Is there a special bond between twins? Can they read each other’s minds? Are they telepathic? If you have been hearing questions like these being asked regularly but have never found an answer, look no further. The short answer is – yes, and no. Let me explain.
As Orwell famously observed in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” So it is with twins – some them are indeed more identical than others. In fact, the term ‘identical’ is misleading. The medical word is ‘monozygotic’ (MZ) for twins originating from a single zygote or fertilised egg which then splits into two (or more), those originating from separate zygotes being termed dizygotic (DZ) or fraternal (non-identical). Yet although MZ twins are commonly referred to as identical, there can be wide differences among them. Probably the most important one has to do with just when that original egg divides. Usually this takes place a day or two after fertilisation, but division can take place up to twelve days later, or in the rare case of conjoined (‘Siamese’) twins, not at all.
Although the study of twin telepathy must be one of the most under-researched subjects in the whole of science, it now seems likely that the later the division, the closer the bond. Researchers at the University of Indiana have studied thousands of twins and have noticed that the later they divided, the closer they become after birth. So it seems likely that this is the group most likely to experience telepathy.
There are twins who have never had any experience of it, as described by ‘Alex’ on the multiples.about.com web site: “As an identical twin who knows many other twins I can tell you for a fact that twins don’t have telepathy. Any that say they do are either pulling your leg or attention seeking. I’d appreciate it as a twin and a human being if you stopped spreading lies.” As many other messages on this interesting site show, not all twins would agree with that and might well accuse him of spreading lies.
True, I have met twins who are not particularly close, and are not at all telepathy-prone. One told me that he sends his brother a Christmas card, but that’s about the only communication they ever have. Another admits that she is not even on speaking terms with her sister and has no contact with her, telepathic or otherwise. Yet I have also met the father of twenty-something-year-old daughters who, he assured me, had never been apart for more than two hours throughout their lives. And an item in a London newspaper not so long ago described the lives of a pair of twins in their forties who still sleep in the same bed. Clearly we have a very broad spectrum here.
Interviewed in 2002, one of the Californian supermodel Barbi twins commented: “We have that twin thing going on. Wherever we are in the world, we kind of know what the other one’s doing.”
“That’s right,” her sister chimed in. “It’s instinctive. It’s a twin thing.”1
I have not yet been able to interview the Barbis, alas, but I have met and interviewed dozens of twins of all ages, also mothers of twins as young as three days, and the evidence that there is indeed a twin thing is voluminous, although I seem to have been the first to produce a volume devoted to it, first published in 2002 and now reissued in a much enlarged and updated third edition.2How this came about is quite a story in itself.
When Telepathy was Taboo
It began in 1975 when Ross McWhirter, editor of The Guinness Book of Records, political activist and one of the highest-profile twins in Britain, was shot dead on his doorstep by IRA terrorists. When I heard the news on the radio I immediately thought that if twins really were telepathic, Ross’s brother Norris should have reacted in some way to this tragic event. I knew that telepathy seemed to work best when the message was some kind of bad news – pain, depression, sickness, death – and what could be worse for a twin than the murder of his brother?
A few years later I met a man who worked for Norris and knew him well enough to ask if he had reacted. The answer was no – he hadn’t. So that seemed to be that. However, I kept noticing items in the press about what looked very much like twin telepathy in action, and luckily I kept them in what soon became quite a thick file. This prompted me to give a short talk at the 1998 conference of the Society for Psychical Research in which I appealed to members to do some research into this long neglected subject. Later, one member – and only one – said he would be glad to do some experiments with twins if he could raise the funds. That was Adrian Parker, now professor of psychology at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. More about him later.
The previous year I had been hired as consultant for a TV series hosted by hypnotist Paul McKenna and asked to come up with suggestions for material to be included in it. My first suggestion was for a live demonstration of twin telepathy in the studio. I had no idea how this could be done, but luckily Paul liked the idea and just said “Yes, we’ll do it.” Thanks to his producer Mike Johnstone, an Oxford science graduate who wanted things done properly, we did it and were able to show what I believe is the first live demonstration of telepathy of any kind as it happened, and with a polygraph chart to prove it.3
At about the same time, I happened to meet Norris McWhirter’s son Alasdair, and was very intrigued to hear that he had been with his father at the moment Ross was killed, and yes, Norris had indeed reacted, and quite dramatically, but had wiped the incident from his mind and genuinely could no longer remember it. I immediately wrote down his account and asked him to approve it, which he kindly did, and I duly published it with his consent. It was then that I decided that this subject needed thorough investigation. Nobody seemed to have done it before.
