POLL: What Stance Should Forteans Take Toward Anomalous Phenomena?

What Stance Should Forteans Take Toward Anomalous Phenomena?

  • Scepticism

    Votes: 2 7.7%
  • Scientific Investigation

    Votes: 11 42.3%
  • Suspended Disbelief / Agnosticism

    Votes: 6 23.1%
  • Creative Mystification (as an artform)

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Mysterious Amusement

    Votes: 1 3.8%
  • No Specific Stance / Whatever You Want

    Votes: 6 23.1%

  • Total voters
    26
  • This poll will close: .

Steveash5

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#1
In a reply I gave to an old post I just discovered, I suggested that too many contemporary 'Forteans' had become effectively sceptics and have abandoned Forts stance of suspended disbelief, if not outright creative mystification. I regard this as a negative trend, particularly at a time when the grounds of science are shakier than ever before.

So what do the Forteans that haunt this site think?

I'll try get this poll thing below working (maybe I should rephrase that!)
 
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#2
As far as current events - which can still be investigated while they're 'fresh' - are concerned, I'd suggest that a sceptical spirit of scientific investigation is the most appropriate.

One should always look for a rational explanation of something first rather than simply accept extraordinary events at face value. UFOs are a good example of this - the majority which are properly investigated turn out to have a mundane explanation. Therefore we have to conclude that the majority of sightings which weren't properly investigated at the time (even cases which have since assumed 'classic' status) were probably also nothing more than misperceptions. The more we can separate the 'signal' (genuinely anomalous phenomena) from the 'noise' (misperceived mundane phenomena) the better equipped we'll be to determine what's really behind UFOS, or ghosts, or dog-headed men, or whatever.

As far as historical material is concerned, I'd suggest that 'Mysterious Amusement' is the only sensible attitude. Take, for example, the Phantom Airships of 1896. At this late date, it's impossible to carry out any kind of thorough investigation into what they really were - there are no surviving witnesses, and there were no serious attempts made to investigate the sightings at the time which we can draw upon for reference. Nevertheless, the stories are worth preserving - even if only as folklore - because they are entertaining in their own right, and because they form part of the centuries-old continuum of High Strangeness.
 

Ravenstone

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#4
He is, you know. :D

For myself, I'd say I'm something between Scientific Investigation and Mysterious Amusement. Considering the results of some of my school chemistry experiments, I'm quite happy that results cannot always be duplicated. Considering some more of my school days, I think it can also be said that I'm quite happy to admit I don't always have the answer to everything ;)
 

byroncac

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#5
Hhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Were almost upon that point of what it means to be fortean and the ensuing discussion that follows with each person putting forward an individual philosophy and calling it 'fortean.' So at the risk of contradicting myself, repeating myself and leaving myself open to a charge of hypocrasy i'll give it a go.

Fort's target was not so much science itself but the dogma of science and the weapon he used in this fight was anomalous phenomena. I don't believe he had any more of a stance on his recorded phenomena than the dogma he was attacking, Fort i believe was quite happy to change his fashionable trousers as his creativity demanded.

Read this thread: http://www.forteantimes.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=22553 Original source here:http://www.venganza.org/index.htm

In this case the target is religious dogma and the weapon used is (creative) humour rather than anomalous phenomena. However, I feel both the target and method of attack are within the spirit of Fort.

If humour is the weapon (and many anomalous phenomena are humourous) then we can place Fort amongst the great philosophers such as Marx [1], Milligan and Cook.

Apologies to Steve Ash but i'm going to play devils advocate with his question. :devil:

At first glance (and as a fortean) I read the question as: What stance should Forteans take on (the dogma of) anomalous phenomena? My answer is one that is similar to that put forward by James Randi, but with more laughs. :lol: :devil:

I'll offer a view that is totaly the opposite to that of Steve Ash: "that Forteans had become effectively sceptics," I would say that "too many contemporary Forteans had become effectively 'believers' and have abandoned Fort's stance of suspended disbelief, if not outright creative mystification." :D :devil: Read what some 'Forteans' have to say about ghosts and UFO's on these boards. :shock: :devil: :p

Whatever a fortean stance may be it would undoubtedly be laced with a great deal of humour. As for this fortean taking a stance, i'll decline as no doubt i'll have to change these rather fashionable trousers sometime in the future!



[1] Groucho not Karl!
 
