Dowser’s Workbook – 10: So how does it work?

I did promise that we’d look at how dowsing works, how it all happens. But perhaps the best way to start this section is for you to ask yourself the same question:

Exercise 112: So how does dowsing work?

Ignore the advice of any supposed ‘authorities’ (including mine). Look back at what you’ve learned from your own experience, developing your own dowsing skills. Assuming that you’re satisfied that it does work — for others, if not as yet for yourself — have you formed any clear ideas about how it all works?


(A clue: if you’re certain you know how it all works, you’re probably not looking close enough…)

I’ll be honest: I don’t know how it works either. At least I know that I don’t know, which is something. Every time I try to pin it down to a particular theory, a particular approach, it always manages to wriggle around and present me with something that works in a way that I didn’t expect. As long as I’ve let it work, of course.

Dowsing has always done this. Look at some research reports — Tromp in the ’30s, Maby and Franklin in the ’40s, Taylor in the ’70s — and you’ll see the same pattern every time. Whenever someone’s tried to do a scientific study, whatever makes dowsing work has either sulked and refused to play at all in the laboratory (though continued to work quite happily outside), or followed the experimenter’s theory for a while and then suddenly changed its mind, and worked some other way instead. Awkward as ever!

But in a way there’s no point. As we’ve seen, we don’t really need to know how it all works, as long as it does actually work. Dowsing is far more a technology than a science: and all we need to know in any technology is how it can be worked. Any theories we might have are — or should be — just sources of ideas for better ways to work it in practice.

It might be much more comfortable to have an explanation that looks something like what other people would accept as ‘fact’: but we don’t have one. None that would stand up to any real scrutiny, anyway. Still, the one fact that we do have is that it does work, for most people — with a little practice and a few interesting acts of mental acrobatics, perhaps, but it does work. (Assuming that you have bothered to do at least some of the exercises by now, you’ll have proved that to yourself, in practice.) So even without an explanation, it still works!

And that’s why I’ve been careful, throughout this book, to explain the whole process by not explaining it at all, with that simple ‘non-explanation’ that it’s all co-incidence and mostly image-inary. We’re putting coincidence to practical use. Without some consistent theory that truly could encompass every aspect of dowsing, that really is all we can say about it.

But if that’s so, what is coincidence?

It’s all co-incidence

The question is more important than it looks. At first, the answer seems to be obvious: it’s just coincidence, isn’t it? There doesn’t seem to be any point to the question. But stop for a moment, and try to describe it in relation to anything else: and you’ll find you can’t. Coincidence is, well, coincidence. You know: coincidence.

All we can do is describe it as itself. We can use an alternate name — ‘event’, for example — but since that is exactly the same, that tells us nothing. And yet it’s very real: we certainly experience it. So what is it?

In one sense coincidences don’t have meaning: they’re just events. But in another sense they most certainly do have meaning: a peculiar thread that cuts across all our ideas about what is and isn’t ‘normal’ in our lives. For most of what we experience, we have a good idea of what supposedly caused what: but we also all have many examples of events and connections — very real connections — that make no sense at all in terms of cause and effect. There is a kind of sense there, but just what is not at all easy to grasp:

Exercise 113: When is coincidence more than coincidence?

Look back in your memory, and remember events that stand out because of their strangeness: for example, climbing a mountain and finding a colleague from ten years ago waiting at the top. Take a few examples of your own, and ask yourself: Why do they stand out? What is that sense of ‘meaningfulness’ in what is often an otherwise meaningless event? What, for you, made these coincidences more than ‘mere coincidences’?


One thing that makes these events seem so strange is that they’re out of our control. Cause-and-effect we understand; these games of the Joker, these instances of ‘wyrd’, we don’t. They’re even a little frightening at times — perhaps because our sense of security, in this culture, comes from our relative certainty of being able to predict what’s going to happen.

But given the infinite nature of reality and our finite grasp of events, the best we can do with causality is predict what’s likely to happen, and even then only in the crudest physical terms. Since we’ve all be told endlessly since childhood that things happen because this causes that causes the next (and so on), it’s a bit of a surprise when we finally realise just how limited in usefulness — as a predictive tool — the concept of causality can be:

Exercise 114:… and what caused that?

Just ask yourself: what caused you to be reading this book? And what were the causes that lead you to that cause? Could you have predicted that those ‘first’ causes — let alone the infinite others before them, such as those that led me to be writing this book — would have lead you to be reading this word, now?


Look at it like that, and it’s obvious that there’s something else. Just what that ‘something else’ actually happens to be, is not really something we can grasp: as with time — another ‘something’ that is real yet quite intangible — it just is, and that’s about all we can say.

Whenever we think of cause and effect, we’re thinking in terms of time. Whatever event we describe as the ’cause’ always occurs before its supposed ‘effect’. In other words cause-effect chains are patterns in time. And precisely because they are patterns that we can recognise, we can use them in a predictive way (though often we can perceive them as recognisable patterns only after they’ve occurred, which may be a little late…). We don’t actually know why they are patterns, without describing reasons ‘why’ in terms of others of those same patterns — a classic example of circular reasoning which gets us nowhere. So that’s all they are: patterns.

