Read Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-And Couldn't by Steve Volk Andrew B. Newberg Stephen LaBerge Online


More than seventy percent of Americans believe in paranormal activity. But even with a family-ghost story lurking in his own background, seasoned journalist Steve Volk has been like most of those millions of Americans—reticent to talk about his experience in polite company. If so many of us have similar stories to tell, why are we so reluctant to take them seriously?ParanoMore than seventy percent of Americans believe in paranormal activity. But even with a family-ghost story lurking in his own background, seasoned journalist Steve Volk has been like most of those millions of Americans—reticent to talk about his experience in polite company. If so many of us have similar stories to tell, why are we so reluctant to take them seriously?Paranormal claims don’t traditionally sit well with reporters, but Volk decided to focus his gimlet-eyed tenacity on a new beat: the world of psychics, UFOs, and things that go bump in the night. It’s a rollicking ride as Volk introduces us to all sorts of fringe-dwellers, many of them reluctant to admit to their paranormal experiences: a NASA astronaut-turned-mystic, a world-famous psychologist who taught us about dying and then decided death may not exist at all, and brave scientists attempting to verify what mystics have been reporting for millennia. Volk investigates what happens in the brains of people undergoing religious experiences, learns how to control his own dreams, and goes hunting for specters in his family’s old haunted house.From his journey into the bizarre, Volk returns with a compelling argument that we need to allow for a middle space, a place where paranormal phenomena can be weird and compelling; raise crucial questions; and, quite possibly, remain unexplainable. He rejects the polarized options the twenty-first century seems to offer us: to passionately embrace or hotly reject, to revere only science or only spirituality. And he underscores, again and again, that by raising our most existential questions—why are we here, are we alone in the universe, and what happens when we die?—paranormal stories are in fact a crucial point of connection. It turns out that these “fringe” experiences strike at the core of what it means to be human....

Title : Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-And Couldn't
Author :
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ISBN : 9780061857713
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 321 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-And Couldn't Reviews

