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The Strange World of Charles Fort

The brilliant thinker, writer, and scientific pontificator of his time Charles Fort once said, “Everything is just the proper hat to wear for a while.”  Perhaps no scientific idiom has held against the test of time better than this one.  Charles Fort, born in Albany New York.  Though he did poorly in school, Forte filled his days with early naturalism and studying from books.  To know of Charles Fort is to know the history of the post-spiritualist heart of paranormal study.

Fort was a thinker at heart, although disparate periods of not being published forced him into a series of day jobs until a hefty inheritance left to him by his brother after passing allowed him to become a writer full time.  Unfortunately, his first two fiction manuscripts, X and Y were burned by a frustrated Fort when he was unable to acquire a publisher for either of them.  It was not until 1915 that Fort would be able to finally publish his first fiction novel, “The Outcast Manufacturers.”  Though it was generally accepted as an excellent book, it was the tragically classic case of a book ahead of its time being generally over the heads of the common readers.  Of course later it would be celebrated and enjoy a cult following.  Finally, in 1919 Fort wrote the manuscript that would change his life and the world of paranormal science forever.  “The Book of the Damned,” as it was interestingly titled, grabbed readers and called into question the so called “positivist” movement sprouting up in Universities and laboratories of the time.  In publishing this, and three other books (“New Lands,” “Lo,” and “Wild Talents”) Fort effectively shook the pillars of the scientific establishment declaring that just because a phenomena did not fit into the realm of understood science was no reason to ignore it or assume it did not exist.  He furthermore explored the notion of empirical thinking, demanding that science come up with new methods to understand phenomena that cannot be recreated in a laboratory.  Though the term skeptic is often given to those who claim anything outside the mainstream of science is impossible, Fort was possibly the greatest skeptic of them all, being highly suspicious of mankind’s claim of universal knowledge.  He also suggested that scientific data was often misread as proof to a scientific theory, when it was quite possible the data could be indicative of something quite different.

While Fort may have personally disagreed with the approach to paranormal phenomena as either “setting out to prove or disprove” he certainly helped renew an interest in the subject and even became a cultural icon of the strange and unusual both in Britain and The Americas.  Even so, he mostly considered himself an “agnostic skeptic” with an emphasized interest in the natural world.  Of course at the time this was so alien it gave many pause.  After all, no man who dedicates the better part of a century to scientific research and comes to the conclusion that we just don’t know what’s going on in the universe, and neither does science, could possibly be simply trying to sell something.