Frequently Asked Questions
About the Project
What is Third Factor all about?
This project sits at the crossroads between two themes. First, we’re a place for thoughtful ideators seeking the higher path in life. Second, we’re a community of energetic people discussing how to harness their energy and Do their Thing. We explore both these things against the backdrop of the tumultuous age we live in and the often fractious nature of our online environment.
Given all that, I trust you can see why our logo is a phoenix.
For more on this, check out our mission and purpose. The former will tell you more about what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it, while the latter will give you the context. But the best way to get to know us is by reading a good assortment of our articles.
What do you offer here?
Our project has three parts: our magazine (launched in 2018), our community (2019), and our podcast (in development, slated to launch Spring 2023).
I suggest you start with the magazine or podcast, and then try out our community if you want to continue the conversations we start there.
What is the “third factor?”
The third factor of development is a concept from Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (TPD). (For more, see the section “Positive Disintegration” below.) In a nutshell, it’s a drive to develop and become your best self. Others have called it an authentic conscience—that is, one that you have analyzed and chosen for yourself, as opposed to one that was hammered into you by outside authorities. In TPD, the first factor of development is your physiological endowment, a.k.a. nature, and the second factor is your environment / social pressures, a.k.a. nurture. For a more in depth introduction, we’ve got an article introducing the third factor in more depth.
Our site is for those who wish to cultivate their third factor and live their life guided by this authentic conscience.
What’s this “higher path” you talk about?
This is important: here at Third Factor, we’re about the pursuit of a higher path. But we don’t claim special knowledge about what that higher path is. Rather, we want to connect people who want to have these conversations. That’s what our articles and our podcast are intended to help with, and that’s what our community is designed to encourage and facilitate.
With the Internet, it’s easy to find echo chambers where people will tell you you’re right. What you really need are others willing to talk to you—to hear you out without dismissing you, committed to engaging constructively. We’re here for Aristotelian dialectic: neither of us knows the Truth, but we’ll agree to be partners in searching for it. (We don’t debate ideas all the time, of course—we do a lot of creative and supportive activities, too. But this is a fundamental plank in our community culture, and we have a small opt-in group dedicated to it.)
We’re not totally there yet, mainly because too many of us here start off agreeing with each other. We are, however, committed to forging this culture. As your editor in chief, I have my own opinions on what the higher path is, but I offer those as a co-participant, not as an authority (especially in our small group dedicated to this sort of debate). If you disagree with me, by all means, make your case—it’s welcome!
What are your core values?
While we don’t try to impose our values on others, we do have a hierarchy of values that guides our project, which it’s my pleasure to share with you here:
1. Magnanimity, as we are all doing our best, even as we all get lost from time to time
2. Critical thinking and freedom of inquiry, in support of the pursuit of the Good, the True, and the Just
3. Humility, especially of the intellectual sort (which is really embedded in the above, but is nevertheless worth making explicit)
4. Courage, to support the above when it’s unpopular
5. Excellence, because it’s fallen out of fashion of late, and we’ve recognized the detriment. We aspire to excel at what we do, and we always consider feedback and aim to improve
6. Autonomy, because groupthink gets in the way of the above and because we are all, ultimately, responsible for our beliefs and choices
7. Community, because loneliness is epidemic and if we could do this on our own, we wouldn’t need this site
What do you mean by “elevation?”
Paraphrasing from Wikipedia, elevation is an emotional response to moral beauty. We feel it when we witness actual or even imagine virtuous acts of remarkable moral goodness, such as exemplary compassion or virtue; it’s also related to awe and wonder. Elevation motivates those who experience it to open up to, affiliate with, and assist others, and makes an individual feel lifted up and optimistic about humanity. That’s why, when I first heard this word used in this context, I recognized how important it is to Third Factor’s purpose.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt insists that elevation is worth studying because we cannot fully understand human morality until we can explain how and why humans are so powerfully affected by the sight of strangers helping one another.
What do those non-English words in your logo mean?
It’s Latin, and it means “It will rise from the ashes.”
It also happens to be half of the motto of the city of Detroit: speramus meliora, resurget cineribus, which means in full, “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.”
What is “abstract intensity?”
Abstract intensity is a term that I (Jessie Mannisto, your editor in chief) coined to describe a sort of person who often shows up here: specifically, those thinky, cerebral people with a great deal of intellectual energy. These people also tend to be shaped by their knack and penchant for abstraction.
