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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Water Diviner movie review: magic unrealism

The Water Diviner yellow light

When director Crowe sticks to historical adventure, his film is tense and exciting. But it lacks a sense of magic that it needs to make it fully engaging.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Russell Crowe

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

In 1919, four years after the disastrous Australian defeat at the WWI battle of Gallipoli, a father travels to the Ottoman Empire hoping to find his lost sons. It’s sorta like Saving Private Ryan, except the soldiers to be found are dead, and the stack of needles farmer Connor (Russell Crowe: Noah, Winter’s Tale) has to search for his needles is the battle-scarred landscape upon which are scattered the long-dead bones of the 10,000 Australians — and 70,000 Turks — who were killed there.

How does Connor propose to accomplish such an impossible task? Ah, and herein lies the major fault with The Water Diviner, the title of which offers a clue. See, Connor farms parched, dusty land Down Under, and it seems he survives by dowsing for water: you know, that “trick” by which someone who is allegedly sensitive to the hidden presence of water uses a couple of twigs to point to it. The opening scene of the film has Connor determining a good spot for a new well, and, after some rigorous digging, being vindicated. And hence we are assured that Connor is a veritable water wizard. So are we meant to infer that Connor will use this skill to uncover the bodies of his sons?

We are indeed. And while dowsing for water has no actual scientific basis, this could work as fantasy… except Russell Crowe, making his debut as a feature film director, offers us no hints that anything less than the solidly rational is meant to be afoot here. Even in the realm of fantasy, however, dowsing for water is a far cry from dowsing for dead bodies, and not even a few other hints of the vaguely supernatural — visions Connor has that prove accurate; some “peasant nonsense” about foretelling the future in coffee grounds that turns out not to be nonsense — help alleviate the impression, crafted in concrete cinematic pragmatism, that we should take this all as phlegmatic fact. Which makes the central conceit of The Water Diviner completely ridiculous.

Crowe has previously directed a couple of shorts and a documentary about his band, but nothing with the scope and ambition of The Water Diviner. And where he sticks to historical adventure, he’s on more steady footing. The flashback to the battle that killed his sons is brutal and stark, and the sequence in which Connor himself gets caught in the middle of a fight between the Turks and the invading Greeks is tense and unexpectedly suspenseful; a dust-storm sequence in Australia is amazing and exciting. And there are some intriguing sociological aspects of military forensics and wartime memorializing in Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios’s script that Crowe treats with a smart combination of sensitivity and academic nerdery… like how (the film tells us) the Australian operation to find their dead at Gallipoli and treat them to a proper burial is “the first [time] anyone has given a damn” about rank-and-file casualties.

Other aspects of the film — like Connor’s friendship with an Istanbul hotelier (Olga Kurylenko: Oblivion, Seven Psychopaths) and her young son (Dylan Georgiades) — are pretty standard, though that’s made up for by a nice sense of place, and in a place that hasn’t been seen so often onscreen that it has become cliché. I just wish I could actually believe in the story it wants to tell.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Water Diviner for its representation of girls and women.

yellow light 2.5 stars

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The Water Diviner (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 03 2015
UK/Ire release: Apr 24 2015

MPAA: rated R for war violence including some disturbing images
BBFC: rated 15 (bloody injury detail)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    I suppose that if one does believe in dowsing there’s no reason to treat it as a strange magical thing. Except that Connor is meant to be special because he can do this thing that all the other Australian fathers presumably can’t.

  • Howard Schumann

    In other words you like the film but are too spiritually challenged to acknowledge that there may be realities in the world that are beyond the grasp of our five senses. Dismissing something as nonsense because it doesn’t fit into your materialist worldview is not inspiring.

  • Dismissing pseudoscience as pseudoscience is not “spiritually challenged.” And dowsing for people doesn’t even rise to the level of pseudoscience!

  • Howard Schumann

    Dowsers use their skill to find things other water, hidden metals, oil, lost treasures, even lost people. In these case, strong psychic abilities seem to go hand in hand with dowsing skills.

    Dowsing and other forms of divination have been around for thousands of years. There are large societies of dowsers in American and Europe and dowsers
    practice their art every day in all parts of the world.

    You can call it pseudo-science or anything else you like. There are some things that cannot be proven by science. Like near-death experiences, the testimonials of dowsers and those who observe them provide the main evidence for dowsing. The evidence is simple: dowsers find what they are dowsing for and they do this many times.

