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Triplet Parapsychology

(Text as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05)

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The program was Identical Triplets: Their Secret World. This repeat showing was on Tuesday 17th February 2009, 23:45, rather feebly reviewed here –Link– though I think the programme was first shown on ITV1 on 23rd June 2008 – follow Link (Defunct) for a start. I didn’t see all of it, but most of the program was standard stuff – the usual “can you tell them apart, just how alike are they, and what are their physical and psychological differences” kind of thing – but one element was rather arresting. To quote from the link just given:-

But the most surprising thing, the scientific investigation into the much-vaunted supposition that triplets can communicate in a way no other humans can - through some sort of extra-sensory connection - came up with a startling conclusion. With one of the Sutton boys wired up to a games machine which would deliver electric shocks if he made a wrong move, and the other two boys in completely separate rooms, out of sight and hearing of each other, their monitors showed a clear correlation in physical reaction both times the first lad received a shock. Even though the other two were not consciously aware of anything happening, the graphs rose and fell in perfect harmony. Quite astonishing.

There are a number of TV-channel references for the programme, but I haven’t found much discussion. Follow Link (Defunct) for one link with comments. The relevant one is “This program left the viewer with the strong impression that triplets have extra-sensory perception. If this is true, the program makers should start planning their Nobel Prize acceptance speech.” Indeed.

Well, I have to admit to a prejudice here – there’s no such thing as ESP, and all the studies into it that I’m aware of – if they come up with anything at all – come up with very marginal statistical correlations. Maybe the jury is still out on this – but there’s nothing clear-cut. However, this programme showed results that were far too good. As the above quote says, the graphs – whatever they were of – “rose and fell in perfect harmony”. Too perfect by half.

There are several factors:–

  1. Neither of the other two twins felt anything at all. This is surprising if there was anything measurable – they didn’t have an MRI scan – just electrodes on the skin. So, it wasn’t some deep subliminal intuition that was being allegedly measured, but gross physical manifestations – and that seems inconsistent with total unawareness of any reaction. Maybe not – does a lie-detector test only detect those who think they are lying? I think so, but am not sure.
  2. What would be the purpose of some totally unconscious mind-link. What evolutionary drive could have developed it? Even Vulcans seem to wince.
  3. None of the triplets interviewed believed in ESP in the slightest. If it was a real phenomenon, they would surely have encountered it in their daily lives.
  4. The experiment is unethical. By the triplet’s reactions, it looks as though he didn’t just get a slight buzz but a great big zap. At least he jumped out of his chair and hopped about a bit. You just can’t perform experiments like that. What if he’d had a heart attack? There’s a well known experiment (the Milgram experiment (Wikipedia: Milgram experiment), designed to test people’s willingness to obey authority): if someone tells you to zap someone, you’re more likely to do so if it’s an authority-figure in a white coat than if Joe Soap does. But in the Milgram experiment, the screams of the supposedly-zapped were simulated – no real zapping went on – even in 1961 when they used to routinely give people ETC or chop their brains in half to see if it cured epilepsy. Now – OK – the analogy isn’t perfect – you don’t need to zap people in the Milgram experiment; you just need to think you are. Maybe ESP is so fine tuned that it can tell the difference between real and simulated zappings. Even so, you just don’t zap people. Not now, on TV.
  5. The program didn’t really dwell on this amazing result that would be extraordinarily difficult to explain physically. There was just a quick “gee whiz” and on to the next scene. Nor were there any eurekas from the researcher. But surely, if such an amazing experimental result was real, it would have been all over the papers – but if it was, it’s been well hidden. The same goes for all the recent UFO sightings, no doubt. All spoofs.
Now, I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories either, but this just has to be a con. The zapped twin must have been in on the prank, though the others might not have been. Not consciously, anyway!

So, this is just another load of old baloney not worth mentioning? Well, maybe – but there are epistemological spin-offs that, as a trainee philosopher – I’m interested in. Such episodes help to build up our world-views. I’m strongly resistant to such magical ideas, so I’m on the look out for spoofs. If you’re happy to believe anything – “gullible” or “open minded” depending on your stance - then presumably an episode like that gets logged away as a confirming instance of ESP. Very irresponsible on the programme’s part, if you ask me.

But everyone – even those willing to believe in the extraordinary – is selective in what they respond positively to. No religious person willingly believes in supposed miracles that support another religion – especially a close rival. What protestant – however charismatic – rejoices to hear of visitations of the Virgin Mary, bi-located monks or flying Holy Houses? All Christians warm to the idea that there’s a Bible Code – but presumably is less sanguine about similar claims about the Koran.

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22/02/2009 15:17:17 5673 Triplet Parapsychology

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18/12/2010 19:58:05 833 (Triplet Parapsychology) None

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