I began in the draughty basement of the Royal Society of Medicine beneath their library, where they have a whole shelf of books about twins, at least a hundred of them. I spent the best part of a day looking at all of them and finding that almost none of them even mentioned telepathy, while those that did either dismissed it out of hand or pointed out, quite reasonably, that while anecdotal reports of seemingly telepathic experiences were quite common, there had never been any proper research into the subject, so it was too early to draw any conclusions. None of the authors concerned seemed interested in actually doing any research themselves. It soon became clear to me that telepathy was taboo, something you just don’t talk about in scientific circles. Sadly, it still is.
To give just one recent example, in 2000 the Nobel prizewinner (physics, 1973) Brian Josephson attracted a storm of protest from his fellow scientists when he declared that there might be a connection between quantum theory and telepathy. Then in 2010 he was invited to speak at a workshop in Italy on ‘Foundations of Physics’. At least he thought he was, until he got a message from organiser Anthony Valentini informing him that: “It has come to my attention that one of your principal research interests is the paranormal. In my view it would not be appropriate for someone with such research interests to attend a scientific conference.”
What can one say?
Experiments and Studies Involving Twins
In 1979, a major twin research programme got under way at the University of Minnesota, aimed at studying twins who had been separated at birth and reunited later – sometimes much later. This made it possible to assess the differences between genetics and upbringing, or ‘nature and nurture’ as it is often known. What the researchers found was that there were often remarkable similarities between the twins’ personalities, likes and dislikes, skills, hobbies, etc. – indications of what is known as concordance. They never found any evidence of telepathy, however.
There were two reasons for this. One is that they never asked for it. I have interviewed a British twin who spent a couple of weeks at the university being questioned by a battery of psychologists and studied from head to toenail. The only thing they never asked her about, she told me, was telepathy. One member of the original Minnesota team, Dr. Nancy Segal, has repeatedly and publicly proclaimed that there just isn’t any convincing scientific evidence for it, which may have been true in 1979 but as we shall see is no longer true today.
The other reason is that her opinion was of course based on her study of separated twins, whom I would not expect to have much experience of it, if any, because telepathy seems closely related to strength of bond, as between mothers and babies or dogs and their owners. You can hardly develop a bond with your twin if you are separated at birth, and sometimes do not even know that you have one.
The Minnesota programme received wide publicity, and somehow Dr. Segal’s repeated denials of the existence of telepathy have given the general public the impression that it doesn’t exist. I had a taste of this taboo response myself when I went along to King’s College, London, to visit their twin research unit, one of the largest in the world with about 10,000 twins on their register. I wondered if I could get access to their mailing list and send out a questionnaire?
“What about?,” the lady at the desk wanted to know. I muttered something about “biological correlates of empathy,” knowing what to expect if I mentioned the taboo T word.
“What’s that, then?” she asked. I explained that it was what some people call telepathy, to which she immediately replied that the unit was not interested in “spooky stuff.”
Luckily, she was wrong. A couple of years later, in 2004, the unit polled all its twins in its annual newsletter and asked them if they had ever felt “the ability to know what was happening to your twin?”
The results were surprising. Nine thousand twins were polled, and the unit received 5,513 replies. Of these, a minority of 45 percent said no, but 15 percent said yes, and a further 39 percent thought it was at least a possibility. This was probably the largest survey of its kind ever, and it was encouraging, although clearly a more detailed questionnaire was needed. I only heard about it five years later, and in 2009 suddenly everything seemed to happen all at once.
