Monday, December 3, 2012

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

Rating 3/5

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. Not Volk's personal experiences, of course, but the information.

It was a decent book, well-written and interesting. I like his "middle-way", open-minded-skeptic approach. Time and again, Volk makes the point that there are things we just don't know, and that admitting it is much more reasonable than making polarizing arguments in order to convince ourselves and others. Volk goes on to say that dogmatic skeptics (like the New Atheists) are actually just as irrational as believers, emotionally defending their world-view and refusing to heed the very scientific evidence they claim to exalt. The author reiterates this to the point of harping, which changes the book a little - it's not just an investigation, it's a message: All we ever hear are two extremes, diametrically-opposed - God exists, God doesn't; ghosts exist or they don't. Pick your side, uncertainty is not allowed. Except in a lot of areas, uncertainty is actually the reasonable opinion, and we need to be allowed to say "I don't know." How can we learn anything if we think we already know everything? Volk is championing a balanced open-mind, critical-thinking and skepticism without the "deny everything" policy. I think he's right, and maybe that's why I didn't need to hear it in every chapter.

The range of topics this book covered weren't as broad as I expected, and the areas that were discussed didn't go as deep as I would've liked. Volk focuses on one or two examples in each category and sometimes wastes time telling us uninteresting stories about not being able to get information out of certain people. In itself, the investigative journey here is somewhat flat compared to other books I've read in this style. And I'll admit, by the end, Volk did lose a bit of credibility with me by disclosing so much of his personal experience. I can't really explain why, but somewhere in the last few chapters a line was crossed and the author picks up some of the dreaded "Paranormal Taint" for himself. (Side note confession: I snickered every time I read that phrase.) The thing is, the book doesn't suffer much for it, since he's not, in fact, using his credibility to persuade readers of the truth or falsity of anything - besides the idea that not being sure is reasonable.

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