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#6
Read what some 'Forteans' have to say about ghosts and UFO's on these boards.
I suppose that begs the question of what a 'Fortean' actually is. Is everyone who reads the Fortean Times and posts on this message board a Fortean by default? And can researchers ever be truly Fortean? After all, Fort himself didn't actually do any field research into anomalous phenomena. He simply collected strange stories from newspapers and journals (apparently without any attempt to rate their credibility), then threw in an occasional whimsical theory. (If the Fortean Times itself were truly Fortean, surely it would consist of nothing more than a collection of weird news clippings?).

Do you stop being a Fortean the moment you try and find out whether or not a story is actually true? Is a true Fortean a folklorist rather than an investigator?
 

PeniG

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#7
I would think that in order to be a true Fortean you would have to do it in your own way regardless of how anybody else did it. For "Fortean" to be a fixed category with a firm definition would be a practical irony.

To paraphrase Hammett: Pursue your interest in the weird, damned, and ambiguous any damn way you want to.
 

byroncac

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#8
Thanks for the Hammett PeniG: "Pursue your interest in the weird, damned, and ambiguous any damn way you want to." I do like that and i'll try and commit it to memory, but, no doubt i'll have forgoten it by the end of the week.

AAAaaaaaaaaaaarghhh! I knew we'd be at that point where we disuss as to what a Fortean actually is? And that is a good question!

The fact that Fort didn't partake in field investigations other than writing a few letters is I think important. He was a journalist and so by profession an investigator but relied on first and second hand accounts of phenomena for his books. Can we conclude that the veracity of these phenomena was to Fort unimportant, rather, the fact that they supported his attacks upon the dogma of science is the significance that Fort imparted upon them!

Whilst i'm in a :devil: of a mood i'll state this: There is NO such thing as a Fortean, only a fortean approach.

So, you can be an investigator and a Fortean. You can believe in ghosts and investigate them, you can disbelieve in ghosts and investigate them and you can be sceptic and investigate them. Can all three investigations to the phenomena take on a fortean approach? That approach I suppose is one that Steve Ash is asking, if only I had an answer!
[/u]
 

brownmane

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#10
Interesting conments. I read the choices for the poll and my first thought was "can I pick more than one?" I waffle, sometimes daily.

I disbelieve obvious faked stories or pics, but like to entertain different thoughts or ideas for things not so clear cut. People are interesting simply because they are people. A story or experience can mean many things.

I've had enough things that I've experienced that I will never have an answer to. And it keeps life interesting. You never lose out lesrning something new.
 

AnonyJoolz

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#14
I would think that in order to be a true Fortean you would have to do it in your own way regardless of how anybody else did it. For "Fortean" to be a fixed category with a firm definition would be a practical irony.

To paraphrase Hammett: Pursue your interest in the weird, damned, and ambiguous any damn way you want to.
^^ What Peni said! ^^
 

Mikefule

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#20
"Scientific Investigation" presumes that science can provide all the answers.
I disagree. Scientific investigation is a rational method of trying to find an answer to many questions, but there is no presumption that it can provide all the answers.

Sometimes it is not the right tool, just as the best toxicological analysis is no use if you are trying to find out what sort of knife was used to stab someone.

Scientific investigation relies on a falsifiable hypothesis, a sufficient sample of data, and results that can be independently reproduced. This approach is no use at all if you are trying to understand a single anomalous report. You have one small set of data, no opportunity to experiment, and no way of reproducing your results.

However, a rational approach to finding explanations would include applying scientific knowledge and other sources of experience to the problem. For those who strive to explain anomalous reports, a fair consideration of the available evidence, the significance of the absence of evidence, and the credibility of the witnesses are all vital.

If there is physical evidence, such as a photograph or a clump of supposed yeti hair, then forensic-style analysis is a valid way forward.

Having said all of that, I dislike the original question, "What stance should Forteans take...?"

I have my preferred approach; you may have yours; and someone else may have a third way. It's a hobby for some, a superficial interest for others, and a passion for others. Who am I to say how someone else should approach Forteana?

Although I use the word myself in this forum, one danger of the word Fortean is that it may attract a formal definition, and that the field will then have self-appointed gate keepers: "You're not a real Fortean because you don't accept the central tenets of Forteanism."

There are no such central tenets. Forte was not a messiah, nor even a particularly naughty boy. We may or may not be his successors, but we are not his followers.
 
