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Description: Ever had the feeling that you were not alone when you really were alone? Psychologists are curious about what drives such “Third Man” or “felt presences” experiences. Rather than dismissing such experiences as impossible hocus pocus, psychological researchers and neuroscientists believe that understanding such experiences will likely add to our understanding of the functioning of the human brain.

Sources: The Guardian The Strange World of Felt Presences, by Ben Alderson-Day and David Smailes

Date: March 5, 2015

Scott expidition

Photo Source: Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images

Links:     http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/05/the-strange-world-of-felt-presences.

Even if you have never had the feeling that someone or something was nearby when there could not be anything there you likely know someone who has had that experience. Perhaps a relative told you about feeling the presence of a recently deceased loved one or you have read accounts of explorers or others under severe stress reporting that they felt the presence of a person or a guide near them. This article discusses the experiences of people like Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer,  whose ship was frozen in ice while en route to Antarctica. Shackleton set out with two crewmen to walk 36 hours to a whaling station in search of aide. During the trip through the bitter cold all three men reported feeling the presence of a fourth man, an experience Shackleton later refused to discuss. More such experiences in situations of serious threat or adversity are chronicled in John Geiger’s book The Third Man Factor (reference below).

Some people who experience sleep paralysis (see link to CBC Current program on this below), being awake but unable to move or even open their eyes, report difficulty breathing sometimes as if someone were sitting on their chest and sometimes the strong feeling that there is someone else in the room. The article discusses a number of efforts both theoretically and empirically (see article reference below to a study that succeeded in inducing a sense of felt presence) to account for this mysterious experience. Just because a human experience seems weird or other worldly does not mean we cannot or should not study it and try to understand it.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What possible neuropsychological hypotheses are offered to account for the experience of a felt presence?
  2. While we often are inclined to dismiss reports of felt presences or sleep paralyses or ESP as unscientific and maybe a bit crazy how are psychological researchers looking at these sorts of phenomenon?
  3. What are some things that this work suggests about how psychology does (or ought to) respond to weird or odd claims people make about their personal sensory experiences?

References (Read Further):

Geiger, John (2009) The third man: Surviving the impossible, Weinstein Books,, http://www.weinsteinbooks.com/book/the-third-man-factor/john-geiger/9781602861299

Arzy, Shahar, Seeck, Margita, Ortigue, Stephanie, Spinelli, Laurent and Blanke, Olaf (2006) Induction of an illusory shadow person: Stimulation of a site on the brain’s left hemoisphere prompts the creepy feeling that someone is close by., Nature, 443(21), 287.

CBC Radio, The Current March 5, 2014 The Hag: Sleep Paralysis http://www.mediafire.com/listen/jas3yhl9wl7077u/current_Sleep_Paralysis.mp3

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