A story has been circulating recently, coinciding with the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, of the last person to exit the South Tower of the WTC alive. His name is Ron DiFrancesco, and he has recounted a phenomenon known as the “Third Man” – finding yourself in a life or death situation and suddenly realizing you are not alone. This article from NPR details DiFrancesco’s story, as well as other well known stories of this occurrence. The NPR article, as well as other articles, take the concept from John Geiger’s recently published book The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible.
There are varying theories behind the “Third Man” phenomenon, but most scientists agree it is an extreme coping mechanism – that the brain conjures up the sense that one is not alone in a time of extreme crisis, and an external presence is felt, seen, or even heard giving encouraging words. However, many believe it’s purely spiritual in origins, and if not some sort of guardian angel, then perhaps a close relative who has passed and is helping their loved.
Regardless of its origins – either entirely in the brain or an external, spiritual source – the “Third Man” has been credited with saving the lives of those who would surely have died without it. What it really comes down to is that humans are instinctually social creatures and always, especially in the worst times, need to feel as though they are not alone. That simple comfort is sometimes enough to save us.