The Frontal Cortex


In the new New York Review of Books, there is a fascinating review of Nancy Segal’s new book on twins. (Caveat: I haven’t read the book yet.) The review is full of choice anecdotes like these:

The “Fireman Twins” were adopted by separate families living just thirty miles apart and who both grew up to become volunteer firemen. The last two twins were reunited in their mid-thirties after one of them was mistaken for the other at a firemen’s convention. The resemblances were uncanny. Beside both being volunteer firemen, they each had a loud, staccato-like laugh; liked to issure one word responses to questions; enjoyed hunting, fishing and forestry; drank the same unusual brand of beer, and held their beer cans in the same peculiar manner, supported by a pinky finger underneath. Their IQ’s differed by only two points. When the twins first met, they found themselves to be so alike that, in the words of one of the twins, “there was no need to get acquainted.”

And then here’s this twin story, which if it happened in a movie, or a novel, would be ridiculed for being too ridiculous:

Oskar and Jack were separated shortly after their birth when the marriage of their German parents broke up. Jack remained with his Jewish father in Trinidad. Their Catholic mother returned to Hitler’s Germany with Oskar. There she changed her son’s last name and raised him as a Christian to hide his Jewish identity. Young Oskar became an eager member of the Hitler’s Youth, “convinced that what the Nazi’s said about the Jews, war and country was true.”

In 1954, when the twins were twenty-one, they met with an “icy handshake”. “We saw each other as enemies,” Jack recalled, thinking “neither one of us would change.” Despite their similarities – they both liked to read books from back to front and both wore rubber bands around their wrist – the ideological gulf between the two brothers was something they could never overcome. They disagreed about the causes of WWII, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and other political matters. Intensely concerned, however, by their broken twinship, they tried for nearly fifty years to surmount these barriers. The brothers took more than a half-dozen vacations together and occasionally visited each other. Governed in substantial part bby their equally aggressive, demanding, and critical personalities, the twins’ relationship deteriorated bit by bit each time they met.