The Fringe and Beyond

Martin Gardner. Weird Water and Fuzzy Logic: More Notes of a Fringe Watcher. Prometheus, 1996.
 
Joe Nickell. Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
 
More opinionated, and sometimes irascible essays and book reviews from Martin Gardener, always worth reading and often amusing, but you begin to wonder if it doesn't get boring being always right, and knowing that everyone else is an imbecile

That being said there are a couple of good pieces on the recovered memory movement, and the outing of the mythologist and new age guru Joseph Campbell as an unrepentant anti-Semite. Before the war Campbell had the gall to abuse the novelist Thomas Mann for being opposed to Adolf Hitler, and was a fanatical opponent of Roosevelt. Gardner discusses articles which show Campbell abusing a Jewish student and arguing it was the right of the strong to predate on lesser species of human beings. Michael Shermer in his book reveals that Campbell was on the board of consultants to the Neo-Nazi and racist journal Mankind Quarterly. In many ways he was a counterpart to his fellow radical rightist new age guru Louis Pauwels (The other well known guru of mythology, Mircea Eliade was also a fascist, being a member of the Rumanian Iron Guard in his youth).

Secure in the armour of his rationalist faith, Joe Nickell, like some modern day exorcist goes out to battle against the ghosties and boggarts and suchlike long leggity beasties, along with sundry 'papist superstitions' which inspire our dreams or plague our nightmares. Such are not, in our modern age, pinioned into bottles to be deposited at the bottom of the Red Sea, but are burned away with the fire of reason. Whether it is the ghosts in the haunted house, or the weeping statue in the nearest Catholic church, Joe will dispose of it.

Joe's faith never seems to falter, and he never seems of have doubts. Though he describes himself as an investigator rather than a debunker, the results of his investigations are never, at least publicly, in doubt. In that sense he is clearly the mirror image of the true believer in the paranormal, for whom no amount of exposure of fraud can shake their faith.

Of course in many of the cases discussed here, Nickell is probably right to be secure in his faith, yet there is something slightly troubling about his certainty and lack of appreciation of the ambiguities of human experience and psychology. Ultimately professional "skeptics" are just another variety of believer, and like all 'believers' tend to inhabit a world in which all the complexities and ambiguities of the real world are neatly ironed out. -- Peter Rogerson


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