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#21
Scientific investigation relies on a falsifiable hypothesis,
Not strictly. A falsifiable hypotheses is not strictly necessary in using the scientific methodology as part of an investigation. One might still show the data supports a hypothesis even if one cannot disprove the hypotheses.

It's true to say that falsifiability is a good guide as to the likelihood of the hypothesis being a good one. I can claim (paraphrasing better minds than mine) that tiny invisible fairies live in my ears. You can't prove they don't...you might equally claim aliens visit earth every week. One cannot of course prove they don't. And one might land tomorrow (although I'm not holding my breath).

This approach is no use at all if you are trying to understand a single anomalous report.
It's important to also remember that the statistical validity of a sample size of '1' is '0' fapp.
 

Mikefule

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#22
Not strictly. A falsifiable hypotheses is not strictly necessary in using the scientific methodology as part of an investigation. One might still show the data supports a hypothesis even if one cannot disprove the hypotheses.
A scientific hypothesis has to be falsifiable by which I mean that there must be some conceivable circumstances in which it could be falsified.

It may be that the correct experiment has not yet been devised, or is not yet possible with available resources.

Example: there were hypotheses which existed before the Large Hadron Collider was built, but which could not be tested without a LHC. However, there were conceivable circumstances in which they could be tested: all scientists needed to do was work out how to build a LCH, get the funding, and build it.

There are of course various possible outcomes of testing a falsifiable hypothesis including:
  • It is falsified. New data or experiments show that the hypothesis is wrong.
  • New data casts doubt on it, but is not yet sufficient to show that it is false.
  • New data tends to support it, but is not yet sufficient to show that it is true.
  • It is supported by sufficient new data that it is shown to be true — although the truth of a hypothesis is always open to further query or refinement in the light of a major change. (Newton's ideas about gravity were "true enough" for their time and still work for day to day purposes, but were superseded by Einstein's more sophisticated ideas.)
As for the various fairies/aliens things you mentioned: this is a version of the old saying, "You can't prove a negative" which, ironically, is a negative itself. There are three scientific ways to approach the hypothesis that there are invisible fairies in your ears:
  • Consider how that hypothesis sits with the broader scientific paradigm. There may be no formal data set for "fairies in the ears" experiments, but there is plenty of data to support our consistent model of a world that does not involve fairies in the ears.
  • Consider the complete absence of any evidence that either supports or suggests the hypothesis.
  • If anyone suggests that they have evidence, examine that evidence and see if there is a better explanation — e.g. tinnitus.
 
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#23
A scientific hypothesis has to be falsifiable by which I mean that there must be some conceivable circumstances in which it could be falsified.
Beg to differ. Popper did propose that statements and theories that are not falsifiable are unscientific.

However, that doesn't mean such hypothesises cannot be true or correct.

Whether or not a hypothesis is falsifiable is a test of its credibility, not its veracity.
 

Mikefule

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#24
Beg to differ. Popper did propose that statements and theories that are not falsifiable are unscientific.

However, that doesn't mean such hypothesises cannot be true or correct.

Whether or not a hypothesis is falsifiable is a test of its credibility, not its veracity.
Not sure why you beg to differ, unless you are disagreeing with Popper, which I don't think was your intention.

I said <<A scientific hypothesis has to be falsifiable>>

You said <<Popper did propose that statements and theories that are not falsifiable are unscientific.>

I said If P then Q
Popper said If not Q then not P


Where P = "this is a scientific hypothesis" and Q = "this is falsifiable".

I'm saying the same as Popper, in different words.

However, I absolutely agree that an unscientific statement may happen to be true, just as a scientific hypothesis may turn out to be false. That is a separate point. I never said that an unscientific statement could not be true.

I've given this example many times: what was Otzi the Iceman's name when he was alive? We can never know, but we can reasonably assume that he had a name because he had tattoos and possessed goods which showed he was part of a reasonably sophisticated society. Sophisticated societies give people names.

I could say his name was Derek and you could say it was Tabudo. Either might happen to be true, but neither hypothesis would be falsifiable.

(Chances are, it was actually Graeme, but perhaps with one of the alternative spellings.)
 
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#25
Not sure why you beg to differ, unless you are disagreeing with Popper, which I don't think was your intention.

I said <<A scientific hypothesis has to be falsifiable>>

You said <<Popper did propose that statements and theories that are not falsifiable are unscientific.>

I said If P then Q
Popper said If not Q then not P


Where P = "this is a scientific hypothesis" and Q = "this is falsifiable".

