[extropy-chat] FWD [forteana] Forteanism and Experience Anomalies

Terry W. Colvin fortean1 at mindspring.com
Fri Jul 2 18:40:31 UTC 2004

Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004 13:27:10 -0700
From: "T. Peter Park" <tpeterpark at erols.com>
  To: forteana at yahoogroups.com
Subj: FWD [forteana] Forteanism and Experience Anomalies


Dear fellow Forteans,

            Forteans investigate puzzling phenomena that seem 
inexplicable or even impossible by generally expected scientific 
theories--ghosts, poltergeists, UFOs, "alien abductions," "Bigfoot" and 
other "Hairy Hominids," Lake Monsters, crop circles, the West Virginia 
"Mothman," etc. Whenever possible, they try to find an explanation for 
such occurrences--whether conventional or extraordinary. More 
fundamentally, however, they also ask what such phenomena indicate about 
the nature of the world we find ourselves living in.

            Do generally accepted scientific knowledge and theories give 
a full and accurate picture of our world?, Forteans ask. Or is the 
accepted "mainstream" scientific world-picture seriously flawed and 
incomplete? Do Fortean and paranormal anomalies indicate the gaps and 
errors in our world-picture?

Forteans have given different answers to these questions. Most agree, 
anomalous phenomena suggest that our prevailing "official" scientific 
world-picture may not be quite complete.  Some Forteans feel that we 
only need to make a few small adjustments on the fringes of our 
scientific world-picture. Maybe, they suggest, the intelligent, 
scientifically advanced extraterrestrials postulated by SETI enthusiasts 
and "mainstream" astronomers like the late Carl Sagan are in fact 
already here with us, studying our planet, species, and civilization in 
their UFOs, perhaps even abducting some of us on occasion.  Maybe, they 
speculate, pre-sapiens hominids (Australopithecines,_Homo erectus_, 
Neandertals, etc.), dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, or zeuglodons (serpentine 
prehistoric whales) did not die out completely, but are still with us 
today in odd corners of our planet, giving rise to Bigfoot, "Hairy 
Hominid," Sea Serpent, Lake Monster, or _mokele-mbembe_ reports. Other 
Forteans, however, believe that the anomalous evidence requires 
"far-out" theories and quite radical revisions of our scientific 
world-picture. UFOs, "aliens," "Hairy Hominids," Lake Monsters, 
"Mothman" type winged weirdos, and _mokele-mbembe_ "African Dinosaurs" 
alike, they suggest, might be semi-material psychic projections or 
thought-forms from the Collective Unconscious, or "ultraterrestrials" 
from another dimension, or "Inner Earth" denizens of a vast subterranean 
cavern realm (or even "hollow Earth") unknown to orthodox geologists, or 
even the angels, demons, djinn, or devas of traditional religious belief 
and mythology.

            Still other Forteans challenge accepted scientific theories 
of human origins and prehistory by espousing "Ancient Astronaut" 
theories like those of Erich von Daniken and Zechariah Sitchin, or 
religious fundamentalist "Scientific Creationism." Hollow- and 
flat-earth theories find their advocates in some segments of the Fortean 
and paranormalist community--as do all sorts of conspiracy theories. The 
Fortean conspiracy theorists, too, run a wide gamut. Some are relatively 
moderate believers in government UFO cover-up and Kennedy assassination 
conspiracies. A few even link the two, arguing that Fred Lee Crisman of 
1947 Maury Island hoax ill-fame was a CIA agent who later turned up as 
one of the three "tramps" (i.e., gunmen) arrested at Dealey Plaza in 
Dallas in 1963. Others, however, espouse right-wing theories of Jewish, 
Catholic, Masonic, "New World Order," or "Illuminati" world-domination 
plots--against the protests of Forteans like Jerome Clark who warn that 
"scratch a conspiracy theorist, and a bigot bleeds." Some, indeed, 
accept the elaborate super-conspiracy theories of David Icke and the 
late Milton William Cooper, linking together the Elders of Zion, the 
Illuminati, reptilian space aliens in human disguise, underground UFO 
bases at Dulce or Area 51,  and secret treaties between the government 
and the "Grays." All of these Forteans and conspiracists pride 
themselves on "thinking outside the box." However, the susceptibility of 
some Forteans to conspiracy theories involving ugly ethnic, racial, or 
religious prejudices is troubling to more thoughtful, rational, or 
liberal-minded Forteans.

