Dowsing and the Philosophy of Science

Dowsing and the Philosophy of Science

Andrew Edgar

I’d like to start by giving a brief introduction to the philosophy of science.  It’s The Philosophy of Science, version 101, with some added dowsing and a bit of ley theory, which will help to illustrate some of the points it raises. 

One of the few academics to actually talk about dowsing is the German philosopher, George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who died in 1831.  My wife and I went to his former house in Stuttgart.  We received a rather surprised look from the receptionist at his house, as to why two people from England would want to actually visit Hegel’s house, but I found it really exciting - I’m a fan of his!  In 1830 Hegel wrote that ‘ . . .this immediate knowing . . . is manifest in, so called, metal or water diviners.  These are persons who, when fully awake and without using the sense of sight, perceive metal or water existing underneath the ground.   The not infrequent appearances of such persons cannot be doubted.’  It’s interesting that you have a respectable philosopher taking it for granted (as Nigel said earlier) that dowsing works.

He later goes on to talk about a murder.  A French peasant, who was also a diviner, was taken to the place where a murder had happened.  He could immediately sense who the murderers were, and apparently followed the track they had taken to escape.  The claim he makes is that they were subsequently tracked down and apprehended by the use of divining.  So, we have a historical document from as far back as 1830, recognising that divining is something worthy of serious philosophical scientific investigation. 

However, Hegel is something of a rarity.  Other philosophers of the time are much more skeptical. 

Today, I am going to ask some philosophical questions about what sort of activity dowsing actually is.  Putting it politely, I am going to suggest that we should not get too hung up on the natural sciences.  My own background is in sociology, so my grounding is in the social sciences.  

This leads me to start by looking at the work of another German, Wilhelm Dilthey, who lived during the 19th century.   The German word for science is Wissenschaft - and I am a member of the Wissenschaft Gestellschaft (which roughly translates as the Science Book Society).  The word Wissenschaft means any disciplined enquiry.  One of the problems with the English word ‘science’ is that it refers only to the natural sciences, full stop.  We have ongoing arguments about whether social science is actually ‘science’.   I know it is a science, as is theology and literary theory.  What I want to argue is that dowsing needs to look outside the natural sciences for a model of what it is doing - and I am going to assert that dowsing is, at least in part, a social science.  

Dilthey states that the natural sciences explain things.  They provide causal explanations.  You ask why something happens - and it’s because something causes it to happen.  The social sciences and the humanities on the other hand (sociology, psychology, history, philosophy, theology) try to understand things.  They make sense of things.  They ask what they mean.  I am going to explain that distinction further as we go along.

I would like to introduce a word that is key to this presentation - induction - which I want to illustrate by reference to ley theory.    (Shows a picture of Alfred Watkins, the first to describe ley alignments, lying on The Arthur Stone in Herefordshire).  The initial philosophy of science started with Francis Bacon, around 1600, who argued that science works by induction.  Induction is where you have lots of facts, and lots of stuff happening out in the world.  If you look at these hard enough, you will find various generalities that link the facts or events together.  You tend to find the same sort of things happening again and again.  So, you could argue that what Alfred Watkins was doing was a process of induction.    Basically he looked at a large number of  sites.  He saw that there were mounds, churches and castles etc. - and many of them lay in straight lines, rather often.    The way he describes it, in The Old Straight Track, is almost like a moment of revelation.  He was standing on the top of a hill in Herefordshire and suddenly he saw these features - all lined up.  I feel that is probably a bit of poetic licence.   Scientists often engage in a bit of poetic licence - such as when Isaac Newton is reputed to have discovered gravity by the apple falling on his head.  It didn’t really.  Isaac Newton’s apple is a reference to the story in Genesis, concerning the apple of good and evil. 

