Boundaries

Charles Fort was a Dutch-American writer and researcher into anomalous phenomena. His books sold well and remain in print. Today, the term Fortean is used to characterize various anomalous phenomena.

Fort’s relationship with the study of anomalous phenomena is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. For over thirty years, Charles Fort sat in the libraries of New York and London, diligently reading scientific journals, newspapers and magazines, collecting notes on phenomena that lay outside the accepted theories and beliefs of the time.

In his lifetime he took tens of thousands of notes. The notes were kept on cards in shoeboxes. They were inscribed on small squares of paper in a cramped shorthand of Fort’s own invention, and some of them survive today in the collections of the University of Pennsylvania. More than once, depressed and discouraged, Fort destroyed his work but always began again.

Examples of the odd phenomena in Fort’s writings include many of what are variously referred to as occult, supernatural, and paranormal. Reported events include teleportation, poltergeist events, unaccountable noises and explosions, spontaneous fires, levitation, and unexplained disappearances. He offered many reports of out of place artifacts and strange items found in unlikely locations. He is also the first person to explain strange human appearances and disappearances by the hypothesis of alien abduction and was an early proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, specifically suggesting that strange lights or objects sighted in the skies might be alien spacecraft. Fort also wrote about the interconnectedness of nature and synchronicity. His books seem to center around the idea that everything is connected and that strange coincidences happen for a reason.

Many of these phenomena are now collectively and conveniently referred to as Fortean phenomenon, and some have developed into their own schools of thought such as UFOs as ufology, or the reports of unconfirmed animals as cryptozoology. These new disciplines are generally not recognized by most scientists or academics.

Fort often noted that the boundaries between science and pseudoscience are unclear. The boundary lines are not very well defined and they might change over time. He also points out that whereas facts are objective, how facts are interpreted depends on who is doing the interpreting and in what context. Fort insisted that there is a strong sociological influence on what is considered acceptable scientific knowledge.

Another of Fort’s great contributions is to the humor of science. Although many of the phenomena which science rejected in his day have since been proven to be objective phenomena, Fort was more of a parodist and a humorist than a scientist. He thought that scientists took themselves far too seriously and were prone to arrogance and dogmatism. Fort used humor both for its own sake and to point out what he regarded as the weaknesses of science and scientists.

Nonetheless, Fort is considered by many as the father of modern paranormalism not only because of his interest in strange phenomena, but because of his unique attitude towards religion, spiritualism and scientific dogma.

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