  • Isa
    2019-04-28 10:15

    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 (controversial?) views.I have had a number of experiences that could be placed under the nebulous bracket of the paranormal.I say this not to disclose angle I am approaching this review from, but to illustrate one of Volk's key points. You see, although I would hope I am both, these days it seems you are either a believer, or a sceptic. It's a case of the magic bendy spoon versus the smiting steel of the rational mind. It's a culture war that readily translates to media soundbites: Westboro Baptist Church vs Dawkins vs Creationists vs Sharia Law vs Sylvia Browne vs ... I could go on. But these are huge issues to do with our very humanity, and closer inspection always reveals hidden complexities. The popular discussion tends to conflate the separate issues of organised religion, psi, spirituality and God, when in fact (for instance) numerous parapsychologists are atheists. Volk's argument is put gently and persistently, and has great power. We're losing sight of simple facts common to all humanity: no, we don't have all the answers, and yes, weird shit happens. To all of us. We fellow humans have so much in common that, in fact, just about each and ever one of us has a great deal of difficulty coping with the wriggle-inducing concepts of ambiguity and uncertainty. Despite what I said above, I also struggle to accept the ineffability of this crazy life I find myself in, though I am working on depressurising my amygdala. Readers of this book will be pleased to find a comprehensive explanation of the biological processes behind our discomfort with anything less than certainty. As a well-respected investigative reporter with plenty of experience on the beat in Philadelphia, Volk found his interest in all things bearing the "paranormal taint" piqued by the compelling collection of cases with question marks hovering over them. Often, these anomalous scraps of stories find no home in the popular consciousness. Why sideline a potentially groundbreaking article with an intriguing but irrelevant snippet that doesn't seem to make sense? Mainstream media is by no means immune to the simplistic oppositions that appear to plague most inquiries into the unusual. As Volk points out, debate is impossible when reports of such phenomena are reduced to light-hearted and mocking 2-minute snippets at the end of a newsreel and the "giggle factor" is invoked in full force. Fringe-ology was born out of this sidelining tendency - and the results are fascinating, wherever you are deemed to lie on the simplistic believer-sceptic spectrum.I gobbled this book up. It's a fascinating marsala of odd incident, character study, not-too-pop-science and deeply personal insight (Volk bravely dredges up the memories of deaths in his family to complete his thorough explorations). It's a realm rich in acronym. UFO, PSI, NDE, QM, PTSD, Orch-Or and IONS are evoked in equal measure, and plenty more besides. Other esoteric topics, such as Christian Centering Prayer, poltergeists and the lucid dreamworld explorations of the oneironauts (my new favourite word) are also given good coverage. But this is no mere fly-by induction to a what's what of the contemporary weird. Volk's strength is his journalism-honed narrative detail and the personal pull of the vibrant people he describes, and he shows through example that there is always more to any tale than meets the eye. One of the many eyeopening accounts is the sad tale of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. My vague knowledge of her identification of the five stages of grief turned into an intensified admiration when I read about her pivotal role in the hospice and palliative care movement as we known it today (in 1950s USA, terminally ill patients were frequently relegated to the back of hospitals and denied significant contact with their relatives). However, during the many hospital visits on which her work was based, Kubler-Ross collected an extensive catalogue of deathbed visions, Near Death Experiences and otherwordly occurrences in connection with the dying. She struggled with the decision to include these accounts in her paradigm-shifting text On Death and Dying, knowing full well that the "paranormal taint" could forever tarnish her important critique. In the end, she sacrificed her penultimate findings for the greater good, and went on to change the practice of medicine forever. But the rest is not just history - having drunk the kool-aid so to speak, she veered perhaps too far, and I was sorry to read that fraudsters posing as mediums had taken her in and destroyed any credibility that her other research might have gained by association. This cautionary tale underscores the complexities of these phenomena, which resist easy categorisation, and stresses the importance of following a middle path. Fringe-ology is full of such gems. The question of whether an event or phenomena is "real" or not is rendered irrelevant. The effect afterwards on the experiencer remains profound and often positive, despite questions of veracity. A dream may not be real, but to quote my hero, "absolute and committed materialist" and atheist novelist Angela Carter, "they are still real as DREAMS" - the effect is human upon the human experiencer. The use of interview, anecdote and a bit of good, old-fashioned investigation lends a welcome human touch to the text, making it utterly engaging. At first thought, the use of anecdote as one part of the arsenal of journalistic tools may seem "unscientific" to some, but these kinds of evidence have their role. Lucid dreams, for instance, are anecdotally known to be common (just ask your friends, I know several lucid dreamers) and popularly believed to exist, but cause significant consternation among sleep professionals. My own opinion is that we shouldn't forget that witness accounts, and expert interpretations thereof, are called upon to settle matters and mete justice in the highest courts of the world, democratic governments everywhere, and the most respected journals and newspapers. Conversely, anyone who has some contact with academia can attest to the skewed viewpoint that the pressure to publish or perish, the commercialisation of education, outsourcing of scholarships and funding to corporations, and even the idiosyncratic whims of a truculent supervisor, can engender. If even the efficacy of the much vaunted safeguard of peer-review is under question, perhaps it is time to remember that sometimes the fallible human experience is all we have to go on. Sometimes we cannot know. But we can still dream, think and explore. Thank you to Steve Volk for giving me even more avenues to become an oneironaut in the waking world of parapsychology.