However, with induction, you have that idea that scientists have that moment of revelation.  This is rarely the case.  Watkins was writing in 1925, but here is a text from about 1881.  ‘A line drawn from (a hill near Cardiff) to Arthur’s Stone would pass over (a number of other ancient sites).’  So, people had already been recognising straight lines in the landscape, long before Watkins wrote about them.  Watkins work doesn’t come from nowhere - he’s already got the idea that there might be something to look for.  

My point here is that maybe science doesn’t, typically, work by revelation.  It always has a context, which prepares the scientist.  There’s always a background of theory building up.  

So, the way science works is that you spot a regularity in the things you are observing and, hey, you’ve discovered a ‘law of nature’.  You might do a few more observations to verify that it is a law of nature, but essentially you’re there.  But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning.  Which brings us to David Hume.

David Hume is one of the greatest British thinkers.  He is a giant in his field.  He wrote his first book when he was about 18.  It’s called the The Treatise on Human Nature and it’s a revelation of philosophical thinking.  One of the things I always tell my students is that you have read him out loud in an Edinburgh accent.   Then he makes sense!  He was born in 1711 and he died in 1776.  Oddly, he wasn’t known during his lifetime as a philosopher.  He was known as a writer.  Right up to this day, the British Library catalogue has him listed as an Historian.  He wrote what, in his time, was the definitive history of England, which is still being published.  But he was also a great philosopher.  One of the things he argued about was the way we explain and understand the world.  With reference to the idea of induction he wrote ‘That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less an intelligible proposition, and implies no more contradiction, than the affirmation that the sun will rise’.   If someone came up to you and declared that the sun will not rise tomorrow, you might think they were being a bit odd, but they are not actually being irrational.  However, if someone came up to you and claimed to have a five-sided square, then that would be irrational.  The very idea that the sun won’t rise tomorrow is plausible.  I remember once going to Bergen (in Norway) and waking up at 11.00 in the morning to find that it was still dark.  Hume was writing at the time of the early arctic explorations.  I would imagine that many of the crew on those early arctic exploration ships arrived in the far north to find that the sun did not always rise tomorrow.  In fact, it stayed dark for the next three months.  What Hume was saying was that we have, throughout our lives, observed the sun rising every day in the morning - we’ve had lots of observations of it.  That does not mean that we can say with cast iron certainty that it will rise tomorrow.  It might not.  Just because you have observed something happening lots of times in the past, doesn’t prove that it will happen again tomorrow.  

Bertrand Russell, the great 20th century philosopher, had a wonderful example.  Every morning  a farmer comes with a bucket of corn to feed a turkey.  So, being a rational turkey, it thinks ‘morning=farmer with food, great’.   But one day the farmer arrives - and it’s 24th December.  By the end of the morning the turkey is a dead turkey, ready for Christmas dinner - which reinforces Hume’s point.  Just because things have happened regularly in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will carry on that way in the future. 

Perhaps the more subtle point is that maybe what we have observed in the past is only one part of the story.  The turkey didn’t know the full story.  The turkey didn’t understand why the farmer was coming to feed it. 

A couple of things flow from this.  Firstly, it seems that we can’t actually prove a law of nature merely by observing things in the past.  It may not continue that way into the future.  But the more important point is that it’s not sufficient for a law of nature to predict what will happen tomorrow, we need to understand why does the sun rise, why does the farmer come to the turkey with a bucket of corn every morning.    If the turkey had known that, it would have known to worry on 24th December.    

We can see this working if we go back to Alfred Watkins.  Watkins was not just looking at a landscape and noting that there’s a straight line there, another one there, in fact, they are all over the place.   He starts to ask ‘why are there straight lines all over the landscape?’   He always asks that deeper question.   Watkins reasoning is that they are lines of sight or lines of travel - old straight tracks.  They are a way of navigating through a complicated, messy environment with lots of trees and no roads.  Watkins is not simply relying on induction, he is engaging in the process of seeking a deeper explanation.  He is asking ‘why are the alignments there?’

