A DAFT QUESTION
Early in the evening of 27 November 1975, the writer and television personality Ross McWhirter was shot in the head and chest by two gunmen on the doorstep of his north London home. He was rushed to hospital, but was declared dead on or shortly after arrival, before his identical twin brother Norris could reach his bedside. The murder made the front pages of the following day’s newspapers, for the McWhirters, editors of the Guinness Book of Records, were probably Britain’s best known pair of twins after the notorious criminal Kray brothers (of whom more later).
When I heard the news on the radio that night I found myself wondering if there was any truth in the claim that twins could pick up each other’s thoughts and feelings at a distance? I had read somewhere that telepathy – the receiving of information by other than our normal ﬁve senses – was common between twins, especially at times of crisis, and since murder is the most extreme crisis imaginable, I thought here was a good opportunity to put that theory to the test.
The problem was that I did not know Norris McWhirter, and did not feel like writing to ask what he felt, if anything, when Ross was killed. I did, however, eagerly read his biographical tribute to his brother which was published the following year, but ﬁnding that there was no mention of telepathy in it, I decided that while some twins might be telepathic, these two had not been. Even so, the incident stuck in my mind, and I began asking around in the hope of ﬁnding somebody who knew Norris well enough to ask him, after a decent interval, if he had felt anything at the time of Ross’s death. He might have, I thought, but might have preferred not to mention it in his book. However, I could not ﬁnd anybody who knew him at all, so it seemed there was nothing more I could do.
Fortunately, I was wrong. More than twenty years later I had one of those lucky breaks that make you think you do have a guardian angel after all. As I will describe in more detail in due course, I was able to get an eye-witness account from somebody who had been with Norris McWhirter at the time of the shooting and yes, he had unmistakably reacted. Moreover, he had reacted in a dramatic way, almost as if he too had been shot – by an invisible bullet.
So it seemed there could be a special twin connection after all. I decided it was time for some proper research. I published four appeals for evidence, and asked everybody I met if they knew any twins. Early results were disappointing – the only twins I knew or was able to meet had never had any experience of the sort I was looking for, and I received fewer replies than I had hoped.
Even so, the evidence began to trickle in and it soon became clear that one twin often reacted to what was happening to the other, and this nearly always seemed to be something painful, frightening or life-threatening. Here are just a few of my early cases, all of them collected directly from the source:
* A mother is holding one of her twin babies when he suddenly goes into convulsions and screams in terror for no obvious reason. His twin is lying silently on the couch beside her, face downwards. He is turning blue and suffocating. His mother is convinced that she only managed to save him because his brother sounded the alarm. The twins are just three days old.
* A ﬁve-month-old wakes up as the clock strikes ten and startles his father by crying desperately for a quarter of an hour as if in pain, then suddenly stopping and going straight back to sleep. In a hospital several miles away his brother is having a painful injection. His mother, who is with him, happens to note the time – 10 p.m.
* The mother of another pair of ﬁve-month-olds notices that when one of them is having his inoculations, he takes them quite calmly – but the other one yells his head off.
* A student at a New York university wakes up suddenly at 6 am., certain that something had happened to her sister in Arizona. So it had – a bomb had just gone off right outside her home.
* The sister of a London woman who is having a painful pregnancy telephones from Australia begging the obstetrician to operate as soon as he can. ‘I can’t stand the pain’, she says. The obstetrician tells me this kind of thing is quite common with twins.
My new ﬁle got thicker and thicker. There was the case of the Manchester man who woke up with a start, feeling as if he had just been hit on the head, and learning the next day that at exactly the same time his twin had fallen and banged his head. There were the two brothers who went skiing on different pistes in the Alps and both fell, breaking the same leg in the same place, again at exactly the same time. There was the little Spanish girl who suddenly developed a red blister on her hand at the time her sister, several miles away, burned her hand with an iron, causing an identical blister. There was the woman in New York who was suddenly taken ill, saying that she felt as if she was having a baby, which she certainly wasn’t. Her sister in Europe was, though, several weeks prematurely.
So it went on and on. The evidence was abundant, compelling, and above all consistent. Again and again I would hear the same stories, in the case of the blue baby two that were identical in every detail. Some of what I was hearing and reading might have involved faulty memory, misreporting, exaggeration or pure invention, but all of it? I doubted it, especially after following up some of the cases I mentioned above (and will mention later in more detail) and talking at length to those concerned.
Could anybody, I wondered, deny the fact that identical twins are telepathic, or at least that some of them are? Apparently they could. Asked in a television programme for her views on telepathy, one twin replied indignantly, as if she had been insulted, ‘Oh, get real. The possibilities of that are remote, what with all the big scientiﬁc stuff. If it was that possible a phenomenon it would have been picked up by now. So why ask this daft question?’
