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Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-And Couldn't

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  433 ratings  ·  84 reviews
"Fringe-Ology brings a poet's eye to the frayed edges between the known and unknown, belief and skepticism. . . . A dive into the paranormal even a hardcore skeptic like myself can enjoy." --Mat Johnson, author of "Pym"

Take a strange and unsettling trip into the heart of the paranormal universe as journalist Steve Volk tries to answer some of the most fundamental question

Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 5th 2012 by HarperOne (first published June 1st 2011)
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I'm all for honesty. Here are some caveats:

I love a good conspiracy theory, whether I believe in the events, or not.
I am a total hot mess for all things supernatural, whether I believe in the events or not.
I am "looking for answers" but, to paraphrase Volk, I'm also not interested in being duped and I'm OK with an "I don't know".
In the past 2-3 months I've found myself delving pretty deep into modern parapsychological literature. I know my CSICOPs from my PEARs and I'm not shy about airing my (c
Donald Crane
I am a skeptic. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have generally looked askance at mystical explanations for otherwise unexplained phenomena. So it is with that background that I began reading, at my wife's suggestion, this book. She thought I would like the chapter on near death experiences, the first one in the book, so I began reading the book. I expected to read that chapter, and then return to the book I was in the process of reading.

I read the whole book.

Steve Volk is a journalist who
Sarah Etter
a journalist with some of the best investigative chops in the business takes on the paranormal and comes back with some of the most compelling stories, info and perspectives on everything from ghosts to UFOs and lucid dreaming.

steve volk stands out because he can turn a phrase as well as he can research a topic - and his conclusions are some of the best i've ever read about the paranormal. short and sweet review: read this. you won't be disappointed.
Although well written, Volk's antipathies obviously lie with the anti-science crowd. A careful reading will reveal that Volk does not understand scientific method or the rules of evidence, and he gives too much credence to fringe thinkers. He does not understand that antidotal evidence and statistical evidence are only a part of scientific methodology and that each science has its own interpretation and methods of analyzing data. Psychological methodology is not the same as physics methodology. ...more
Noel Rooks
Based on reviews here and an interview I heard on NPR,I expected this to be...different. While it is obvious that Volk did his research, he often seems quite credulous. I agree with him that what seems like quack science can be, 20 years down the road, the cutting edge. Also, that we as a society need to be more open minded. But open minded doesn't mean leave the barn door open. I did like the chapters on micro vs macro quantum physics. Based on what we know, that makes sense. I did find my (as ...more
Jenny Brown
What I liked best about this book was how the author explored the way that the media report on any issue by interviewing only a few extremists at either pole, pro and anti, and ignoring anyone who takes a more complex, balanced view of the issue, or admits that the issue's complexity does not admit to sound byte summaries.

In this book Volk looks at how society approaches various phenomena lumped together under the head "paranormal." He describes what is known about various paranormal phenomena
I'll start with the good, which is why this book gets 2 stars instead of just one: the chapter on lucid dreaming is pretty good. It's also featured in an excellent Radiolab episode.

Now the bad: a plethora of straw men, false dichotomies, misrepresentations, and an ad hominem or two. The author does a fairly solid job of misrepresenting the scientific method, quantum mechanics, the so-called New Atheists, the skeptic community in general, and a few skeptics in specific.

Overall: don't bother readi
I expected and hoped this book would be about all sorts of spooky supernatural stuff that would give me a good shiver. Well, it really wasn't. There was a small amount of that, but really this book was about how the unexplainable polarizes people and confounds both atheists/skeptics/scientists and believers/spiritualists/the religious. Over and over the author argues several important points -- about our own brains reinforcing these walls and these divisions, about the need to explore the unexpl ...more
To be perfectly honest, I'd have given this book four stars, but I felt like I've already read its contents in various other places before. Full review:
D.S. West
A veritable cornucopia of scientific trivia. More importantly,Volk's book stands as proof that there is no proven or "right" way to view the universe. So many of the religious are adamant that their faith in God or whatever is real, and everyone who feels, thinks, or does to the contrary are mislead...are wrong. The New Atheists, ostensibly rational thinkers like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, believe that only what we understand as proven or likely according to modern scienc ...more
Pat Leonard
I heard about this book from an episode of Radio Lab. The Radio Lab story was specifically about lucid dreaming, which is covered in one of the later chapters of the book. Lucid dreaming is the ability to become aware that you are dreaming while the dream is happening and therefore influence the course of the dream or even the outcome. I'm eager to learn more about it, as I've experienced it once since first hearing of it, but that's a topic for another time.