Karl Popper is probably the more famous philosopher of science in the 20th century.  He’s the one all scientists know about.  He was born in Vienna in 1902 and died in 1994.  Philosophers tend to live a long life (he says with fingers crossed!).  When the Nazis came to power in Germany, Popper actually emigrated to New Zealand.   After WWII, he moved to London, and became a Professor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics for the rest of his life.  Popper held that science can’t prove anything - and it’s a tip for dowsers - don’t ever say you have proved anything.   What scientists do is to put forward the best guess that they have at that moment, a hypothesis, a theory.  According to Popper, what you should do if you are a good scientist is to invite other scientists to prove you wrong.   

Science works through, what Popper terms, falsificationism.  Science actually progresses by proving past errors, demonstrating the errors that have been made in the past and putting a better guess in their place.   But you are always guessing, always hypothesising.  If induction works, you can never prove an empirical scientific law to be true.  The evidence may come along later to prove it false.  The crude example that’s often quoted is that you make a claim that all swans are white, and then you go to Australia, and you find a black swan.  You only have to see one black swan, and your universal rule that all swans are white is disproved. 

As an aside, I would point out that the 4th century philosopher, St Augustine of Hippo, did purport to prove that Australia doesn’t exist.   So, the England cricket team must have been beaten by a demonic illusion.  Philosophy is useful after all!

So, you should formulate a scientific law in such a way that others can test it.  If the experiment delivers what the law says it should, then you have corroborated it (but not proven it).  If the experiment doesn’t deliver what you have predicted, (eg you find a black swan) you have to ditch your theory.  Back to the drawing board, try something better. 

Popper’s contention that science moves forward by proving things wrong sets up a challenge for dowsing.  If dowsing wants to be taken seriously by scientists, what it has to do is to put together those testable hypotheses.  It’s got to take that risk.  I feel dowsers have to be able to articulate themselves in terms that scientists understand, if they are going to be taken seriously by scientists. 

A further problem arises, in that in science, as in dowsing, you don’t tend to have one little isolated theory that you can go out and test.  You have to have a whole bundle of them.  One thing that Karl Popper was very averse to, was what he called ad hoc ways of protecting a theory.  For example, if put forward a hypothesis and carry out an experiment that doesn’t deliver the goods, then you can’t just say ‘well it’s a law of nature, but it doesn’t like being tested on Thursday’.   To him, that was just clinging at straws.  Clearly, that raises an immediate problem for dowsers, in that dowsers state that dowsing doesn’t like being put to the test.  In the laboratory, the dowsing rods don’t work.  That doesn’t cut much ice with scientists.  It could just be that the phenomenon that is dowsing is not the sort of process that can be dealt with by the traditional style of scientific investigation.  Dowsing might be a different type of science, a different type of discipline.  

One of Popper’s favourite examples of bad science, or pseudo science, is psychoanalysis.  Popper did not like Freud.  Popper quoted Freud as claiming that all dreams are wish fulfillment.  So, if you have a dream, the analyst should be able to indentify the wish that the dream is fulfilling.   One day Freud had a patient, who had a dream that Freud couldn’t interpret.   Popper’s contention would be that Freud should have thrown it in at that point and got himself a proper job instead.   Freud, however, moved the goalposts by saying that the patient’s wish was to have a dream that he, Freud, could not interpret.  (Audience laughs) However, Freud was actually being quite consistent to his overall theory of the mind in that the neurotic unconscious resists being cured.  It recalls the old joke ‘How many psychoanalysts does it take to change a light bulb?’  The answer is ’Only one, but the light bulb has got to want to be changed.’   So, Freud states that typically, his patients don’t actually want to be cured, their unconscious is kicking back.  What better way to kick back and to put the analyst off the track than to give them an uninterpretable dream.   In that light, the explanation that Freud is giving is not one that is plucked out of the air, it actually fits into the whole theory. 

