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Anomalous Paranormal Phenomena And Charles Fort

"The Father Of Fortean Science"

Charles Fort documented unexplained and bizarre phenomena during his lifetime. His many serious writings are the inspiration for the ever growing Fortean Society. Charles Fort is best known today as the first prolific systematic collector of anomalous and paranormal data. Fort referred to such anomalies as "damned data" -- facts rejected by mainstream scientists because they don't fit their theories. Fort wrote The Book of the Damned in 1919, followed by New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932).

  Charles Hoy Fort (6 August 1874 – 3 May 1932) was a Dutch-American writer and researcher into anomalous phenomena.

An anomaly is an irregularity, a mis proportion, or something that is strange or unusual, or unique. It occurs in all forms of science and is certainly noted as such. A Fortean anomaly is an anomaly associated with Charles Fort's ideas.

The Fortean Society was started in the United States in 1931 by Tiffany Thayer in order to promote the ideas of American writer Charles Fort. The Fortean Society was primarily based in New York City headed by first president Theodore Dreiser, an old friend of Charles Fort, who had helped to get his work published. Founding members of The Fortean Society included Booth Tarkington, Ben Hecht, Alexander Woolcott (and many of NYC's literati such as Dorothy Parker), and Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken.

The Fortean Society Magazine (also called Doubt) was published regularly until Thayer's death in Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1959, when the society went on hiatus and the magazine came to an end. Writers Paul and Ron Willis, publishers of "Anubis", acquired most of the original Fortean Society material and revived The Fortean Society as the International Fortean Organization (INFO) in 1961. INFO continues to this day and went on to incorporate in 1965, publish a widely respected magazine "The INFO Journal: Science and the Unknown" for over 35 years and created the first conference dedicated to the work and spirit of Charles Fort, the annual FortFest.

The original magazine Doubt and society were not connected to the present-day magazine Fortean Times created by a British fortean and long-time correspondent to Paul Willis, Bob Rickard, who encouraged Willis to publish. Much of the Fortean Society material including material from Fort, Dreiser and Hecht, excepting many of the notes of Charles Fort which was donated to the New York Public Library as a collection, was incorporated into the International Fortean Organisation (INFO).

International Fortean Organization www.forteans.com

by Robert Bradley Berlitz

Charles Hoy Fort (6 August 1874 – 3 May 1932) was a Dutch-American writer and researcher into anomalous phenomena. Fort's books sold well and remain in print. Today, the terms "Fortean" and "Forteana" are used to characterise various anomalous phenomena.

Charles Hoy Fort was born in 1874 in Albany, New York, of Dutch ancestry. He was the eldest of three brothers; the others were Clarence and Raymond. His grocer father was something of an authoritarian: Many Parts, Fort's unpublished autobiography, relates several instances of harsh treatment — including physical abuse — by his father. Some observers (such as Fort's biographer Damon Knight) have suggested that Fort's distrust of authority has its roots in his father's treatment. In any case, Fort developed a strong sense of independence in his youth.

While still rather young, Fort was a budding naturalist who would collect sea shells, minerals, and birds. Curious and intelligent, the young Fort did not excel at school, though he was quite a wit and full of knowledge about the world — yet this was only a world he had read of.

So, at the age of 18, Fort left New York on a world tour to "put some capital in the bank of experience". He travelled through the western United States, Scotland, and England, until finally falling ill in Southern Africa. Returning home, he was nursed by Anna Filing, a girl he had known from his childhood. They were later married on 26 October 1896. Anna was four years older than Charles and was non-literary, a lover of films and of parakeets. She later moved with her husband to London for two years where they would go to the cinema when Charles wasn't busy with his research. His success as a short story writer was intermittent between periods of terrible poverty and depression.

In 1916, an inheritance from an uncle gave Fort enough money to quit his various day jobs and to write full time. In 1917, Fort's brother Clarence died; his portion of the same inheritance was divided between Charles and Raymond.

Fort wrote ten novels, though only one, The Outcast Manufacturers (1909), was published — reviews were mostly positive, but the tenement tale was commercially unsuccessful. In 1915, Fort began to write two books, entitled X and Y, the first dealing with the idea that beings on Mars were controlling events on Earth, and the second with the postulation of a sinister civilization extant at the South Pole. These books caught the attention of writer Theodore Dreiser, who attempted to get them published, but to no avail. Disheartened by this failure, Fort burnt the manuscripts, but was soon renewed to begin work on the book that would change the course of his life, The Book of the Damned (1919) which Dreiser helped to get into print. The title referred to "damned data" that Fort collected, phenomena for which science could not account and was thus rejected or ignored.

