by Professor Svante Arrhenius

Svante Arrhenius

This article was the second and final one that Svante Arrhenius, Swedish physicist and chemist, 1859-1927, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1903, published in the newspaper “Stockholms Dagblad” 1914.

The first article was called “N-strålarne – frukten af ett självbedrägeri” (N-rays – fruit of a self-deception) published 25th January. This text is a transcription of a microfilm original located in Kungliga Bibliteket (the Royal Library).

The article can be found at, and was translated by Jonas Östlund

The most famous and known among all mysterious phenomenon is that, which supposedly master dowsing and which is nowadays often discussed by the press. I have said that I do not consider that this will withstand a scientific test, based on my experiences in this field.

I once spent some time with a very prominent, sadly prematurely deceased, one of our foremost industrial leaders. One time we passed by the factory´s cowshed, which had a nearby garden, in which a deaf-mute gardener was working. “This man knows many strange things, you know”, my host told me, “he can, amongst other things, locate water with a dowsing rod.”

It is fairly common that dysfunctional persons, especially the insane, are considered to have “paranormal” abilities, and this has always been so. My host signaled to the gardener, who cut a branch shaped as a Y from an apple tree, and grabbed hold of the Y´s both ends and started walking along the cowshed´s frontside. The dowsing rod made a powerful deviation precisely in front of the cowshed´s front door. “Look, a waterpipe runs through there,” my friend told me, “and that is why the dowsing rod points downward”. I replied to him, that this worker, who probably grew up on this farm, already knew about the location of the pipe. Which my friend replied to: “I myself is sensitive to water, we shall in the afternoon go to a meadow, where there are many springs, and you will convince yourself, that dowsing is no humbug.”

In the afternoon, accompanied by my friend’s significantly intelligent wife, we went to the meadow. My host took off his shoes and socks, and grabbed hold of a dowsing rod he had brought with him. The results where overwhelming. Everywhere, where there was a sign of a spring showed, or was suggested by grass, the dowsing rod worked perfectly. “Put a blindfold over your eyes”, his wife said. My friend did so. He stumbled around the meadow for a while, but the dowsing rod had lost its power. Eventually, he said:” I have lost my sensitivity for water.” During this time, he had passed over some of the places, which the dowsing rod had marked as water springs, without detecting them.

It is obvious, that I after this did not willingly do research regarding dowsing. Yet, a few years ago (1906) I was requested by a very well-known and respected engineer in Stockholm to be present at a dowsing trial performed by a younger engineer, who believed himself being of great skill in dowsing, and was a specialist in water pipelines. He had also […] made the conclusion, that electrical forces was involved with the dowsing-phenomenon. 1 This engineer was the son of one of my fathers colleagues and I therefore knew him since childhood and I trusted him to be sincerer, and besides, he had a pretty good education from his studies at the Institute of Technology and from his profession. His sensitivity was said to be so great, that he could within a few centimeters find the place in which a waterpipe ran through. He could also find electrical wiring, and drain pipes if they were not dry.

I was to be accompanied by seven controller engineers, all graduated from the Institute of Technology, and we were supposed to walk and scan a great number of open areas in Stockholm, of which we would receive blind maps from the city department. On these maps the dowser was to mark the places where the dowsing rod pointed out a waterpipe. The location of electrical wiring was excluded, since they were placed within a to engineers well-known distance from the street-line. These blind maps were then to be compared with the city map overseeing the locations of all waterpipes in the city.

This was a most excellent opportunity to test whether the dowsing rod really compares to what it is said to do, and I would not deny my childhood friend the favor he asked me. One day in early June we gathered all nine in Humlegården outside the library. Luckily, the weather was outstanding, and I did not regret the pleasant stroll. The leading elder engineer – let us call him the president – brought forward a envelope, the official seals from the city authority were examined and we agreed that no one had seen the blind maps inside, since they under official supervising was put in and sealed.

