Divining Rods (Dowsing)

It is said that seeing is believing. Well, I have seen.

It was back in the 80’s, in my A.P. Physics class in Gilman High School. In retrospect my classmates seem so colorful, almost like legends: C.A., I.M., M.K., M.S., M.L., M.J., J.H., T.N., T.P., J.S., et al. They were all present, and they all saw.

The teacher, Mr. W.P., brought divining rods to class one day. They were made of a silvery metal, probably aluminum, and were L-shaped. The long arm of the L was perhaps 18 inches long, while the short arm was perhaps 6. You held the short arm of one rod in one hand, and the short arm of the other rod in the other hand. I believe that there was a sleeve over the short arm which allowed the rod to swivel freely, even though you were gripping the short arm tightly.

Mr. P. had us walk slowly across the front of the classroom with the divining rods. Other than that, we were given no instructions. In particular, we weren’t given any New Agey instructions like repeat a mantra or concentrate on world peace or “believe”. And what we all observed was that near the midpoint of the room, the rods would suddenly and forcefully swing outwards — not inwards, like I’ve read — so that one rod was pointing to the front of the room while the other was pointing to the back of the room. It felt like an invisible force, akin to magnetism, had gripped the long arm and pulled it. All students tried it, and the effect was completely reproducible. (Years later, when I related the story to a fundamentalist skeptic, he suggested that we were twisting our wrists to make the rods point where we wanted them to. That’s silly, and was definitely not the case. If one of us did that, the other students would have mocked him mercilessly.)

Mr. P. pointed out that there were bare pipes along the ceiling containing running water, and that the rods were aligning with the running water. From what I’ve read elsewhere, this is known about divining rods: they work only with running water.

M.K. raised his hand and asked, “But how do they work?” Mr. P. responded, “K., if you figured that out you’d win the Nobel prize!”

I don’t think that the effect is due to something like psychic powers. I think it’s simply some curious physical effect that has to do with running water, that we haven’t figured out yet. So, I’m filing this post under Science and Technology rather than Meditation and New Age.

If the unknown physical effect is caused by running water, does it come into play with the circulatory system, where blood (which, after all, is mostly water) courses through miles of blood vessels? Perhaps it cancels out, because blood ultimately goes in both directions in the body, since it must return to the heart? (Here, I’m making an analogy to a hollow metal sphere that’s electrically charged; the net electric field in the interior is zero, because the contribution from one portion cancels the contribution from all the others when you compute the integral.)

I realize that mainstream science frowns upon phenomena that don’t fit in with standard doctrine. Dowsing is one such phenomenon. So, I am not supposed to believe in something that I have seen. But I’m not going to disbelieve something I’ve seen just because an authority figure tells me that it couldn’t have happened. “Nothing to see here, move along.”

Missouri’s unofficial state motto is “Show Me.” I like that.

Published in: on 26 April 2009 at 9:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Whence Consciousness?

Do Subatomic Particles Have Free Will?

Seems to me a more satisfying hypothesis of where consciousness comes from. Better than the currently fashionable thinking that it is an epiphenomenon arising from highly complex interactions between neurons, which for me is deeply unsatisfying, mere hand-waving, not better than an appeal to magic. Sure, a highly complex neural network might result in behavior that simulates consciousness, might even pass the Turing Test, but I doubt that the resulting system would actually be conscious. I think it would instead be a Philosophical Zombie.

Boiling water will spontaneously form ordered columns moving up and down, from bottom to surface and back. This is a classic example of self-organization, where something new arises spontaneously from the collective actions of a group of simple units. But does this mean that if we boil the water in a special way (e.g., boil it at superheated temperatures, or boil it for a very long time, or boil it very quickly) or boil special water (heavy water?), then the water will spontaneously develop consciousness? Sure, it’s possible, but I doubt it.

Maybe I am too dour and skeptical and should just buy into the neural network hypothesis?

Addendum (6/29/09): Conway’s Proof Of The Free Will Theorem: “If there exist experimenters with (some) free will, then elementary particles also have (some) free will.” The Free Will Theorem (PDF file); see also The Strong Free Will Theorem (PDF file). Via MetaFilter. Apparently, the term “free will” may be too politically charged for some: “If you don’t like the term Free Will, call it Free Whim – this is the Free Whim Theorem”.

I am currently reading a 1989 paper by Colin McGinn entitled Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem? (Mind, New Series, Vol. 98, No. 391 (Jul., 1989), pp. 349-366). In the second footnote, Dr. McGinn writes:

I would also classify panpsychism as a constructive solution, since it attempts to explain consciousness in terms of properties of the brain that are as natural as consciousness itself. Attributing specks of proto-consciousness to the constituents of matter is not supernatural in the way postulating immaterial substances or divine interventions is; it is merely extravagant. I shall here be assuming that panpsychism, like all other extant constructive solutions, is inadequate as an answer to the mind-body problem — as (of course) are the supernatural ‘solutions’. I am speaking to those who still feel perplexed (almost everyone, I would think, at least in their heart).

The term panpsychism is new to me. But it sounds akin to what Conway and Kochen claim to have proven. I wonder whether Dr. McGinn is still alive, and knows about Conway and Kochen’s work. Hmm, Wikipedia says that Dr. McGinn accepted a position at the University of Miami in 2006.