  • Donald Crane
    2019-05-13 09:11

    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 seeks in this book not to convince anyone of anything. He also does not profess or belie any particular belief in paranormal events and activities, but seeks throughout the book to suggest that the extremes of society - believers and skeptics, mystics and scientists, rationalists and the religious - should all keep an open mind and recognize that there are unexplained manifestations that are just that: unexplained. Science shouldn't be too quick to dismiss such things as New Age hoo ha just because science can't explain them. One of my favorite lines in the book, paraphrased, is that the perfection of science is its method, not its accumulated knowledge to date. In fact, science is always discovering new truths, so it's unreasonable for science to dismiss happenings that are unexplained.Enough abstractions. The book delves into reports and scientific exploration of near-death experiences, telepathy, the role of quantum physics in human consciousness, UFOs, ghosts, the spiritual transformations of space travelers, meditation and prayer, lucid dreaming, and after-death communications. Each is covered in depth, but leaves the reader to make what he or she will of it, all the while encouraging an open mind. In other words, recognize that something is happening or at least being reported by people who have experienced these phenomena - whether these things are real or fantasized is unproven, so either possibility exists.Some of my observations while reading include:Quantum physics and consciousness. - I know next to nothing about physics, and zero about quantum physics. What I read, however, is mind-blowing; some things that have been demonstrated about quantum physics, such as a particle being in two places at once (if I understood correctly), I just can't comprehend. But one quantum physicist has theorized that there may be physical attributes at the sub-atomic level in human cells that are the foundation of human consciousness. That's about all I get, but it's really fascinating to consider. Research continues, and there are plenty of skeptics, but there is also some evidence to suggest it's a possibility.Unidentified flying objects. - which are just that: unidentified. It doesn't mean they're aliens. The chapter focuses on sightings in 2008 in Stephenville, Texas, of very large aircraft that had strange lights and alternately hovered and sped away at incredible speeds. These sightings were corroborated by many, many residents of the town. Were these alien spacecraft? Were they a top secret military experiment? Unclear, but intriguing and provocative.Space travel. Completely eye-opening to read about the transformations space travelers have experienced just from viewing earth from space. We've all seen the beautiful photographs of earth, but astronauts have said the photos are not spiritually awakening the way the real experience is. Meditation. This was especially interesting to me because in high school I took a Transcendental Meditation class and, for a few years, practiced TM twice a day, so I had some sense of what meditation can do. The chapter looks into questions about what might be happening in the mind of one who meditates regularly, and the possibilities are fascinating - theoretical, unproved, but fascinating.Lucid dreaming. The subject of the movie Inception (and for those who are old enough, Dreamscape from the 1980s), lucid dreaming sounds like it really happens and can have valuable therapeutic benefits, if you believe the proponents. Some of the stories - while fantastic - are gripping.After-death communication. This is a bit of a misnomer... or maybe not. It has to do with a therapy used for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) used fairly widely now, and adopted by some advocates with the Veterans' Administration. It seemed to me that PTSD sufferers who - through this therapy - felt they experienced encounters with people whose deaths they witnessed or by which they were profoundly affected, were really provided just with a way to process those painful memories that had previously gone unprocessed. Does it really matter? What counts is that this therapy seems, at least anecdotally, to work.What I take, overall, from this book, is that I shouldn't be so damned sure of myself. Volk argues that the world needs far more humility; people should be open to a more nuanced view of life, less black and white. He points to many modern (and burgeoning) examples of polarization in society: science versus religion, skeptics versus believers, far left versus far right, just to name a few, and implores all of us to come out of our corners and meet in the middle. Consider the possibilities, and be just a little less entrenched.Really well-written, mind-opening book. I encourage you to read it.

  • Sarah Etter
    2019-04-30 08:12

    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.

  • Doreen Petersen
    2019-04-30 08:37

    I really tried to give this one a shot but the further I got in the book the worse it got. Don't waste your time or money on this one.'

  • Keith
    2019-05-10 08:37

    I found this to be the most well-balanced book on "paranormal" phenomena I've ever come across: true skepticism in the sense of reserving judgment and maintaining an attitude of open inquiry, rather than leaving one's mind so open that one's brains fall out on one side or demanding ever-increasing degrees of proof to overcome the closed mind ever running ahead of the continually sliding goal posts on the other. It should thus, in my opinion, be of great interest to anyone who adopts the position of "The Method of Science; the Aim of Religion," which is to say any Thelemite and nearly any Western ceremonialist.Accordingly, it also provides a very good look at the (scant, but real) scientific examinations being made of claims that many dismiss out of hand or swallow whole, based solely on their existing unexamined prejudices. As the author puts it, "If we've learned one thing in this book already, people don't like the unknown very much. And so, if we believe we're being visited by other civilizations, we read the piles of books and articles on unexplained lights in the sky, then fill in the massive gaps—with wild tales of alien races, interstellar technology, and government conspiracies. If we don't believe, we hear someone saw an unexplained light in the sky and assume, first, that he's claiming to have seen E.T. Then we figure what he really saw was an airplane, Venus, swamp gas, or a helicopter, and he must be a bit foolish—maybe even a UFO nut. Then we laugh."Among the topics and people addressed are:• Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on death & dying• Jeffrey Long, M.D. and the Near Death Experience Research Foundation• Dianne Gray on hospice care• Willoughby Britton, Ph.D. and the Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at Brown University on meditation and contemplative practice• Rupert Sheldrake formerly of CSICOP on parapsychology research• Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose on microtubules, Orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR), and the possible quantum origin of consciousness• Jim Trolinger on holography and mystical experience• Jack Tuszynski, Allard Research Chair in Oncology, on microtubules, computational biophysics, and the physics of consciousness• Edward de Bono on lateral thinking• Angelia Joiner on the "Stephenville Lights" and UFOs• Edgar D. Mitchell of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) on consciousness• Frank White on the Overview Effect• Dean Radin on parapsychology and consciousness• Jessica Utts of the University of California, Irvine, on remote viewing and statistical analysis• Dr. Andrew Newberg of the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital on neurotheology• Mark Robert Waldman on the neuroscience of mindfulness• Stephen LaBerge on lucid dreaming• Allan Botkin on Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and Induced After-Death Communication (IADC) therapiesMy only possible gripe is that the endnotes are in a very loose, bibliographic style: I would rather have had full-on numbered citations, but I can see why he opted out of that academic format, given that he's writing more conversationally for a general audience. That said, the notes are quite interesting in themselves, fairly thorough, and led me to several sources for further investigation of topics of interest in greater depth.Finally, I am amused to discover that this is the 666th book added to my Read shelf here on Goodreads.

