Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #66: "Fringeology" by Steve Volk

Dear kids,

There are a ton of books out there on the paranormal. But how many of them are written almost completely without bias by a seasoned journalist and top-notch science writer? Not many, I’d bet. Fringeology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable—And Couldn’t by Steve Volkis one of the few.

Volk is likable, smart, objective—and convinced paranormal stuff is real.

Near-death experiences, telepathy, meditation, lucid dreaming–in this book, Volk really takes some big swings.

My Book Notes:


The introduction to Fringeology is the author’s soapbox speech on the believers-versus-skeptics debate. It’s a false dichotomy, he reasons; scientists can be just as dogmatic, judgmental and irrational in their skepticism as believers can be in their belief. It’s just part of human nature. The debate we should be having, then, shouldn’t be about whether or not paranormal stuff is real. The debate should be about what evidence is good enough to offer convincing support of the paranormal. He calls this “possibilianism,” and he’s convinced that if both sides got on board, there would be a lot stronger research and fairer critique—not to mention agreement—on the individual issues at hand. After all, once the threshold of “good enough” proof is met, the skeptics would have to back down a bit. And if it isn’t, the believers would have to at least qualify their statements of belief.

Chapter One: On near-death experiences

Evidence indicates that near-death experiences are real. Not only are there a large number of these stories, but they agree with each other in many key ways—and the skeptics don’t have any good explanations.

Chapter Two: On telepathy

“Telepathy—reading minds, ‘seeing’ what the human eye can’t see—is the paranormal field with possibly the best evidence. A small effect is proven when large enough samples are used. An example: Whenever researchers perform card reading tests, even on “normal” people, the subjects predict what’s on the cards with statistically significant greater-than-chance odds. Even though the effect is there, though, it is not very practical since it’s unreliable and small.

This chapter also discusses the heated, ongoing debates between the main faction of skeptics, CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), and the Parapsychological Association (the CSICOP being by far more intellectually dishonest).

Chapter Three: On consciousness outside of the brain

This chapter discusses whether or not consciousness exists separately from the physical brain.
The evidence for this lies chiefly in quantum physics, which shows that the smallest units of matter we know of behave in ways that imply they have a mind of their own (such as quantum entanglement and changing direction and properties seemingly randomly).

The chapter tells the story of Dr. Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist and scientist who wrote about what consciousness is.

Chapter Four: On UFOs

This chapter discusses the chances that there are aliens on our planet or in our galaxy. Though most stories have been disproven, one mystery remains: the large aircraft seen over Stevensville, Texas by many viewers in disparate locations. It is the most convincing sighting to date.

By the way, the author says, UFOs are definitely real, as UFO simply stands for “unidentified flying objects.” Also note that many people who see them say they didn’t want to, and are open to explanations other than aliens.

Chapter Five: On ghosts

The most personal chapter of the book, here Volk relates his own experience of living in an apparently haunted house, then discusses the debate over the reality of these phenomena, concluding that very little scientifically rigorous evidence exists.

Chapter Six: On the Overview Effect

A lesser-known phenomenon, the Overview Effect is the overwhelming feeling of unity or oneness with all that is (some may even use the term “enlightenment”) that often occurs to astronauts who view the earth from space, though they don’t always like to discuss it.

The chapter discusses astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s quest to solve the riddle of consciousness so that he could find the source of the unity he felt.

He is still looking.

Chapter Seven: On meditation and prayer

This chapter discusses the highly established, widely researched positive effects of meditation and meditative prayer on people’s brains and lives.
In it, Volk tells the story of Dr. Andrew Newberg, who leads this field of research today.

Chapter Eight: On lucid dreaming

This chapter discusses the experience many have of becoming aware they are dreaming while still dreaming, and the main lucid dream researcher, Dr. Stephen LaBerge. The author also tells his own lucid dream story.

Chapter Nine: On Induced After-Death Communication (IADC)

IADC is a little-known therapeutic technique for overcoming emotional trauma that involves vividly recalling painful memories, then moving the eyes from side to side.

Volk tells the story of Al Botkin, who discovered the therapy. The therapy is an extension of EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Anecdotal evidence is extremely promising, though no large-scale studies have been done on this little-known treatment.

The author’s conclusion:

We all do best to stave off our very human, very natural craving for knowledge and certainty, replacing it with a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity about the world at large and its many amazing possibilities.

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  1. Mollie, great review. I’ll see if my library has a copy. Definitely interested after reading your write up.