What on earth is a "harmonic balancer"? Is this like getting your car's chakras aligned?

Dear Tom and Ray:

Recently, I had my 1989 Plymouth Sundance at the dealer's to have the water pump replaced. While picking up my car, I met a customer who was having his car's "Harmonic Balancer" replaced. "Harmonic Balancer???" It sounds like something from Zen and The Art of Automobile Maintenance. Is there really such a thing as a "Harmonic Balancer," and what the heck does it do?

TOM: Yes, Virginia...uh..I mean, Woody, there is a Harmonic Balancer. The Harmonic Balancer is part of the crankshaft pulley. It's designed to damp the vibrations coming from the crankshaft and the camshaft, and keep those vibrations from spreading through the engine and to the rest of the car. So "Vibration Damper" would be a more accurate name for this thing.

RAY: With the term "Harmonic Balancer," I think we're finally seeing the influence of the flower children of the sixties in Detroit. The engineers who came of age during the hippie years realize that automobiles, by definition, are out of balance with the forces of nature. And in naming part of the car the "Harmonic Balancer," they were simply trying to bring the "negative vibrations" of the internal combustion engine in line with the peaceful forces of the environment.
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