One word that’s sometimes used for this crowd is “gifted,” as gifted and talented programs in K-12 schools tend to select for this trait. The problem is that “G-word” tends to stir all sorts of negative feelings. Very few people are comfortable referring to themselves as gifted. It’s a value judgment, and it’s nebulous. Even in the context of school, what does it even describe? Honor students? High achievers? Smart but lazy underachievers? People who just think differently somehow? Once you take it out of the school system, what does it mean then?
It turned out that we needed a better, more descriptive word. I came up with “abstract intense.”
You can read more about what we’re talking about in this article.
About Our People
Who's behind this project?
Allow me to introduce myself! My name is Jessie Mannisto, and I’m the founder of Third Factor, as well as the “I” behind the first-person pronoun on this FAQ. I created this magazine as I moved into self-employment after working as a leadership analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. It was supposed to be a side project that kept me company as I tried to chart my own path and toward building something useful and meaningful from scratch. As it turned out, this site itself became the useful thing!
Third Factor is an independent grassroots organization, with all our financial support coming from our members and public-facing advertisers. I function as the editor-in-chief, which means I have ultimate creative control over the content and direction; this, however, does not mean that I agree with every word we publish here. I strive to find ordinary people who strike me as having something valuable to say to those seeking the higher path, including counterpoints to my own ideas, even as I try to stay anchored in my personal values. I am grateful to our volunteer Editorial Team; these are members who have demonstrated their commitment to our core values and, in keeping with those, offer feedback to me on whether and how we can move toward them with each article, podcast, and community group.
When I say “we” here, I’m speaking on behalf of the editorial board or the community about our shared project. Third Factor has become a space where other leaders are stepping up to create what they need on their quest for elevation, not just by writing for us, but by leading small groups within our community.
What are your credentials?
We don’t always have much that’s relevant in terms of formal degrees, it’s true. There are exceptions, and we bring in experts to talk to us, yes. But what we are are human beings, experiencing the world and trying to make sense of it. In that sense, this is expressly a grassroots project—people talking to people on an equal plane.
I, your editor in chief, am a writer and editor with training and experience as a leadership analyst, a subset of intelligence analysis that focuses on understanding the people involved in the world. I am not trained as a psychologist and do not see this as a site about psychology per se, though we use that framework to talk about quality of life, growth, and other things that concern all human beings.
The thing about psychology is that every human being is, in an important sense, built to be an expert already. We seek a balance here between interviews with psychologists and other relevant experts and stories of people’s everyday, real-life experience.
What is your editorial line, politically speaking?
Frankly, our only real political stance is anti-nihilist, and you’re welcome to come in and argue even with that, given our embrace of frank and honest discussion for people sorting out values.
That said, as you may have noticed, we frequently feature articles that are critical of current postmodern leftist orthodoxy. If you listen to our podcast, you’ll hear the backstory of why that is. I originally founded this site thinking it would be useful for those I met through Left activism space.
Our formal political stance remains neutral in the sense that we would like to publish good faith counterpoints. Our goal is discussion that helps us sort out our values. I’ve therefore invited people who hold counterpoints to our pieces to publish their views with us. Our loyal opposition did not take us up on this offer. To be sure, the invitation is not wide open: you will have to be able to argue in good faith and show you understand your opponent’s view. However, I haven’t yet been in a position to refuse anyone.
One of our fundamental values is critical thinking and exchange of ideas in pursuit of truth. Yes, it’s hard; yes, much that matters is subjective; yes, humans will never reach the asymptote of capital-T Truth in many important cases. However, if you believe there is no point even trying to get closer to the truth—not “your truth” or “my truth,” but the truth—then you’re not a match for us. This, in the end, is presumably what’s keeping our dedicated opposition away.
I think you're wrong and I have a counterpoint!
Excellent! Wanna come talk to us about why? Reach out to our team for a chat, and if you’re not just trolling us, we’ll offer you a one-month pass to participate as a skeptic or devil’s advocate in our community forum, and we’d be honored to consider publishing your work. We really hate echo chambers and would love to have you.
How can I tell if this community is for me?
The only way to tell is to try it out. You can always try a monthly community membership and come in to explore before committing to a yearly membership.
That said, you can get a pretty good sense by reading the articles or listening to the podcast. If you find them thought-provoking and worthy of conversation—whether you agree with them or not—then I think I speak for many in the community when I say we’d love to get to know you.
