Dowsing and Science – An inevitable partnership?

by Nigel Percy

At first sight, dowsing and science appear to occupy opposing camps. One is very subjective and ‘fuzzy’, the other, objective and ‘hard’. It would seem that there would be no obvious reason why they should be seen as bedfellows. Yet, there are increasing numbers of attempts to explain dowsing in terms of science. There is, as a result, an increasing use of scientific terminology in dowsing. The driving force behind this is the attempts being made to fit dowsing within the scientific consensus and, as a by-product, to formulate a scientific definition of dowsing. In short, to make dowsing fit better within society.

Science is the prevailing intellectual paradigm. It may seem natural that dowsing seeks scientific verification. (I have examined this aspect at length in Chapter Two of my book “The Essence of Dowsing”.) However, if the two areas are so different, it is reasonable to ask ‘what are the arguments for opposing this scientific ‘takeover’ and are they valid’?

There appear at first to be two major objections to science attempting to explain dowsing. The first argument relies upon the idea that, no matter what science actually finds, nothing useful (to dowsing) will ever come of it. To explain the mechanisms of dowsing would, on the one hand, add nothing to the experience. It would not be able to touch upon the unique experience of ‘otherness’ which dowsing exemplifies. On the other hand, to explain dowsing mechanistically would de-humanize dowsing. The totality of the experience, the immersion in the process would be devalued. Possibly dowsing might be in danger of attempts to perform it adequately by a machine. In other words, this defense of dowsing works by emphasizing the individuality which is considered to be the essential (some would say quintessential) aspect of dowsing. After all, the argument runs, it is a gift to humanity, something which only those with souls can have and practice. Machinery can only emulate, never duplicate this gift. The quasi-spiritual aspect of dowsing is a natural bulwark to defend against the ‘hardness’ and bleak distancing of scientific enquiry.

The second argument which can be offered against science acting as the verifier of dowsing concerns an investigation of the nature of science itself. It is relatively easy to expose the nebulous nature of science as an activity because it is difficult to state with exactitude what exactly science is based upon. Science is defined more by what it does than by what people say it is. Apologists for science can point out the benefits of the discipline. Yet, once the critiques of science are examined, it soon becomes clear that science itself rests upon a subjective interaction of the observer with the world. This happens both in terms of what the scientist chooses to study and interpret as well as in the quantum nature of the interaction. It is easy to assert that both dowsing and science rely upon the same thing: the subjective and introspective nature of human beings. By showing the similarities between the two, the supposed superiority of science is challenged and any claim of verification is thereby weakened. Thus, dowsing is defended and science diminished.

Either of these two arguments has substance. The first relies upon the difference in world-views which are the dominant features of the two approaches. The gist of the first argument is that dowsing has values which science cannot encompass and, therefore, science is in no position to pass judgments upon dowsing. If there can be no common ground in the philosophical or paradigmatic sense, what validity can there be in one paradigm passing judgment upon the other?

The second argument, contrarily, relies for its effect upon finding the common ground between the two camps. It points out that there is much more in common than is normally acknowledged in the fundamental natures of the two disciplines. Here, it is the way in which science is conceived which is examined rather than the way in which dowsing is conceived, which is the basis of the first argument.

To fully explore either idea; the conceptual analogies of the first or the philosophical similarities of the second, is relatively easy. Both arguments are valid and are fully able to defend dowsing in a logical manner. The end result of either is to prove that science is not capable of passing any sort of useful judgment upon dowsing. By analogy, therefore, it has no place in dowsing and those dowsers who use such defenses may feel that they can sleep soundly in their beds, safe from any further infringements upon their domain by the upstart science.

However, there have been surprisingly few defenses of dowsing against the intrusion of science, or, rather, the increasing scientific emphasis within dowsing. Few articles have been written that I am aware of, and few voices have been raised in complaint. Generally speaking, the present state of affairs seems to be, if not entirely welcomed, at least generally tolerated.

So, with such little complaint, why is it necessary to examine this supposed ‘clash’ of science and dowsing? If there are so few voices, why is it worth bothering about? After all, there is an inevitability about it, isn’t there? Yet such an attitude does no more than accept that science and dowsing co-exist in some fashion. It does not look at why this co-existence is taking place.

To answer this, it is necessary to look at another and far more wide-ranging view of the interaction between the two areas. Dowsing has been around for a long time, probably longer than the scientific method has, and it has not, so far, been found to be amenable to consistent scientific validation. From the few studies on dowsers which have been carried out it is reasonable to assert that dowsing uses different aspects of the brain than scientific activities generally do. From this it can also be reasonably asserted that dowsing could be considered to be using a different form of consciousness than science. The phrase ‘different form of consciousness’ refers to a different way of interacting with the world; of having a different perspective upon it; of seeing it in a different way. It is difficult to be precise for the simple reason that the modern form of consciousness is that of the scientific paradigm. To attempt to describe the point of view of one paradigm, of one consciousness, using the language of another is virtually impossible to do with any accuracy.

