Jenny Brown's Reviews > Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-And Couldn't

Fringe-ology by Steve Volk
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's review
Aug 15, 2011

it was amazing
Read in August, 2011

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 and more importantly what is NOT known, giving us a very good example of what good journalism should do. Then he shows us how extreme viewpoints on either side stymie those who attempt to research these phenomena and gives us examples of people who approach the subject with a more open, critical, exploratory state of mind.

He documents the extremes to which skeptics go to discredit paranormal phenomena--how they have often made up data or told out and out lies which have been repeated by the media until most people believe them to be true. This wasn't news to me, but it was good to see a journalist document it.

Volk explains this kind of behavior as occurring because people feel threatened when a belief about the meaning of life, which they rely on to feel safe, is threatened by new ideas. We see this all the time, in politics, health, and just about every important issue involving our lives. People harden into positions and treat anyone who doesn't agree with them as The Enemy, resorting to personal attacks, and making it almost impossible to discuss the issues, because of the way they've turned a complex topic, which could be explored in a rational way, into a simple black and white, us and them, battle of the sort your average chimpanzee would understand fully.

Since the paranormal touches on the Religion issue for believers and nonbelievers, it brings out particularly irrational responses from both poles of belief.

The book provided some interesting updates on what is actually known about various paranormal phenomena, though the number of topics Volk covers made it impossible for him to go into any one in great depth. In all cases, Volk stresses what isn't known--the things that would be worth researching but aren't, because of the way the subject has become so polarized.

Recommended for anyone who is interested in how humans think and who would like some insight into the current state of research into various paranormal phenomena which have not, in fact, been explained.
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