Fringe-ology also touches on other pa
A few years ago, I spotted a UFO.

It was nighttime. I was standing on the bank of the Ohio River. A green triangle emerged above Mt. Washington. The object lit up brightly, then flashed across the sky and vanished. I shrieked with excitement and shock. Nobody else saw it.

Since then, I love telling people about my “UFO experience,” because the event is now a harmless anecdote. When I tell the story, I always finish with the same joke: Oh, God, I thought. Now I’m going to be one of THOSE PEOPLE!

Steve Volk takes the difficult - and, I think, admirable - position that we just do not have all the answers yet. Human psychology is such that we don't sit too comfortably with uncertainty, but Volk writes that some of our greatest mistakes have come from jumping on one bandwagon or another just for the sake of feeling more secure.

Volk discusses the huge number of "paranormal" (which he is quick to point out technically means "a thing we haven't discovered the scientific reason for" and does no
Brady Dale
So, the amygdala is the part of your brain that makes you anxious either when you are in danger or when you are confronted with ideas that defy you understanding of the world. The amygdala is the part of the brain that allows people to hold onto a comfortable worldview even when they are repeatedly presented with facts that undermine that worldview.

This book is going to to upset your amygadala.

And if you think the fact that you are smart, educated, informed person allows you to bypass your amyg
“This is not a world of binary opposites. We just live that way. … there is more to this world than we know. And then, it seems, the most rational response might be to explore it – to see if the events … described could really be so.” – Steve Volk

Public debate is uncompromising in many fields today, including that perennial area of controversy, the paranormal. As is the norm, media focus is on the extremes: true believers and die-hard skeptics. In Fringe•ology (2011) journalist Steve Volk make
Mike Duran
It's hard to find a book on paranormal phenomenon that isn't (1) Overtly critical or (2) Overtly accepting. Fringe-ology comes close. However, some chapters are far more compelling than others. I was especially intrigued with the chapters on NDE's, quantum consciousness, and the author's own personal ghost story. In the end, however, I don't think the author covered much new ground or established enough of a paradigm for discerning, understanding, and/or interpreting paranormal phenomenon.
Jen Potter
It was tough going at first as the material that was of particular interest is covered in the later half of the book. But I'm glad I stuck with it. The primary take-away: keep an open mind.
Subashish Bose
Not that I am big believer of such stuff, but I liked the seemingly objective way of dealing with touchy topics, particularly which lies in the gray area.
I didn't read this book in chronological order, because it is ordered weird. I liked it a lot though.
Shake off the "Paranormal Taint" and read this book. Volk explores a wide range of topics and shows the value of approaching them with an open mind. Highlights for me were chapters on Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, and "The Open Mind" which focuses on the the meditative state.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is how Volk frames the battle between "skeptics" and "believers." With each group totally unwilling to budge from their completely static worldview, scientific research a
Volk's intrepid investigation of the paranormal fringe and the scientists that hate it is a perfect book for folks whose curiosity trumps their conviction. Volk exposes our culture's tendency to polarize points of view while negating the "good stuff" in between. He provides some great anecdotes paired with what appears to be a sound review of scientific literature.

I enjoyed learning about the topics he explores: Life after death, Ghosts, UFO's, Dreams, etc. I tended to agree with Volk towards th
It took me two tries and about six months to finally get through Steve Volk's fascinating roller coaster "Fringe-ology" and its not because its a lousy book. On the contrary, it is such a jaw dropper of a good read that I kept having to put it down just to process what I was reading.