The president said: “Now we break the seals and search through the maps, since one of them likely maps Humlegården.” We accordingly(consequently) found that one of the maps fitted this expectation. And so we walked to and fro Humlegården. With a tape measure we stated under control from us all within centimeters the locations, in which the dowsing rod tipped over. These places were marked by the dowser by placing small metalpiece of zink on the ground.

We were also lectured in the abilities of and theory of dowsing. This dowsing rod had an unusual shape, it looked like a whetstone and was made of wood, about 30 centimeters long, and was placed on top of your right wrist. When the dowser was close to a waterpipe, the dowsing piece leaned down towards it. The angle of inclination became greater the closer it got to the pipe, and when the dowser walked over the pipe, it suddenly turned over to the other side. Exactly below where the dowsing piece had tipped, a metal strip was placed, and then the location was double-checked by cross-walking over the spot twice.

It never failed. When the water-dowser closed in on a metal strip placed on location, he fixed his eyes on it, to walk straight over it and exactly on top of it the dowsing piece tipped over, most of the time. Once in a while a correction had to be done; it was at most four, five centimeters. You really got an excellent impression from the great precision it showed. We all wrote down the measurements of the distances on our own papers. The notations was compared, and at the slightest difference, we had to measure it again, and we all controlled it. I have rarely seen a more thorough trial. When we were measuring the water conditions in Kungsträdgården, one of the younger engineers suddenly discovered that he too was sensitive. When he walked over the metal strips the excellent apparatus reacted as it did before on the locations that his precursor had marked. But there was also this most wonderful sunshine, that is said to be especially good for dowsing.

The outcome was overwhelmingly remarkable. Not one of the hundred cases correlated with the stated placement of waterpipes within measurement-errors, which was ten to twenty centimeters.

So we went ahead and closely examined about ten places in Norrmalm and determined with highest precision the position of about a hundred water- and drainpipes. The maps, on which they had been marked, were brought by me and a couple of other participants down to the City Building Office; the president did not have the time to accompany us, because of the time delay of the test. I was also permitted by the president, since he was prevented, to a couple of days later go down to the City Building Office to get copies of the real waterpipe maps. The blind map had been transferred to transparent paper, and if I put that over or under the official map and held it up against a window, I could easily determine whether the markings were correct. This gave a good overlook, but later I performed thorough measurings on the real maps checking the distance between the points, where the dowser´s pathlines cut the ones of the waterpipes on the official maps, and the fixed locations from which the distances on the blind maps had been calculated. If the dowsing device was correct, then these distances should completely correspond to the ones marked in our protocols.

The outcome was overwhelmingly remarkable. Not one of the hundred cases correlated with the stated placement of waterpipes within measurement-errors, which was ten to twenty centimeters. In just on case the hit was within fifty centimeters of the pipe, which apparently was coincidence. Otherwise the pipes and the dowsing rod measured paths went all across without any correlation except on the locations where watergates clearly gave the position of the underlying pipes. We had walked across the biggest waterpipe in Stockholm without any reaction from the dowsing rod, and in other places, where there were ten meters or more to the closest waterpipe, the dowsing rod had given a clear indication.

A circumstance like this does not put a dowser in an awkward situation, he just remarks that here is without a doubt a powerful natural vein of water. This I also heard from a psychologist, who does research in unknown natural forces, and who was very interested in the above mentioned trial, but did not attend, though he was involved in the preparations. A couple of days later he visited me to hear how it had turned out. He had the objectivity to, even though it pained him the most, admit that a more complete failure could not be figured out. I have not heard from the engineer, who was the dowser, since our mutual morning stroll.

I have not received or seen any report of the thorough trial, though it seem to have been planned, should a positive result have been the outcome. But the result was however absolutely negative, and this does not interest the public, and even less those, who put together this great trial, the dowsers.

Note 1: Some words seem to be missing, which could not be reconstructed. (Ed.)