The Third Man Factor is an investigation of something often experienced by people in extreme situations - the sense that there is a mysterious companion with them, helping them to survive whatever they are going through. I was attracted to the book because, in truth, naive as it sounds, I would love to have proof to back up my faith in the existence of dimensions beyond those that humans understand.
The book goes through the accounts left by numerous people - mountaineers, seafarers, people caught in the World Trade Centre when the terrorists' planes hit them - of their sense that they encountered a helpful being not of this world. It also covers the various explanations given by science for the occurrence of this phenomenon. No firm conclusion is reached about whether the "third men" have any existence outside of the body or whether they are only a vision created inside the mind.
I found the book hugely interesting for an unexpected reason - the tales it tells of what some people have put themselves through in their attempts to explore inhospitable landscapes, conquer the sea or climb mountains are astonishing. In particular, the description of some of the things that Ernest Shackleton and his companions went through is staggering - but there are other tales in the book that leave one almost equally in awe of the determination of those involved.
The scientific wrangling the book outlines about what triggers these experiences is in varying degrees plausible, although the theories don't entirely explain some of the puzzling accounts that seem to suggest something more than a vision came to some of those who experienced "the third man". In one particular story, I find it hard to see how a boat was steered for several hours while the person involved was not conscious. The description given by a survivor of the second Trade Centre tower to fall also suggests something more than a vision, as he is given instructions that he follows and that save him, rather than just experiencing a sense of someone being his companion. But, in any case, the idea that a helper is seen by people who are experiencing particular chemical changes to the brain in certain circumstances does not preclude the possibility that what they are seeing exists. That is, those chemical changes may not be, as researchers seem to be assuming, creating the vision; they may instead be widening the scope of normal perception. That is, there may be things that exist constantly but which we are normally restricted from seeing by our brain chemistry.
I suggest this because I have had a couple of strange experiences of my own, despite never having been mountaineering exploring or having set sail across the oceans. While I have managed to persuade myself that each was probably a figment of my imagination, there is one occurrence that I cannot explain in any way at all, except by accepting that some minds are able to see more than others. I will describe that in a future blogpost, but for now I recommend The Third Man Factor for its detailed revelation of extraordinary achievements by people of immense endurance. However they did it, there is something truly marvellous about their stories.