  • Jenny Brown
    2019-05-13 08:33

    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.

  • Becky
    2019-04-25 11:10

    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 unexplainable with curiosity instead of ignore/reject it (science) or call it a miracle (religion), and ultimately about how we could all benefit from understanding how our own brains will lead us astray when we could be learning and changing ourselves for the better.I took this down half a star for repetitiveness but am still rounding it up from 4.5 stars. I thought it was thought-provoking, even-handed and honest.(The author refers to a phenomenon whereby scientists won't touch a topic if it hints at being too close to mysticism -- every time he called this the "whiff of hoo ha" or "Paranormal Taint" I confess that I had a good juvenile giggle.)

  • Les
    2019-04-24 09:21

    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. As fair as he tries to be, he reveals in his writing that he is in awe of things that are possible if not provable. It makes for an interesting read but also for bad science. Although billing himself as a skeptic, Volk does not seem to understand that a 'skeptic' is a person who wants evidence to form conclusions. Skepticism is not synonymous with disbelief. It is OK that Volk is open-minded but he needs to take the old adage to heart: 'Keep your mind open, but not so open that your brains fall out.'

  • Noel
    2019-05-17 10:33

    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 my husband calls it) wacky woo woo alarm going off regulary. A lot of this book should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Are there limits to what we can know? Sure, there are things we just don't know right now. What happens to conciousness is one. On the other hand, do I think that some of those things are ghosts knocking on doors and UFOs flying out of the sky? Well. I think the basic premise of science - is it verifiable and repeatable - is where we should be, and where this book falls short.

  • Brady Dale
    2019-04-27 12:09

    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 amygdala, think again. One of the major points this book makes is that oftentimes the very must educated and accomplished people have the sturdiest amygdalas. They have REALLY invested in establishing a worldview, and they don't want it trifled with.

  • Tim
    2019-05-03 09:28

    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 reading this, just listen to the Radiolab episode on lucid dreaming.