A more scientific example would be when careful observations were first undertaken of the orbit of the planet Saturn.  They didn’t quite fit with the predictions that were derived from Newtonian mechanics.  The observers could have said - OK, let’s ditch Newtonian mechanics.   Yet, Newtonian mechanics worked well in all sorts of other situations, so scrapping it entirely would have been very much a last resort.   Instead, they came up with the brilliant solution that the reason that Saturn doesn’t move quite like it ‘ought’ to, is that there is another planet beyond it, interfering with its orbit.  Using Newtonian mechanics actually enabled them to predict where that planet ought to be.  That’s exactly how the outer planets - Uranus and Neptune - were found.   Although they were unknown at the time, it was possible to calculate their theoretical orbits. 

That leaves us with a strange need to cling on to some basic assumptions about science.  The astronomers had to retain their trust in Newtonian mechanics to move it forward.  Even Popper said that when theories are refuted, you do tend to look for alternative solutions - and those solutions can be very creative.  

Moving back to dowsing, when the Michael line was first discovered, it was John Michell who wrote in The View Over Atlantis that he saw a dead straight line emanating from Glastonbury Tor.  The sceptic will claim that the straight line that was subsequently drawn on the map produced by Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller would represent a strip on the ground about ten miles wide - and you can get an awful lot of stuff in there.  The other issue is the statistical approach, whereby you can draw lines randomly on any map and they will usually link up some of the sites. 

However, Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller took a different approach.  They went out to actually experience the line on the ground, using their dowsing rods.      Notice how this changes the whole theory of the ley.  Watkins explained the ley as a literal track.   In his case, there was nothing mystical about it - it was just a road.  But John Michell and others brought in the concept of earth energies, and then we had a completely different explanation of what constituted the ley.  This, in turn, invites different predictions about what comes next.  If you think it’s composed of earth energy, then your dowsing rods are likely to react to it.  However, when Broadhurst and Miller got out into the field, far from following a nice straight line, they found themselves being drawn all over the place.  Suddenly, the nice straight track stopped being straight.  Later, they found they had two lines - Michael and Mary - rather than just one.  The importance of this tale is that while we were holding on to the ley theory, it had to be refined into something more subtle, more significant.  They were coming up with more subtle predictions that they had to get out and test.  With this approach, ley theory is developing on good scientific grounds. 

Taking a slightly difficult example, Alexander Thom was an engineer who spent his retirement going around the country surveying Neolithic monuments.  Thom was trained as an engineer, and he worked very scientifically.  He made some wonderfully precise surveys of the monuments that he studied, which made a valuable contribution modern archaeology.  He went out into the field to measure stone circles (and there’s a clue in the name, it’s a circle).  Even with elementary tools, it should have been be easy enough to construct something circular.  However, when Thom looked at these structures carefully, he found that they were not circles at all - with a great many being flattened on one side.  The initial hypothesis was that a ’stone circle’ was actually circular, has been refuted.  You have to go back to the drawing board.  The initial response could have been to shrug and to explain that they were just rough circles.  Yet Thom looked closely and found that they were not rough at all.  In fact they are constructed using clever, intricate geometry.  These are carefully flattened circles!  In due course, Thom found that there are a whole series of templates for the ‘circles’, with different properties and geometries.  Thom’s work is rigorous and it is presented scientifically.  It is presented in a way that a scientific audience, especially one composed of archaeologists, could take it up. 

On the BBC website there is still a Chronicle programme about Thom, dating from the late 1960s, where his theories are being debated by the leading archaeologists of the day.  Ultimately, the archaeologists rejected Thom’s theories on a number of grounds - and this is where science gets messy.  One of Thom’s contentions was that the ‘circles’ are not only very precise, but they are aligned to describe various astronomical features and events, especially the solar and lunar solstices.    Thom sought to show that there were alignments, which also used landscape features on the horizon.  Whereas the archaeologists felt that there were similar features on other parts of the horizon too.  Was Thom just reading significance in to something, which was in fact quite arbitrary? 

