Psychic Archaeology/Dowsing

Eugenie C. Scott (ncse@CRL.COM)
Mon, 12 Dec 1994 16:24:27 -0800

On Sat, 10 Dec 1994, Maxine Kleindienst wrote:
> It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a dowsing rod in the
> hands of some people serves as a electro- or magnetic-resistivity meter.
> All it can show those people is that there is an anomaly. It might be a
> neat experiment (to deal with this question "scientifically") to find
> out whether the number of archaeological 'hits' by resistivity are
> different from those with dowsing. I.e., blind trials by both
> methods. It may be more
> than a belief system, but again, the negative evidence is not registered.

An excellent point. If one only counts the "hits" and ignores the
"misses", one may be misled into thinking that there is a phenomenon when
there is not one (witness "psychic detectives".)

> When the dowsing rod "jumps" in the hands of the operator, it is not at
> the conscious volition of the operator. What is happening??
> M.R. Kleindienst

My guess: suggestion. The expectation of the operator that something
"should" happen, which is entirely subconscious. Another poster (I
apologize for not remembering his name) told a wonderfully illustrative
anecdote of a dowsing "experiment" where he "found" metal with a dowsing
rod, but his son, not knowing what was "expected" of him, did not. When
the son was told what "should" happen, the rods went BOING! (I am not
offering this as a test! A case study is the lowest form of data, but it
is an excellent illustration of the power of suggestion.)

Similar results have been observed on tests of "applied kinesiology", a
type of pseudomedicine where a "healer" supposedly diagnoses an illness by
pressing down on the outstretched arm of the patient. Patients were given
sugar and told that sugar weakens the muscles; when asked to resist a push
on an outstretched arm, the patient could resist only weakly. Other
patients were given sugar and told that it would give them a burst of
energy; THEIR arms withstood even vigorous pressure.

Suggestion is also what makes placebos work, and why the "cure rate" of
placebos is upwards of 30%. It is a very powerful psycological factor.
It's probably related to imagination, intuition, and lots of positive
mental abilities, so I'm sure not knocking it. Some people are more
suggestible than others (which is why more of us haven't been abducted by
aliens, and why some people should never taken lie detector tests).

We should be sure we are removing simpler explanations for "unknown"
phenomena before going to more elaborate ones.




Eugenie C. Scott
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Berkeley, CA 94710-1404
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