  • Citations needed.

    There are people in the world who call themselves astrologers. This doesn’t mean that astrology actually works.

  • Howard Schumann

    Here is one example.

    According to Richard Webster in his book, “Dowsing For Beginners,”


    The Australian Expeditionary Force used dowsing to find water at Gallipoli, Using a bent piece of copper band, A volunteer, Sapper S. Kelley located a spring within 100 yards of the Divisional Headquarters which provided 2000 gallons of pure water an hour. In the next week, he located an additional 32 wells which provided enough water to give 100,000 troops a gallon each day.

  • Bluejay

    It would have been interesting to see how well Kelley’s results match up to other methods — including pure guesswork, or even plain old inference and familiarity with nature (patterns of vegetation and soil moisture aboveground can be clues to the presence of water belowground).

    As your own link says a couple of pages down, dowsers tend to do well when they offer “unofficial” demonstrations, but do less well on organized double-blind scientific tests. Hmmm.

    Maybe Kelley just read an article on eHow. :-)


  • Howard Schumann

    Yes, familiarity with nature as well as a knowledge of topography and strong psychic ability may be a large part of it. I don’t think guesswork plays that much of a role, however.

  • Bluejay

    My point was that I would love to see how someone like Kelley would have done against someone else who relied purely on guesswork. And against a third person who relied solely on knowledge of nature and topography. Perhaps no psychic abilities or special twigs are required.

    I’d also like to know how many sites (in total) he claimed had water. He was successful 32 times, but out of how many attempts? Was the success rate 100 percent? 50 percent? 20 percent? Do you have a link with details?

  • Howard Schumann

    I don’t have any more details other than what we both read. While further analysis may be interesting, I don’t think it would prove anything one way or the other. The bottom line is that
    what he did worked and his discovery of 32 wells within a week was important to the survival of the troops.

  • Bluejay

    The bottom line is that what he did worked and his discovery of 32 wells within a week was important to the survival of the troops.

    Yes, and good for him (and for the troops) that it worked. But the discussion we’re having is about the validity of dowsing, and so the question is “WHY did it work?” If Kelley thought it was because of psychic abilities but in reality it was all because of his topographical knowledge, that’s valuable information to have for making future decisions. Maybe the Australian army should make more investments not in dowsers but in geologists.

    While further analysis may be interesting, I don’t think it would prove anything one way or the other.

    I disagree; I think further scientific analysis WOULD prove things one way or the other. If dowsing is no better than guesswork or informed conjecture, that’s important to know. And if dowsing IS valid, then that’s also important to know and explore. I think all dowsers should be encouraged to submit to double-blind experiments to determine just how solid their claims are.

  • Howard Schumann

    Bluejay, I cannot get into an extended discussion here about the role of science and the nature of reality. This is if we forgot a forum to discuss movies.

    I will say, however, that there are many things in life that cannot be proven by science but we know to exist.

    Science can measure the structure and properties of things but nothing allows us to deduce the properties of subjective experience or the underlying nature of reality.

    Especially with events we experience outside of what is considered the consensus reality, (of which I have had many) if you have the experience you know its real no matter what science can or cannot prove.

  • Bluejay

    There are many things that science cannot currently explain. However, it does not follow that science will therefore never be able to explain them.

    Science may or may not come close to explaining the underlying nature of reality. But it does not follow that all unscientific claims about the nature of reality are therefore true.

    “We are not obliged to make up our minds before the evidence is in. It’s okay not to be sure.” — Carl Sagan

  • Howard Schumann

    Scientist Bernardo Kastrup said, “The scientific method allows us to study and model the patterns and regularities of nature. We create models which allow us to predict how similar phenomena will unfold in the future. But this ability tells us little about the underlying nature of things.

    There are things that cannot be proven by science but which we know to exist. Science can only explain one
    thing in terms of another thing. To discover the fundamental nature of reality means that in addition to empirical analysis, the process must also include the
    observer, and the process of observation.”

    The prevailing assumptions of our society are that we are
    separate, disconnected human beings living in a random, indifferent, and
    deterministic universe in which power, control, and self-interest are the
    essential ingredients for survival.