Can you say more about the sort of people in the membership community?
All that matters is that it’s for people seeking the higher path in life. We don’t want to limit it further than that.
However, I’ll toss you a few breadcrumbs if you want to know who you’ll find here:
Our building blocks are innate high energy, dedication to growth and character development, tolerance for disagreement, and camaraderie for those with a penchant for creative and intellectual engagement. If you fit that, but you disagree with some or all of what you see in our articles or podcasts, we’d love to have you join us.
Our members tend to be intellectually inclined. They’re almost always interested in ideas and looking for people who want to engage. They do so meaningfully and constructively, often with a goal in mind, even if that goal is a hobby or something personal. In other words, they are often creative, as a practice and not just a self-image. They have strong feelings, but they’re self-aware about them, and looking to go beyond basic emotional skills and self-awareness to make some greater use of their emotions.
Even if that doesn’t describe you, if you like our articles or podcasts and want to discuss them, it’s for you, too.
I think your aesthetic is awful! Is this site for me?
You know, not all the questions on an FAQ are truly frequently asked—but this one is here because it actually is. A few people have told me that stock photos, or other parts of our aesthetic, are a turn-off and almost kept them from joining the site.
It’s true that you can judge something about a book by its cover, so I take this feedback seriously. I do my best to pick interesting images, and I’ve tried to diversify a bit based on this feedback. Without a dedicated artist, I have to make do with what I can find.
But I’m not gonna lie: personally, I like our aesthetic, including many of the stock photos. Now, does this make me a boring normie loser? Maybe it does! Now, I’ve also been told that I, or our content, am more interesting than our stock photos would suggest. But then, when given suggestions on what I should change, I’ve pretty powerfully disliked those. (Someone whose feedback I value led me to look up the word “cheugy.”) And then, the suggestions I’ve gotten clashed wildly with each other.
And yet, despite our wildly divergent taste, I click with all these people! And these strong feelings have led to some great conversations about what the images meant to each of us.
So here’s my answer to that question: if you have a strong opinion in either direction about the aesthetic of our site, you might just fit in here. 😆
(And if you laughed at this sincere but slightly snarky answer, the odds are even better.)
Do I have to be “gifted” to fit in here?
Nope! Intellectual curiosity, however, is essential if you want to fit in, but if you don’t think the G-word fits, don’t waste a moment thinking about it further. There is a space for you, though some members do like to use big words. Don’t be intimidated. We have a range of strengths and it’s all good.
Is this a good place for me to stay in my comfort zone and complain?
This isn’t a literal frequently asked question, of course. But I’ve observed something, and I’ve talked about this with others who have joined the Third Factor community, one of whom had this to say:
“I’ve noticed that online communities are a great place to talk about shared problems like isolation, etc. But I also worry that they are rarely solution-oriented and don’t take people out of their comfort zones (and thus people are actually enabled to stay in that negative identity they’ve built/even double down on it).”
I’ve noticed the same thing. It’s my aspiration to offer an alternative to this.
So I’d like to be up-front: We are growth-oriented. We recognize that some people have wounds that they need to heal that complicate this. It’s usually not their fault they have these wounds, even if ultimately they are responsible for patching themselves up. We know that some people need to build confidence that they’re okay. We have a space for that. We can offer a needed hand to those seeking to pull themselves up. Just know that we do intend to pull.
Do you offer formal support for mental health challenges?
No, we do not. We do not have special training in how to deal with psychiatric struggles. We must be up front about this because we understand that the theory of positive disintegration can be applicable to those in severe mental health crises, and such people may find their way to this site.
You should understand this site as a space dedicated to growth and quality of life, not to mental health. Things like fear and sadness are part of every human life and we deal with them in that respect, as human beings connecting with other human beings.
We do, naturally, have some members who have dealt with formal mental health problems. They are warmly welcome here. Our point, however, is that if you have acute needs with respect to mental health, we are not designed to meet those. We invite you to use this site as a supplement if you’re prepared to be encouraged toward growth and action.
What about "neurodivergence?" Is this a site about that?
This term has become vogue since we launched in 2018, and we sometimes have people assuming our site, given its interest in giftedness and overexcitability, is somehow about “neurodivergence.”
People mean roughly two different things when they use that term, so I will respond to each separately.