  • Robert Isenberg
    2019-04-26 09:30

    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! Friends laugh, because they know who “those people” are: crackpots, pseudo-scientists, parapsychologists, Ufologists, and nut-jobs who attend conferences and gush about their respective anal-probings. And yet I admit that I am one of “those people.” If someone invited me on a major talk show, I would gladly tell my story to the cameras. I am proud of my little adventure. I’m confident that I saw something, even if my emotional investment is blunt. In a life free of ghosts, telepathy, bent spoons and even a decent fortune teller, this one measly UFO is my only umbilical tie to the paranormal. But what a tie.• So I was astonished when Steve Volk published his Fringe-ology—not just because Steve is an old colleague and friend, but because Fringe-ology is literally about this kind of encounter. What’s more, Fringe-ology is a very smart, very clear-headed book, and it perfectly mirrors my own feelings about the “supernatural.” Or, for that matter, religion, perception, and all of human existence. Steve frames the book with his story about a “family ghost,” an event too wonderful and strange to spoil here. He also incorporates some personal loss, stuff I knew nothing about. Fringe-ology is both a therapeutic journey as well as an argument about faith and science (why can’t they get along?). He doesn’t side with paranormal experts or scientists, but rather implores them to cooperate. Arrogance, he insists, is the poison that kills progress.• Steve was (briefly) my editor at InPittsburgh Weekly, the best newspaper I have ever worked for, and still the finest alt-weekly I’ve ever read. I wrote for InPittsburgh for only two years, so I missed the infamous politics that plagued its office (others remember that infighting more clearly). Most writers and editors at InPittsburgh looked like grown-up slackers. They were painfully smart and eccentric. Fashion-wise, they could all have fronted a prog-rock band. Even their cluttered offices often felt like a rehearsal space. Steve Volk was different. He was tough looking, fast-talking, streamlined, sarcastic. He chased scoops with a singular verve. I have never, in my entire career, done serious investigative journalism; Steve would uncover major scandals for breakfast. In my memory, he is a larger-than-life reporter, the kind of aggressive, hard-nosed guy who laughs in the face of danger. When InPittsburgh folded, Steve moved to Philly and wrote for Philadelphia Weekly, our sister-paper. I tried to meet up with him one weekend, but he was occupied. I really wish I could, man, he said on the phone, but I have to meet a guy on the docks. I can’t quote this dialogue, because I don’t remember if this is exactly what Steve said. But Steve struck me as precisely the type of writer who would meet mysterious people on a shadowy gangplank. Unlike many journalists, I don’t care about “breaking” stories, but Steve broke stories all the time. He wanted to put the first boots on the ground. And he was outrageously good at it—not only as a fearless researcher, but as a dynamic writer. A mutual friend once told me that Steve “writes a first draft, and then he reads through it and replaces every single verb with a better verb.” Many people have offered compliments about my work, but Steve has offered two of the most powerful and long-lasting: When I wrote a first-person feature about skydiving, he said he admired that I would “jump out of a plane” for a story, something he would never dream of doing. Later, my then-girlfriend told me that Steve said: Sometimes I wish [Robert] didn’t work for the paper, because I’d love to write a profile about him. Hearsay, of course, but the best hearsay I’ve ever heard said. •I haven’t seen Steve Volk in person for 12 years. I’m not even sure where he is, exactly. Any paragraph of his book revealed more about Steve’s life and personality than all of our shared experience—which basically amounted to a few dozen emails, phone calls, and in-person conversations. At this point, I have a more personal relationship with my mail carrier than I do Steve Volk. But I still consider him a friend, because we worked together during my very formative years (I was 22 when InPittsburgh folded). For years, every time I visited Philly, I’d pluck up a copy of Philadelphia Weekly and read his latest masterpiece. I took great pride in knowing that, long ago, we sometimes put ink on the same 82,000 sheets of paper. Fringe-ology is not the book I expected of him, and I enjoy that fact. I imagined Steve’s magnum opus as a story of police corruption, or a serial killer’s profile, or a glimpse at immigrant sweatshops. Instead, Steve wrote about a strange subculture of mediums and ghost-hunters, people who honestly believe they can talk with the dead. The writing in Fringe-ology is brash and muscular, but it’s also a plea for modesty. Scientists don’t know everything, he says, over and over. The stories are sometimes sentimental, even melancholic, in ways I never anticipated. Steve never picks a side, because he believes that picking sides is pointless. If you can’t explain it, you can’t explain it, but you shouldn’t discount a well-meaning person because they—for example—spotted a green triangle in the sky. As I finished Fringe-ology, I also finished Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries. I love Jon Ronson’s writing and style, partly because he empathizes with his subject. If a guy says he saw a poltergeist, then Ronson’s first question is usually, Where did you see the poltergeist? He doesn’t raise an eyebrow or put everything in air-quotes. He uses the subject’s terminology and reference points. But I always suspect that Ronson is silently laughing at them. His mockery is sub-textual, but I think it often thrums beneath the words. Steve doesn’t even hint at mockery. All Steve knows is that he’s never seen a little green man, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If Fox Mulder wrote an even-tempered manifesto, it might look a bit like Fringe-ology. As ever, Steve took the shadowy road, the path that others fear to tread. He jumped out of his proverbial airplane. And what he found is definitely worth a gander.