    The appreciation of the order, beauty, and mystery of the universe and the recognition that we live in a purposeful universe governed by love and intelligence cannot be understood as a concept or through a belief system. It cannot come through a controlled double-blind experiment but only through a direct personal experience of who we are in relation to the universe.

    Werner Erhard said, “If you experience it, it’s the truth. The same thing believed is a lie.”

  • Danielm80

    Werner Erhard said, “If you experience it, it’s the truth. The same thing believed is a lie.”

    But you’re asking other people to accept something as true because you experienced it. An observer who hasn’t had the same mystical experiences you did needs incontrovertible, empirical evidence, and it needs to be stronger evidence than “We know dowsing works because a dowser told us it works.”

  • All you know is that your subjective perception is real. The reality of what you may or may not have perceived has not been proven.

    In other words, just because someone *thinks* he has dowsed for water (or predicted the future based on the position of the planets, or visited heaven while on an operating table) doesn’t mean that’s *actually* what has happened.

    This is if we forgot a forum to discuss movies.

    We *are* discussing a movie. This movie treats as real something it has no right doing so, not without a different sort of emphasis (which could have been achieved in several different ways).

  • Your subjective perception which cannot be independently verified may be “truth” in some sort of philosophical way, but it is not “fact” in any scientific way, and I am under no obligation to accept it as such.

  • Bluejay

    The prevailing assumptions of our society are that we are separate, disconnected human beings living in a random, indifferent, and deterministic universe in which power, control, and self-interest are the essential ingredients for survival.

    You are conflating two things: how the physical universe works and how we should decide to live. Science proceeds by testing and verification; since there is no hard empirical evidence for the universe being “purposeful” and “governed by love and intelligence,” science cannot make that claim.

    The idea that “power, control, and self-interest are the essential ingredients for survival” is not purely a scientific idea but is within the purview of philosophy, history, politics, economics, culture, and other areas of human affairs. It is also not universally accepted, nor is it the only idea. Altruism and community are also strategies for human survival and flourishing, articulated and demonstrated by lots of people — from religious leaders to socialist politicians to community organizers to schoolteachers to charity volunteers to social activists. It is hardly an uncommon notion.

    And it is not incompatible with science. Science gives us the facts about the physical world, but it is WE who decide what to make of those facts. Science does not necessarily tell us that we are “separate, disconnected human beings.” Anthropologists tell us that our ability to form communities — our decision not to remain separate and disconnected — was key to the survival and thriving of the species. Biologists have long established, through DNA evidence, that all humanity and indeed all life is descended from the same primeval source, and therefore we are all, literally, relatives: people, cats, trees, worms, mosses, all. Astronomers like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson have pointed out that we are, literally, “made of starstuff” — that the elements in our bodies originated in the hearts of long-dead stars. These are scientists, arguing that we are not isolated from the universe, but profoundly connected to it!

    We humans are the ones who create meaning in our lives, and there’s no reason that science can’t be an integral part of it. I challenge you to watch Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos or his musings on “The Pale Blue Dot” and not feel that science can profoundly inform a deeply humane, compassionate, and meaningful philosophy.



  • Bluejay

    I’m reminded of this old speech (below) by Barack Obama, in which he says Abraham may have heard God telling him to sacrifice Isaac — but if we saw Abraham preparing to strike, we would rightly call the police and have Isaac taken away. Mystical experiences — whether religious or “paranormal” — may be personally felt, but as a society we have to justify our arguments and actions based on what we ALL agree to be reality. What commenter Howard Schumann calls “consensus reality” is not a bad word; indeed it’s the only way we can move forward together, instead of as “separate, disconnected human beings” which he says he’s against.


  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Scientist Bernardo Kastrup said…

    Noted sociologist PT Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

    (For those who don’t know, Bernardo Kastrup is a computer engineer is likes to dabble in all sorts of pseudoscience. He likes to dress his philosophy, metaphysics, and outright bullshit in sciencey sounding vocabulary in order to fool stupid people.)

  • Howard Schumann

    MaryAnn: Before I say anything, I just want you to know that I have read your reviews for years and you are one of the first critics I turn to for a sincere and thoughtful analysis.

    I won’t get into a debate about whether my experiences are real, actually happened, etc. They are by nature personal experiences which cannot be translated into words and there is no proof that I can offer relative to their ultimate meaning. All I can say is that they were very real for me and had a strong impact on my life.