Fort's experience as a journalist, coupled with high wit egged on by a contrarian nature, prepared him for his real-life work, needling the pretensions of scientific positivism and the tendency of journalists and editors of newspapers and scientific journals to rationalise the scientifically incorrect.

Fort and Anna lived in London from 1924 to 1926, having moved there so Charles could peruse the files of the British Museum. Although born in Albany, Fort lived most of his life in the Bronx, one of New York City's five boroughs. He was, like his wife, fond of films, and would often take her from their Ryer Avenue apartment to the nearby movie theatre and would always stop at the adjacent newsstand for an armful of various newspapers. Like most good Bronx residents, Fort would frequent the nearby parks where he would sift through piles of his clippings. He would often ride the subway down to the main New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue where he would spend many hours reading scientific journals along with newspapers and periodicals from around the world. Fort also had a small circle of literary friends and they would gather on occasion at various apartments, including his own, to drink and talk which was tolerated by Anna. Theodore Dreiser would lure him out to meetings with phony telegrams and notes and the resultant evening would be full of good food, conversation and much hilarity. Charles Fort's wit was always in evidence, especially in his writing.

His books earned mostly positive reviews, and were popular enough to go through several printings, including an omnibus edition in 1941.

Suffering from poor health and failing eyesight, Fort was pleasantly surprised to find himself the subject of a cult following. There was talk of the formation of a formal organization to study the type of odd events related in his books. Clark writes, "Fort himself, who did nothing to encourage any of this, found the idea hilarious. Yet he faithfully corresponded with his readers, some of whom had taken to investigating reports of anomalous phenomena and sending their findings to Fort" (Clark 1998, 235).

Fort distrusted doctors and did not seek medical help for his worsening health. Rather, he focused his energies towards completing Wild Talents. After he collapsed on May 3, 1932, Fort was rushed to Royal Hospital in The Bronx. Later that same day, Fort's publisher visited him to show the advance copies of Wild Talents. Fort died only hours afterwards, probably of leukemia.

He was interred in the Fort family plot in Albany, New York. His more than 60,000 notes were donated to the New York Public Library.

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, assiduously reading scientific journals, newspapers, and magazines, collecting notes on phenomena that lay outside the accepted theories and beliefs of the time.

Fort in his lifetime must have taken tens of thousands of notes — he is said to have compiled as many as 40,000 notes, though there were no doubt many more than this. The notes were kept on cards in shoeboxes. They were taken 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. Some of the notes were published, little by little, by the Fortean Society until its dissolution.

From these researches Fort wrote seven books, though only four survive. These are The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932); one book was written between New Lands and Lo! but it was abandoned and absorbed into Lo!.

Charles Hoy Fort

Charles Fort Also see: The man who single handedly created the ForteanScience of today. Armed with tales of the supernatural - Real frogs falling from the sky, mysterious strange flying metal airships, spontaneous human combustion, Ghost and all that is paranormal... it all fascinated Charles Fort, whose appetite for the paranormal lives on today in sci-fi, conspiracy theories and that quirky chronicle of the unknown, the Fortean Times. By Jim Steinmeyer www.telegraph.co.uk


Real Fortean Phenomena

Despite his objections to Fort's writing style, Wilson allows that "the facts are certainly astonishing enough" (Wilson, 200). Examples of the odd phenomena in Fort's books include many of what are variously referred to as occult, supernatural, and paranormal. Reported events include teleportation (a term Fort is generally credited with coining); poltergeist events; falls of frogs, fishes, inorganic materials of an amazing range; unaccountable noises and explosions; spontaneous fires; levitation; ball lightning (a term explicitly used by Fort); unidentified flying objects; unexplained disappearances; giant wheels of light in the oceans; and animals found outside their normal ranges (see phantom cat). He offered many reports of Out-of-place artifacts (OOPArts), strange items found in unlikely locations. He also is perhaps 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 object 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' phenomena (or 'Forteana'), whilst others have developed into their own schools of thought, for example, UFOs into ufology, or the reports of unconfirmed animals classified as cryptozoology. These new disciplines per se are generally not recognized by most scientists or academics, however.

Forteana and mainstream science

Some skeptics and critics have frequently called Fort credulous and naïve, a charge his supporters deny strongly. Over and over again in his writing, Fort rams home a few basic points that were decades ahead of mainstream scientific acceptance, and that are frequently forgotten in discussions of the history and philosophy of science:

Fort often notes that the boundaries between science and pseudoscience are 'fuzzy': the boundary lines are not very well defined, and they might change over time.