It began with a story in the Manchester Evening News on 23 March which described how a fifteen-year old twin was having a bath when her sister, downstairs listening to music, suddenly had the feeling that, as she put it, “it was like a voice telling me that your sister needs you.” She did indeed, because she was having an epileptic attack and was in the process of drowning. According to the paramedic who arrived just in time to save her, if her sister had not rushed upstairs to her aid, she would have died.
The story was picked up a couple of days later by The Times, which included a quote from Dr. Lynn Cherkas from the King’s College unit, who had been responsible for the survey mentioned above. She proved to be quite open to the idea of ‘spooky stuff’ and had already come across instances of apparent telepathy. I managed to get her in touch with Adrian Parker, who was promptly granted visiting scientist status and given access to the unit’s material. He was also invited to its annual garden party, where he was able to do some informal testing and undertake a more detailed questionnaire with many of the 200 or so twins who attended. Suddenly, twin telepathy research had become academically acceptable. Yet sympathetic as they were, the King’s people didn’t have any spare funds. Parker was welcome to use their premises and their twins, but he would have find his own financing.
More good luck just when it was needed – Parker was able to find it from a Danish TV company and arrange a controlled experiment at the University of Copenhagen, again using a polygraph to record the reactions, if any, of a twin in another room who was subjected to various surprises such as an electric shock, a pile of plates being dropped behind their chairs, or best of all, being asked to plunge an arm into a bucket of ice-cold water. The polygrapher, who had no idea what was going on in the other room was then asked to mark his chart at the times when there was what looked like an unusual fluctuation. A second polygrapher, who was not present at the time and had no idea what the experiment was all about, was asked to do the same. Both picked the right spots twice as often as they could have been expected to do by chance or guesswork.
The experiment was repeated, this time in London at the King’s unit, funded by the ABC News Nightline programme, and results were similar. Parker and his Danish colleague Christian Jensen duly wrote up their two experiments and submitted them to the journal Explore, which published them in 2012 and 2013. They were the first of their kind ever to appear in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.4
Twin Telepathy: The Evidence Mounts
This was more than 230 years after the publication of the first reference that I have been able to find to twin telepathy, when John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote in his Journal for 2 April 1781 about a woman who had a twin sister “between whom and her there is so strange a sympathy that if either of them is ill, or particularly affected at any time, the other is so likewise.” Yet although there were occasional references to this strange sympathy over the following century, most notably in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Corsican Brothers (1844) and by scientist Francis Galton, who made a rather half-hearted attempt to study twins in the 1870s, it was not until the publication in 1886 of Phantasms of the Living, a massive tome by three founder members of the Society for Psychical Research, Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers and Frank Podmore, that any case histories were written up in detail and checked for accuracy.
Even so, it was to be several more decades before any psychologist found the subject of twin telepathy worthy of attention, with the exception of Chicago zoologist (and twin) Horatio H. Newman, who included a chapter on it, believed to be based on his own experience, in his Twins and Super-Twins (1942). From that day to this I have only been to track down sixteen papers on twin telepathy from peer-reviewed journals, nearly half of which were by Adrian Parker and his colleagues. Of the rest, only three were of any lasting value.
The first (1961) by three psychologists based in Toronto was useful although for various personal reasons they never actually got down to doing any experiments. They did however do some original research, questioning a total of 35 twins on their experience of telepathy and finding that twelve had had some.5 This figure of around 30-35 percent has shown up in all surveys of this kind to date, including those done recently at King’s College by Parker.
The second (1963), by a pair of ophthalmologists from Philadelphia was very short, but attracted some attention since it appeared in Science, one of the world’s leading scientific journals. They claimed that when alpha brain rhythm was artificially induced in one twin, the brainwave chart (EEG) of the other one showed the same rhythm at exactly the same time.6 Despite their plea for further research in this area, the only people who seemed to hear it were a team from Rockland State Hospital in Orangeburg, NY who reported successful results in 1967 using a plethysmograph to measure blood volume, and were able to conclude that “in a physically isolated subject, we have observed physiological reactions at the precise moment at which another [twin] was stimulated.”7
Both of these teams published print-outs of their chart recordings that, as one of them put it, “show how obvious the reactions are,” yet once again research ground to a halt, and more than forty years later we find the serial psi-debunker Professor Richard Wiseman declaring glibly that “twin telepathy is due to the highly similar ways in which they think and behave, and not to extra-sensory perception.”8He was confusing, perhaps deliberately, telepathy with concordance.