    As far as the film is concerned, I don’t think the movie takes a position on dowsing other than to show this particular aspect of the film (which is fictional) from the main characters’ point of view.

    Critics sometimes overlook the value of a film because it conflicts with the way they see a particular issue and this is unfortunate.

    This happened with the film Anonymous where the vast majority of critics reviewed the merits or demerits of the Shakespeare authorship question rather than the merits of the film itself.

    Whether one thinks dowsing is real or not, I think The Water Diviner was a very good film with some exceptions. Here is my review:


    Thanks for the opportunity to share my views on this forum.

  • Howard Schumann

    Thanks you for your comment. I’m not attacking science. Science has done some magnificent things in the world bringing us out of the dark ages of superstition and we have all benefited from it, though I daresay that the quality of life on the planet in the last fifty years has, if anything, declined, but that’s another story.

    Of course, not all scientists agree, but the idea that matter is the only reality
    is the prevailing paradigm. This paradigm holds that the mind is nothing but the physical activity of the brain, and that our thoughts cannot have any effect upon our brains and bodies, our actions, and the physical world.

    A related assumption is reductionism, the notion that complex things can be understood by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things such as tiny material

    I think we need to move beyond this to a Post-Materialist paradigm in which spirituality and spiritual experiences are acknowledged to represent a central aspect of human existence and where there is a deep connection between ourselves and nature at large.

  • Howard Schumann

    Everyone has their own unique experience and I’m not asking any one to accept anything. All I’m suggesting is that there are levels of reach which science cannot reach and should not be dismissed out of hand because it is not amenable to scientific testing.

    So if I am suggesting anything is that we become aware of the limitations of science and look to our own direct experience rather than trying to understand everything conceptually.

  • Bluejay

    Materialism is not necessarily reductionism. I quote Sagan a lot, but I usually find him relevant: “If we are merely matter intricately assembled, is this really demeaning? If there’s nothing here but atoms, does that make us less or does that make matter more?”

    If the awesome, mind-boggling complexity of human consciousness really CAN be traced to the physical workings of the brain… so what? To me, that doesn’t make consciousness less amazing. It makes the brain MORE amazing.

    Science and spirituality are not incompatible. Scientists who practice established, mainstream science express their awe and wonder at the workings of the universe all the time, and have no problem feeling a deep connection to nature. Look, here again is Neil Tyson — who is probably the most visible mainstream science advocate of our age — giving what’s practically a sermon about his spiritual connection to the universe:


    Tyson is hardly alone in expressing this. It seems to me that people who are unfamiliar with science are usually the ones who think the scientific perspective demeans or diminishes our experience. People who love and/or practice science know that it actually enhances and enriches our experience.


    This paradigm holds… that our thoughts cannot have any effect upon our brains and bodies, our actions, and the physical world.

    I’m puzzled as to what you’re talking about here. The fact that one’s state of mind can affect one’s health is not controversial in science; nor is the fact that our thoughts affect and direct our actions. Now if you’re talking about stuff like telekinesis or the efficacy of prayer, well… again, why not subject them to controlled experiments? If they work, they work. If not, then not. We shouldn’t be afraid of finding out either way. But until we know the answer, there’s no harm in saying “We don’t know yet (i.e. it hasn’t been proven), because not all the evidence is in.”

    I daresay that the quality of life on the planet in the last fifty years has, if anything, declined

    Well, that’s debatable. Global health/income statistics might tell a different story. :-)


  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It’s not even debatable. It’s demonstrably wrong.

  • Do you sincerely believe that spirituality and spiritual experiences are NOT acknowledged to represent a central aspect of human existence?

  • Howard Schumann

    What I meant to say was that scientists will be freer and more secure in investigating spiritual experiences, something that is not the case now.

  • Science *has* investigated “spiritual” experiences (such as the effect of prayer on healing). There is still no evidence for any of it. Proving the scientific reality of ESP or dowsing or prayer or astrology would make a scientist’s career. It hasn’t happened yet. If anything, science is denied far more often than pseudoscience. Look how many people don’t want to accept evolution or anthropomorphic global warming! Yet astrology and prayer hold sway.

  • Howard Schumann

    Whether people believe in evolution or climate change is not this is about. They are about whether science or academia are willing to investigate areas outside of the norm, for example the UFO phenomenon.