On one hand, if you are talking about something we can agree is a “disability,” then, as with our mental health question above, this site isn’t built for that purpose. Fortunately, there are plenty of other sites that are. We do have valued members with such diagnoses, though our exchanges generally focus on other aspects of life. (There’s more to you than that diagnosis, after all.)
On the other hand, if you’re in that nebulous and growing blob of people exploring self-diagnosis because you feel “different” without any strict disability, well, we’ll challenge that framing here. Please check your label at the door when you come in. It can get in the way on the climb.
I feel intimidated by all this! Is it possible that there's a space for me here?
We hear this occasionally. Our members are, after all, intense. They are smart and they are passionate. We want to encourage people to feel free to engage energetically!
Now, just because you yourself are smart and passionate doesn’t mean you’re used to being around other people who share those traits. You may be used to being a big fish in a small pond and therefore intimidated when you encounter someone else who mirrors these traits back at you. Or you may be a sensitive soul, looking to connect over other shared traits but finding people with these big brash bold ones.
We get it. And we encourage you to jump right in. This is very often the first step on pursuing the higher path. We may be intense, but we tend to be pretty friendly.
We may not yet know you, but we’re willing to bet you’re not stupid. You have the capacity to hold your own. You just need practice. This is a place for you to practice.
Wait - sensitivity? Will I have to walk on eggshells here?
God, I hope not.
Honestly, I added this question here in case anyone reads that last question and thinks it’s a red flag, and because occasionally groups for creative types can end up with that kind of culture.
This is the balance beam we walk. Come on in and be yourself! Gauge how people are responding. Honesty in good faith is always welcome. We have different small groups with different subcultures: some are brashe and intellectually rigorous; some are more delicate and feely. Explore until you find a fit. Listen to other people. It’s all about negotiation. But eggshells? No. That’s not our culture, and if you feel it is, we want to know. Courage and parrhesia FTW!
Who operates the site on a daily basis?
That would be yours truly, editor in chief Jessie Mannisto. I do most of the work, including editing most of the articles and most of the administrative stuff. The project has grown, however, to a stage where I need help to do it in a reasonable amount of time. Our community therefore also depends on volunteer forum moderators as well as contract designers and coders. We’ve recently hired some regular paid support to help us launch our podcast, too.
If you want to see new content that’s better and more frequent, please consider becoming a member. Financial support directly expands our capacity to give you what you’re here for. Paying people to do the work no one wants to volunteer for but everyone wants to have done allows our core team to focus on creating quality content and connection. We also rely on several paid platforms to keep the site running.
What does my subscription support?
Your financial support goes directly to the above needs. This site is more work than one person can take on, though our members have shown interest. It goes to paying for web space, administrative automation services, security, a membership platform, Zoom licenses, and now, happily, to our first paid human help in the form of a podcast editor and producer.
Bottom line: if you sign up as a member, we can do more of the good stuff, creating content rather than doing the admin ourselves, and slowly. Thank you for making these possible!
Do you have a paper magazine?
Third Factor’s content is currently digital only. Purchasing a subscription gives you access to members-only articles and podcast episodes, but not a paper copy of the magazine.
Why aren't you replying to my email?
Please be patient. We get more emails that we can keep up with in a reasonable fashion.
If it’s been more than two weeks, I apologize and invite you to give us a little nudge. Our small team is trying to do a lot, and sometimes we drop balls. We prioritize contact with contributors and community members and apologize in particular if we’ve dropped one there.
About Positive Disintegration
What is positive disintegration?
The theory of positive disintegration (TPD) was created by Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980) that described, in our view, the general life trajectory of a certain type of person. It’s a complicated theory, full of jargon, but in a nutshell, the idea is that a person with a certain type of potential will be driven to determine and follow a higher path in life.
What is the role of the theory in this magazine and community?
The work of Kazimierz Dabrowski has a knack for stirring up feelings. Some people feel seen like never before. Others think the ideas are dated.
We like it most of all because of the conversations it starts.
There are groups out there dedicated to Dabrowski’s work that are very concerned with orthodox interpretations and applications of the theory. We are not such a group. We do not think that Dabrowski got it all correct. It is a conversation starter, not a holy book. (It’s interesting, though, how it sometimes seems to fill in for the latter. Our forthcoming Spirituality group will have things to say about that.)