If it is the case that two different forms of consciousness are co-existing (in this case the dowsing and the scientific), the next question to ask is why does one (science) wish to envelop the other (dowsing)? To rely on the fact that science is dominant now is to miss the point. That only explains that it is happening. It does not explain why.

To understand why there is this intrusion, this intermingling of science with dowsing, there needs to be an understanding of what these two consciousnesses pertain to. Actual physical conflict is not what is being referred to. It is not happening on a personal level. It is happening on a cultural and human consciousness level of which we, as humans alive at this time, are representatives.

The idea of there being two different types of consciousness is, on the one hand easy to comprehend in the sense that it is used in common parlance. After all, we speak of ‘raising our consciousness’ as if it were a physical thing. On the other hand, it is a nebulous concept, difficult to grasp intellectually. We normally consider different types of consciousness as essentially seeing the same thing but with different cultural twists: an Amazonian Indian’s first interpretation of a radio as a box with spirits inside it, for example. But this is not what is meant here. We are referring to something broader, more encompassing. Perhaps, therefore, it might be easier to speak in terms of ‘structures’ of consciousness, as that has different overtones. A structure implies a building or a purpose. It implies something which can be dismantled and examined. Above all, it implies form and function.

There have been a few people who have proposed the idea that human consciousness changes and continues to change. Rudolf Steiner, Schwaller de Lubicz, Jean Gebson, and Julian Jaynes are perhaps the pre-eminent examples of those who have proposed this theory in different ways and for different purposes[1]. Without spending a disproportionate amount of time on the theories involved, the main contention is that human beings have viewed the world differently at different times in history. This viewing is not simply the way the world is seen, but is more about the way the world can be seen. The way that consciousness functioned then was not the same as it is now. (Try, for a moment, to reflect upon how your consciousness works for you, how it functions, and it is a remarkably difficult task. You know that it does, but you cannot easily say how it functions beyond some general psychological or scientific or medical ideas, which are themselves the product of the way your consciousness works.)

Early humans were unaware of an externality, according to the theorists. They were so closely bonded with the world around them, so intimately fused with it, that they were not able to distinguish their own personalities as being separate and capable of forming new sensitivities. This phase passed through more changes so that the closeness of the world receded a little, becoming slightly more apart, but still filled with gods. During these early stages, for example, there are some interesting arguments for claiming that our ancient forebears were incapable of perceiving colors other than in a general way of light and shade. (The Greeks spoke of only three colors in the rainbow; purple, red and yellow) Then the real split of consciousness began (Jaynes calls it the beginning of the bicameral mind) sometime in the classical Greek period.

Since that time, there has been a developing process of intellectualization and rationalization, and a concomitant reduction in the more intuitive, ‘feeling’ and less rational aspects of the mind. The world is now what we see, not what we feel or sense. Whenever there has been a change from one type of consciousness to another, it has always been accompanied by upheavals and disturbances. Naturally so, as it is the result of a new way of looking and perceiving, of reacting to the world around which is different, and therefore challenging, to the old way. (The Assyrian terror campaigns of the 2nd Century BC and the Greek development of rational, logical thought are but two examples of the conflicts arising with the development of consciousness of the self as something apart from the world.)

This may all be very well, but what does it have to with dowsing and science? After all, dowsing is supposedly a remnant of the older form of consciousness, when there was a closer and more intimate relationship with the world. Science is the pre-eminent example of the later logicality. How can the two be related to this theory?

The answer is that the structure of human consciousness is not thought to stop with the rise of the intellectual society of today. Its evolution is believed to be continuous. The next stage of the process will, it is thought, be one where the previous types of consciousness are fully integrated, making for a more ‘complete’ human being. The rational and logical will co-exist with the dreamlike and the free-flowing. (Lachman[2] calls this the ‘Goldilocks’ ideal: not too little, not too much of either type of consciousness.)

If that is the case, then there will be a period of unrest, confusion, conflicting ideologies and of a last gasp of intellectual, unfeeling dominance.

This seems to fit well with what is seen in modern society. The quest for speed; for doing more things at once; for instant analysis of everything, no matter how trivial; for commenting more and more on less and less; the ever-increasing accuracy in splitting time into smaller and smaller segments: all of these and many more examples would seem to provide ballast to the theory of the present form of consciousness reaching a crescendo. Perhaps the single best example is the intellectual pursuit of understanding the brain, its functions and history: the brain examining itself.

