For a while, our grandson shared his school classroom with a couple of exceptional girls. The two girls are joined at the head—conjoined—technically craniopagus twins.
Tatiana and Krista Hogan turned six at the end of October. Long ago, their mother decided not to abort them and not to risk separating them surgically.
Whether her decisions were right or wrong, I cannot know. But as a result of those decisions, the rest of us are confronted with some new frontiers in our understanding of ourselves.
Anatomically, the two girls have separate brains, separate nervous systems, separate body organs. But their brains are “zippered” together, writes Vancouver Sun writer Denise Ryan, by “a neural bridge between the thalami, the sensory processing hubs of their brains.”
So they can, when they choose to, see through each other’s eyes, feel through each other’s skin and taste through each other’s taste buds. When one is tickled, the other will laugh.
Ryan describes one example. The girls’ grandmother “covers Tatiana’s eyes. Their mother holds a small stuffed animal in front of Krista’s open eyes. ‘What am I holding?’ she asks Tatiana.
“Tatiana, her eyes completely covered, hesitates.
“Her mother prompts her: ‘Tati, look through your sister’s eyes.’
“There is a pause, a breath held.
“Then Tatiana, her eyes covered, somehow floats into her sister’s brain: ‘The Lorax!’ she announces.
“In order to see through each other’s eyes,” Ryan explains, “there is some internal shift, as if each sister’s soul moves over and makes space for the other.”
It’s a conscious connection, a deliberate entry into the other’s senses. They don’t normally live in each other’s minds. They have their own food preferences, their own personalities. But some sensory inputs are strong enough to override their ability to maintain separation. Krista loves ketchup; Tatiana hates it. When Krista eats ketchup, Tatiana screams.
Can they read each other’s thoughts? They’re still too young to identify and name which one originated a thought. But that recognition may come, in time.
I’m almost envious.
Despite being a writer, I’m often clueless at picking up clues from oral language, let alone body language. I would love to be able to enter someone else’s mind, to know what he or she is really thinking.
This is not about control or domination. I have enough trouble operating my own body, without taking over someone else’s too.
Rather, it’s about the ultimate intimacy—shared consciousness, communicating without masks, without barriers.
Isn’t that what it means “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”? To set aside our egos, our presuppositions, our prejudices, so that we can learn to see the world through their eyes, walk in their shoes, experience their feelings?
I’m less comfortable with someone else rummaging through my mind, I admit. Some of my thoughts are probably not, umm, publishable.
But Krista and Tatiana show me that it is possible for two minds to interact, while retaining their own identity. One mind need not totally infiltrate the other.
Perhaps, even without being physically conjoined, I could learn to trust others with more of what’s really going on inside me.