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Phenomena And Charles Fort
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).
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).
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
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
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
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!.
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,
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
Fort insisted that there is a strong sociological
influence on what is considered 'acceptable'
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"
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
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: 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
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
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
Ghost Hunters Society is currently accepting
new members all across the country for our
network of ghost hunters, ghost writers and
all types of Paranormal and Unexplained Phenomena
through Research and Documentation
LISA LEE HARP WAUGH, Founder Of The Ghost
Hunters Of America is a America necromancer
in the 21st century. She is by what may call
a real conduit to the world of the dead. She
dressers in ceremonial white robes, draws
magical circle and triangles s on the floor
and commands spirits from Heaven, Hell and
all places in between to appear before her
and communicate with the living. As a teenager
growing up in Marshall, Texas she studied
heavily The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish
and The Grand Grimoire, the Malleus Maleficarum
and anything she could get her hands on by
the great by Eliphas Levi, John Dee and the
great beast, Aleister Crowley.