Thursday, August 6, 2015

Phenon* (for Phenom*)

Charles Fort is both a native son (born in Albany, New York, on August 6, 1874) and the father of "anomalistics." His name has given rise to what are known as eponymous adjectives: Fortean and Forteana refer to means of characterizing phenomena that "fall outside of current understanding." I guess one could think about typos the same way; there were 31 of these in OhioLINK this morning, and 596 in WorldCat. On the other hand, it's pretty easy to understand how the contiguous consonants (in the alphabet and on the keyboard) in a word like phenomenon could get easily shifted around, and without resorting to telekinesis either. A journalist and science researcher possessed of a "high wit egged on by a contrarian nature," Fort may have been mistrustful of certain paranormal claims, but like a cataloger who need not "agree with" a work in order to describe it well, he was an assiduous classifier and note taker. Ufologist and folk musician Jerome Clark has called Fort "essentially a satirist hugely skeptical of human beings'–especially scientists'–claims to ultimate knowledge." Opinion about him is sharply divided, but his most important contribution may have been in the realm of what would later become the title of the Fortean Society magazine: Doubt. Colin Wilson sums up Fort's philosophy like this: "People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels."

(Portrait of Charles Fort, 1920, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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