    There have indeed been significant negative consequences in terms
    of career and reputation for those scholars and scientists who have
    taken the subject seriously.

    The story of the late Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack, MD is a case in point. After an
    exemplary 35-year career with Harvard, Dr. Mack (who I knew) was nearly stripped of
    his tenure and his license to practice medicine because of his
    investigations of UFOs.

    There have never been any serious scientific studies of either UFOs, crop circles, or near-death experiences, phenomenon that could possibly alter our perception of the universe and our role in it.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    How can you talk in detail about a scientist conducting serious scientific research into UFO phenomena, and then one paragraph later claim that there have never been any such studies?

    What you’re exhibiting here is basic confirmation bias. That is, only accepting data which confirms preconceptions. In this case, that Mack was nearly stripped of his ability to work. In truth, he was inconvenienced for a year by the (admittedly questionable) actions of a non-disciplinary investigative committee that never had power to do more than formally censure him.

    Confirmation bias also creeps into your post in another way. You assume that, because no serious scientific study has ever produced evidence to support the things you believe, you assume that no such studies have ever even been done. And again, it just ain’t true.

    For example, a few years back, a researcher (I want to say a Dr. Bem?) published a study that indicated people having the ability to send information to themselves in the past. (Short version, he was trying to show that studying for a test after taking the test correlated to better performance on the test they had already taken, indicating that they had sent the advantage of study backward in time to themselves. Yes, that’s the short version.) Why was this not major news? Because other researches showed that Bem’s signal was only just barely above the noise (i.e. his results were only very slightly better than what would be expected from random chance). Furthermore, two separate groups of researchers attempted to replicate Bem’s results, and failed to reach even that very modest threshold.

  • Bluejay

    All I’m suggesting is that there are levels of reach which science cannot reach and should not be dismissed out of hand because it is not amenable to scientific testing.

    If you believe that some phenomena are beyond scientific explanation, why do you also insist that those phenomena deserve serious investigation by scientists? You can’t have it both ways.

  • I suspect you are confusing “credulous discussion of” with “taking a subject seriously.” I doubt there have been any serious scientific studies of unicorns, but it’s still supremely unlikely that they exist.

    Also: one quick Google reveals a peer-reviewed study of NDEs: http://www.resuscitationjournal.com/article/S0300-9572(14)00739-4/abstract?cc=y= You need to look a little further.

  • I figured Howard was acknowledging than an MD is not the right sort of scientist to be investigating UFOs.

  • Howard Schumann

    Mainstream science marginalizes and does not take UFOs seriously or similar subjects. These are subject to ridicule in the media and lead to the type of treatment that John Mack received.

    There are undoubtedly some subjects that could benefit from a scientific study if for no other reason than to recognize that they are serious subjects important enough for investigation.

    Whether UFOs are subjective or objective phenomenon is unclear and one of the results of such a study might be that we are in the dark about the true nature of the phenomenon.

    My initial concern was that the prevailing paradigm allows for no other explanation than the scientific and that unless it can be “proven” by science, it is unreal and should not be taken seriously. This is what I think is false.

    Science does not and may never have the answer to subjective psychic or spiritual states that are not amenable to replication.

  • Howard Schumann

    See my response to Dr. Rocketscience.

  • Howard Schumann

    Parnia has done good work with some under funded small scale testing, but keep in mind, NDEs have been reported by tens of thousands of people over the last fifty or so years. The subject. however, is still considered “fringe” and Parnia’s results
    have not been accepted by mainstream science which is still looking for a “scientific” answer.

    Indeed, science may not be able to find out the true nature of these experiences even with full scale testing because they are subjective states and cannot be proven by the scientific method, but I think we may be still be able to learn valuable information from such testing.

    My concern is that the scientific/materialist paradigm is so pervasive that unless a
    subject has the stamp of approval by science, it is not taken seriously.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Whatever his scientific sins may have been, Mack’s research into the psychology of abduction reporters was well within his area of expertise. It’s not like he was writing papers on the use of Element 122 as a power source for interstellar spacecraft. ;) Mack had a yen to study UFOs, and found a line of research that he could legitimately undertake. It didn’t lead anywhere (because, why the hell would it?), but it was still “serious scientific research”.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    “Mainstream science marginalizes and does not take UFOs seriously or similar subjects.”

