Intermediatism and the Study of Religion
by Jack Hunter
Over the course of four groundbreaking books published between 1919-1932,1 Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) meticulously presented thousands of accounts of anomalous events that he found documented in scientific journals, newspapers and books at the New York Public Library and the British Museum. In conducting his wide-ranging textual excavations, Fort uncovered impossible numbers of extraordinary reports of fish and frogs falling from the sky, poltergeists wreaking havoc on unexpecting families, spontaneous human combustion, unidentified flying objects, levitations of people and things, mysterious disappearances, apparitions, and so on.2
All of these strange events, according to Fort, had been brushed under the carpet by mainstream science,3 indeed his books were deliberately intended as an out-and-out affront to the scientific establishment, and in particular to the idea that science has essentially ‘sorted it all out’ already. Fort was not at all convinced by this, and his collections of ‘Damned Facts,’ as he called them, served as evidence in support of his suspicions and speculations. Fort obsessively catalogued these ‘Damned Facts’ on small pieces of card, which he stored in hundreds of shoe boxes in his New York apartment, ready to be unleashed in the wild processions of his books.4
Fort’s books would go on to become classics of ‘paranormal’ literature, and inspired others to employ a similarly ‘Fortean’ approach in their own work, notably including writers such as John A. Keel (1930-2009), Colin Wilson (1931-2013), Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007), and Jacques Vallée, amongst others (some of whose work is discussed in later chapters ofDamned Facts). Fort’s books and approach were also the inspiration behind the founding of the famous magazine Fortean Times, which, since it was first published in 1973, has helped to keep Fort’s eclectic legacy alive.5
The original goal of Damned Facts was to explore what a Fortean approach to the study of religion might look like, with all of its associated anomalous events and enigmatic experiences. The book, however, became something much more diverse. The contributors to Damned Facts each offer their own unique perspectives and insights, and take us to places that we might not immediately associate with ‘religion.’ With this eclecticism in mind, then, what I would like to do in this introduction is to give a basic overview of some of Fort’s philosophical speculations on the nature of science, religion and reality more generally, and then to outline some of my own ideas concerning what a Fortean approach to religion might entail.
Throughout all of his published works on the anomalous, Fort employed a philosophy that he called ‘Intermediatism,’ the basic tenet of which suggests ‘that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal,’ and ‘that all phenomena are approximations in one way between realness and unrealness,’6 a kind of ontological indeterminacy. He writes:
...in general metaphysical terms, our expression is that, like a purgatory, all that is commonly called ‘existence,’ which we call Intermediateness, is quasi-existence, neither real nor unreal, but the expression of attempt to become real...7
Through the lens of this ontologically agnostic perspective, in which all phenomena take place somewhere along a spectrum between the real and the unreal, Fort was able to explore some exceedingly strange territory, unearthing phenomena that mainstream science had either refused to comment on or had rejected outright. In the process, Fort (often half-jokingly) postulated some intriguing hypotheses to account for his damned data, including, for example, the frightening idea that human beings are, in some undefined way, ‘property,’ and the equally bizarre notion of a ‘Super-Sargasso Sea,’ a mysterious place to which objects are teleported.8 Fort, however, often immediately contradicted and discredited his own theories, and is famous for announcing that: ‘I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written. I cannot accept that the products of minds are subject-matter for beliefs.’9 His agnosticism extended even to his own theories and ideas.
By approaching all phenomena as equally real/unreal, from the common-place and everyday to the most exceptional and far-out, Fort was essentially proposing a Monistic metaphysics, according to which all events, in all their varied manifestations, are, in some sense, fundamentally connected to one another. All are part of the same process of ‘becoming real,’ of moving toward ‘positiveness,’ and all give equal insight into the ‘underlying oneness.’10 Fort suggests that this oneness might best be thought of as a living system, perhaps as a cosmic ‘organism,’ maybe even possessing some form of purposive intelligence and agency.11 This idea was later taken up by John Keel, who suggests the possibility that ‘the earth is really a living ... Read More »
Hold the door...
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- The world's largest solar plant just torched itself.
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- Mysterious ghostly voice turns out to be a guy stuck in a chimney. (Spoiler: it wasn't Santa)
- Image of the Day: Deep microscopic zoom into a mosquito's eye.
Quote of the Day:
In October last year, the discovery of strange fluctuations in the light of the star KIC 8462852 (also referred to as "Tabby's Star") led to suggestions that it could be an observation of something that an alien civilization might build (ie. an 'alien megastructure').
Since that time, there's been plenty of debate as to the validity of the observation - but what would be the most help in resolving the mystery is to actually gather more data from observations of the star. And that's exactly what the scientists involved want to do - but that requires telescope time, and that comes at a price.
Enter a new Kickstarter, devoted to the most mysterious star in the galaxy:
The star was discovered with data from the Kepler space telescope, but Kepler has moved on to a different mission and cannot observe it anymore. But for us to understand what is happening -- we need more data and we need your help!
We are using the Kickstarter platform to build community of people interested in working on this mystery with us. What are astronomers doing next? We need more data! Are you wanting to help? To learn? Join us!
This Kickstarter project will secure observing time on a global network of ground-based telescopes so we can catch the star when its brightness dips again. When will the dips occur? What will the dips look like? How long will they last? And last but not least, what is it passing in front of the star to make these dips?
Only with these new data, and the answers to these questions, will we be able to test theories out on what is happening around this star!
Interested? Head on over to the Kickstarter page to find out how you can help out.
A summary of all the stories and news briefs posted on The Daily Grail over the past week. Feel free to share anything interesting!
