Ghost Tech Gear Guide:The Geophone

Ghost Tech Gear Guide:The Geophone
June 24, 2009
Jason Korbus

As important as any discussion about haunted locations and commentary on the state of the paranormal community would be an article focused on equipment and its use in the field. Today we will examine a tool that has been featured on the Sci Fi Channel's hit program "Ghost Hunters" and try to decide whether or not it is really of any particular use in our continuing research. Today's piece of equipment is known as the Geophone.

Though many who watch the show in question are not necessarily fans of the team that it is focused on, TAPS, we do watch at times for, at the very least, some level of entertainment. More so, we are in the paranormal field ourselves and it is important now and then to at least know and understand what our representatives to the public are up to. This includes methodology, of course, but also what type of equipment they have access to and are using. And I must admit that a televised investigation of the Edith Wharton Estate a few months back had me a little baffled.

Let us first discuss what exactly the Geophone, as it was called, is and does. This instrument that TAPS' Tech Department is alleged to have created detects vibrations on the ground and alerts the investigator and home viewer by way of LEDs. The more LEDs that light up, the stronger the vibration. Well, the Geophone that was featured was pretty sensitive being that simply snapping one's fingers or tapping on the floor caused it to react strongly.

TAPS was using it to detect the presence of what they believed were footsteps caused by ghosts presumably. But the problem is that vibrations aren't anything necessarily paranormal. People walking, even moving around in normal fashion, much less cars driving down the street, could easily be responsible for a slight vibration that would trigger this "Geophone."

Another problem is that the alleged spirit footsteps they were listening for were not properly investigated. Placing a "geophone" on the ground and then attributing the vibration and/or sound to a ghost is simply lackadaisical. Where was the attempt to find a rational explanation behind the activity? Finding alternate explanations for perceived phenomenon is a cornerstone of good investigative method and I saw very little, if any of that. Perhaps that was by design, or maybe that portion of the show was edited out; I don't claim to know. But either way, what was going on was not communicated effectively to the viewers at home, nor did it seem to be communicated to the client since the Geophone and the "footsteps" were mentioned liberally in the evidence reveal portion of the program.

Aside from that, however, calling this instrument a Geophone in the first place is confusing. I say that because there is another instrument called a Geophone that has been in existence in some form or another since the early 1900s. The REAL geophone is used in seismology, for the most part, in the study of earthquakes and related natural phenomena; such as to detect leaks in underground pipes. It is also used extensively by oil companies and in mining. Geophone are employed to keep miners, and many other people in a variety of dangerous fields, as safe as possible. So it is my opinion that for TAPS to call their new instrument the same thing is just going to cause about a million silly kids who watch their show to ignore the seismography field and instead believe Ghost Hunters just created something unique and wonderful. I believe they do a disservice to other fields; those who do not have the benefit of a weekly television show, by doing this. What's next? The Spirit Stethoscope? It hears the heartbeat of the dead....

So what exactly is or was the "Geophone" used on Ghost Hunters measuring? A living person walking? Cars outside? Heck, maybe it was a ghost, who knows? The bottom line is we won't ever know. At its best, the TAPS version of the Geophone can only really measure a perceived experience: sounds and vibrations attributed to footsteps. Because it cannot tell you if the sound was a footstep, nor can it tell you who or what caused the sound, it does not do much good in the collection of unbiased evidence and will therefore do nothing to advance the field of ghost research and investigation.

So what will? Keeping a skeptical and open mind and approaching this field of investigation and research with logic and reason, of course.

One thing many serious paranormal community members fear is the "copycat effect." Far too many young people, and even some older folks, see something on television, believe it is real, and then set about trying to copy what they saw during their own field work. Lost, then, is the need to be unbiased and gather solid evidence. Therefore my opinion, at least in the case of the Geophone, would be for investigators to steer clear of it.

Thanks for reading.
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