    It would if anything came of such studies, or if anything ever does.

    “These are subject to ridicule in the media..”

    You must not actually engage with very much “media” to say something like that with a straight face.

    …lead to the type of treatment that John Mack received.”

    My cursory reading of the situation at Harvard regarding Dr. Mack is that it was pissing contest. I think the rest of the faculty didn’t give two shits about UFOs, but also didn’t like Mack trading on Harvard Medical School’s reputation to bolster a set of theories that even he admits weren’t terribly convincing. They also questioned the ethics of Mack telling his (sometimes very ill) patients that their problems were due to aliens, when he could prove that was true. But do note, those concerns were never great enough to actually begin a misconduct inquiry.

    “…some subjects that could benefit from a scientific study if for no other reason than to recognize that they are serious subjects important enough for investigation.”

    This isn’t how science works.

    Whether UFOs are subjective or objective phenomenon is unclear and one of the results of such a study might be that we are in the dark about the true nature of the phenomenon.”

    This doesn’t actually mean anything. But if I can parse what you’re trying to say, you’re still falling for your own confirmation bias. Jest because no one has found the answer you want does not mean no one has looked.

    “This is what I think is false.”

    You’re welcome to think that, but do at least try to recognize that the reason scientific investigation became the “prevailing paradigm” is because it works. (And DO NOT try to pull a Galileo Gambit at this point.)

    “Science does not and may never have the answer to subjective psychic or spiritual states that are not amenable to replication.”

    In other words, I have psychic powers, but they only work on the third Tuesday of every seventh month, and then only if I’ve consumed an exact whole number of pints of 2% milk in the fortnight prior (Imperial pints, not American ones), but the government has been injecting cows with hormones clearly designed to block my psychic abilities, so they don’t always work.

  • I am not familiar with Mack. I was only going by what Howard said about him. I took “UFOs” to mean “reports of unidentified flying objects,” not “people who think they’ve been kidnapped by aliens.” These are two completely different things.

  • Bluejay

    Tyson on the subject of UFOs is always worth a watch (or a rewatch).


    The bit about the unreliability of eyewitness accounts reminds me of the anecdote about a 1994 power blackout in Los Angeles, when freaked-out residents made 911 calls to report a “giant silvery cloud” in the sky — they’d never seen the Milky Way before.

  • Howard Schumann

    Not so different. It’s all part of the same mystery. At least it is to those who don’t think they have all the answers.

  • Howard Schumann

    That’s really silly. Are you comparing this to millions of sightings all over the world in the last 60 years? Then again, according to the materialists, there are no mysteries. Everything can be explained – or shall we say, explained away. Swamp gas, anyone?

  • Danielm80

    Scientists don’t think they have all the answers. They’re still searching for answers. That’s their job.

    If you want to say, “We should keep our minds open to the possibility that there are things which can’t be explained by science,” that’s fine (though it doesn’t give scientists much incentive to conduct the tests you’re asking for). But none of that means that this particular movie represents dowsing convincingly or well. So here’s my question: Which specific passages of MaryAnn’s review do you object to, and how would you phrase them differently?

  • But some things simply are *not* mysteries.

  • Trained pilots can be wrong about stuff.

    But let’s assume you think UFOs are alien spacecraft. Okay: There are scientists searching for alien life right now (telescopes like Hubble looking for potentially habitable planets; programs like SETI listening for transmissions). Or let’s assume you think UFOs are from another dimension. Okay: Physicists are studying the fundamental nature of the universe to see if such things are possible.

    What more do you want?

  • I should have accepted without question as fact that a person could find specific dead bodies amidst a killing field of tens of thousands of buried corpses. Obviously.

  • Bluejay

    Did you watch the video? To paraphrase Tyson: the U in “UFO” stands for “Unidentified.” “Unidentified” does not mean “Therefore Aliens/Higher Dimensions/Powers Beyond Science.”

    Then again, according to the materialists, there are no mysteries.

    Bullshit. As has been said many times in this discussion: Science is fine with not knowing the answers. What science does NOT do is say “We don’t know the answer, therefore we jump to the conclusion that it’s [fill in the blank] based on no compelling evidence other than belief.