An example of this was given me by a mother who noted that her twins’ baby teeth both fell out at the same time, which she thought was amazing proof of telepathy. I assured her it wasn’t. They were both eating the same food at the time, and since they were genetically identical, it was quite natural and predictable that this would happen.
A very different incident that was not predictable was described to me by another twin-mother in which one of her girls was bouncing around on a trampoline when another child landed on top of her and bashed her in the eye, raising a large dark bruise. At the same time her sister, who was not on the trampoline, suddenly developed a bruise in exactly the same place. It was slightly smaller and lighter, but it was unmistakably there. The mother had the presence of mind to take photos of the two together right after the incident, which she kindly sent me. They were later shown on ABC’s Nightline programme, on which the second twin clearly stated that she hadn’t felt anything at the time of her sister’s accident. I could give many more examples of incidents like this for which concordance is no explanation. This is the kind of evidence that critics such as Nancy Segal and Richard Wiseman simply ignore.
It is also a particularly well witnessed and recorded example of what makes twin telepathy different from ordinary telepathy, which is sometimes referred to as ‘mental’ telepathy, since it only involves impressions, images or perhaps words in the ear. Twins go further – they receive physical sensations such as pain, which can even leave visible marks on the body, as in the case mentioned above.
It can get even more mysterious, as when one twin has the pain but it is the other one who has the medical problem or has had the accident. A mother has told me how one of her boys complained of a severe pain in his kidney, yet after an x-ray doctors could see no sign of anything wrong with it. Fortunately she took his brother along although he had not mentioned having any pain, and it was found that he did have quite a serious kidney problem that needed immediate treatment. It was, she told me, not the first time something like this had happened.
Clearly, we have a lot to learn from twins. I have collected quite enough evidence, much of it at first hand, to show that communication at a distance can take place and can be seen to take place under controlled laboratory conditions. Yet, as I said earlier, this remains one of the most under-researched subjects in all of science. The reason I usually hear is that telepathy is obviously impossible since there is no known mechanism that could explain it.
There was a time when the idea of the earth orbiting the sun was out of the question, as were claims that meteorites fell from the sky or continents drifted apart. Such attitudes are still with us – it is barely twenty years since the heroic Australian doctor Barry Marshall disproved the dogma that stomach ulcers were caused by ‘stress’ and showed, after infecting himself with Helicobacter pylori germs, that this is what caused most of them, and that they could be cured with a week or so of antibiotics. No Nobel prize has ever been better deserved.
“The concept of a germ causing ulcers was like saying the earth is flat,” Marshall recalled later. So, to some, is the idea of thoughts, let alone actual physical symptoms, travelling across space. And with attitudes such as were shown in Brian Josephson’s notorious ‘disinvitation’ still prevalent in the world of scientific research funding, it may take some time to prove that they do, and to force us to rethink what we know of biology, psychology and physics. Whoever manages to do that, as now seems quite possible, will also deserve a Nobel prize.
Are you a twin that has a telepathic connection to your twin sister or brother? Then author Guy L. Playfair would like to hear from you. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guy L. Playfair’s classic book Twin Telepathy was first published in 2002. It was enlarged and updated into a 3rd edition in 2012, and can be purchased in paperback or ebook via www.amazon.com or www.amazon.co.uk.
1. Sunday Telegraph Magazine, 9 June 2002, 25
2. G.L. Playfair, Twin Telepathy, 3rd ed. White Crow Books, 2012
3. The Paranormal World of Paul McKenna, Carlton TV, 24 June 1997
4. Explore 8 (6) 2012, 339-47; 9 (1) 2013, 26-31
5. International Journal of Parapsychology 3 (4) 1961, 55-73
6. Science, 15 October 1965, 367
7. International Journal of Parapsychology 9 (1) 1967, 53-6
8. R. Wiseman, Paranormality, Macmillan, 2011, 84
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