Fort 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' or 'damned'.
Though he never used the term "magical thinking", Fort offered many arguments and observations that are similar to the concept: he argued that most (if not all) people (including scientists) are at least occasionally guilty of irrational and "non scientific" thinking.

Fort points out the problem of underdetermination: that the same data can sometimes be explained by more than one theory.

Similarly, writer John Michell notes that "Fort gave several humorous instances of the same experiment yielding two different results, each one gratifying the experimenter." Fort noted that if controlled experiments – a pillar of the scientific method – could produce such widely varying results depending on who conducted them, then the scientific method itself might be open to doubt, or at least to a degree of scrutiny rarely brought to bear. Since Fort's death, scientists have recognized the "experimenter effect", the tendency for experiments to tend to validate given preconceptions. Robert Rosenthal has conducted pioneering research on this and related subjects.

There are many phenomena in Fort's works which have now been partially or entirely "recuperated" by mainstream science: ball lightning, for example, was largely rejected as impossible by the scientific consensus of Fort's day, but is now generally recognized as a genuine phenomenon. However, many of Fort's ideas remain on the very borderlines of "mainstream science", or beyond, in the fields of paranormalism and the bizarre. This is unsurprising, as Fort resolutely refused to abandon the territory beyond "acceptable" science. Nonetheless, later research has demonstrated that Fort's claims are at least as reliable as his sources. In the 1960s, American writer William R. Corliss began his own documentation of scientific anomalies. Partly inspired by Fort, Corliss checked some of Fort's sources and concluded that Fort's research was "accurate, but rather narrow" -- there were many anomalies which Fort did not include in his books.

Many consider it odd that Fort, a man so skeptical and so willing to question the pronouncements of the scientific mainstream, would be so eager to take old stories — for example, stories about rains of fish falling from the sky — at face value. It is debatable whether Fort did in fact accept evidence at face value: many instances in his books, Fort notes that he regarded certain data and assertions as unlikely, and he additionally remarked, "I offer the data. Suit yourself." In Fort's books, it's often difficult to determine if he took his proposals and "theories" seriously; however, as noted on the extraterrestrial hypothesis page, Fort did seem to hold a genuine belief in the presence of extraterrestrial visitations to the Earth.

The theories and conclusions Fort presented often came from what he called "the orthodox conventionality of Science". On nearly every page, Fort's works have reports of odd events which were originally printed in respected mainstream newspapers or scientific journals such as Scientific American, The Times, Nature and Science. Time and again, Fort noted, that while some phenomena related in these and other sources were enthusiastically accepted and promoted by scientists, just as often, inexplicable or unusual reports were ignored, or were effectively swept under the rug. And repeatedly, Fort reclaimed such data from under the rug, and brought them out, as he wrote, "for an airing". So long as any evidence is ignored — however bizarre or unlikely the evidence might seem — Fort insisted that scientists' claims to thoroughness and objectivity were questionable.

Charles Fort in 1893 Charles Fort was one of the most innovative writers. By abandoning disciple of deliberate, purposeful construction, he became enabled to express ideas whose structures also are not deliberately and purposefully disciplined, thus engaging the reader's mind in new ways.

Charles Fort in 1893: He coined the word 'teleportation', inspired the term 'Bermuda Triangle', and popularised UFO's.

It did not matter to Fort whether his data and theories were accurate: his point was that alternative conclusions and world views can be made from the same data "orthodox" conclusions are made, and that the conventional explanations of science are only one of a range of explanations, none necessarily more justified than another. In this respect, he was far ahead of his time. In The Book of the Damned he showed the influence of social values and what would now be called a "paradigm" on what scientists consider to be "true". This prefigured work by Thomas Kuhn decades later. The work of Paul Feyerabend could also be likened to Fort's.

Another of Fort's great contribution 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, and although Fort was prescient in his collection and preservation of these data despite the scorn they received from his contemporaries, Fort was more of a parodist and a humorist than a scientist. He thought that far too often, 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 foibles 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 "modern" attitude towards religion, 19th century Spiritualism, and scientific dogma.