    Dark matter and dark energy are well-documented phenomena accepted by mainstream science — despite the fact that we still don’t know exactly what they are. So much for your claim that science denies mystery.

    You seem to want it both ways. You want to say “There are things science can never explain.” But you also want to say “Scientists should investigate these things and take them seriously.” You say you’re fighting against the paradigm in which science must put its “stamp of approval” on everything. And yet here you are, calling for scientists to investigate the paranormal, PRECISELY so that these phenomena can get that stamp of scientific approval! You disdain science, but you still want it to legitimize what you believe. You need to sort out your mixed messages.

    I’d recommend that you watch Tim Minchin’s “Storm,” but I strongly suspect the last two lines of his poem would also apply here.


  • Howard Schumann

    My response about thinking we know all the answers was not about scientists but in direct response to MaryAnn’s comment about UFO abductions.

    As far as the review is concerned, rather than talk about what the film is trying to say about war and its effect on families, the review is mostly a rant against dowsing that uses condescending, pejorative words in a sneering tone to suggest the prevalence of fraud.

    Heavily emotive words such as “alleged,” “trick,” “a couple of twigs,” “a veritable water wizard,” and “peasant nonsense” prejudice the reader against the character based on nothing more than the opinions of the reviewer.

    The review overlooks the fact that this is a fictional
    film not a documentary about dowsing. Saying that “dowsing for water has no actual scientific basis,” is like my reviewing Interstellar and saying I liked the film but there is no scientific basis for people going through time warps.

    Opinions are stated as facts as a put-down of the film and its ideas. Saying “dowsing for water has no actual scientific basis,” “dowsing for water is a far cry from dowsing for dead bodies,” and “the central conceit of The Water Diviner is completely ridiculous” are the reviewer’s opinions about dowsing and are not what the movie is about.

    The film makes no claims for dowsing other than to show the mindset of the character. The heart of the film is the simple and personal story of the futility of war and a father’s love for his sons. It is a story that is also not afraid to show a connection between former enemies, a connection that strikes a universal chord.

  • based on nothing more than the opinions of the reviewer.

    That’s what criticism is: the opinion of the reviewer.

    The review overlooks the fact that this is a fictional film not a documentary about dowsing.

    And Harry Potter is fiction, too. Yet it makes magic plausible *within its own context.* This movie does not.

    The film makes no claims for dowsing other than to show the mindset of the character.


    Wrong! That would be true if the father did not instantly zero in on the actual long-dead skeletonized bodies of his sons. This movie presumes that this is completely reasonable, when in fact it’s totally ridiculous. Dowsing is not a metaphor for anything here: it is presented as so real that no one — no one — here questions it.

    And then there’s the father’s vision that allows him to find the third son, the one who is still alive. This is also ridiculous.

    My problem with the movie isn’t that dowsing works within this context. It’s that the movie does not give us the clues it needs to give us that this is going to be slightly fantastical.

  • Howard Schumann
  • Howard Schumann

    “Every mystery solved brings us to the threshold of a greater one” – Rachel Carson

  • Howard Schumann

    There’s no contradiction as I have previously explained. I do not “disdain” science but we need to be aware of science’s limitations. My concern is not with individual scientists but about the all pervasive idea in our society that science has all the answers or will soon have them.

    People look to science to provide explanations rather than getting in touch with who they really are and the experience of natural knowing and the power of intention to create our experience.

    Where science can investigate objective phenomenon, they should defintiely do so. Refusal to do so because of a “disdain” for metaphysics, is very troubling.

  • RogerBW

    Larry Niven made a point like this in The Last Word about SF Detectives (1976):
    “…how can the reader anticipate the author if all the rules are strange? If science fiction recognizes no limits, then… perhaps the victim was death-wished from outside a locked room, or the walls may be permeable to an X-ray laser. Perhaps the alien’s motivation really is beyond comprehension. Can the reader really rule out time travel? invisible killers? Some new device tinkered together by a homicidal genius? More to the point, how can I give you a fair puzzle?”
    Now obviously this film isn’t meant to be a puzzle story, but the same problem applies: in a fictional world that’s meant to reflect our own, a man whose sons are dead in a war half-way round the world is going to have trouble finding their bodies. So there’s dramatic tension. But with this guy, all he has to do is go to vaguely the right place and bam, it’s solved. Tension lost.