  • James
    2019-05-14 13:36

    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 had yet to be revealed? Although, what are the mathematical laws of nature except a kind of story about how things are? In any case, the answer that night was much the same then as it is now: Hell if I know.That night did spark an interest, however, in reading what there was to read about "fringe" topics, the branches of human experience where rational men of science have yet to give their formal blessing. So I went hunting on Amazon for anything that might fit, and almost immediately stumbled across Fringe-ology by Steve Volk. Lucky for me it's a great overview of paranormal topics.The introduction alone was almost worth the price of the book to me, containing an earnest and well-argued plea for everyone to stop talking past each other on some of these topics and admit we don't know what we don't know. And that maybe the other side knows a little more than we want to admit.What was worth the price of the book alone was the chapter on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who I not really read much about up until now. You may have heard her name, she was a ground-breaking medical researcher who identified the 5 stages of grief and who authored the book On Death and Dying, which was instrumental in getting hospice and hospital reform for dying patients, who were routinely ignored and left unattended due to psychological blind spots on the part of doctors/hospitals at the time. What's especially interesting about her story is the promise of the paranormal and the warning contained in her story. Left out of her book was a chapter on the out-of-body experiences and end-of-life visitations she had compiled in her time with terminally ill patients. She hadn't been looking for it and she wasn't the only one to witness/notice the events, but she thought it was a topic the general public wasn't ready for (which was probably a wise choice). But it sparked an interest in her, that didn't necessarily take her to a happy place. However legitimate and interesting her personal experiences had been, they eventually led her to divorce and then falling in with a medium who later turned out to be a simple con-man. In other words, there is a serious danger in losing one's way on these topics, even for the most sober observers.The remaining chapters cover topics like lucid dreaming, the overview effect, the mass UFO sighting in Stephenville, Texas, the attempts to study psi scientifically, the pros and cons of professional skeptics, mediumship, a potential haunting in Volk's own childhood and a PTSD therapy that has the additional and unintended side-effect of allowing the subject to converse with departed loved ones, or convincing mental replicas, in a meditative state.Fringe-ology reads like what it is, a series of investigative reports by an experienced newspaper reporter, with no obvious pre-conceptions on what he should find. I like his open-mindedness, I like his critical thinking skills, and I like the heart he brings to the project. I'm not convinced he saw anything entirely "real" in some of his reports, but then neither is he. He really doesn't take a hard stand on any of it, just calls it like he saw it. In an age that mostly seems to breed people prone to standing on soap-boxes and confidently declaring they have seen the vast shape and scope of all creation and from that lofty perspective have a pretty good handle on what happens and what does happen here and elsewhere and what goes on in the hearts of men, it's extremely refreshing to read stories about the paranormal that's aren't "just so."It's really a fun, though-provoking read and will at least give you something to think about even if you don't change your mind about anything. Volk's writing is accessible and compelling and will keep you turning pages well into the night. Highly recommended.Favorite Quotes:"The Central problem, I think, is that as a species we seem to lack humility.""Me? I'd like to believe in an afterlife, but I'm also not interested in fooling myself.""If we've learned one thing in this book already, people don't like the unknown very much.""The people of Stephenville, for instance, never asked to play hose to a paranormal controversy. The people of Stephenville just looked up.""The scientific method is itself important, but it is not antidote to the very human frailty of ignoring information we don't like and embracing the information we do.""We don't have to make the choice that popular culture gives us; we don't have to choose one and dispense with the other. This is not a world of binary opposites. We just live that way."

  • Sara
    2019-05-14 16:17

    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 giant umbrella of science. Honestly I only found "Fringe-ology" because I'm a huge fan of the television show "Fringe" and I thought it might be neat to actually read about some of the off the wall scientific theories that the show plays around with. What a happy surprise to find such a readable, entertaining, non-biased account of several of the more controversial fields in fringe science. Perfect for the scientifically impaired, such as myself, but also I suspect a really fun read for those with a bit more background. Steve Volk is the perfect narrator to take the reader down the dark, twisting paths of lucid dreaming, life after death, Noetics and UFO investigations among other things. What makes him so perfect is his candor and total lack of ulterior motive in both his research and analysis of his discoveries. Within the first pages of his introduction he lets us know that we aren't going to believe half of what he has to tell us, that our brains are actually going to tell us not to. And he's right. There's some odd ball stuff to be found within these pages and I'd be lying if I said I bought every chapter.But that's almost the best part of "Fringe-ology" because Volk's point isn't to convince us that telepathy absolutely exists or that UFO's have been visiting us for years. What his research seems to have shown him above all else is that there isn't such a disparity between the paranormal and what we think of as normal, between those with faith in a higher power and those who are just as convinced that this is all there is. What I really took away from "Fringe-ology" is that we shouldn't dismiss something out of hand because it doesn't jive with our perception of the world. We need to start realizing that science and spirituality are much more closely linked than they are separated.There's a tad too much personal experience in here for me to give this a solid five star review, Volk spends a little too much time with a family ghost story that really has no resolution or connection to his other research or at least not enough to really gel well with the other stories. He is an excellent reporter and I get that he wanted to inject himself into the story to lend a little more credibility to his subject matter there are just a few moments of disconnect that take the reader out of the world he's guiding us through.Volk does do the reader one more huge favor at the end of the book. The last 40+ pages are devoted to the extensive source list he used in the course of writing the book; hundreds of interviews, books and articles all available if the reader is at all interested. Which this one definitely is. So thanks Mr. Volk for expanding my mind and adding about 200 books to my reading list.

