The Anecdotal Charles Fort

Since the days of Charles Fort, the approach the public has taken toward the paranormal and unexplained has changed significantly over time.  Where once there was the anecdotal curio of curiosities approach, now researchers attempt to quantify and measure the paranormal with tools.  And that distinction may prove to be a source of trouble for researchers.

Charles Fort was one of the earliest examples of what we would consider a paranormal researcher.  Gathering books, anecdotes, letters, manuscripts, personal contacts, and folk tales, Fort set out to do one thing – chronicle the strange and unexplained forces in our universe that seem to defy what we understand (or think we understand.) 

Rather than offer up a single narrative about the way the universe was, Fort celebrated all the possibilities with an open mind.  He was as studious as he was bold in his exploration of the impossible to prove again and again that there was virtually nothing beyond the scope of possibility.

In Fort’s universe fish could suddenly rain from the sky, a person could predict his own death right down to the minute, beings atop airships could drop down speaking a language no one could understand and telling tales of a far off land in the sky.

And when we consider where Fort was coming from, the universe – once seen as a very strange and mysterious place full of animate beings and anthropomorphized wilderness was quickly becoming significantly smaller and more sterile.

Soon enough, science would once again begin returning to the universe as a place where things disrupted the order of the Newtonian world.  Later, by the hand of Albert Einstein and later with the help of exhausting explorations into quantum mechanics, the ordered Newtonian bubble would crash revealing a universe of chaos where possibility stretched to every horizon – horizons which could somewhere be hiding every phantom and monster of yesterday’s folklore and even a few new ones.

One of the difficulties that has arisen in the past few decades is a sincere attempt by researchers in the subject to consolidate the scientific and the inherently Fortean.  Fort himself found the collection of unrelated bits of data difficult and frustrating, stating that even in his most prodigious collections, events that were unrelated could be corresponded one to the other.

Can the paranormal be studied scientifically?  It’s not unusual to assume that an observable force without explanation may correspond to other forces within the universe that we understand.  Using ghosts as a template, it has been difficult to acquire meaningful evidence to change the opinions of skeptics.  Of course it’s often suggested that we have also been unable to capture poetic inspiration in a quantifiable way in a lab.

Maybe the lack of evidence isn’t necessarily because of a flaw with the method, but the fact that the method cannot be applied to these phenomena in the first place.  Until then, there is always the collecting of stories and accounts.