  • Bluejay

    People look to science to provide explanations

    …which is exactly what you’re doing when you call for scientists to investigate the “paranormal.”

    we need to be aware of science’s limitations. My concern is… about the all pervasive idea in our society that science has all the answers or will soon have them.

    What society do you live in? From what I can see, there are millions of people who believe in UFOs, NDEs, crop circles, astrology, angels, miracles, karma, fate, and so on. Not to mention the billions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and other religious believers — many of whom subscribe to literal creationist stories, and all of whom believe in the immortal soul and in a supernatural intelligence who governs the universe and shapes human history. The notion that “some things are beyond science” is not exactly an unpopular idea!

    That aside, you complain about the idea that “science has all the answers” — yet you call for scientists to investigate these phenomena. Do you expect them to NOT look for answers?

    I suspect that you’re interested in scientific investigation ONLY if it confirms what you already believe about these phenomena. Suppose that the worldwide scientific community is persuaded to conduct hundreds — thousands! — of rigorous, impartial, well-funded studies regarding UFOs, NDEs, and the like. And suppose that those studies conclude that these phenomena all have mundane physical and psychological causes that are perfectly explicable by science. Would you be prepared to accept those findings?

    Or would you simply respond the same way you did earlier, when I tried to probe for further details into the Kelley anecdote: “While further analysis may be interesting, I don’t think it would prove anything one way or the other”?

  • Bluejay

    That’s a good quote. And it doesn’t at all contradict MaryAnn’s statement — that some things simply aren’t mysteries. :-)

    Here’s another:

    “Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be Not Magic.” – Tim Minchin

  • Bluejay

    Another thing to consider: If scientists DO find that alien visitations are real, or ghosts are real, or dowsing is real — guess what? Those facts become part of science. The “paranormal” will no longer be unscientific — in fact, it will be “normal”! Which means that even if science DOES validate your beliefs about these things, it will STILL mean that “science has all the answers.”


  • Howard Schumann

    “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” – Albert Einstein

  • Howard Schumann

    I agree that it is entirely unreasonable. It is beyond reason, but only ridiculous to those who live their life unaware of their own power in the universe.

    “Reason is a hard sun. It gives light but it blinds.” –

    Romain Rolland

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

  • Howard Schumann

    How nasty of him to take away the tension. Maybe he should have pretended to work on it a bit.

  • Bluejay

    Indeed. As I’ve consistently argued, those who love and practice science are perfectly comfortable with the unknown, and are no strangers to wonder and awe.* Thank you for this quote; it illustrates my point perfectly.

    *Wonder and awe, of course, are not the same thing as gullibility and wishful thinking.

  • Howard Schumann

    Gullibility and wishful thinking? Where did that come from? Sounds like you found another straw man.

  • Danielm80

    One of the problems with Disqus is that it doesn’t allow me to upvote Bluejay’s comments multiple times. I kind of want a party lever, so I can just support everything he’s said on this thread.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Y’know what Rachel Carson believed in? Evidence.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I don’t know about that, but even so, it’ll keep Straw-Einstein you’ve created company.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    From Howard’s link:

    “… today’s scientists are like the scientists of Galileo’s day who refused to look into the telescope to see the moons of Jupiter with their own eyes.”

    And here we have the Galileo Gambit, the refuge of pseudo-scientific scoundrels.

    The rest of that link is a collection of unsubstantiated events, a few appeal to authority fallacies, and a whole lot of snide. Do the authors really expect scientists to take up their “challenge” if they call the scientists chicken?

    And what exactly is keeping the authors from taking up their own challenge? There must be at least a few among them with a background in physics or astronomy or engineering or photography. And if they don’t have the background, why not go get it? What’s holding you back, Howard?

  • Bluejay

    I was merely pointing out that wonder and awe are not the same as gullibility and wishful thinking. Oh my, did you think I was referring to you? Goodness, whatever gave you that idea?

  • Howard Schumann

    This has been a pretty civil discussion. When you have to resort to insults and name calling, it just means you’ve lost the argument.

  • Bluejay

    Describing someone’s position as one sees it is not the same as insults and name calling.

    Besides, “wishful thinking” is hardly more offensive than “spiritually challenged,” which is what you called MaryAnn in your very first comment. Are you saying you lost the argument right from the get-go? Fine with me. ;-)

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