Oh God, how did I get into this room with all these weird people!
On the other hand, it beats being in your average movie theater, and even your average science conference. The believers of strange, strong beliefs are having a particularly ripe form of myth, tapping directly into hidden cultural structures that probably shape the rest of us as well, though indirectly. But how does one look with them without, you know, succumbing?
The answer is provided by Ted Schultz and cohorts. You look into the strange beliefs with all the tools and skepticism of science, and you look into the strange believers with the tools of science and the sympathy of a good anthropologist or psychologist, seeking not the insult of cure but the compliment of understanding.
The urgent hand points and says "LOOK!" (Aliens! My past life! The spoon is bending!) An infant looks at the pointing hand and the excited face. The adult looks where the hand is pointing. Some adults look again at the pointing hand and the excited face.
The glory is in the details. Psychologist Carl Jung had a grand theory of the psychological function of flying saucers - something about a riven civilization seeking psychic deliverance in flying mandalas from Outside. I confess to preferring the detailed account (p. 138) of the 1940s invention of saucers for Amazing Stories by Ray Palmer. Usually 1 feel nothing but dismay at the channeling fad (which seems to be winding down), but one look at the photographs on p. 56 of Jamie Sams when she is and isn't channeling "Leah, a sixth density entity from the planet Venus six hundred years in the future," and I feel better. Jamie Sams is clearly happier and probably is more interesting company as Leah. Long live the invisible friend.
Reminds me of Peter Warshall's great insight about nature and human endeavor: "Water flows uphill toward money." (He was referring to Los Angeles.)
Do we care which of our urban legends are legendary? I used to tell the one about the wet miniature poodle exploding in the microwave oven, assuming it was true. Now I tell the story about telling the story. In this book the much-loved Parable of the Hundredth Monkey ("scientists can't understand how all the monkeys learned to wash potatoes at once, even on distant islands") is punctured once and for all, and the original perpetrator, Lyall Watson, is given space to comment on the puncturing (pp. 174-86). Now it's become the Parable-of-the-Parable of the Hundredth Monkey, a far more useful tale.
When I started hanging out with scientists in the last few years I was at first startled and then warmed to discover how comfortable they are with science fiction. Most read it, and many write it. The scientific process really is two-minded; it has to be to get anywhere. One mind gleefully speculates, the other ruthlessly slaughters speculation. Such minds will welcome this book of fiction science.
Listen! It's the theme music from "The Twilight Zone" backward.
(Bed eed eed eed, eed eed eed eed . . .)