The Fortean Society was founded in Fort's lifetime by his friends, and led by fellow American writer Tiffany Thayer, half in earnest and half in jest, like the work of Fort himself. Fort, however, rejected the society and refused the presidency which went to his close friend writer Theodore Dreiser; he was lured to its inaugural meeting by false telegrams. As a strict non-authoritarian, Fort refused to establish himself as an authority, and further objected on the grounds that those who would be attracted by such a grouping would be spiritualists, zealots, and those opposed to a science that rejected them; it would attract those who believed in their chosen phenomena: an attitude exactly contrary to Forteanism. Fort had a long history of getting together informally with many of NYC's literati such as Theodore Dreiser and Ben Hecht at their various apartments where they would talk, have a meal and then listen to short reports. Reports of these meetings mention lively discussions accompanied by great good humor and quantities of wine. Fort was not a joiner of established groups and, perhaps, it is ironic that many such Fortean groups have been established.

Most notable of these are the magazine, Fortean Times (first published in November 1973), which is a proponent of Fortean journalism, combining humour, scepticism, and serious research into subjects which scientists and other respectable authorities often disdain and The International Fortean Organisation (INFO). INFO was formed in the early 1960s (incorporated in 1965) by brothers, the writers Ron and Paul Willis, who acquired much of the material of the original Fortean Society which had begun in 1932 in the spirit of Charles Fort but which had grown silent by 1959 with the death of Tiffany Thayer. The International Fortean Organization has a long history of disseminating information which includes the 35-year publishing history of the highly respected "INFO Journal: Science and the Unknown" and the legendary FortFest, the world's first and often called, most prestigious, conference on anomalous phenomena dedicated to the spirit of Charles Fort. A "living magazine" of tapes and cds/dvds/mp3s has been created from ground-breaking authors (Colin Wilson, John Michell, Graham Hancock, John Anthony West, William Corliss, John Keel, Joscelyn Godwin among many other luminaries) on the forefront of phenomena research who have given presentations at their conferences such as FortFest, FortNite and FortScape. Other Fortean societies are also active, notably the Edinburgh Fortean Society in Edinburgh and the Isle of Wight.

More than a few modern authors of fiction and non-fiction who have written about the influence of Fort are sincere followers of Fort. One of the most notable is British philosopher John Michell who wrote the Introduction to LO! published by John Brown in 1996. Michell says "Fort, of course, made no attempt at defining a world-view, but the evidence he uncovered gave him an 'acceptance' of reality as something far more magical and subtly organized than is considered proper today." Stephen King also uses the works of Charles Fort to illuminate his main characters, notably "It" and "Firestarter". In "Firestarter", the parents of a pyrokinetically gifted child are advised to read Fort's Wild Talents rather than the works of baby doctor Benjamin Spock. Loren Coleman is a well-known cryptozoologist, author of "The Unidentified" (1975) dedicated to Charles Fort, and "Mysterious America," which Fortean Times called a Fortean classic. Indeed, Coleman calls himself the first Vietnam era C.O. to base his pacificist ideas on Fortean thoughts. Jerome Clark has described himself as a "sceptical Fortean" Mike Dash is another capable Fortean, bringing his historian's training to bear on all manner of odd reports, while being careful to avoid uncritically accepting any orthodoxy, be it that of fringe devotees or mainstream science.

Fort's work, of compilation and commentary on anomalous phenomena reported in scientific journals and press, has been carried on very creditably by William R. Corliss, whose self-published books and notes bring Fort's collections up to date with a Fortean combination of humor, seriousness and open-mindedness. Mr. Corliss' notes rival those of Fort in volume, while being significantly less cryptic and abbreviated.

Ivan T. Sanderson, Scottish naturalist and writer, was a devotee of Fort's work, and referenced it heavily is several of his own books on unexplained phenomena -- notable "Things" (1967), and "More Things" (1969).

Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier's The Morning of the Magicians was also heavily influenced by Fort's work and mentions it often.

The noted UK paranormalist, Fortean and ordained priest Lionel Fanthorpe presented the Fortean TV series on Channel 4.

The International Fortean Organization (INFO) is a network of Fortean researchers/writers, both amateur and professional, many of whom have developed life-long friendships and professional relationships. John Keel, the notable author and parapsychologist, in both his writings and at his appearances at INFO's FortFest, says "the International Fortean Organization (INFO) carries on Charles Fort's name as successor to the Fortean Society." Keel, Colin Wilson and John Michell are long-time advisors to the organization. www.forteans.com


About Robert Bradley Berlitz

A student of Fortean Science, Berlitz enjoys discovering the truth behind the truths, As a true investigator of all that is rouge to science. Berlitz is concidered one of the most innovative writers on the subject. By discovering Fortean beliefs an abandoning disciple of deliberate, purposeful construction, he became enabled to express ideas whose structures also are not deliberately and purposefully disciplined.



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