  • C.W. Smith
    2019-04-30 09:18

    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 science is valid. Everything to the contrary is, they would say, Balderdash.It's all Balderdash and none of it is Balderdash. It's true that some people believe in God and lucid dreaming and ghosts, and it's true that some don't. But we forget that it's also true that some people experience incredulousness, a feeling of absolute certainty, that God and lucid dreaming and ghosts are fabrications and/or delusions. We forget that some people experience, as real as real can be, what they perceive as God and lucid dreams and ghosts and UFOs and--so it goes.What are these things? Everyone can say, and everyone will. But the importance, and it's the importance that Volk's addictive study on fringe subjects thrives on, is that everyone is and always has said something different from the next guy about what's going on--because we don't know. We've never known.

  • Bill
    2019-05-21 11:37

    Another book about the paranormal. Is it just a coincidence that I read "On Bullshit" the other week or are these two seemingly disconnected events related through quantum entanglement? Just kidding, the author presents a well-balanced thesis and unusually objective look into several remarkable events that - for now, at least - cannot be explained. He takes people who experience unexplained phenomena seriously, but also takes care not to be overly gullible. The paranormal experiences seem very real to the people involved and the main question he tries to explore is why. Is it all in their head, or are there invisible forces we've yet to discover? As he argues, a few hundred years ago, if someone claimed that invisible creatures in the air and water could make us sick, this would have been viewed as paranormal. But science has proven it to be true. And this is what I think the author is trying to encourage. Rather than be presumptuous and dismissive, let's try to figure out the mystery. By the same token, when evidence argues against the paranormal, let's not be dismissive of that either.

  • Eric
    2019-04-22 10:13

    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 and progress suffers. Volk shows the value of approaching even the fringiest of topics with an open mind--you might just learn something about yourself and the connections that all of us share together."The question is whether or not we're prepared to accept these findings, to accept a world in which religion and science don't have to clutch at each other's throats. The question is whether or not we're prepared to accept a world in which science and spirituality really do serve each other." (p. 264 hardcover)

  • Pat Leonard
    2019-04-27 13:36

    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 paranormal topics, such as telepathy, poltergeists, UFO sightings, near-death experiences, and the power of prayer and meditation. The conflict that knits each chapter together is the struggle between believers and skeptics. Volk's message is "Why can't we just meet in the middle and agree that there are possibilities that have thus far escaped scientific examination and proof?"I've struggled my whole adult life with belief, so this book hits me right where I live. That's why I gave it five stars. Your mileage may vary.

  • Amy
    2019-05-03 15:20

    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 not necessarily mean something "supernatural") occurrences across historical time and all cultures and places. Super interesting as a study of the paranormal, human psychology, or possibly... both.“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

  • Mike Duran
    2019-04-24 15:24

    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.

  • Sam Torode
    2019-04-30 13:38

    Loved this book. A rational, even-handed look into strange phenomena...

  • Michelle
    2019-05-16 12:08

    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:

  • Subashish Bose
    2019-04-27 09:09

    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.

  • Jen Potter
    2019-04-22 11:12

    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.

  • Lina
    2019-05-20 14:20

    This book made me feel better about life, the end.

  • Bryce
    2019-05-04 16:33

    I didn't read this book in chronological order, because it is ordered weird. I liked it a lot though.

  • Anita Ashland
    2019-05-08 15:11

    This book was hard to put down. The author, a journalist, was as objective as one can be about the paranormal and covers the following topics: near-death experiences; telepathy; poltergeists/ghosts; UFO sightings in Texas; lucid dreaming; after-death communication; meditation and prayer. If any of those topics intrigue you then you will enjoy this book.

