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Forteanism And Experience Anomalies

From: Terry W. Colvin <fortean1.nul>
Date: Fri, 02 Jul 2004 11:40:31 -0700
Fwd Date: Sat, 03 Jul 2004 07:14:09 -0400
Subject: Forteanism And Experience Anomalies

Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004 13:27:10 -0700
From: T. Peter Park <tpeterpark.nul>
 To: forteana.nul
Subj: Forteanism and Experience Anomalies

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

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 - 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

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

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. xix).

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.

"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-

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.

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

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA)

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