Third Man factor

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Two mountain climbers.

The Third Man factor or Third Man syndrome refers to the reported situations where an unseen presence such as a "spirit" provides comfort or support during traumatic experiences. Sir Ernest Shackleton in his book South, described his belief that an incorporeal being joined him and two others during the final leg of their journey. Shackleton wrote, "during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three."[1] His admission resulted in other survivors of extreme hardship coming forward and sharing similar experiences.

In recent years well-known adventurers like climber Reinhold Messner and polar explorers Peter Hillary and Ann Bancroft have reported the experience. One study of cases involving adventurers reported that the largest group involved climbers, with solo sailors and shipwreck survivors being the second most common group, followed by polar explorers.[2] Some journalists have related this to the concept of a guardian angel or imaginary friend. Scientific explanations consider this a coping mechanism or an example of bicameralism.[3] The concept was popularized by a book by John G. Geiger The Third Man Factor, that documents scores of examples.

Famous encounters[edit]

Literary references[edit]

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
— But who is that on the other side of you?

T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land Wikisource has information on "The Waste Land"

Lines 359 through 365 of T. S. Eliot's modernist poem The Waste Land (1922) were inspired by Shackleton's experience, as stated by the author in the notes included with the work.

One chapter Max Brooks' novel World War Z (2006) tells the story of Colonel Christina Eliopolis, a pilot that crashes in zombie-infested territory and is guided to safety by a radio operator. At the end of the chapter, Colonel Eliopolis' interviewer's questions imply the radio operator, code-named "Mets Fan", never actually existed—a "third man".

In Geraldine McCaughrean's young adult fiction novel, The White Darkness (2005), the teen-age heroine, Sym, joins a doomed Antarctic expedition. Abandoned and lost, she is guided to safety by a "third man", her imaginary friend, Captain Lawrence Oates.

In Larry McMurtry's Western novel Lonesome Dove (1985), Pea Eye, after surviving an Indian attack with Gus, makes a trek back to Call and has an experience of a "ghost" or "spirit" that guides him during his walk.

Thomas Pynchon's novel Against the Day (2006) makes reference to the experience.

In Simon Spurrier's novel The Culled (2006), the protagonist Rick is guided through crises by a Native American guide.[7]

Resources[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shackleton, Ernest Henry (1914). South: The Endurance Expedition. Frank Hurley, Fergus Fleming. Penguin Classics. p. 204. ISBN 0-14-243779-4. 
  2. ^ Suedfeld, Peter and Geiger, John, (2008) “The sensed presence as a coping resource in extreme environments” In: Ellens, J. Harold (ed.), Miracles God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal (Vol.3) Praeger. ISBN 0-275-99722-7
  3. ^ White, Nancy J. (January 30, 2009). "Third man theory of otherworldly encounters". The Star. Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  4. ^ Duffy, Andrew (June 4, 2005). "Last Man Out: Part One". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  5. ^ Geiger, John (2009-09-13). "Guardian Angels Or The 'Third Man Factor'?". NPR. Retrieved 2001-03-14. 
  6. ^ Wallace, Dillon (1905). The Lure of the Labrador Wild. Fleming H. Revell Company. p. 264. ISBN 1-59228-571-6. 
  7. ^ Spurrier, Simon (2006). The Culled. Abaddon Books. ISBN 9781849970136. 

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