            Forteans--cryptozoologists investigating mysterious creature 
reports, ufologists studying puzzling aerial phenomena and the humanoids 
or other anomalous entities sometimes observed in connection with those 
aerial phenomena, parapsychologists studying unusual mental phenomena, 
etc.--are popularly seen as "believing in" UFO's, "aliens," ghosts, 
Bigfoot, Lake Monsters, telepathy,  etc. Some Forteans do indeed 
zealously "believe in" UFOs as extraterrestrial spacecraft, "Hairy 
Hominids" as surviving Australopithecines or Neandertals, Lake Monsters 
as surviving plesiosaurs, ghosts as the spirits of the dead, etc., 
collecting and publishing their data to support their pet theories. Most 
cryptozoologists, ufologists, and other Forteans, however,  argue that 
true Forteanism is NOT "belief" in any pet hypothesis, nor commitment to 
any one particular explanation of anomalous phenomena. They see true 
Forteanism, rather, as involving an open-minded skepticism about 
reported phenomena hard to explain in terms of generally accepted 
scientific theories, and a willingness to consider a wide range of 
possible explanations for such reports, from the thoroughly mundane 
through the slightly speculative to the seemingly bizarre. True 
Forteans, they feel, see the generally accepted current scientific 
world-picture neither as perfectly complete, accurate, and infallible 
nor as completely worthless and misguided.

            As one leading contemporary Fortean, the cryptozoologist 
Loren Coleman, has stressed, "pursuers of the unknown, Forteans all, 
believe in nonbelief" (Loren Coleman,  _Mysterious America: The Revised 
Edition_ [New York: Paraview Press, 2001], "Some Concluding Thoughts 
After Some Years on the Trail," p. 289). An "open-minded attitude to the 
many unexplained situations," he feels, is "the stock and trade of the 
Fortean" (Coleman,_Mysterious America_, p. 289). Coleman and his fellow 
cryptozoologists can "accept concrete answers, actual flesh and blood 
critters as the foundation to monster accounts." However, he adds, "a 
psychological answer may be at work with some of these accounts, and the 
rational conventional undiscovered animal answer may not be viable for 
all reports." He sees "room enough to consider many possibilities." 
However, he emphasizes that as a cryptozoologist he does not "believe" 
in monsters. Cryptozoology, he reiterates, is "not about 'belief.'" 
Believing is "the realm of religion," but "cryptozoology, like all 
sciences," is "about gathering the data and evidence to develop trends, 
patterns, and evidence which lead to hard facts and discoveries" 
(Coleman, _Mysterious America _, p. 289).

            Thus, Coleman suggests on the one hand that quite probably 
"some monsters in America are chimpanzee-like dryopithecines," "some 
mystery cats and maned lions are relict populations" of _Panthera 
atrox_, and "some lake monsters are unknown long-necked seals." However, 
he feels that there is also "room" in his "cosmic jokebox" for 
"teleporting alligators, Dover Demons," and "phantom clowns that imitate 
UFO's in all aspects but flight." (Coleman, _Mysterious America _, p. 
289). Again, Coleman suggests that some "spook lights," those "ghostly 
globes of illumination that seem glued to specific locations," may be 
"related to discharges of electric energy produced by geological fault 
stresses. Some, however, may be related to "various kinds of 
parapsychological disturbances akin to ghosts," and "others to a form of 
geophysical phenomenon as yet not understood." He professes himself "not 
afraid to say 'I don't know.'" (Coleman, _Mysterious America _, p. 289).

            Another Fortean researcher, Jerome Clark, has noted an 
ambiguous duality in many anomalous phenomena, and suggested that they 
may be best regarded as "experience anomalies," phenomena which it is 
possible for people to experience, but whose actual nature or 
explanation is still unknown. What is commonly thought of as a single 
anomalous phenomenon (UFOs, Bigfoot, Lake Monsters, ball lightning), 
Clark finds, may be two phenomena, one admittedly bizarre but 
potentially explainable by current or near-future science 
(extraterrestrial spaceships, surviving prehistoric animals, etc.), the 
other seemingly just incredible, absurd, magical, or supernatural, 
totally violating any rational scientific world-view. Many such 
phenomena, he feels, are best described as "experience anomalies," 
something in-between ordinary hallucinations and encounters with 
physically real objects or creatures. They are something more than 
simple dreams, hallucinations, or visions, but not perhaps physically or 
objectively real, either. They do not, Clark feels, prove that strange 
entities or creatures really exist. They merely show that it is possible 
for people to sometimes seesuch things. We simply do not have the 
vocabulary needed to explain such things.

