowse, thus making it more a matter of faith than science. While every dowser who has ever tried to prove his/her claims has failed completely, they invariably continue to believe in their abilities.

Skeptics of dowsing and many supporters of it believe dowsing tools have no special powers but simply amplify small but otherwise imperceptible movements of the hands.  The movements have long been established to be the 'ideomotor effect' (muscle movements caused by subconscious mental activity) and can make anything held in the hands move. It looks and feels as if the movements are involuntary. The same phenomenon has been shown to be behind movements of objects on a Ouija board.

There have been many investigations of the veracity of dowsing. The positive studies were mostly informal and did not meet scientific standards. These studies failed to exclude alternate explanations such as environmental clues in open terrain. A well-designed study would have blinded the dowser and the experimenter. Furthermore, any study must be carefully analyzed for statistical significance before conclusions can be drawn.

Shawn Pomrenke (from Bering Sea Gold) utilizes dowsing rods when searching for fresh ground to mine.  He and his crew commute to a spot they feel is 'hot', i.e. where the river flows into the Bering Sea.  "People may think I'm crazy for doing this, but it don't bother me one way or another, as long as I get some gold", says Shawn.  Each time Shawn feels the pull of the rods, he marks the location and returns with his dredge.  His dredge grossed over $1,300,000.00 in gold for the Summer of 2011.

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