An inconsistent history of paranormal in America (Book Review)

Supernatural America: A Cultural History by L.R. Samuel (2011)

sn-americaSupernatural America is one of a few books that aim to take the reader on a tour of the country’s paranormal history to end up where we are today. I’ve not read many good ones. (Paranormal Nation by Fitch was possible the WORST. Steer clear of that stinker!) I compare such a project to Brian Inglis’ two volumes (that are not focused on America but on the history of supernatural and paranormal thought) that some think are too pro-paranormal but certainly far more thorough.

Supernatural America immediately conflates supernatural with paranormal and, to me, this dooms the entire book to being a mish-mash of unclear concepts. Because the author discusses the progress of scientific efforts in investigating “the supernatural”, and the efforts to prove the supernatural through science, we immediately spot the complication that this creates. Though he uses the definition of supernatural as “phenomenon that cannot be explained by natural laws or understood by science,” he does not grasp that by that definition the supernatural is excluded from science. Science relies on natural laws. Supernatural causes are beyond nature and can not be studied. There are no rules. So, right from the introduction, I was put off by this fundamental muddling of ideas. The second major issue was the lack of editing and nearly unreadable portions of chapters 1 and 2 which included excessive use of passive tense, missing words, and inelegant grammar, making these portions very difficult to follow. I trudged through them. Slowly. It got better but it was odd that these portions sounded like unproofed drafts when the rest was more readable.

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Cryptid capers: The Iceman, Scooby Doo, and those meddling copyright holders

Dr. Darren Naish has a new post out on the Minnesota Iceman. It’s adapted from his book Hunting Monsters which is soon to be out in hard copy (already in electronic format). Good news! However, the cryptozoological go-hards don’t generally like the scholarly-type books which often carry a more skeptical tone. They tend to go for the anecdotal collections that have few or poor references and that promote the mystery beasts as real. So books like this one from Darren, along with Radford’s Tracking the Chupacabra, Regal’s Searching for Sasquatch and Loxton and Prothero’s Abominable Science (among others) are deliberately ignored, or trashed by a few surly self-styled cryptozoological experts (who wouldn’t even read the entire book). It makes me think that many in the field don’t want to do the work needed to actually document the cases well and fit them into the literature, or they just want to promote their preferred beliefs and the truth doesn’t matter as much. They also have a chip on their shoulder about those who do the book work, so to speak, a necessary academic exercise, as opposed to seeking a mystery creature out in the woods who wins the award for Hide and Seek Champion.

Speaking of the truth, the Iceman’s origin is cloudy. The owner, Frank Hansen did not have a version that he stuck to. Darren relates five different origin stories:Read More »

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When Bigfoot became an alien (around 1973)

Talk about a flashback! In my latest podcast interview with Jason Colavito, we are discussing the alien-Bigfoot connection (in the context of Bigfoot as Nephilim) when Jason mentions the TV series Six Million Dollar Man that featured Bigfoot as a recurring character in four episodes, and once on the Bionic Woman show from 1976 to 1977.

The Secret of Bigfoot (part 1) aired on February 1, 1976. I was 5 years old, so I likely did not watch this but I do have a strong recollection of seeing these shows and being rather frightened by the Bigfoot character – he was huge and had a look very similar to the Patterson-Gimlin film Bigfoot (“Patty”). In fact, other than the lack of breasts, this Sasquatch suit fit pretty well in comparison to Patty. The head and face are always the hardest to make authentic-looking. This TV bigfoot featured creepy eyes and appeared roaring out of the shadows, giving me a serious case of the willies. Already obsessed with monsters, I loved it anyway.Read More »

Response to UFO stories are predictably rude and ironic

I posted this story on Doubtful News 3 days ago: UFO hoaxer fuels worry about an attack on Turkey

Since then, it was shared by several UFO-news-related sites bringing a certain vocal audience in to comment. I observed that this subsection of the audience didn’t actual understand what the story was about but instead created a straw man argument from me (and another contributor Scott). They assumed that our position is: UFOs are not real, UFOs are not alien craft, aliens aren’t real, humans are the only life in the universe, we know everything, all these claims are hoaxes, and so on…

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Visiting the Fringe

“Hello, Ms. Hill,” said the man at the registration desk before I had a chance to give my name. “We’re glad to have you here.”

So much for flying under the radar. I’m the skeptical one at the Fringe New Jersey one-day conference. I’m used to this, though, having gone to several paranormal-themed events. Why do I attend? As I said in this review of an academic parapsychological conference, I came to learn and explore evidence and ideas from new points of view. It’s always interesting. Listening to those who don’t think the same way you do is the key to understanding the bigger broad view regarding why we believe and why it matters. I don’t have to talk, just be part of the audience eager to hear what the invited speakers have to say.

audienceThere were five presenters this day. Each got to speak for an hour which is rather nice. They all had long, complex stories to tell, so the extended time accommodated this. Each story had a tone and purpose, contained information put forward as supporting evidence, and had a conclusion. Stories with arcs like these are not typical of scientific conferences or even skeptical conferences. For those, the audience is walked through information about a specific concept or hears a proposal with an argument, supporting evidence, and findings in an objective, usually detached, tone. The emotive story is clearly more appealing to a general audience. But, it can be trying to those listening who find your story to be a bunch of BS. I disagreed with many of the fringe ideas presented but I still learned a great deal and was entertained.

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SPR mag provides a charitable view of ‘The Conjuring 2’

The latest copy of Paranormal Review, the magazine of the SPR (Society of Psychical Research), is, as usual, a good read, full of interesting ideas. I like this magazine because of the quality of the content and that it’s done by the SPR and not fly-by-night ghost chasers. This issue provides a thoughtful talk on today’s paranormal (parapsychological) topics for even the skeptically-minded.

The cover features an image from the The Conjuring 2 movie starring fictionalized Ed and Lorraine Warren, “Demonologists”. The Warrens were real but the depiction of their involvement in the Enfield situation and in the Perron house of the original The Conjuring movie are almost entirely dramatized. Why the SPR-affiliated editors decided to take such a charitable view of this movie is beyond me, considering it ignored the far more involved SPR work on the case. I applaud the SPR for taking the high road here.Read More »

Psychical Research President states scientific disbelief in psi is “pathological”

coverPNRWhat a very strange “President’s Letter” is in Issue 77 of the Paranormal Review published by the Society of Psychical Research (Winter 2016). I read and re-read it trying to make heads or tales out of Dr. Poynton’s meaning and assertions. He seems to despise the application of reason and questioning, wishing the stodgy “pathological” scientists and skeptics would just BELIEVE already since the evidence for psi is as plain as day.

Fortunately, you can view the letter here (scroll down a bit past the editorial). Take a read and see what you think.

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