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Triplet Telepathy

Watched last night's ITV programme on identical triplets to see what it had to say about telepathic connections. The four sets of triplets featured were startlingly alike, and closely bonded, but turned out to have quite different tastes and personalities. Interestingly, considering the amount of anecdotal evidence, none of them seemed to have any experience of psychic connections. Two of the trios flatly denied any possibility of such a thing.

However one of the sets, three 21-year-old males, were more open-minded after a test in which one received an electric shock and the others in different rooms were wired up to EDR machines to see if they showed any arousal. They were spooked to be told that the read-outs were closely synchronised, with small spikes occurring at the same time.

A Guardian preview critic found these interactions only 'mildly interesting'. I wondered whether she took this sort of thing so completely for granted that it makes no impact, or whether she just hadn't grasped the significance of it. Having seen the programme I think what she may have meant was that it was only mildly convincing. This was tabloid telly, slick, entertaining and shallow. When the presenter started talking about ESP he got all breathy and earnest: JB Rhine's studies attracted controversy because he experimented on real people. As for the test itself, all we got was the researcher's assurance that there had been a concordance, and a pretty little line graph that looked more like an illustration graphic than scientific data. (But of course this is television - what should we expect?)

In the end it was the triplets' apparent lack of experience of telepathic connections that stayed with me.  It runs counter to the anecdotal reports of uncanny synchronicities, described for instance in Guy Lyon Playfair's Twin Telepathy: The Psychic Connection. One is the case of the Manchester man who woke up suddenly with an impression feeling as though he had been hit on the head, and the next day learnt that at exactly the same time his twin had fallen and banged his head. Then there were the two brothers who went skiing on different slopes in the Alps, and fell and broke their legs in the same place and at the same time. There are any number of reports by twins who say they feel sympathetic pains when the other is ill or has suffered an accident, or has become pregnant.

One of the few documented cases is the 1976 study of Silvia and Marta Landa, four-year olds from a village near Logroño.  Marta had burned her hand on a clothes iron and a large red blister had formed on her hand. At the same time, an identical blister appeared on Silvia's too, while she was on a visit to her grandparents in Logroño. The parents noticed this kind of thing a lot: if one of the tots developed symptoms, so would the other, and if one had an accident the other seemed aware of it wherever she happened to be.

These reports seemed to be confirmed by experiment, with Marta subjected to various indignities while Silvia was monitored in a different part of the building. When a doctor shone a bright light in Marta's eye, her sister upstairs blinked rapidly as if trying to avoid a bright light. When the doctor gave Marta the knee-jerk reflex test, Silvia began to twitch her left leg so insistently that her father, who did not know what was happening downstairs, had to hold it still.

This sort of thing is very suggestive, but there isn't much of it. As Guy points out, there has been very little research on telepathy in twins. What little has been done has tended to be poorly conceived, inconclusive and misleading, which discourages parapsychologists from getting involved. 

Sceptics think it's a dead letter, after a large-scale study at the University of Minnesota written up by Peter Watson failed to find any evidence of telepathy ('not the slightest scintilla of a suggestion,' etc...). But then this was a genetic study whose purpose was to understand the relative importance of nature and nurture, and focused mainly on twins separated at birth and reunited as adults. As Guy says, this would have meant a lack of that deep emotional bond which telepathy seems to depend on.  Since that's precisely what one so often finds in twins, and since there are plenty of them, this ought to be a productive area for parapsychologists to work in.

Comments

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I saw this programme too. The thing that surprised me the most was that they didn't bring on a skeptic to 'dismiss' the argument afterwards. I was waiting for it. Will it Wiseman? Gardner? Blackmore? Instead, only the adverts came.

That made me happy.

On a related topic: I am curious as to the process by which we are able to distinguish identical twins. I once worked with a set of twins who were at first indistinguishable to me, but after a few days, it was very easy to tell them apart and I wondered how I could have confused them before. They had the same haircut and wore the same type of clothing, so I'm not sure what "cues" I was relying on to discern them. Whatever it was, it continued to be recognizable years later. Strangely, I ran into one of the twins years later in a small town in northern Japan -- and I knew instantly which twin it was, even before he opened his mouth. Is this common?

Major, I don't think it was that sort of programme - telepathy was just one of several things they were interested in, and not something they had thought about much, to judge from the comment about Rhine. If a sceptic had come on he/she could just have said it was a coincidence, and/or suggested more research. A whole bunch of similar results under rigorous well-thought out conditions would have been a real score, but that would have been a different sort of programme.

On the other hand, something like this helps to raise awareness, which is something.

Oh yes, Robert, don't get me wrong. I know this was hardly the be all or end all. I just thought that with all the shallow, mindless drivel usually spouted by such subjects on television, it was nice to see one that just said "Hmm... interesting".

Maybe it made one or two people think "Now that's strange. I wonder what it means"

Beth

Last ear i coached identical twins on my soccer team - Peter and Jacob. For weeks i strained my self to see little signifers to tell them apart. Then one day i realized that ...Peter was Peter and Jacob was Jacob. it was odd. I just realized, these are two different people and i never had another problem. Like you, i wonder what that sudden recognition was responding to, some unconscious cognitive clue, or did i bypass cognitive perception.

The whole purpose of life is to become a separate, unique, individual. Because there is no separation in heaven due to it's holographic nature, what it means to be separate has to be learned here in the Physical Universe. Life is a never ending lesson in separation from the moment we are born and we separate from our mothers when the umbilical cord is cut till the moment we die and our deaths become a lesson in separation to our loved ones we leave behind. Even though twins are connected I'm sure that their souls experience separation in the same way that everyone else's do.

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