Are you a Fortean?
Let's take an honest look at the ideas of the late, great Charles Hoy Fort, and folks who identify as "Fortean". It's long overdue.
Fort, while still unknown to many, is generally recognized in the broader UFO/cryptid/paranormal community as a (perhaps the) founder of anomalous research.
That's fair. In some ways he was.
Most who recognize Fort's name remember him as a collector and collator of reports of weird phenomena: be they tales of falling fish, bizarre creatures, strange lights in the sky, inexplicable appearances and disappearances, or psychic manifestations.
Indeed, today such accounts are often placed beneath the banner of “Fortean” phenomena. They are “Forteana”. The excellent publication Fortean Times has done a first class job at keeping this nomenclature alive, along with Fort's interest in collecting and collating reports of the strange and excluded.
However, extending from this, many folks - who have an interest in the weird – have now adopted the term “Fortean” to identify themselves and their beliefs.
Most such “Forteans” have never picked up a book written by Charles Fort, let alone any of the biographies that examine his thinking. And if they have, they seem to have misunderstood, or ignored, much of Fort's writings and intent.
Yes, Fort collected and (often with tongue firmly in cheek) theorized about anomalous phenomena.
But Fort was more than a run-of-the mill anomalist (if there is such a thing). The main theme of his potent writings is a fierce critique of all orthodoxies, and of science in particular.
In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn - the paradigm shifting philosopher of science - proposed that science was essentially sociological, and like all sociological endeavors was informed by a type of group-think akin to religious conversion. Almost half a century earlier, as Colin Bennett points out on his compelling Fort bio Politics of the Imagination, Charles Fort had hammered home the exact same theory.
Fort would be flabbergasted. The supposed progenitor of anomalous research - “the man who invented the supernatural” as biographer Jim Steinmeyer referred to him, or the “father of Ufology” as every second person who has ever written a UFO history calls him - had warned about the exclusionary nature of “Dogmatic Science” since the opening volley of his first published work The Book of the Damned in 1919, just some of which follows:
“Our general expression:
That the state that is commonly and absurdly called "existence," is a flow, or a current, or an attempt, from negativeness to positiveness, and is intermediate to both....
That all phenomena in our intermediate state, or quasi-state, represent this one attempt to organize, stabilize, harmonize, individualize—or to positivize, or to become real:
That only to have seeming is to express failure or intermediateness to final failure and final success:
That every attempt—that is observable—is defeated by Continuity, or by outside forces—or by the excluded that are continuous with the included:
That our whole "existence" is an attempt by the relative to be the absolute, or by the local to be the universal.
In this book, my interest is in this attempt as manifested in modern science:
That it has attempted to be real, true, final, complete, absolute:
That, if the seeming of being, here, in our quasi-state, is the product of exclusion that is always false and arbitrary, if always are included and excluded continuous, the whole seeming system, or entity, of modern science is only quasi-system, or quasi-entity, wrought by the same false and arbitrary process as that by which the still less positive system that preceded it, or the theological system, wrought the illusion of its being.
In this book, I assemble some of the data that I think are of the falsely and arbitrarily excluded.
The data of the damned.
I have gone into the outer darkness of scientific and philosophical transactions and proceedings, ultra-respectable, but covered with the dust of disregard. I have descended into journalism. I have come back with the quasi-souls of lost data.
They will march.”
So for Fort, his curation of reams of “damned” data, was to make the point that science's very exclusion of said data - from what Kuhn would later term the scientific “paradigm” - proved the innate failings of the scientific endeavor and, moreover, the indeterminable and ever fluctuating nature of "reality" or "existence" itself. Heavy stuff. Much heavier than thoughts that hairy man-beasts prowl the North American woods, that ET zips through our skies aboard his flying saucer, and that dear departed Grandma still haunts darkened hallways of the old family estate.
Let me be blunt: If you've ever appealed to scientific authority to back up a claim, shut down an argument, or infer respectability: you're not a Fortean; If you've ever used or agreed with a sound bite like “the science is settled”, or “the debate is over”, or “ninety-nine percent of scientists agree” you're not a Fortean; If you've ever clamored for scientific respectability or attempted to use “scientific method” to prove (or disprove) the existence of an anomalous phenomenon you're not a Fortean. At least not if we are basing the term on the substance of Fort's philosophy, writings, and intent.
This doesn't mean that you're a bad person. Nor does it mean you are wrong in your thinking (although you may well be). But if you call yourself a “Fortean” - just because you have an interest in Bigfoot, flying saucers, ghoulies, and similar ephemeral entities – you need to find yourself another label. At least if you care about what Charles Fort wrote, or give a damn about precision in the use of language. Anomalist would seem to be as good an alternative label as any. In our use of the term, meaning: one who has an interest in anomalous phenomena. For starers it doesn't come with the baggage of an anti-science philosophy, to which you may not subscribe. And I would suggest that while all Forteans are anomalists, not all anomalists are Forteans.
The equally great, late John Keel (perhaps the best example of a real Fortean thinker since Fort), was fond of reminding us that: “Belief is the enemy”. He was right. And Fort would have wholeheartedly agreed with Keel's aphorism: perhaps adding, “particularly when it's institutionalized by science.”
Among today's cadre of anomalists – be they cryptid hunters, specter chasers, or UFO researchers – there is an overwhelming dependence on a flawed scientific method and a heady desire to be welcomed into the clique of establishment science. This is despite Fort's warnings, and in seeming obliviousness to the fact that science has failed them and their belief systems, over and over, again and again...
Here's a closing analogy, to drive home the above point: Benito Mussolini, the founder of Fascism and dictator of Italy for two decades, was well-known (along with far more notorious things) for making “the trains run on time” and holding nationalistic rallies. So, let's say you like reliable public transport timetables, and enjoy a good-ole' patriotic parade: Would you call yourself a Fascist? Of course not. You'd realize such trappings were incidental to Mussolini's philosophy.
And an interest in crytids, UFOs, and specters is incidental to the philosophy of Charles Fort.
Now, all of that said, you might actually agree with Fort on the whole "science is a mutilated octopus" thang. In which case, welcome to the unofficial and tiny club. Or, you might be mumbling to yourself: "Yeah, nice diatribe but I still have no solid idea of who this Charles Fort person was. And I'm no closer to understanding his thinking at any substantive level." In which case, maybe you'd like to jump on over to the site's recommended reading list, a little collection of books that we've termed Fortean Philosophy 101. It's by no means comprehensive, but within their pages you'll dip your toes into some strange and intoxicating intellectual currents.
Because the raison d'être of this website (along with the included Talking Weird podcast and Fort Thought video show) is not only to discuss the weird and excluded - which we LOVE to do - but to examine and accurately present the ideas of Charles Fort, along with other thinkers who also eschewed science for more esoteric and elegant approaches to the paranormal. Such anomalists include John Keel, Jacques Vallee, and Patrick Harpur.
And yes, here at CharlesFort.org we sell Fortean-themed T-shirts too. Hip and clever ones that we designed, and actually wear. If you find a design you like, and can spare $20 or so, please buy it. Your purchase helps us stay advertisement free and keeps the Dogman from the door. Plus you'll be the coolest dressed anomalist (or maybe Fortean) in your gang!
And, as I sign off, from my cabin deep in the North Woods, I leave you with one final request,
Keep it weird,
Dean Bertram PhD