A scientist I am not. Despite having spent years upon years working in scientific journal publishing I do not know thing one about physics, earth science, biology or the countless other topics that fall under the gia
I left my childhood religion informally at 23 or so and then formally at 34 at the same time I came out of the closet. That religion, Seventh-Day Adventism, had a very specific and science fictional eschatology and world view and I realized one day after leaving it that I had to decide what my new world view was. Did I believe in anything beyond the material? Had my views on ghosts/UFOs/Leprechauns changed? Did I believe in a universe run on numerical laws or hidden stories, the plots of which h ...more
Like most of the topics that Volk tackles, I am ultimately unsure of how I definitively feel about this book. While I applaud his overall premise that we must temper our society's current penchant for taking extreme positions on many, rather unanswerable issues; God fearing vs. atheist, right vs. left, great taste vs. less filling - I found a great deal of the book's content either inconsistent, forced, or flat. The personal anecdote that is supposed to drive the narrative at times feels lost am ...more
Steve Anderson
If you ever thought scientists were just a little too arrogant about the way they look at this world and their scientific "objectivity", this book is for you, and if you think people who see conspiracy, ufos and ghosts everywhere are quick to find fantastic explanations for non-fantastic things, you won't be disappointed, either.

Volk delves into multiple fringe topics with integrity and respect for the topic and people he has researched. He's also clear about his own experiences, which has influ
Fringe-ology -- expand your mind and just learn to let the unexplainable remain unexplained. I appreciated the author's fairly objective reasonings, although I felt like he was leaning toward "selling" the paranormal more than the skeptic point of view. However, I think that's a fair bias, seeing as skepticism seems to often be automatically accepted. He presented good stories along with a wealth of research. I was particularly glad that he included a glossary of materials for further reading, a ...more
Essentially this is a book about coming to terms with admitting that you don't have all the answers.

In this case the discussion is centered around fringe science, and of a surety the scientific trivia in here is fascinating.

However, it's not just the author rattling off under-reported and mind-blowing research findings. Instead, it gives the reader a framework for how to approach and make peace with the unexplainable. In many ways, this is a work about moderation. Not the bland, abdicating of
Aaron Culley
The most amazing thing about this book is its honesty on topics that many people don't want to touch. This author is willing to say honestly that there are things in the world and things that people experience which we do not understand and cannot explain. He brings to light that there is a pervasive, yet often un-acknowledged "culture war" in our society, between skeptics and believers, both of who are as effective and relentless at spin control as any political party has ever been.

In response
First of all, I'm very much a skeptic.

I think the author did a great job of exploring various unexplained phenomena such as remote viewing, UFOs, ghosts, etc. What I liked best was how he showed that we are usually dealing with extremists on both sides of these issues: both the believers and the skeptics. It's easy to discount blind faith, but we should also take a critical look at the skeptics who often disregard evidence and refuse to accept that there are things we just don't understand.

There are a ton of books out there about the paranormal that turn off many potential readers due to their high level of wackiness; this is not one of those books. Steve Volk takes a truly scientific and well reasoned approach to explain certain paranormal happenings, such as near death experiences, after death communications and lucid dreaming. The latter is something I've been reading up on, therefore the lucid dreaming chapter was particularly interesting to me. I am a skeptic who wants to bel ...more
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I currently live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where I've worked for the last 10 years as a journalist covering the courts, crime, cops, politics, and lots of human interest features. Like a lot of journalists, I backslid into reporting after a brief, furtive attempt to write a novel. In literary nonfiction, however, I found a way to satisfy my urge to write creatively without going through the m ...more
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“De Bono argues that the West's tradition of settling disagreement by debate or argument is an example of overreliance on logic.” 0 likes
“De Bono argues that the West's tradition of settling disagreement by debate or argument is an example of overreliance on logic. 0 likes
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