- News Briefs 16-05-2016 (Monday)
- Archaeoastronomy Finds Sappho's Poetry Written In The Stars
- Our Augmented Future: Expanding Our Reality By Connecting 'Peripherals' to Our Brain
- News Briefs 17-05-2016 (Tuesday)
- On the Origins of Magick
- News Briefs 18-05-2016 (Wednesday)
- What is Information?
- News Briefs 19-05-2016 (Thursday)
- News Briefs 21-05-2016 (Friday)
Have a good weekend!
“At every word a reputation dies.”
- Upsetting the Standard Model.
- A mission orbiting Mars 12 years from now? Just keep an eye out for tsunamis.
- One ring around the earth to rule them all.
- Pluto is ready for its close-up.
- LHC looks smashing.
- Something is coming.
- The great paper chase of civilization.
- Electricity from water.
- A glimpse at augmented reality.
- Is quantum key distribution the key to unbreakable quantum computing?
- Seeing the light on metabolism.
- Ancient Egyptian book of spells unveiled.
- A glacial tipping point.
- Darth by Darthwest.
- This week’s evidence of the looming robot uprising… Pepper.
Quote of the Day:
“Some people will never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.”
- A secret tunnel found in Mexico may finally solve the mysteries of Teotihuacan.
- Archaeology of the Undead.
- 7000-year-old forest and footprints uncovered in the Atlantis of Britain.
- Sleep paralysis: A brief history of fear, treatment and artistic creativity.
- On the origins of 'magick'.
- Here's your chance to help astronomers discover an alien megastructure.
- Europa's ocean may have the right components for life.
- Is that a space invader? Incredible footage shows UFO hovering over Britain's south coast before disappearing into thin air.
- CIA mistakenly destroys their only copy of a 6700-page report into its use of torture techniques.
- Fear the future: Google patent would have glue stick pedestrians to self-driving cars after a collision.
- Superbugs will kill someone every 3 seconds by 2050, if we don't act now.
- To save Earth, go to Mars.
- Mystery of Martian methane deepens.
- Traces of ancient mega-tsunamis discovered on the Red Planet.
- NASA chief says first Mars crews will steer robots from orbit.
- Photonics advances allow us to be seen across the universe, with big implications for SETI.
- Journalist responds to skeptics skeptical of his 'skeptical about skeptics' talk.
- Video of the Day: Rose petals fall from the oculus of the Pantheon.
Thanks Ray and Kat.
Quote of the Day:
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
Science is a method ready-made for measuring the 'hardware' of the universe. But what about the 'software'?This is a topic that interests me more every day- what is 'information'? The short video above asks that exact question:
Information is on our phones and in our DNA sequence, but what is it exactly? Is it something subjective or a real quantity?
One can see that if we regard our universe/reality as being a computer simulation - like a super-enhanced game of Doom or Skyrim - then the world is constructed completely by information in a computer program.
The well-known American theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler proposed that information is fundamental to creating the reality of the Universe, coining the short phrase 'It from Bit' to describe that function.
It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.
I know a couple of my favourite authors, Jacques Vallee and Paul Davies, have also covered this fascinating topic. Any recommendations for further reading?
- Life in our solar system could survive Earth's destruction.
- Pensioner claims to have found hidden Nazi nukes.
- What we write about when we write about aliens.
- We now have evidence of a mega-asteroid strike from 3.5 billion years ago.
- Spectacular cargo of ancient shipwreck found in Caesarea.
- What did you do for the psychedelic renaissance?
- Why would scientists want to build human genomes from scratch?
- Rare whale found on Australian beach believed to be evolutionary throwback.
- Mice get liver damage in space.
- Your legacy on Earth may be a plant.
- Last stand for Europe's remaining ancient forest as loggers prepare to move in.
- 'Sentient' plants control giant rolling cyber garden.
- Have you stumbled upon the Merrylin Cryptid Museum? I'm still looking for it.
- Ayahuasca shaman dreading another week of guiding tech CEOs to spiritual oneness.
- Real-life 'Babel Fish' translates in real time.
Quote of the Day:
I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells
The next time you use the term 'magick' to describe occult practices, in order to separate it from the other more common term of 'magic' of the Penn and Teller kind, and some wise soul feels the need to pop their head up and ask why you're using the terminology of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) - feel free to point out this Google Ngram of usage of the term 'magick' in books since 1700:
Yes, 'magic' was still used more often, and Uncle Al is likely the reason for its resurgence - but it did predate him by quite some time. And let's face it - old English or not, it does serve a useful purpose in distinguishing between two very different practices.
- Researcher tells how her 30 years of parapsychology research made her a skeptic. Though, as long as we're being skeptical...
- Dear 'Skeptics': Bash homeopathy and bigfoot less, mammograms and war more.
- Our augmented future: expanding our reality by connecting sensing 'peripherals' to our brain.
- Everyone's on board for another season of The X-Files.
- Why we keep dreaming of little green men.
- Developing a 'first contact' protocol for the day we find an extraterrestrial species.
- We can begin an interstellar mission today - and we should.
- Though perhaps not on a balloon - even though they could take us to the edge of space.
- NASA catches crazy space weather in action.
- The super-secret X-37B space plane has been in orbit for a year.
- Scientists find a potential way to erase memories.
- Antarctica's secret underworld.
- Maybe we'll be living in Antarctica soon enough: April was the seventh month in a row that broke global temperature records.
- Dung beetles found to navigate using a 'snapshot' of the sky.
- Spanish students to undertake compulsory course on exorcisms.
- LSD-like drugs are out of the haze and back in the labs.
- Consciousness isn't a mystery...it's matter.
- Magic mushrooms found to lift severe depression in clinical trial.
Quote of the Day:
Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating.
Joel ('Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind')