Circling the Pendulum: Conversations with a Dowser
August 27, 2015
Skeptics often encounter--or are cornered by--people making all sorts of claims. Most of them, such as those tested by me, Jim Underdown of CFI-West, the JREF, and others, are sincere people. They are very rarely hoaxers or liars but instead well-intentioned people who genuinely believe they have special abilities, or have discovered some important secret of the universe.
When I encounter these people I try to be as respectful and polite as possible. Ignoring them, or even worse, mocking them, is both cruel and unnecessary. Sometimes there's much to be learned from engaging such people, in terms of psychology and understanding where mistakes happen.
Earlier this month I got an e-mail out of the blue from a foreign person whose message simply read, "I send a letter and an attachment." Normally such an abrupt email would be deleted--pro-tip: that's not the best way to submit an article for publication--but I opened it and read it. It was about 20 pages on dowsing, in which the writer claimed that a dowsing pendulum moved through some as-yet unknown "radiation" that he was studying. I saw what seemed to be a mistaken assumption on the first page, one upon which the remaining 19 pages of theory and writings relied upon to be valid. Willing to look at his work but wanting to help him nip the error in the bud, I wrote to him:
"Thank you for your submission on dowsing. I began to review your article but found it confusing after the first page, and here is why: It's not clear why you are attributing the pendulum movement to a form of radiation instead of the ordinary anatomical muscle twitches and tension associated with fingers, wrists, elbows, arms, and so on. If you could clarify that perhaps I could better evaluate your paper.
He got back to me about a week later:
"I am sorry for the delay, but I do not know English and had to use a text translator, and these things take time. If the dowser detects by means of a wand or a pendulum a water reservoir underground, some kind of radiation from this water must affect him.
As an electronic engineer, dealing with radiocommunication, propagation of electro-magnetic waves for over 40 years, I was mostly interested in searching for this radiation. My article concerns the methodology of searching this radiation, however I do not deal in it with phenomena in which this mysterious radiation, by an influence on a human, forces the pendulum to move in his hands. Perhaps I will write an article on that topic.
In physics, there are four basic forces of interaction on matter. Vocationally, during the entire period of my work experience, I have dealt with technical measurement of electro-magnetic radiation. I could not believe in what was being said in radiesthesia, that there is some kind of additional unknown radiation. And I was right.
Radiation of neutral hydrogen at the frequency of 1420 MHz is responsible for radiesthetic phenomena, known for many years, particularly in radioastronomy. It is observed and measured by means of two large parabolic antennas of the diameter of dishes above 15 meters. Science has accused me of identifying the type of this radiation with a pendulum. They say that if I had measured it, it would have been a different story. Namely, measurement over an underground water reservoir would have to be done locally with a small antenna, e.g. a half-wave dipole of a several-million smaller power gain from the parabolic antennas. So far, I have not had a measurement receiver of such sensitivity.
Even if somebody was able to locally measure the radiation, nobody would believe that it was responsible for the phenomenon of radiesthesia. Its identification can only be done by a human acting as a sensor, through his extraordinary sensitivity for this kind of radiation, and that is what I have done."
I reviewed his response and replied,
"Thank you for getting back to me. My question is very simple: you wrote that "If the dowser detects by means of a wand or a pendulum a water reservoir underground, some kind of radiation from this water must affect him."
It's not clear why you are attributing the pendulum movement to a form of radiation instead of the ordinary anatomical muscle twitches and tension associated with fingers, wrists, elbows, arms, and so on. In other words, it is virtually impossible to hold a pendulum completely still for very long, and this is because of the ordinary movements of the body (breathing, arm muscles, etc.). So I don't understand upon what scientific basis you are assuming that any radiation is involved in causing the pendulum to move. If you could clarify that perhaps I could better evaluate your paper.
About a week later I got the following reply:
"From the physics lessons, we know that the pendulum is a mechanical resonance oscillator with simple harmonic motion, and if it moves continuously when held between fingers then it must also be subject to a certain enforcing force of periodic variability through the human body. And if it is so then there must occur a frequency synchronicity of some kind between the both frequencies or else the pendulum cannot move. A child on a swing must be pushed in pace with the rhythm of the movements of the swing or else, if the pushing movements are random, the child won't swing.
However, the vibration of the finger muscles, the hand or other parts of the body are completely coincidental and even if they oscillate the pendulum its vibrations will fast disappear; it is not going to be a continuous movement, unless someone intentionally moves his hand so as to enforce the oscillation of the pendulum for prolonged time, but then this would be a cheating.
By changing the frequency of the pendulum (we have no control over a change in the frequency of the gravitational field) we can observe how the pendulum adjusts itself (in a better or worse way) to the frequency of the field, the manifestation of which is a change of the shapes plotted by the pendulum in the space. Obviously, the latter would not happen if we use an ordinary pendulum: a weight on a thread where the thread is held at a different point each time. Such a pendulum is unsuitable for serious research.