  • Jj Burch
    2019-04-25 14:18

    I like that this book proposes not an either/or answer to the query science vs. unknown, but that things happen all the time that we might not fully understand. And that is okay--that is generally the basis of scientific inquiry.

  • Kelly
    2019-05-22 16:14

    I really liked this one; the author did a great job throughout, pointing out the refrain of how many things there are that we don't understand and as people, we seem to have the habit of telling ourselves that we do. Note to self: stay curious.

  • Sally
    2019-04-29 09:16

    “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 makes the case for an open-minded investigation of the mysteries that surround us, neither dismissing them out of hand nor embracing them without evidence. Examining such subjects as near-death experiences, telepathy, UFO sightings, lucid dreaming, quantum consciousness, and meditation, he advocates for acceptance of ambiguity and uncertainty, states difficult for people to tolerate. “The problem is … when a claim carries the whiff of hoo ha, too much of the intelligentsia goes running for the hills. And on the opposite pole, when a scientific finding seems to undercut our spiritual belief, we dismiss it – that is, if we even bother to read it…. the truth seems to lie, tantalizing and undiscovered, somewhere between two self-serving accounts. And among the most strident of believers and atheists, there is no balance at all – only right and wrong, the heretics and the saved, the intelligent and the foolish.” (pp. 262-3) The remedy, he holds, is more willingness to own up to our own ignorance, to be able to admit “I don’t know” instead of jumping to certainty.Why is it so hard to be open minded or change our minds? Volk finds a clue in modern research: “It is the finding of neuroscience, in fact, that belief is at least in part a matter of emotion. Whatever we believe to be true lights up areas of our brain responsible for self-identification and the processing of feelings and sentiments. If we believe something, then, the object of our belief becomes an emotionally potent aspect of our own self-image…. This emotion, this self-identification, rather than our faculty for logical reasoning, is why so many interpret … agnostic data as confirmation of their own worldviews.” (p. 186-7) Moreover, as researcher Andrew Newberg remarks, “The brain has a propensity to dismiss ideas that conflict with the way we see the world. If someone disagrees with us, our brain starts sending anxiety messages. Because our brain wants to preserve this view of the world it’s constructed, and in order to do that, the easiest thing to do is reject this person” or their ideas (p. 203).One of the things the author regrets most is the way disrespect for those with different views creates conflict and deep divisions. Such hostility is a choice we don’t have to make, even if it’s encouraged by popular culture. While discussing unexplained sightings in the sky over Stephenville, Texas (emphasizing that UFO means “unidentified flying object” not alien spacecraft), Volk observes: “The truth is, we don’t have to treat the so-called paranormal the way we do. We don’t need to bathe in it with the believers, or strenuously deny its existence, like the skeptics. And we don’t have to turn the whole thing into a fight. The people of Stephenville seem to have struck up a bargain among themselves, in which the believers go on believing, and the skeptics go on being skeptical. Either way, on Friday night, just the same, they all go watch the Yellow Jackets play football. I talked to dozens of people in Stephenville, if not a hundred – random people in stores and on the street…. when they did offer me their opinions, I never heard a whisper of judgment creep into their voices. I never heard anyone called a name, never heard anyone else’s point of view dismissed outright.” (p. 137) Volk is also heartened by atheist Sam Harris’s empirical take on the mysterious: “For millennia, contemplatives have known that ordinary people can divest themselves of the feeling that they call ‘I’ and thereby relinquish the sense that they are separate from the rest of the universe. This phenomenon, which has been reported by practitioners in many spiritual traditions, is supported by a wealth of evidence – neuroscientific, philosophical, and introspective. Such experiences are ‘spiritual’ or ‘mystical,’ for want of better words, in that they are relatively rare (unnecessarily so), significant (in that they uncover genuine facts about the world), and personally transformative. They also reveal a far deeper connection between ourselves and the rest of the universe than is suggested by the ordinary confines of our subjectivity…. A truly rational approach to this dimension of our lives would allow us to explore the heights of our subjectivity with an open mind, while shedding the provincialism and dogmatism of our religious traditions in favor of free and rigorous inquiry.” (The End of Faith, pp. 40-41) It is just such a curious, clear-eyed, civil and unprejudiced attitude toward the mysterious that Volk hopes to encourage by his book.