I'm saying the same as Popper, in different words.

However, I absolutely agree that an unscientific statement may happen to be true, just as a scientific hypothesis may turn out to be false. That is a separate point. I never said that an unscientific statement could not be true.

I've given this example many times: what was Otzi the Iceman's name when he was alive? We can never know, but we can reasonably assume that he had a name because he had tattoos and possessed goods which showed he was part of a reasonably sophisticated society. Sophisticated societies give people names.

I could say his name was Derek and you could say it was Tabudo. Either might happen to be true, but neither hypothesis would be falsifiable.

(Chances are, it was actually Graeme, but perhaps with one of the alternative spellings.)
I maintain that falsifiability speaks to credibility not veracity. However;

Not strictly. A falsifiable hypotheses is not strictly necessary in using the scientific methodology as part of an investigation.
One can still proceed in a scientific and methodical way even if the hypothesis in not falsifiable. One might still fashion a good experiment with sound protocols, control conditions etc and support such a hypothesis.

In fact I'd prefer to see a properly run study on an unfalsifiable hypothesis to a poorly run study one on a falsifiable hypothesis. We've plenty of the latter and very few of the former.
 
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INT21

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#26
Re Coal's mention of fairies in the ear.

I was following a car that had the bumper sticker 'This car runs on fairy dust'.

From this one could hypothosies the fairies do indeed exist and can be ground up and used as fuel for internal combustion engines.
 

Mikefule

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#27
I maintain that falsifiability speaks to credibility not veracity. However;



One can still proceed in a scientific and methodical way even if the hypothesis in not falsifiable. One might still fashion a good experiment with sound protocols, control conditions etc and support such a hypothesis.

In fact I'd prefer to see a properly run study on an unfalsifiable hypothesis to a poorly run study one on a falsifiable hypothesis. We've plenty of the latter and very few of the former.
I maintain that falsifiability speaks to credibility not veracity. However;



One can still proceed in a scientific and methodical way even if the hypothesis in not falsifiable. One might still fashion a good experiment with sound protocols, control conditions etc and support such a hypothesis.

In fact I'd prefer to see a properly run study on an unfalsifiable hypothesis to a poorly run study one on a falsifiable hypothesis. We've plenty of the latter and very few of the former.
We seem to be agreeing except in terms of the precise language used to describe what we agree about.

Moving on, I do not feel that Popper's insistence on falsifiability is the only test of how useful an idea is in understanding the world.

I will use the word theory extremely loosely (and unscientifically) to refer to any structured idea about how the world works.

I will then say that such a theory is useful only if it helps us to make predictions that are more accurate than they would be if they were made randomly.

By prediction, I do not necessarily mean "what events will happen". I also mean "what we will find if we dig deeper — whether literally or metaphorically."

Thus:
  • An archaeologist or palaeontologist may have theories (hunches based on experience, intuition, untested hypotheses, call them what you will) that suggest what they may find if they dig in a certain place. If they find what they predict 15% of the time, and a series of random holes of similar depth and area produce a similar quantity of the same items only 5% of the time, then the "theory" is useful.
  • If a double glazing salesman has a theory that ringing customers at a certain time in the evening is more likely to result in a sale, and his results are consistently 5% better than colleagues who ring at random times, his theory has some merit.
  • However, the "theory" that there is an invisible, inaudible, intangible fairy on my lawn is not only unfalsifiable, but it also does not help anyone to make any sort of prediction about anything.
 

INT21

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#28
Basically it means ' we predict (have demonstrated by experiment) this will happen; except when it doesn't'.

Which simply implies the theory is conditional.
 

INT21

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#29
This idea of falsifying is a bit odd.

It appears to say thata theory can only be accepted if one can find a situation where it doesn't work out as expected.

But what if the theory predicts the correct outcome every time ?

Surely that would indicate that it is to be trusted. At least until someone comes up with a situation when it doesn't work; which may never happen.
 

Carl Grove

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#30
"No particular stance."

Try to use science to investigate, but be aware the phenomena could be outside the current limits of science.
Exactly. A scientific approach means to collect and assess the data then to look for patterns, then to suggest possible hypotheses, NOT to try to force all phenomena into existing theories developed for totally different phenomena, nor to try to explain them away (which really means "ignore them and they might go away.")
 
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