Then they came to consider the geometry of the circles.  If Thom had found just one pattern, that would doubtless have been pretty convincing and pretty startling.  But Thom found lots of patterns.  The question was raised as to whether he was finding something that was actually fairly random, and whether he was then imposing some form of geometry onto it.  There was even the contention that when archaeology students were put into a field and asked to create a circle, they came up with something that resembled some of Thom’s apparently irregular megaliths - because they were just not very good at drawing circles. (Although this doesn’t imply that the stone circles weren’t created by ancient peoples or druids, but by archaeology students!). 

However, none of these criticisms are terminal, and none of Thom’s evidence is completely demolished.  This leaves the unsatisfactory position that it is often not possible to get the hard and fast evidence to completely demolish a theory.   You can see this in practice in the loyalty that someone like Robin Heath has to Thom’s work.   Heath does some very interesting work on the geometry of the landscape, but he is dogmatic in his defence of Alexander Thom - and also of the megalithic yard.  In some ways, that dogmatism can be a good thing in pushing forward an idea, but it can also give a slight hint of paranoia, especially when Robin talks about ‘evil’ archaeologists.  It seems rather over the top.  One of the points that Robin makes is that some archaeologists have such a dim view of ancient peoples that they feel they are just too stupid to carry out any decent geometry.  Whereas, most archaeologists today tend to have a view of he ancients as being a dignified, sophisticated and very capable culture.  There is always a danger that in grimly hanging on to a piece of theory you can lose perspective.  It’s a very difficult act of judgment to know when to let go.  Yet, if some of our great scientists had not persevered against the apparent evidence that the theories they were opposing were so blatantly wrong, we could have missed out on some of the great leaps forward in scientific study. 

There is a rather pertinent article in the current issue of Fortean Times, which points out that some of the laws of nature have loopholes.  It’s a bit like the sun not rising every day - it does rise every day, until you go far enough north in winter.  There’s a loophole in there - and most of the laws of nature are a bit like that.  Under certain conditions, a loophole kicks in - and you can do things that you thought were impossible. 

Thomas Kuhn, who died in 1996, was an American historian of science.  He gave the world the word ‘paradigms’.   While Popper assumes that the world works by isolating a single hypothesis and testing it, Kuhn argues that science works by assuming that a large amount of theories are true - and that instead of falsifying any of it, we seek to fill in the gaps.  Under this scenario, the experimental scientist identifies a gap in our knowledge and seeks to fill it using targeted research.  For Kuhn, science changes, not when we refute any individual hypothesis, but when we see science in an altogether different way. 

His classic example is that of Einsteinian physics.  It doesn’t simply disprove the hypothesis of Newton, it shows an alternative way of looking at the universe.  In a nutshell, Newton states that there is three-dimensional space and there is time.  Space and time are different.  Einstein starts talking about spacetime - and that space is curved.   He’s seeing the world radically differently to Newton.  From Kuhn’s perspective, up to the end of 19th century, there was an accretion of more and more ‘anomalies’, little bits and pieces that couldn’t be explained in Newtonian terms.  For a while the powers that be turned a blind eye to these anomalies, but eventually they be came so numerous and so serious that someone had to do something about it.    The genius came along and saw the world differently.  That new paradigm took a radically different view about the way the world works and the way you do science.  The whole concept of space being curved just makes no sense in Newtonian science.  Newtonian physics takes the view that everything is causal.  However, quantum physics has stuff that is non-causal.  It’s not a matter of disproving an old hypothesis; it’s about seeing the world differently.  

Kuhn talks about paradigm shifts.  What dowsing has to start thinking about is what actually is its paradigm.  The challenge is that maybe it’s not the paradigm that is currently dominant in physics and in natural science. 