         In his Introduction to _Unexplained!_ (1999), Clark described 
evidence for "high-strangeness anomalies" as resting on "credible 
persons reporting incredble things," with "nothing but sincerity to show 
for it." This was not "the stuff of a scientific revolution," but also 
no reason to "rush into the vacuum with a naively reductionist account" 
rendering the anomalous claim "harmless" by "covering it with a 
'natural' cause pulled out of a hat." It was "just as unwise" with 
"scientifically meaningless or overtly supernatural 'theories' based on 
a host of unverifiable assumptions about the nature of reality" proposed 
by occultists, advocates of "metaphysical" explanations, and theorists 
about other dimensions and "astral" or "etheric" realms (Jerome Clark, 
_Unexplained! Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences & Puzzling 
Physical Phenomena_, 2nd edition [Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1999], 
Introduction, pp. xviii-xix]

            However, it was "clear" that the "literature on anomalous 
phenomena," whether "written by proponents or debunkers," showed that 
"_we do not know_ why honest individuals, in all times and places, claim 
to see things that all evidence and logic tell us do not and can not 
exist." Human nature, Clark felt, "abhors an explanatory vacuum." Thus, 
in the "rhetoric of the debate" raging over reported anomalies through 
the centuries, a "strange entity" was transformed "either into a 
conventional object or animal to which it bears no resemblance or into 
an intruder from some magical dimension." If "neither explanation" was 
"especially helpful," it was because "the question has been framed 
wrongly." The question should not be, though it all too often was, "Do 
bizarre beasts and entities exist?" No "sensible, all-encompassing 
answer" was "possible." Rather, the question "really" was, "Is it 
possible to have the experience of encountering bizarre beasts and 
entities?" The "answer" here was "yes." This was "only to acknowledge 
modestly the obvious," which was, as folklorist Bill Ellis put it, that 
"weird stuff happens" (Jerome Clark, _Unexplained! _, Introduction, p. 

However, this was "in no way conceding anything about what all this 
weird stuff _means_." We can "grant," Clark felt, that "people 'see' 
fairies or merfolk without for a moment believing that fairies or 
merfolk are 'real'" in the sense of being physical creatures composed of 
matter, occupying space, and capable of being photographed or 
videotaped. Clark simply recognized that "such sightings are an 
experience it is possible to have, even though the actual dynamics of 
the experience remain unknown to us." Thus, "science as currently 
constructed has little to offer in the way of elucidation, and occultism 
has only obfuscation." The "nature of these experiences," however, did 
not need to "remain forever inexplicable." With the "ever-accelerating 
accumulation of knowledge in all areas," it would presumably be 
"possible sooner or later to place these experiences in a rational 
perspective," either as "heretofore-unsuspected perceptual anomalies" or 
as "glimpses of an otherwise-undetected larger reality." Whether the 
"solution" came "from the micro (subjective) or macro (objective) side 
of the existential ledger," it was "sure to teach us something real."  
Until then, these "events" should be "regarded simply as curiosities 
that represent some of human experience's more peculiar and 
unclassifiable aspects and about which it is difficult to say more." 
They should "not be seen as the foundation of a new science or a new 
religion," and they "ought not to threaten anyone who does not need to 
believe late-twentieth-century science has accounted for all the 
interesting phenomena of mind and nature" (Jerome Clark, _Unexplained! 
_, Introduction, p. xix).

Cryptozoologists, Clark noted, "deal with questions that seem 
straightforward enough, but become complicated by unwelcome intrusions 
of high-strangeness manifestations." Thus, "most investigators of Loch 
Ness monsters, for example," concentrated on "reports--and there are 
many--of creatures that could be real animals, even if ones usually 
thought extinct such as plesiosaurs and dinosaurs." They paid "as little 
attention as possible," however, to "reported sightings (usually on 
land) of things that look like aquatic camels, enormous crocodiles, 
mutated hippopotamuses, great salamanders, or--in one instance--a giant 
frog." Likewise, while most Bigfoot/Sasquatch reports involved hairy 
ape-like creatures that plausibly might well be relict survivors of our 
supposedly extinct evolutionary ancestors or cousins, "some aspects of 
their appearance verge on the apparitional, and a few instances hint at 
an association with UFO's." (Jerome Clark, _Unexplained! _, 
Introduction, p. xxiii).