If, upon reading some of the basic ideas of the theory, you think, “Cool, that does seem to describe my life path,” and then want to go on to talk about the experience of the path without any further study of the theory, then you’re in the right place. We’re most interested in the part of the theory that is about recognizing the existence of a higher path, and then trying to figure out how the heck to follow it.
If you’re interested in that but otherwise have no use for Dabrowski’s work, and even if you want to criticize the theory, you and your perspective will be welcomed here.
What basic concepts from the theory are most useful here?
One that you’ll discover very early on in exploring Dabrowski’s work are his levels of development. A person at level I is in a state of “primary integration” and goes about her life without the sort of experience that would lead her to a site with a phoenix logo. Level II, which Dabrowski called “unilevel disintegration,” is a difficult, even excruciating, phase in which a person senses something is wrong but cannot tell which way is up and therefore can’t do anything about it. Once a person perceives a higher path, she is at level III, which Dabrowski called “spontaneous multilevel disintegration.” Level III, however, is a long process, and recognizing that there is a higher path doesn’t guarantee that you’ll know how to follow it, or that you’ll do so even once you think you know what it is.
Our typical member comes to this site somewhere in level III, though usually with some residue of level II thrashing about in his psyche. We hope that our site helps people progress through level III to what Dabrowski called “organized multilevel disintegration,” level IV, and toward that ultimate goal of secondary integration, level V, in line with your authentically embraced values. (And when we talk about authenticity, we don’t mean the hashtag kind.)
Besides that, the only other things are a definition of the third factor, which you can find under What is the “third factor?” in the “About the Project” section above, and also the next question, on overexcitability.
What is overexcitability (OE) / superstimulability?
What is overexcitability (OE) / superstimulability?
In his theory of positive disintegration, Dabrowski observed that people who followed the life path he was describing tended to have a more powerful response to stimuli, at a lower level of stimulus, and with a reaction that lasted longer than it did for most people. This reaction is at the most basic, physiological level, falling under his category of “the first factor,” or “nature.”
Some will understand this experience better through Dr. Elaine Aron’s work. Aron created the framework of the highly sensitive person, and describes on her website encountering Dabrowski’s framework of overexcitability as she was researching anything related to sensitivity.
Others may recognize it in Dr. W. Thomas Boyce’s notion of “orchids and dandelions.” Boyce’s research seems to point to the same sort of innate, more powerful response to stimuli that Dabrowski observed.
Dabrowski’s frame adds something interesting by grouping OE into the following five domains:
Intellectual: Drive for knowledge and the search for truth, expressed as passion for discovery, questioning, love of ideas, and theoretical analysis
Imaginational: The power of thought creation, expressed through vividness of imagery, richness of association, liking for the unusual, and a facility for dreams, fantasies, and
Emotional: The realm of the heart, manifesting in depth and intensity of emotional life and expressed through a wide range of feelings, attachments, compassion, heightened sense of
responsibility, and scrupulous self-examination
Psychomotor: Being especially active and energetic, expressed as movement, restlessness, drivenness
Sensual: An enhanced differentiation and aliveness of stimuli through the five senses
(The above description is based on Michael Piechowski’s description in his chapter entitled, “Emotional development and emotional giftedness” in the Handbook of Gifted Education, edited by Colangelo and Davis.)
Many of our readers and members see themselves in Dabrowski’s various domains of OE, especially the intellectual, imaginational, and emotional. Others have but no longer do; to use the language of TPD, perhaps they have managed to reintegrate at that higher level, harnessing and channeling that energy toward something useful, to the point it’s not worth commenting on anymore.
It must be said: if there’s one component of TPD that gives people that “Harry, you’re a wizard!” moment of recognition and belonging, it’s OE. It’s the most common path into the theory of positive disintegration, and we’ve certainly built this site to meet the needs of people who are particularly stimulable in the intellect, imagination, and emotions. So you will find OE here, both lived and discussed. We are an energetic bunch. That being said, we see it as a starting point, not a place to dwell forever. What do intellectually excitable people want to discuss and, better yet, do? Not just sit around talking about OE all day, at least once you’ve made your trip to Diagon Alley and gotten your supplies for Hogwarts!
What are dynamisms?
I’m glad you asked. They’re a lot more interesting than OE, and more relevant to those who choose growth over stasis.
That said, they’re also more jargony. So we’ll explain what we mean by them when we refer to them. The third factor, positive maladjustment, and subject-object in oneself are just a few dynamisms that we refer to periodically around here.
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