Mr. Fort's Record of Strange Happenings
In our view of the universe we accept the conclusions of science as unreservedly as our medieval ancestors accepted the pronouncements of the Church. True, we would not burn a man for denying the law of gravitation or insisting the earth is flat, but we would certainly set him down as crazy; and this is apt to prove quite as effective a punishment.
Now, Mr. Fort is not in the least afraid of being adjudged crazy or being subjected to any other penalty for challenging the prevalent conception of the "immutable" laws of nature. He assembles large masses of outlandish, unreasonable, impossible phenomena that have appeared in different parts of the globe and hurls them at the devoted head of dogmatic science. Mr. Fort's phenomena are absolutely damned by every canon of orthodox theory; they cannot be explained in the light of any current conception of the universe. They are a strange and motley crew, this assemblage of the damned; mysterious bodies observed in the sky by sailors at sea, unrecognized footprints discovered in the snow by Devonshire peasants, blood and stones unaccountably falling out of the air and recorded in sober scientific journals.
Out of his host of damned occurrences the author evolves an iconoclastic metaphysical system. He labels this system intermediatism. All phenomena merge imperceptibly into one another. No single fact can be proved, no single fact can be defined, no single fact can be separated from its context. All things are part of an unending chain of the universe that cannot be broken into component parts. Mr. Fort attacks conventional theories with the keen logic of an Athenian sophist. Take, for example, the following reductio ad absurdum, which he employs in analyzing Darwinism:
The fittest survive.
What is meant by the fittest?
Not the strongest; not the cleverest—
Weakness and stupidity everywhere survive.
There is no way of determining fitness except in that a thing does survive.
'Fitness,' then, is only another name for 'survival.'
Darwinism: "That survivors survive.
Merely as a record of amazing events "The Book of the Damned" makes fascinating reading. No imaginative fiction writer could conjure up stranger visions than Mr. Fort creates in his collection of mysterious happenings all over the world calculated to confuse any Horatio and his philosophy. In the Middle Ages science disposed of disturbing facts by declaring that they did not exist and showing that Aristotle had no record of them. Mr. Fort's phenomena cannot be disposed of so easily. Unless his book is smothered by a conspiracy of silence it should provoke an extremely lively series of scientific controversies.