Early in the twentieth century, the famous physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937), “the father of nuclear physics,” is supposed to have remarked snarkily that all science was either physics or “stamp-collecting.” 1)Variations on the saying include “That which is not measurable is not science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting” and “Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.”
By “stamp-collecting,” I have always assumed he meant collecting and classifying, in that a geologist of his time might have been mainly occupied with classifying rocks and minerals or an entymologist concerned with classifying insects. (These disciplines — and others — now include much more.)
“Stamp-collecting” likewise describes a lot of paranormal studies. The famed Charles Fort (1874–1932 was the master of it.2)His life almost parallels Rutherford’s. Interesting. “As a young adult, Fort wanted to be a naturalist, collecting sea shells, minerals, and birds” (Wikipedia). The sheer size of his collections had an effect, however.
Fort is acknowledged by religious scholars such as Jeffrey J. Kripal and Joseph P. Laycock as a pioneering theorist of the paranormal who helped define “paranormal” as a discursive category and provided insight into its importance in human experience. Although Fort is consistently critical of the scientific study of abnormal phenomena, he remains relevant today for those who engage in such studies
Back in the the early 1690s — contemporanous with the Salem witch trials — the Rev. Robert Kirk3)A minister in the then-large Scottish Episcopal Church was not afraid to theorize, producing a handwritten book on fairies that latter became The Secret Commonwealth. Maybe his MA at Edinburgh University prepared him.
His attempt to fit the fairies into a Great Chain of Being might not appeal to everyone, but at least it gave him a theoretical lens through which to consider them.
Kirk proposed that the reason that the fairies appeared to humanity was to convince us that an invisible realm exists, and that it’s not entirely out of reach. Their occasional interactions with humans served as both a “caution and warning” that we are not alone in the world, and that unseen, intelligent forces occasionally meddled in our affairs. Maybe these forces are still at work. (video transcript)
Then it was mostly a lot of “stamp collecting” until astronomer Jacques Vallée wrote Passport to Magonia, in which he rejected the “extraterrestrial hypothesis” for UFOs and replaced it with something more multidimensional. Until the work of Jeffrey Kripal, I would rank Kirk’s and Vallée’s books as the most important when it comes to fairy studies, more even than Evans-Wentz’ The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.
We still have people who are solely Bigfoot-hunters or UFO researchers or ghost-hunters or whatever, but thanks to Vallée, it is more and more common to see all of these as part of something bigger: “the phenomenon.”4)Some BIgfoot researchers still seek a flesh-and-blood “wood ape,” which might be less psychologically threatening than an interdimensional big hairy critter.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Variations on the saying include “That which is not measurable is not science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting” and “Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.”|
|2.||↑||His life almost parallels Rutherford’s. Interesting.|
|3.||↑||A minister in the then-large Scottish Episcopal Church|
|4.||↑||Some BIgfoot researchers still seek a flesh-and-blood “wood ape,” which might be less psychologically threatening than an interdimensional big hairy critter.|