Let me suggest some alternatives.  Let us look at the social sciences.  At this point, I need to introduce another new word - hermeneutics.  It is derived from Hermes, the messenger of the Gods - so hermeneutics is the study of understanding messages.  It’s about how we interpret things.  Natural sciences are causal, they look for the causes of things.  The humanities and social sciences are trying to make sense of things.  By way of an example, we can ask ‘Why did Julius Caesar cross the (river) Rubicon?’   In a way, a causal explanation wouldn’t make much sense.  The Rubicon is, apparently, just a little river.  For the Roman army it’s no big deal to cross it.   Caesar is not showing off his military logistics, or the skills of his engineers by crossing it.  The physical characteristics of the Rubicon are irrelevant - but it formed a political boundary.  By crossing the border, Caesar was declaring war.   When we ask, ‘Why did Caesar cross the Rubicon?’ a causal explanation makes little sense.  The question we need to ask is “What did he mean by undertaking that act?’  What did he intend to do by it?  To make sense of the action, we need to interpret it.  

So, we have these two very different approaches to Wissenschaft - one involves a causal explanation, the other involves understanding the worldview behind it.  What I am indicating is that maybe dowsing is more about understanding the world, rather than just seeking a causal explanation of it. 

One of the books I was reading over Christmas was by Michael Pearson Parker, concerning his project work at Stonehenge.   In his studies at Stonehenge, MPP asks ‘What does the landscape mean?’  His argument is that when you look at the local landscape, it is separated into the area devoted to the dead (which includes the henge itself) and the area devoted to the living (around Woodhenge and Durrington Walls).  He defends himself by making predictions.  Having decided which is the area of the dead or the living, when he undertakes excavations, he expects to encounter a certain sort of finds in each place.  So, even when you are interpreting things, you are still making some predictions about the outcomes you might expect to encounter. 
If someone was to say to you that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a really good knockabout comedy, they are making a prediction about how you can perform it.   Can you perform the section which includes ‘to be or not to be’ and still get a good laugh?  If you can’t, then your interpretation of Hamlet has, in that sense, been refuted.  It’s not a comedy. 

Maybe with hermeneutics there are lots of good alternative interpretations, even though there may be a few bad ones too.  There may not be a definitive account that is ‘right’.  Even with MPP’s interpretation of Stonehenge the observer can still have their doubts. 

Where do we find the messages (that are interpreted using hermeneutics)?  We find them everywhere, especially in words.  No doubt, you are busily interpreting what I am saying at the moment.   You are probably also interpreting my hand gestures.  But we also interpret objects, such as tools - much as archaeologists do.  For example, there are some Stone Age axes that have been very highly polished.  That fine finishing doesn’t add anything to the functional efficiency of the axe.   It doesn’t cut any better, and it isn’t any more durable.  So, you have this hermeneutic questions - ‘What did that object mean to the owner?  Why did they go such extreme lengths to bring it up to such a beautifully polished finish?’  You are drawn to the conclusion that is has some religious, sacred or even decorative function.  Crucially, you are obliged to ask ‘What did this object mean, why was it so important to them, why did they put so much effort into it?’  Images, and even buildings, such as temples, churches, even lecture theatres all have to be interpreted. 

So, what has all this got to do with dowsing?  Well, take Gary Biltcliffe and Caroline Hoare’s book The Spine of Albion, which tells the story of the discovery of dowsable lines that run from the Isle of Wight to the North of Scotland - comparable to the Michael/Mary complex that Miller and Broadhurst discovered.  Gary and Caroline’s book is a fascinating social history of a slice of Britain.  Each of the sites is considered in many ways, such as how it has been occupied, the myths that surround it and the types of buildings that are built upon it.  For example take the white horse at Uffington.  Here you have the wonderful legend that this is the very hill on which St George killed the dragon - and the white spot on Dragon Hill is the place where the dragon’s blood fell, which is why it has been infertile ever since.  That’s hermeneutics in action.   We’ve taken a hill, and we’ve drawn a story around it, we’ve created a myth around it.   We’ve said ‘This hill now matters to me.’ Of all the hills and banks around the area, why is it this one that got the white horse?   Is it just arbitrary? 