"Not uncommonly," Clark thus found, "what is thought of as a single 
anomalous phenomenon" may be "two phenomena, one merely fantastic, the 
other utterly incredible." One "seems potentially explainable, more or 
less, by current (or near-future) science," while the other is "absurd 
or inexplicable, or both." This "peculiar duality" was "apparent even in 
such relatively sedate manifestations of nature as ball lightning" 
(Jerome Clark, _Unexplained _, Introduction, p. xxiii). The "temptations 
to reductionism (the witness was dreaming it) or occultism (it was a 
paranormal being from the etheric realm)" were "hard to resist" in 
discussing high-strangeness anomalies. Again, "human nature abhors an 
explanatory vacuum." However, "real understanding" demanded 
"intellectual modesty and patience, not to mention a huge tolerance for 
ambiguity" (Jerome Clark, _Unexplained! _, Introduction, p. xxiv).

"Anomalies of the highest strangeness" dwelt in a "twilight zone of 
ambiguity." To say that you have "seen" one was "not necessarily to say 
that the anomaly lives on in the world when it is not briefly occupying 
your vision and scaring the daylights out of you." We may "experience 
unbelievable things," but "our experiences of them may tell us nothing 
about them except that they can be experienced." One can "see" a mermaid 
or a werewolf," but "however impressive the experience may be," the 
"rest of us cannot infer from that that mermaids and werewolves are 
'real.'" In fact, Clark felt, "we can be certain that they are not." And 
"that is all we can be certain of," because "all we have done here is to 
remove one explanation (that mermaids and werewolves live in the world) 
from consideration while failing to put another in its place" (Jerome 
Clark, _Unexplained! _, Introduction, p. xxv).

Clark returned to this theme of "experience anomalies" in his 2000  _ 
Anomalist _ article "From Mermaids to Little Gray Men" on "The 
Prehistory of the UFO Abduction Phenomenon." He compared encounters with 
mermaids, fairies, and "aliens" as experiences which were quite real and 
baffling but did not necessarily indicate the real existence as physical 
space-time objects of the entities or creatures reported. UFO "alien" 
encounters seemed to be a contemporary counterpart of the mermaid and 
fairy encounters of earlier times. Clark cited a number of detailed 
ancient, medieval, and 18th and 19th century descriptions by reliable 
witnesses under excellent viewing conditions of entities closely 
resembling traditional folkloric "mermaids" and "mermen," but conceded 
that a half-fish half-human creature was a "zoological absurdity." Thus, 
those reliable witnesses with their excellent viewing conditions could 
not possibly have seen real biological "merfolk." (Jerome Clark, "From 
Mermaids to Little Gray Men: The Prehistory of the UFO Abduction 
Phenomenon," _The Anomalist_, No. 8, Spring 2000, p. 13)

Still, Clark noted, those "merfolk" witnesses   were not simply Ain the 
grip of popular superstitions which affected their sense of reality@ by 
distorting sightings of mundane objects or creatures like manatees, 
choppy ocean waves, or clumps of seaweed, as Awhat witnesses report 
about merfolk and what legends and folklore report about merfolk do not 
match.@ Legendary merfolk were Aintelligent beings with supernatural 
powers@ who Aspeak like normal human beings@ and Aeven shed their fishy 
bottoms to live on land and romance or wed@ humans. The Amerfolk of 
sightings,@ however,@ Aneither speak nor communicate anything but 
animal-like sounds,@ and Agive no particular indication of possessing 
more than an animal=s level of intelligence.@ Witnesses often called the 
merbeing an Aanimal,@ and used the pronoun Ait@ rather than Ahim@ or 
Aher.@ (Clark, "From Mermaids to Little Gray Men," pp. 13-14).

Mermaids, fairy encounters, and UFO alien abductions all involved the 
"problem of extraordinary testimony by persons who are to all 
appearances reliable and rational." It was {hard to discuss these 
things" because "we don't even have a vocabulary for them." It was "hard 
to imagine," unless "we are discussing outright hallucinations, which I 
don't think we are," how "an experience and an event could be different 
categories of experience." Still, he was forced to concede, "as long as 
there have been human beings, they have been." (Clark, "From Mermaids to 
Little Gray Men," p. 29).

