What is third man syndrome

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third man syndrome

Have you ever heard of the third man syndrome? It’s a fascinating phenomenon that has been reported by people in extreme situations, such as climbers trapped in icy crevasses, explorers lost in the wilderness, and sailors adrift at sea. But what is third man syndrome, and why does it happen?

The third man syndrome refers to the perception of a third person’s presence during a stressful or life-threatening situation. The experience is described as feeling like someone else is there, even though the person is alone. This “third man” can be seen, heard, or sensed in some other way.

The third man syndrome was first reported by Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous explorer who led the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914. Shackleton and his crew became stranded in Antarctica after their ship, the Endurance, was trapped in ice. They were forced to survive on the ice for months, enduring freezing temperatures and dangerous conditions. During this time, Shackleton reported that he felt the presence of a “third man” who accompanied him and his two companions. The three men later credited this “third man” with helping them survive the ordeal.

Since Shackleton’s report, many others have reported experiencing the third man syndrome in various extreme situations. In some cases, the presence of the third man is seen as a spiritual or supernatural experience, while in others, it is interpreted as a psychological coping mechanism.

So why does the third man syndrome happen? There are several theories, but no clear answer. One theory suggests that the third man is a hallucination caused by stress and exhaustion. Another theory suggests that the third man is a manifestation of the unconscious mind, representing a person’s own survival instincts or higher self. Some researchers believe that the third man is a result of the brain’s need to create a sense of companionship and comfort during times of extreme stress and isolation.

Regardless of the explanation, the third man syndrome is a fascinating and mysterious phenomenon that has captured the attention of scientists, explorers, and storytellers alike. It continues to be reported by people in extreme situations, reminding us of the resilience and adaptability of the human mind.

In conclusion, the third man syndrome is the perception of a third person’s presence during a stressful or life-threatening situation. It has been reported by many people in extreme situations, including explorers, climbers, and sailors. While the explanation for this phenomenon is still unknown, it serves as a reminder of the incredible ways the human mind can cope with adversity.


  1. The Third Man Factor by John Geiger: https://www.amazon.com/Third-Man-Factor-Surviving-Extreme/dp/0670066521
  2. “The Third Man Syndrome: Why people see imaginary companions in times of need” by Sarah Zielinski: https://www.popsci.com/third-man-syndrome/
  3. “The Third Man Factor: Strange but True Survival Tales” by Brian Handwerk: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/article/the-third-man-factor-strange-but-true-survival-tales

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