Fortean Approaches to Religion

Frog rain

The following essay is a modified version of the introductory chapter to the book Damned Facts: Fortean Essays on Religion, Folklore and the Paranormal (available now from Amazon US and Amazon UK).

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.

Intermediatism

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. Charles FortIn 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 »

News Briefs 23-05-2016

Hold the door...

Quote of the Day:

Hodor

Hodor

Kickstarter: Help Investigate the 'Most Mysterious Star in the Galaxy'

Image

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.

Related:

News Briefs 21-05-2016

“At every word a reputation dies.”

Quote of the Day:

“Some people will never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.”

Alexander Pope

News Briefs 19-05-2016

Look up...

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.

Bruce Lee

What is Information?

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?

News Briefs 18-05-2016

More nonsense

Quote of the Day:

I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells

Dr. Seuss

On the Origins of 'Magick'

Sigillum Dei Aemeth

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.

Magick

News Briefs 17-05-2016

WANT!

Quote of the Day:

Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating.

Joel ('Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind')