Friday, March 18, 2022


Dowsing is another version of a poverty story.  It never pays, however, to try to discredit poverty stories.

Early on in our relationship, Mark mentioned that his Father was a dowser.  He had the "gift" for finding where to dig a well or how to find an underground pipe.  All he needed was a y-shaped branch off an apple tree or even a t-shape metal rod, and he could find out where to dig!   I tried to explain to Mark that it was superstitious nonsense, but I quickly backed away.  This was his Father we were talking about, and he had a near God-like status in his mind (well, except the part where he abandoned him at age 14) so it wasn't worthwhile trying to "win" that argument - so I let it lie.

His brother told a similar story - a juicy "poverty story" about his Dad and dowsing:

Seems the DPW was trying to dig up a water pipe and they dug and dug but couldn't find it.  The map showed it being ten feet from the road!  Where was it?  Bill (Mark's Dad) was driving by in his Rambler and stopped to chat with "the boys" doing the digging.  They explained their plight.  They had surveyors come out and even "scientists" (right?) with some sort of machine and no one could find the errant water line!  So Bill knocked out his pipe on the digger and snapped a branch off a tree and started walking around in a spiral circle.  Suddenly, the branch shot downward!  It was vibrating as if charged with electricity!

"Dig here!" Bill said.  The "scientists" and officials scoffed at this, but "the boys" running the digger intervened.  "We tried it your way, all day long!  Bill has the gift!  We'll find your water line!"  And sure enough, they dug down eight feet and there was the water line!  They showed those eggheads what for! 

The End.

Of course, the story has been embellished over the years.  I doubt there were "scientists" with lab coats and elaborate machines looking for underground pipes back in 1965.  Yes, today, they have such equipment, of course.  But back then?  You dug until you found it.  How did Bill find the pipe?  Well, for one thing, he told them to dig somewhere they hadn't been digging.   It is not that he was a fraud, but he truly believed he had some kind of gift.

In other instances, he used his gift to tell people where to dig for a well.  Again, there is a long-winded "story" about some well-digger who drills for hundreds of feet without finding water.  Bill comes along and dowses and tells the skeptical well-digger to dig 100 feet away.  Jackpot! They tap into an artesian spring of pure, soft water that tastes like honey and smells like flowers!  Or something like that.

Did he have "the gift" or it is possible that if you dig anywhere in an area with a high water table you will find water?  Or maybe telling someone who is digging a dry hole to stop digging there is just sound advice?  Or maybe he is picking up on more subtle cues, such as the inclination of the land, wet spots on the ground, or an understanding of how water flows underground.  It is hard to say - but there is no real "evidence" that dowsing works at all - the supernatural has never submitted to the rigors of science.

Poverty stories are, of course, a waste of your time - at best a mild entertainment, at worst, chock full of poor normative cues.  And  you can see where the stories about Mark's Dad fit right into the classic "poverty story" narrative - the "little guy" who never went to college and got those high-falutin' degrees (what is a "falutin" anyway?) shows up those science nerds with their science and technology and reason and whatnot. It gives the little guy a chance to win and maybe this is related to my previous posting about Populism.  Why engage in rational thinking when fantasy is so much more fun?

And while it profits one not to believe these sort of stories, don't bother trying to "educate" your chums that they are false.  Yes, there are no $50 Corvettes out there - but saying so isn't going to make you popular - in fact, it is the sort of thing that, in days gone by, got you burned at the stake.  So just nod your head and go along with it and slowly back away.

And yes, sometimes, even friends and family believe in some of this nonsense, and you have to just let it go.  While Mark is ordinarily a very rational person (and can be quite hard about it, the Maine way) he does indulge in some fantasies on occasion - but usually they are harmless ones that don't involve spending money.  A friend of his believes in mystical stuff, and that's fine for her.  She isn't trying to sell us essential oils or chakras or whatever.  Therein lies the difference.

Of course, some people don't have a lot of willpower when it comes to this nonsense (and it is nonsense, but don't tell anyone that!).  They get sucked into cults or evangelical religions (I am being redundant) or MLM schemes or timeshare sales.  And yea, it is sad they get taken advantage of - we all do to some extent - but you can't save people from themselves.  They will violently dispute your argument and tell you in no uncertain terms they know what they are talking about.

So keep your own counsel, move on, and learn from the experience - and maybe introspectively realize what nonsense you might be believing in, without even realizing it.  Because we all believe in some sort of nonsense, at one time or another.  It's a human thing, apparently.