At the same time, there are the burgeoning shoots of the ‘older’ form of consciousness beginning to show through. The growth in interest in dowsing and other intuitive areas is an example, as is the demand for better, more organic food; the rise of spas and alternative therapies; the increasing numbers of TV programs exploring one or more aspects of the ‘supernatural’ other than ghosts; books such as those dealing with alternative history or metaphysics becoming best sellers: all can be seen as indicative of the churning taking place in human consciousness. At present, however, these areas are difficult to talk about in terms meaningful to themselves. They can only be referenced through the dominant culture of the time.

In the 17th Century, there were many who sought to create a universal language because it seemed to be within their grasp. Now there are more people who seek to transcend language. They use imagery and visualizations, non-rational, non-intellectual channels of communication because language (a left brain construct) seems to be deficient in expressing what they seek to express. Why is it so difficult to describe dowsing in terms other than scientific ones? It is because the vocabulary, the language, does not exist in this structure of consciousness. It is impossible to speak of dowsing when the language does not permit it. It is exactly the same as us not being able to understand what our Amazonian Indian really thinks when he sees a radio because he cannot tell us and we could not understand him even if he could.

Given this picture and the theory of the changing forms of human consciousness, it is perhaps inevitable that science becomes more and more intrusive in dowsing. (It is also a very good reason as to why dowsing in general does not seek to throw off the interest that science has in it.) Any intuitive process such as dowsing, with echoes of its previous dominant role in human consciousness, is going to be perceived as a threat to the current dominant structure. It will be examined with a view to assimilating it and thus negating it (much like the Borg do in Star Trek: The Next Generation!).

In other words, the growing use of science in dowsing is just one small skirmish in the vast arena which is human consciousness today. The conjunction of the two is inevitable. But it is far more than the simplistic “objective / subjective” viewpoints which it might appear to be at first. It is a conjunction brought about through the long history of humanity. It is indicative of a new change in the offing when there will be a more encompassing union of the two viewpoints. While it may be difficult to comprehend that situation with our point of view now, it is imaginable nevertheless. In the meantime, dowsing will probably adopt a more and more scientific or quasi-scientific stance. The ultimate balance or nature of the composition which results from this intermingling is not certain. All that can probably be said with some degree of certainty is that it has the potential to be a more complete and fuller expression of humanity than that which obtains now.

My own personal view, for what it’s worth, is to take defense behind the earlier arguments against science. In doing so, I make reference to science as it is currently practiced and viewed. Science, too, will change, along with everything else. But for now, I do not feel that dowsing can be adequately explained by this science, because dowsing is not one activity. ‘Explain’ water dowsing and you have not ‘explained’ map dowsing; ‘explain’ assessing your health through dowsing, and you have not ‘explained’ locating missing people. ‘Explain’ the mental aspects of dowsing and you have not touched the spiritual aspects. The reductionist approach of “objective” science will always seek to compartmentalize and restrict, whereas, for me, dowsing is something expansive and which engages more and more (not less and less) of me. It does not restrict me; rather it helps me to grow.

I see dowsing as complete and whole of itself. It does not require external validation: I am free to roam anywhere I wish, in the universe, within myself. If science offers support of my outlook, all well and good. It is neither necessary nor sought for. It cannot replace my reliance upon dowsing alone, my creation of how the world works for me. I am not stupid or dull, but inquisitive and interested in the world around me, as much as any scientist. It is not part of any scientific paradigm that what I have is complete and entire, needing nothing else, no justification, no external explanation. What I have though is entire, it is complete and it is internal: a part of me and a part which I choose to believe is something which points out and upholds my uniqueness, my humanness. Science may be able to explain much of the world I see around me, but, through dowsing I have come to glimpse other areas which science has difficulty in acknowledging. How can I embrace science when it cannot embrace my viewpoint? Ultimately, science relies upon others; its theorists and experimenters to judge its success, whereas dowsing makes me rely only upon myself. For that awareness of my own individuality I am more than grateful

Whatever the final outcome of the relationship between dowsing and science, however it will be perceived, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be an interesting journey to reach that destination. Then, perhaps, others will be able to speak more fluently, coherently and easily about dowsing and science and how the two intermingle because, finally, the language and the world view, the consciousness necessary for doing so, will exist.

Nigel Percy may be contacted at or via the website Nigel runs Walking Three Paths with his wife, Maggie. 

[1] Steiner’s views are expressed in his various writings concerning the development of humanity as he perceived it. Schwaller de Lubicz wrote about it in general terms but his “Sacred Science” has probably the best exposition of this idea. Jean Gebson wrote extensively about it in the difficult work “The Ever Present Origin” which seeks to explore the changing structure of human consciousness in terms similar to Steiner’s, while Julian Jaynes took a more rationalist approach to it, seeking to explain the Greek upsurge in his “The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”

[2] Gary Lachman, “The Secret History of Consciousness”