To an "unsettling extent," Clark felt, "so-called supernatural beliefs 
have been based not just on nebulous lore and rumor but on people's 
perceived experiences."
People "believed in gods, monsters, fairies, and mermen" because "they, 
or people whom they knew to be credible, experienced them." Such 
"experience anomalies," as Clark called them, were "shaped by images and 
motifs familiar to those who lived within the culture in which those 
experiences were perceived." That seemed to be "generally true." Could 
it be, Clark wondered, that "our generation's experience anomalies take 
the shape of abducting aliens?" He added that he was "not discussing 
simple delusions or visions," but "experiences that in themselves are 
fantastic and inexplicable by current knowledge," experiences that "are 
at the same time different from and the same as those our ancestors knew 
from thousands of years of human interaction with the unknown" (Clark, 
"From Mermaids to Little Gray Men," p. 29).

            The "abduction phenomenon, or at least a good part of it," 
Clark suggested, might bear "only a superficial link with the UFO 
phenomenon of daylight discs, radar/visuals, landing traces, 
electromagnetic effects, and other hard evidence." That might be "why, 
after 40 years of concentrated investigation into it," the "evidence for 
abductions" had "yet to rise above the merely intriguing." Where was 
"the abduction equivalent," he asked, of well-established physical UFO 
evidence like "the RB-47 case, the McMinnville photos, the 
Trans-en-Provence or Delphos landing traces?" It was "thinkable" that 
"abductions, or at least many of them," were "experiences, not events," 
and that "in trying to bring them into the world and turning them into 
events, we're confusing moonbeams with the moon" (Clark, "From Mermaids 
to Little Gray Men," pp. 29-30)

            Clark proposed "provisionally and undogmatically" that the 
abduction phenomenon, or much of it anyway," was a "modern version of 
the sort of experience anomalies those who once encountered merfolk, 
fairies, and other supernatural beings underwent." He was "not talking 
about hallucinations as ordinarily and fairly well understood," but 
about "something much stranger, something that defies our ordinary 
understanding of how we perceive the world." This "experiential reality" 
took "much of its imagery from ideas and images in the culture around 
it," but also had "its own curious, idiosyncratic dynamics" 
distinguishing actual encounters from traditional, legendary, or popular 
beliefs and imagery. He thus cited  the "divergence between merfolk as 
experienced and merfolk as conceived in folklore and legend," and the 
"large difference between fairies as 'seen' and experienced, versus the 
fairylore of popular culture." To these, Clark added  "an abduction 
phenomenon whose imagery can only be imperfectly traced to science 
fiction, UFO literature, and mass speculation and theory about 
extraterrestrial visitors" (Clark, "From Mermaids to Little Gray Men," 
p. 30)

            "If these experiences are not hallucinations," Clark felt, 
"they do not seem to be events, either." They were "intensely real to 
those to whom they happen," and they might "even be accompanied by 
ambiguous 'physical evidence,' not enough by a long shot to prove an 
extraordinary event, but sufficient to hint that something unusual took 
place." We were definitely "dealing with something that current 
knowledge cannot satisfyingly explain." We might "also be dealing with 
something that forever dwells inside a twilight zone of ambiguity." To 
"say that you have seen a bizarre or unearthly entity" was "not 
necessarily to say that the anomalous being or beast lives on in the 
world when it is not occupying your vision and scaring the daylights out 
of you." We "may experience unbelievable things," but "our experiences 
of them may tell us nothing about them except that they can be 
experienced" (Clark, "From Mermaids to Little Gray Men," pp. 30-31)

            What might be "defeating our understanding," Clark 
reiterated, was a "lack of vocabulary as much as anything." Experience 
anomalies, he noted, "refuse pigeon-holing, and they promise without 
ever quite delivering." Maybe we needed, he suggested, "to look at the 
so far intractable problem of the abduction phenomenon from a new 
perspective," one that "respects witness testimony in a way that such 
testimony deserves to be respected, yet also does not duck the question 
of why we are as far as ever from being able to prove that UFO 
abductions are events that happen in the world." We needed a 
"perspective that puts abduction experiences into a larger historical 
context, and one that acknowledges how much we don't know about the 
world outside us, the world inside us, and maybe even that shadowy world 
that may, in some fashion supremely difficult to grasp, be in both 
places at once" (Clark, "From Mermaids to Little Gray Men," p. 31)

"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1 at mindspring.com >
     Alternate: < fortean1 at msn.com >
Home Page: < http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Stargate/8958/index.html >
Sites: * Fortean Times * Mystic's Haven * TLCB *
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veterans, Allies, CIA/NSA, and "steenkeen" contractors are welcome.]

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