This highlights the two different approaches.  The natural science explanation is that you have an energy line going through here, and that causes significant human activity to happen upon it.  The alternative interpretation is that, yes, the line goes through here - and it is inviting human beings to make sense of it, by doing meaningful things - by building castles, by etching white horses, by the telling of legends.   It is inviting us to make sense of the line - not to be caused to do something to the line, but to be invited to respond to it, to try to make sense of it.   Gary and Caroline’s rich social history implies that we are not just creatures that are totally determined by our environment.    We are not so much caused to do things, but more we are invited to interpret them.  This hill feels important, that one we can ignore.  This is a sacred site, that one is just a clump of trees, where I can go logging. 

My contention is that this is what dowsing begins to allow us to do. 

Sig Lonegren’s first law of dowsing is that any two dowsers, even those who have had the same trainers and the same information will typically come up with different results.  The natural scientist would scoff at this, as the whole point of the scientific model is to obtain repeatable results. 

Early in the career of Sigmund Freud, he would sit people down on his couch and, after some questioning, he would tell them what was wrong with them.  In the latter part of his career, things became more complicated, because he came to realise that he had his own neuroses.  The approach of the later Freud was one of a dialogue between two ill people curing each other, conjuring up a solution between them.  The crucial thing in this later scenario is that the interpreter is not objective - they don’t have that neutrality that the objective scientist demands.  We all bring our own weight of issues and prejudices into play. 

Another example that Sig uses is the cameo of the three blind men encountering an elephant.  The standard interpretation of the situation is that one grabs a leg and thinks he’s grabbed a tree; one bounces up against the animal’s side and thinks it’s a wall and the third grabs the tail and thinks it’s a snake.  That assumes that there is one, objective reality out there, and we are merely hitting different bits of it.    But try this slightly different interpretation.   The guy who grabs the leg is actually a botanist anyway, so he thinks of everything in terms of trees and plants.  The one who hits the wall has a neurotic fear of being enclosed in a very small place and panics when he hits the wall.  The guy who grabs the tale has just seen an Indiana Jones film and quite fancies the idea of having a whip.   Maybe they interpret the elephant differently, not because of anything about the elephant, but because of aspects of themselves.  

My first challenge to dowsing is that Sig’s hypothesis holds true because to be good dowsers, we have to do a bit of psychoanalysis on ourselves.   We’ve got to get to know what our own issues, frameworks and prejudices are, and which are likely to shape the sort of results we get.  

In a recent issue of Dowsing Today, Sian Rose explains that the approach of the shamanistic dowser is to talk to the environment, talking to the natural world.  It’s about communicating with, and sharing messages with, that world. 

So, I feel there are two complimentary approaches to dowsing.  On the one hand, you can say that a natural force is causing your rods to move.  They are being used as a sort of very low tech Geiger counter.  The other approach is to regard the rods as semaphore flags, to go out into the field and to the archaeological sites, where the energies and the buildings communicate with you.   These are the messages that we have to make sense of in a hermeneutic way.  
To conclude, Michael Oakshott, who is one of the great modern British philosophers, wrote a wonderful paper entitled The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind.  In it, he flags up the danger that the voice of mankind is dominated by the voice of natural sciences.  His basic message is to make a plea for the voice of poetry to be raised to compliment that of the natural sciences. 

I feel I am doing much the same with regard to dowsing.  There is a danger that the voice of dowsing is becoming dominated by the voice of natural science.  If we can allow the voice of poetry, of communication, of the humanities to seep into the language of dowsing, it will be all the richer for it. 

Andrew Edgar is a sociologist, a lecturer in philosophy at Cardiff University and is an organiser of the Cardiff Dowsers.


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