And they’re not the only ones: there are also these other patterns, such as the ones we’ve been studying and learning to recognise in this book, that seem to occur ‘acausally’, quite outside of time. Some of them, clusterings of apparently random events, Kammerer termed ‘serialities’; others, groups of entities (concepts, physical events, dream images and the like) occurring at the same moment and linked by a subjective sense of meaning, were termed ‘synchronicities’ by Carl Jung. But there are many other classes of these acausal connections: and at least one of them, it seems to me, is what is behind dowsing. An understanding of causality may be the key to the conventional technologies: but an understanding of acausality, these connections without connections, leads us to the equally real technology of dowsing, and much more besides.

So we never will be able to describe what causes dowsing to work, because whatever makes it do so, whatever it is that’s behind it, exists largely outside of any concept of cause and effect. It seems increasingly likely that the only truthful answer to the question “What makes dowsing work?” is “Yes”. Or “Idiot”, perhaps — ‘un-ask the question’.

The Norse legends described life as a web, a roll of cloth being woven by the three Fates, the ‘three sisters of wyrd’. So, by analogy, causality is the weft of that web, threaded across time; and acausality is the cross-warp, weaving its multicoloured way through the normality of our lives. And coincidences? They’re the knots in the mesh, the points where the threads co-incide and cross. Coincidences are points that exist not just in time and space, but also quite outside them, totally beyond those limitations, in fact cutting across anything we could understand as time or space.

So everything really is all coincidence: it’s up to us whether we put those coincidences, those opportunities, to use. Dowsing is entirely co-incidence, mostly image-inary: using our imagination to put coincidences to use. In choosing to do so we also choose to move across that warp, moving momentarily outside time and space — and, perhaps, change our fates in the process!

A question of time

I did also promise, earlier in the book, that we’d take a look at time, and especially why dowsing in time is so fraught with difficulties.

If you’ve managed to make sense of the discussion above, you’ll see that the reason is quite simple — even if the implications are anything but simple! Our experience of events is of coincidences in a web of causality and acausality, in which time is in some ways a dimension. We see cause-and-effect as recognisable patterns of events in a sequence in time. And we can also see other patterns, and learn to recognise other acausal patterns that run across the apparent linearity of time — and those, it seems, are what we’re working with when we’re dowsing in time.

What confuses everything is that while we experience time, it’s quite imaginary. The past is gone, the future never here: all we can ever know for certain is now — a ‘now’ that we can never grasp, because as soon as we observe it, it’s ceased to be the same ‘now’. So time doesn’t exist — at least, not in the sense that would apply to those three tangible dimensions of height, width and depth.

All physical events, the effects of causes, are patterns in time — and since we see them as patterns in time, it makes it very difficult to look at time itself. The physical definition of our standard unit of time, the second, is described in terms of the duration of a specific frequency of radio waves: another example of circular reasoning, since frequency is itself defined in terms of time. And time is assumed to be linear and regular: an assumption which we have no way to check at all, since any method for doing so would exist within that same time, linear or non- linear, regular or irregular.

Physical time is assumed to be linear (relativity theory notwithstanding). But those cross-currents of coincidence are more like loops, threading back and forth through our lives. In dowsing, we’re linking across acausal loops in time and space in a way that we can still barely comprehend.

Our experience of time is anything but linear: ten minutes of rushing to catch a train is a far shorter period of time than ten minutes waiting for it at the other end. And for tribal people, time is measured by the day, or the season, and the shortest recognised time-unit may well be the time a pot takes to boil — which, as we all know, is far longer if you watch it than if you don’t.

Time is imaginary. And coincidences are events both within time, and outside of it — some of them points where the Joker’s warped mind cuts across the threads of normality, giving us those chaotically confusing but useful coincidences I call ‘Normal Rules’. It’s all entirely coincidence, mostly imaginary.

The past is imaginary: a photograph, as a record of a moment in time, is literally ‘image-inary’. And the future is imaginary: we can only imagine it, because it doesn’t yet exist in any tangible sense. We push towards our choice of future with intention, or will. But since everybody else is doing the same, there’s no way we can predict the outcome with any certainty. We can see when something is likely to happen: but there’s no way that we can ever be certain that that particular image-inary world will ever coincide exactly with the physical world at the precise moment we’d need for certainty. There are just too many forces acting upon it, too many threads of time pulling the future this way and that.

Whichever way we look at it, time is a maze of paradoxes.

So, given the paradoxical nature of time, the best we can ever hope to achieve, in dowsing with a different ‘now’, is a past or future with a high probability of being valid. The conventional tool of statistics won’t help us much, either: statistics are only useful with large numbers of events, whereas here we’re looking at just one. All you’re left with, in the end, is your skill at interpreting possibilities. And that, in effect, is what you’ve been learning and practising in this book.

So what does it all mean? What is time? In a way, it’s probably best to use another ‘non-explanation’, and say that it just is: whatever it means, we’ll find out later, looking back in time, with all the advantages of hindsight.

With both time and coincidence, we seem to end up going round in circles if we try to make sense of them in a way that we can describe in ‘objective’ terms to others. They just are: that’s all. But we can put them both to practical use, as long as we can accept that we’ll probably only understand them in our own experience and practice.

If you look at it in that way, getting those coincidences of your dowsing to work well for you is also a question of time: a matter of taking the time to put it into practice. Doing it: not talking about it, or thinking about it, or arguing about it, but doing it.

Since practice is really what matters, that’s probably the best way to end this book. And that’s why the next (and final) chapter contains nothing but practice!

Related pages