Twidders, by Anita Holmes

Twidders cvr

Ozark Mountain Publishing, 2010.

‘Twidder’ is a term coined by Anita Holmes to cover a range of strange experiences, combining, as she puts it, ‘“time/warp/displacement” with a pinch of “slip” (as in time slip) thrown in.’  The cover’s subtitle cryptically describes her aim as an ‘Exploration of the time-lost continuum and travel.’  In other words, it deals with spontaneous events, not just time slips, in which people going about their everyday business, without having taken mind-altering substances or being obviously cognitively impaired, find that, due to no act on their part, for a period their environment has changed around them, or something has happened which is improbable as we understand conventional science.  Usually there is no significance to this shift, no ‘message from the cosmos’.  The overwhelming effect is one of puzzlement at the apparent randomness of what just happened.  People may mull over it for decades but still not come to any conclusion.

The book is divided into sections according to the type of twidder, though they do not always fall into neat compartments.  Some are well known (for example the Misses Moberly and Jourdain’s 1901 Versailles Adventure and the 1951 replay of the Dieppe raid) but most are taken from internet fora, which means that there is no editorial control and they cry out for the type of amplification of frustratingly scanty details a skilled interviewer can elicit.

As a preamble, Holmes examines quantum physics to see if it might provide a framework, favouring the idea of multiple universes to which under obscure circumstances one might gain temporary access.  In this scenario, we may find ourselves switched, possibly by means of wormholes transporting individuals to ‘an alternate there or other NOW’ as she puts it, from ours to one that looks similar but is different in some way.

The first section is devoted to time slips in which people from the present somehow find themselves back in the past – or when an element of the past has penetrated the present.  These provide the greatest number of accounts.  Much rarer are those in which someone seems to visit the future, though as Holmes notes, if there are quantum processes involved, technically they should be as frequent as those involving the past.  Then there are time distortions, either speeding up or slowing down.  People travel distances much more quickly or slowly than they should have, but only realise afterwards.  The latter ties in with missing time, but there is no stated connection in this sample with alien abduction.

Considering time distortions to be perhaps caused by a ‘wrinkle in time’, Holmes turns to replays, identical acts occurring close together such as a car coming down the road twice, which she speculates might on the same analogy be characterised as folds in time.  There are those locations which are there on one visit but cannot be found later (‘place slips’ if you will), and instances of bilocation, someone appearing to be in two places at once.  Some less dramatic cases fall into the category of jotts (‘just one of those things’) as defined by Mary Rose Barrington of the Society for Psychical Research, items disappearing and, sometimes, turning up again later.  It is clear that the twidder covers a lot of disparate phenomena.

Holmes concludes by noting features that may give clues to what is happening.  There are potential triggers which include intense concentration or possessing deep levels of specialised knowledge; locations where acts that generated intense emotions took place; electrical storms or electromagnetism – certainly many experients report a change in the feel of the atmosphere; and a psychometry component, contact with an item that links the handler to a past scene.  She is quick to point out that there are numerous examples that do not involve any of these triggers but, while explanations remain elusive, she has no doubt that there is something fundamental going on that needs to be studied scientifically.

So what are we to make of the notion of twidders?  There may be some substance to an explanation invoking advanced physics (though the wormhole part seems implausible), but it cannot be the whole story.  It is likely that in any assemblage of anecdotes there will be a sprinkling of hoaxes, as Holmes herself concedes, but everything in the book is conveyed with sincerity, sometimes by individuals with public reputations to maintain, in all cases with no obvious motive for deception.  Even so, explanations for the majority may lie in a variety of straightforward causes: memory and attention lapses; switching off when involved in routine tasks such as driving; confusion caused by being in unfamiliar surroundings; occasionally inadvertently elaborating a core experience by repeated discussion or exaggerating to make it seem more interesting.

There does not have to be any pathology present because our perceptions of the world are not as stable as we might think.  We filter out much of what is going on around us, and witnesses may not appreciate that they can be led astray by their erroneous assumption that ‘in here’ always matches ‘out there’.  Yet how to explain the case of the church members on a camping trip who found the landscape they were walking through failed to match what they were familiar with, and who could not find it again when they came back later?  A joint hallucination seems less likely than an individual one, but we are told nothing of any group dynamics that may have played a role.

Everyone involved in that particular case produced statements that, it is claimed, matched in their essentials, and one would like to know where they are now.  Typically those involved in such situations do not write contemporaneous notes, and the passage of years is a factor in introducing uncertainty.  While contributors often state that an event was corroborated, we don’t see independent verification outside the witnesses’ accounts, and that is a weakness to be considered when evaluating what they say.

Holmes’s collection merely scratches the surface of what can be read in similar volumes, in ‘it happened to me’ magazine columns, and on internet message boards.  It is true that it is unlikely so many people with nothing to gain and who aren’t obvious trolls are making these narratives up for fun, but that doesn’t mean they are correct in what they write.  Dialectical materialism may stress the transformation of quantity into quality but errors do not transform into truth simply because there are a lot of them.  On the other hand surely so much is going on that cannot be dismissed as the products of over-active imaginations.  The trouble is finding a demarcation line that will tell us what proportion cannot be explained by ordinary, as opposed to extraordinary, means.

In our efforts to understand, lumping these disparate phenomena together as ‘twidders’ may be proceeding in the wrong direction.  Rather than trying to discern linkages across a wide range of anomalies that may not have anything in common (lost spectacles, futuristic landscapes), it seems a more useful exercise to separate them out and try to establish what is going on at a more fine-grained level before assessing how they may relate to each other, assuming they do.

In the meantime the open-minded reader will be left puzzling over these curious testimonies, but how much credence to give them, with our present lack of understanding, will be down to a gut feeling; we could say our individual boggle threshold.  And we may just have to accept that for some of these twidders, no complete explanation will ever be forthcoming.

 

My thanks to Robert L Charman for bringing this book to my attention, and for kindly supplying a copy.

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