Ovilus: Outlook not so good

When it comes to paranormal research, reality TV has given many people the impression that it takes specialized pieces of equipment in order to conduct on-site investigations. Beyond audio and video recording equipment, those who call themselves ghost hunters may not even be able to explain the purpose or operation of the devices they regularly use. One such line of available devices are those created by Bill Chappell of Digital Dousing LLC.

The Puck, Ovilus, and PX – all variations of a similar concept – supposedly have a variety of sensors to take environmental readings (EMF, ELF, and temperature) which are then combined as a numeric link to a phoneme, word, or phrase within the device’s pre-programmed inventory. The word (or phrase) is then ‘spoken’ aloud by the device for the user to hear. Hypothetically speaking, this means when the EMF reading is 0.3 Milligauss, the ELF is 25 Hertz, and the temperature is 20.4 Celsius, the device may say ‘salami’. There is no information available to explain how the pre-programmed words were chosen; however, importance was likely not placed on things used to make a sandwich.

As found on languagemonitor.com – The number of words in the English language is: 1,013,913. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor for January 1, 2012.” Based on Digital Dousing’s products having inventories of 512 and 1024 words (as found on their website), this means they include less than 0.2% of existing English words. But somehow, the word ‘demon’ got in there… (see Paranormal State, Season 2 – Hell’s Gate episode).

Supporters of the devices may explain that the option to use ‘Phonetic mode’ allows for limitless combinations of words (using phonemes instead), negating the argument that the dictionary is limited. And as stated in their disclaimer, “No algorithm is employed to produce text or speech in a specific pattern” (see full disclaimer text below). With no rules for how these phonemes are put together, they would be unrecognizable as words. Thus minimal structure must be in place within the programming (eg. no three consonant sounds in a row) for the device to not just be randomly spewing ‘ttsjbeeqi’. This again, limits creative responses.

However, the main flaw of these devices is the arbitrary way the environmental readings are linked to the stored speech. These devices, having no intelligence themselves, rely on their programmers to tell them what to say. This is no different than a talking stuffed animal (when you press Elmo’s hand he may say ‘hi friend‘, and press his belly and he might giggle). How is it that the programmers know that a combined EMF, ELF and temperature reading of 42 is equal to the word ‘horrible’, whereas a 43 is the word ‘lovely’? Not to mention, are they assuming that the ‘ghosts’ in all locations and situations are privy to this random assignment OR that they are even able to make the environment fluctuate at will?

Actually, Bill Chappell somewhat admits he is aware of the gaps in logic, BUT still tries to pique the interest of potential buyers. As he states on the Digital Dousing website:

“These devices are for Entertainment Purposes Only. That is all we can say until somebody has absolute proof one way or the other…. A Joke? Absolutely! …I was approached and asked about building a “communications device”. The idea started as a joke, however, the “joke” left me shaken and confused about what I was seeing and hearing …See, I believe there are a lot of things going on in this world that we just don’t understand. I don’t have the answers, just a ton of questions. As a result, I struggle with these devices on an intellectual level every day… “

What Bill is relying on for sales is the seemingly contextually appropriate responses users are getting from the devices (‘I was in a reportedly haunted location and the Ovilus said frightened, wow!’). But consider this, with only 0.2% of the existing English words in the available vocabulary of the device, and no indication of how the words were chosen (random sample, based on the top 500-2000 most frequently used words…) is it not possible that words were chosen on purpose for their relevance to dark places where someone might be frightened and is looking for ghosts? That way, most responses could be interpreted as relevant and from intelligent spirit sources. One of the most commonly used word in English is ‘the’. It wouldn’t sound as impressive for the PX to be saying ‘the the the‘ all the time, versus ‘enemy‘ now would it?

Here is part of the disclaimer each purchaser has to read and acknowledge:

Product Disclaimer: Purchase Agreement – Why do we say for entertainment use only? First and foremost the devises are designed to aid in Paranormal Research. Not to be presented as evidence. This devices can create speech and text. By method of taking energy levels in the environment and creating speech nothing more!

We make no claim as to Spirit communications, Aliens, Ghosts or any other type of phenomena. No algorithm is employed to produce text or speech in a specific pattern.

If the developer of the device is even saying, “I’m just asking that people take a hard look at anything they are doing. Be objective and don’t allow your emotions to mislead you when using one of the Digital Dowsing devices“, then ghost hunters out there need to heed his advice. If the device comes with a disclaimer – ‘for entertainment purposes only’, then that’s what it’s for. Those truly interested in advancing the field of paranormal research need to look beyond reality TV and gadgets, and use objectivity. Following trends won’t get us any closer to the answers. Be creative, use scrutiny, and fully understand your methods and equipment before you proceed.

Regards,

Erin, MSc.SLP(c)
Speech Language Pathologist

Sources and links for further reading:

EMFwww.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/
ELFwww.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extremely%20low%20frequency
phonemehttp://www.answers.com/topic/phoneme

http://www.ghostshop.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ovilus
http://www.languagemonitor.com/no-of-words/
http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/100freqused07.htm

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