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TDG Third man theory of otherworldly encounters
Encounters with otherworldly beings that lead us out of danger are more common than you think
Nancy J. White
Charles Lindbergh felt it.
During that first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight in 1927, the aviator, flying just above the ocean, was desperately struggling to stay awake. Twenty-two hours into the trip, he became aware of vague forms aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. They offered reassurance and discussed navigational problems.
They stayed with him until he spotted the Irish coast, and Paris was within reach.
An avalanche in the Canadian Rockies swept climber James Sevigny 600 metres, breaking his back, scapula, arm, nose, teeth and tearing ligaments in both knees. When he regained consciousness, he saw his climbing companion was dead. He laid next to him to die.
But an invisible being urged him to survive, telling him what to do. The presence stayed with him while he painfully made his way to camp, where skiers found him.
On Sept. 11, 2001, overcome by smoke in a stairwell of the World Trade Center's south tower, money market broker Ron DiFrancesco joined others lying on the concrete floor, some slipping into unconsciousness.
"Get up!" a voice ordered DiFrancesco, who sensed a physical presence encouraging him. Descending the stairs again, he was blocked by fire. The being led him to dash through the flames. He raced down to the plaza; then the tower collapsed. But he survived, one of only four people to escape from above the 81st floor.
Some believe it's a guardian angel. Others say it's the brain's way of coping under great duress. Whichever, the experiences are eerily similar: the sense of a presence that encourages, advises and even leads a person out of peril.
"In every case I found, it was a benevolent helpful companion, not a single example of a malevolent being," says John Geiger, author of The Third Man Factor published this week.
He found more than 100 cases, including those accounts described earlier.
"They're people in a life-and-death struggle, often but not always in nature," he explains.
Among the examples: an American astronaut on the Mir space station, an Israeli soldier undergoing torture, an Austrian mountaineer on a Himalayan peak.
TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
Toronto author Vincent Lam claims to have experienced the phenomena known as "third man."
Most know the being's gender, and a minority identify it as a deceased relative, friend or Jesus Christ.
Geiger, who has written several books about exploration, became fascinated by the otherworldly guardian after reading Sir Ernest Shackleton's accounts of his crew's horrific 1916 crossing of a south polar island, aided by an invisible being.
The phenomenon became known as the Third Man, writes Geiger, because that's how T.S. Eliot referred to it in his poem "The Waste Land."
Spiritual or religious people, no matter the faith, say they were helped by a divine companion, while agnostics see it as a brain function, Geiger says.
Scientific researchers have studied how the human mind might conjure the Third Man.
"Opinion is divided," says Geiger. "There's not a definitive explanation."
Some psychologists believe it's an example of bicameralism. Under stress, the usually dominant left hemisphere loses some hold over the mind, and logical thinking declines. The right brain, involved in imaginative thinking, intrudes, explains Geiger.
Another theory suggests the Third Man is a coping mechanism, a mental process for calming and separating the person from the horrible experience. "Just as we have a biochemical response to stress through adrenaline, this is a mental process that helps us survive."
But why do some people sense a wise helper, and others don't?
"There may be psychological variables," says Geiger.
"Some people may be more open to new things and experiences."
For some people, it may kick in at lower stress levels than others.
Young children's imaginary friends may be Third Man-like manifestations.
In studies of widows and widowers, says Geiger, between 30 to 50 per cent reported having felt the presence of the deceased partner.
Whether the Third Man is an angel or a survival mechanism is for people to decide for themselves, says Geiger.
"I can't solve that riddle. But it is very powerful and raises some profound questions."
For more information, see thirdmanfactor.com.