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.