I have to confess that my mother hired a “water witch” and water was indeed struck. I don’t think there is any woo-woo factor going on here. If there is some actual physical connection with this I suspect it has to do with the nose. We have all had the experience of things that are wet and particularly after a rain that smell different or stronger. Put a rock in water and you can smell it. I would not consider it out of line to conjecture that water diviners have an olfactory sensitivity to wetness. The whole bit with rods or forked sticks might just be tools used in some subconscious manner.
The aboriginal people of Australia have an uncanny ability to find where to dig for water out in the desert outback. They may have a heightened and culturally trained ability to sense where water might be near the surface. If so it is not due to any magnetic properties of water, but a sharp olfactory ability.
And okay, I will blow my own trumpet a bit: I used to play goalkeeper for the British schoolboy football (soccer) team, and I remember stopping shots in which time, from my perspective, simply slowed down… I would see the person lining up for the shot, I would remember thinking this looks bad, then a sort of sense of floating, and then nothing until the look of disbelief and disappointment on the shooter’s face, followed by a slight embarrassment at the congratulations of my teammates, because it was nothing to do with me, it just happened (BTW, sadly, the experience of “picking the ball out of the back of the net” was much more common)… These days, sportsmen and women call this the “zone” and I think, from what I have read, it’s the point where we hand action over to unconscious processing. I suspect it happens in many scientific, intellectual and artistic domains, as well.
In lots of areas of life, the analytical is preceded by the “holistic” – in human relations, we have a pretty good sense of whether or not we like/trust someone within a few seconds of meeting them, and the reason, whatever it is, good or bad, comes after.
So after that long ramble, what I would like to know is whether people on this list believe that the sort of phenomena I describe above are illusions (and therefore not worth studying) or simply, at the moment, too complex for a reductive analysis.
Almost all thinking is unconscious – but that doesn’t mean it’s beyond analysis. Maybe that makes it easier since we don’t have a good theory of consciousness.
Interestingly, I am reading a book at the moment called The Master and His Emissary, by an English psychiatrist called Iain McGilchrist. I am only about a quarter way through, so all I can say about it is that it is an exploration of the difference between the left and right cerebral hemispheres, their evolution, their functions, their “weltanschaung”, and their interrelationships.
I will just quote a short paragraph, where the background is about how particular aspects of the world (in this case certain values) are first apprehended in the right hemisphere (this is not woo-woo, it is fMRI), which performs the function of filtering phenomena and directing attention, then the objects of that attention are passed to the left hemisphere for analysis and “breakdown”. He writes: “As things are re-presented in the left hemisphere, it is their use value that is salient. In the world it brings into being, everything is either reduced to utility or rejected with considerable vehemence, a vehemence that appear to be born of frustration, and the affront to its ‘will to power’.”
So you’re saying that all ‘aspects of the world’ are filtered through the right hemisphere, where they are reduced to their utility? So what does the left hemisphere do with this filtered data? And what of the data that goes directly from sensory organs to the left hemisphere?
I should add that it is not the author’s aim to denigrate the concept of “reduction to utility”, since these are evolved processes, but simply to point out that the two sides of the brain (as is easily demonstrated in stroke patients or when the corpus callosum is severed) generate a very different vision of the world. It would seem to me that the version dominant on this list on the whole reflects left-brain functioning, and is somewhat derogatory of input from the right brain.
I have a long way to go in the book, so I’m not going to pre-empt its conclusions, but I think the point that is beginning to emerge is that the visions of the world generated by the left and right hemispheres of the brain are close to incompatible, though at the same time mutually dependent with regard to their survival value, hence the existence of both the split and the corpus callosum that connects them.
All of which says nothing about whether water divining is “woo-woo” or not, but perhaps says something about whether the scientific method is actually capable of deciding whether or not it is “woo-woo”. I don’t know if this is a good analogy, but I have always been into sport, as both a practitioner and spectator. I particularly love to watch top-level tennis, notably Roger Federer. Now I have no doubt that what the ball does after he hits it can be accounted for by physics, and that what he does to hit it can be accounted for by biology, physiology, and thousands of hours of practice. However, he also knows (as do many top-level sports practitioners) where the ball is going to go before his opponent hits it, not because he is psychic, but because there is – to use a left-brain metaphor – multiple parallel processing going on. So I would be interested to know whether you think that a “Maxwell’s Demon” analysis of a perfect forehand by Roger Federer is possible.
I love to watch Roger too, he’s so graceful and almost effortless; while Nadal and Djokovic seem to be putting in great efforts. But I don’t know what it has to do with Maxwell’s Demon. I think all top players are very good at subconsciously learning small tells that allow them to anticipate many of their opponents shots. I’ve never been a really good tennis player, but I was a really good handball player and I knew the moves of people I played regularly so I could often anticipate their shot.
I understand what you are saying, and I can respect it. However, I am also firmly convinced that a lack of interdisciplinary conversation is one of the reasons we don’t produce more solutions to our world problems. We need to cross-pollinate more, and to become less insular. The only way we can do this is if some people insist on pushing through departmental boundaries even in the face of resistance and criticism.
I feel that no idea should ever be off the table. If it’s “flat world” idea, then show the reasons. Everything should be amenable to thorough discussion and vetting. I don’t ask that something you take to be “woo-woo” be accepted without examination.
Dowsing has been extensively tested, and it has failed to do better than chance. But it
works very well when the dowser knows where the water is. So I don’t think there’s any
reason to speculate how it works, because it doesn’t work. This is a very instructive video:
Be sure to watch the last eight minutes.