In my pendulum, the weight is screwed on a steel wire (like a nut on a bolt) and the entire pendulum is suspended in a special grip on the blade of a steel pin.
Obviously, the muscle tensions of individual parts of the human body cause pendulum movements, however such a movement is coincidental and only interferes with the measurements, it is regarded as an interference impeding the measurement itself.
On the other hand, it is the micro vibrations of the skin (epidermis) of the fingers: the thumb and the index finger, in which the pendulum is held, that give the appropriate periodic movement to the pendulum and the direction of the movement, caused by the influence of the variable gravitational field of the surrounding.
The measurement of the distribution of the field is very burdensome; it consists in the transferring the pendulum from a point to a point and stopping at each point so that the vibrations of the pendulum become stabilized, which takes approximately three (3) minutes. In order to be able to find a point where the field strength equals zero and the pendulum does not move at all, the pendulum must be set in the space with an accuracy of a few milimetres.
My pendulum is quite heavy (approx. 50 gram), it would be difficult to hold it at specific point with such an exactness, and this is why it is suspended on a thin thread on a special stand (the photograph is attached).
A pendulum synchronised with the sought field moves in a single vertical plane with constant direction. Obviously, the direction of the plane is different at different points.
The direction of the plane of the movement of the pendulum in the gravitational field of the surroundings is the only and the base measurement done using my pendulum. The plane is always perpendicular to the vector of the magnetic field of the sought radiation which is polarised horizontally in the space above the surface of the Earth. Therefore, we know its situation at the points of measurement, and, consequently, its special distribution."
With all due respect to this person--who I think really does believe he's onto something--I still didn't get what he was saying. It wasn't an English translation issue, we just weren't talking about the same things. I replied,
"Thank you for your response. You noted that "The vibration of the finger muscles, the hand or other parts of the body are completely coincidental... Obviously, the muscle tensions of individual parts of the human body cause pendulum movements, however such a movement is coincidental and only interferes with the measurements, it is regarded as an interference impeding the measurement itself."
I understand that you believe that the muscle movements cannot account for the pendulum movements, but I do not understand why you believe this to be so: What is the basis or reason you say it is "coincidental"? Can you provide any citations or references to studies showing this? Or have you done any experiments that rule out muscle movement as the sole source for pendulum oscillations?
I am not trying to be negative or difficult, but I sincerely don't understand why you believe muscles cannot account entirely for the pendulum movement. You must show that the pendulum moves with no muscle movement at all...
I await his response and hope that if it comes, it doesn't simply send us around in circles...
#1 Jim Underdown on Thursday August 27, 2015 at 12:12pm
The convoluted explanation about how the pendulum operates, and his denial of how a hand operates, are a good insights into his approach.
Of course the elephant in the room is that it never seems to work under test conditions. So his thoughts about how it works seem…irrelevant.
Pass a few tests and then you’ll have my attention.
#2 Alec (Guest) on Thursday August 27, 2015 at 12:45pm
What I see is a human being that has convinced himself so strongly that he is “on to something” that he has failed to allow the true test of science (peer review) add anything to his claim.
If any real science is to be done, he must remove variables or at least account for them.
I would propose that he observe the pendulum over a location known to be dry (without underground water source) using multiple pendulums and multiple people. The test subjects should not know that they are “dowsing” nor know the state of the groundwater in that area. If the study can then be repeated under the same conditions in an area WITH groundwater and variables (such as wind) controlled. A statistical difference in the data will either exist or not. If the sample size is large enough and the entire experiment is repeatable with similar results (assuming that there is positive statistical difference) then he should then and ONLY then look for this mystery force.
#3 Bill Atkinson (Guest) on Friday August 28, 2015 at 7:53am
I have no difficulty moving a light pendulum in circles, reversing direction,moving the pendulum sideways or to and fro. It’s easy.As you hold the string concentrate on the direction you want it to move and let the micro vibrations in your finger tips do the job. Change directions at will.
#4 Thomas B (Guest) on Friday August 28, 2015 at 8:28am
Like Bill above, I’ve found that it’s easy to simply imagine the pendulum moving in any direction you want, and the pendulum will follow suit. It’s easy. But ask him to drape the string over the back of a chair, letting it dangle. He’s still touching the string, so in theory it should still work. But he’ll find that the pendulum no longer moves.
#5 Bill Atkinson (Guest) on Friday August 28, 2015 at 1:02pm
Right. Draping the string deadens the small muscle action. The theory that that it should work in that situation is wrong. It’s just simple physics.
#6 Benjamin Radford on Friday August 28, 2015 at 1:25pm
Great comments, thanks!