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George Hanson - Society for Psychical Research Vol. 51, No. 792, October 1982 – 06 Dowsing: Movement of the rod



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Originally published in the Journal of  the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 51, No. 792, October 1982, pp. 343-367. DOWSING: A REVIEW OF EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH  by GEORGE P. HANSEN* 


   Most dowsing research has been geared to determine how (and if) the dowser obtains the information he seeks; this has been discussed. The cause of the dowsing rod’s movement has also been a source of controversy for some time, but has not received much experimental investigation. 

   Overall, the prevailing view is that movement of the dowsing rod is caused by unconscious muscular action. Even the debunkers such as Gardner (1952/1957), Rawcliffe (1952/1959), and Vogt and Hyman (1959) attribute it to this, and the last two discuss a number of motor automatisms in their book. The idea is by no means new; a Jesuit Preist, Father Athanasius Kircher, suggested this explanation in 1641 (Barrett and Besterman, 1926/1968). William F. Barrett too was a strong proponent of the theory (cf. Barrett and Besterman, 1926/1968; Bennett and Barrett, 1897), and his writings seem to have influenced nearly all other investigators. 

   Bennett (in Bennett and Barrett, 1897), Glardon (1898), Hyslop (in Barrett, 1912), and Hyslop (1913) questioned whether unconscious muscular action could account for every case of the sometimes spectacular movement of the dowsing rod. A number of anecdotal cases and the observations of many dowsers tended to throw doubt on this explanation; although apparently at that time no experimental studies were conducted to test it. Glardon (1898) suggested that the traditional twig be replaced by an instrument made so as to preclude the possibility of muscular action interfering with the operation of the instrument. He suggested the use of ‘something like a clock or manometer with a steel hand, by means of which the workings of the unknown force could not only be revealed, but measured’. 

   A recent experiment was conducted by Alvin Kaufman (1971, 1979), an electronics engineer, to test this idea. Kaufman attached one end of a forked stick to a strain gauge bending beam which could measure the force in the rod. He held the strain gauge bending beam in one hand and the other end of the stick with the other. Kaufman found that when the dowser he tested moved over an underground stream, a very much larger force was exerted on the rod than could normally be accounted for; and concluded that dowsing was a promising area in which to study PK. Although the published report is extremely short and gives few details, it appears that PK may indeed play a part in some dowsing phenomena. 

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