For those that missed it in the Fortean Blogscan, it’s worth noting an interesting feature article in this week’s eSkeptic newsletter titled “ Sensed Presences in Extreme Contexts“, by James Allan Cheyne. It’s basically a review of John Geiger’s book The Third Man Factor: The Secret to Survival in Extreme Environments (pre-order from Amazon US and UK), which investigates “the remarkably common experience of feeling the presence of a companion for whom there is no objective evidence.”
The companion is seldom seen but strongly sensed and hence is often referred to as a “sensed presence.” The presence is usually taken to be a stranger, but may sometimes be a friend or mentor, a favorite aunt, a fellow adventurer, sometimes recently deceased, and usually providing moral support, guidance, or protection and sometimes described metaphorically, or literally, as a “guardian angel.” Approximately three-quarters of the companionate presences appeared in the midst of harrowing misadventures of mountaineers, polar explorers, and sailors. Thus, Geiger’s book is about one version of the sensed presence experience, the version that occurs in what Peter Suedfeld has called EUEs; “extreme and unusual environments.” The anecdotes reported by Geiger are nearly always first-person accounts of the appearance of mysterious, often neutral, sometimes friendly, and rarely threatening, presences encountered during life-and-death struggles for survival. Indeed, the subtitle of the book implies what is explicitly claimed in the book itself; namely, that the companion is a secret life-saver of either divine or biological provenance.
It’s a worthwhile read which balances nicely skepticism with an openness to other options, as well as understanding how people can be convinced by the experience. I’m of the belief that encounters with ‘presences’, entities, aliens and so-on is a vastly under-researched area – but because of the fringe nature of many of the encounters, not many scientists probably want to go near it. Something really interesting is going on here though, and it deserves more thorough investigation.