Author Peter Watson was equally dismissive in his book on the twin research at the University of Minnesota. ‘There is no evidence whatsoever,’ he wrote, ‘to support the idea that any form of parapsychological phenomena [which include telepathy] are involved in the twin bond.’ Noting that ‘very few studies have been done but the results have all been negative’, he concludes that ‘there is not the slightest scintilla of a suggestion that twins have some way of communicating with each other that brings on coincidence. Or, if there is, the twins know nothing of it.’ He does not cite any evidence to support this sweeping statement, with which, as we shall see in this book, quite a lot of twins would not agree.
As co-director of the Minnesota programme for many years, Dr Nancy Segal must have spent much of her working life in the company of twins. Yet on the subject of telepathy, also sometimes called extra-sensory perception or ESP, she makes herself very clear: ‘The bottom line is that I feel there’s no evidence for ESP in twins.’ She does concede that ‘you hear from twins that yes, they have this connection’ and that ‘you hear a lot about what I call ESP-like events’, but she puts these all down to ‘genetic underpinning’.
One of the ﬁrst British twin researchers, Dr James Shields of the Institute of Psychiatry, London, was prepared to go further, if only very slightly. ‘Claims of telepathic-like experiences are so often made, and not only by the hysterically inclined, that one suspects there is more to it than simply the wish to be alike’, he wrote in 1962. I cannot help wondering in passing if an experience that is ‘ESP-like’ or ‘telepathic-like’ might actually be telepathic?
How, you would be forgiven for asking, can the experts dismiss something that so many people take for granted? There are at least three answers to this question, and later I will be looking at the subject of taboo, where one of them is to be found. Another is that the opinions of many experts are strongly inﬂuenced by the Minnesota research, which is, or was initially, mainly into twins separated at birth and reunited as adults. The purpose of this is to sort out the relative importance of genetics and upbringing, or nature and nurture, which can be of considerable value to medical and psychological research. Reunited twins are ideal for this, but they are far from ideal for research into telepathy, for a very simple reason: if they are separated at birth, when they are barely conscious, they are not going to develop any kind of bond, let alone a special one. How can they, if as has often been the case, they are not even told they have a twin until well into adulthood?
As I show throughout this book, for telepathy to take place, between twins or anybody else, there usually has to be a bond of some kind. It does not take place between strangers, with rare exceptions as I will describe later, and since the identical twin bond is one of the closest there is, if we want to study telepathy at its strongest this is where we should expect to ﬁnd some of the best evidence for it.
The third answer to the question above is very simple: the necessary research has not been done. Nancy Segal was making a polite understatement when she described what few studies there had been of twin telepathy (none of them at Minnesota, by the way) as ‘so poorly done that you can’t even use them to make an informed judgment’. I show just how poor some of them were in Chapter 3.
There have been numerous studies of telepathy since the 1880s, yet there has never been a serious twin telepathy study on a large enough scale to enable us to make a well informed judgment, although a very large scale survey carried out in 2004 (which I discuss later) indicates just how widespread the incidence of twin telepathy may be.
I have included such studies as I have been able to track down in the hope that they encourage new researchers – one of the main aims of this book being to encourage new research – to avoid others’ past mistakes. Despite its title, this book is concerned with telepathy in general as much as, if not more than, telepathy between twins. I have concentrated on the twin connection because there is much to say about it that does not seem to have been said before, and because I believe it provides an important clue to the mystery of how telepathy actually happens as well as when. It also shows the telepathic signal at full volume, as it were, at which not only information is transmitted at a distance but so are emotions, physical sensations and even symptoms such as burns and bruises. With rare exceptions, links of this intensity do not exist between non-twins. So you might say that the proper study of telepathy is identical twins.
Is telepathy important in this age of high-tech instant communication? I think it is for two reasons. One is that any new discovery about ourselves, however trivial or controversial it may seem, should be explored to see where it leads. What could have been more trivial than Galvani’s row of twitching frogs’ legs or the apocryphal apple that landed on Newton’s head? The other is that if telepathy exists – and I will have failed if any reader gets to the end of this book without being satisﬁed that it does – it shows that many of our textbooks, especially in physics and psychology, need some drastic revision. This is one reason why academics are usually reluctant even to consider the possibility of telepathy, which they consider a no-go area. All too many of them suffer from what the Greeks called misoneism, or hatred of new ideas.
Although the word was only coined in 1882, telepathy has been around for a long time. The sixteenth-century philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa stated that ‘it is possible for someone to convey thoughts to someone else, however far apart they may be from each other’. Paracelsus claimed that ‘a person on this side of the ocean may make a person on the other side hear what is said on this side’. Francis Bacon mentioned ‘the binding of thoughts’ and even suggested ways of testing it statistically.
Twins have also been around for a long time, yet it was not until the 1780s, as far as I have been able to discover (and that applies to all claims made in this book) that anybody even suggested that there might be a special link between them. This is not surprising, for before we had the kind of popular media we have today, the personal experiences of ordinary people were not generally made public, except of course by novelists, who need a regular supply of such raw material.
So it is not surprising that the ﬁrst clear and accurate description of the special twin connection in the form of transmission of sensation comes from a novel in which the heroes are a pair of identical twins.
“A Daft Question” is taken from Twin Telepathy by Guy Lyon Playfair, published by White Crow Books.