Have you ever thought a random person on the street is someone you know?
We’ve all heard the theory that somewhere in the world there’s a person that looks exactly like us. You might cross paths with them, or you might never actually see them. But is this a truthful fact or just a common belief based on a myth? There are endless cases in history where people assure they saw their doppelgänger, which in some countries was thought to be an omen of your upcoming death. For instance, it’s said that Queen Elizabeth I witnessed her double lying on her bed just days before her death, or that Queen Catherine the Great, almost two centuries later, saw her own doppelgänger sitting on her throne. Shocked, she ordered her guards to shoot at it, and days later she died. Now, if you ask me, for me these are just coincidences influenced by folk legends and superstition. However, the idea that someone out there looks exactly like me doesn't sound as crazy.
Before going to the strong facts science has to offer on the subject, let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen a person that reminds you of someone or that have some features you’ve seen somewhere else? I bet you do. Every time I take the subway, I look at the people around me, not like a stalker, but just to know who am I sharing the train with. Well, after those observations, I came to believe that among the millions of people in the world, there are physical molds or types where we all could be categorized, even if we aren't genetically related at all. Now, this isn’t quite the same as what we understand as doppelgängers, isn’t it?
In 2015, Dr. Teghan Lucas (University of Adelaide) started a research to find out the mystery of doppelgängers. What moved her to start the study was wondering if innocent people had been put in jail just because they look the same as an actual criminal. Actually, the idea wasn’t as far-fetched, since not so long ago the news of a man named Richard Jones became popular. Jones served 17 years accused of robbing a woman in the parking lot of a store. According to some witnesses, the robber was a black or Hispanic man with black hair, and after some spoken portraits, they thought Jones was responsible for the crime because he resembled the actual criminal. Now, going back to Lucas, she used a collection of photographs from the US military, and with the aid of some colleagues, she analyzed the faces and features of about 4,000 people. Once she had all the data, she calculated how probable it was for people within the group to have the same features.
From the whole study, she concluded that the chances of having a doppelgänger, if we think of it as an identical copy of ourselves,
is basically impossible. Even with the millions of people in the world, she found out that there's only one in 135 chance of finding two people with the exact same features. Now, that doesn’t mean the theory is completely shattered. First, we should reconsider what we understand as doppelgängers. For instance, François Brunelle, creator of the project "I'm Not a Look-Alike," presents another idea of doppelgänger, not precisely based on finding an exact copy of yourself in the world. In his project he gathered about 200 photographs of people who look like him, and based on that, he presents doppelgängers as people who share some of your features and give you the illusion, out of physical resemblance, body language, and psychological traits, that they're a copy of yourself.
According to an article by Zaria Gorvett for the BBC, our brain also plays an important role in this matter. It’s not precisely that people we see on the street or on the subway are our doubles, but a matter of how our brain registers facial features. Our brain gets an overall image of how a person looks like at first sight, instead of really registering each feature individually. So, when you see someone that looks "exactly" like another person, it’s because you’re seeing the image as a whole instead of paying real attention to each bit. So, maybe their nose, eyes, mouth, and features aren’t as important as long as the type of face, hairstyle, or skin tones match.
Finally, another thing to consider is the fact that people from the same region tend to share some genetic information. That happens because in ancient times global mobility was not an option, and thus a set of genes were set in each specific region. Remember what I said about my hypothesis of people being categorized in terms of facial features? Well, as I said, it isn’t that far-fetched, since most of us, especially when we're from the same country, share quite an important set of genes. That’s why it’s not that hard to find people with similar features every day.
So, yes, scientifically speaking, it’s quite impossible to find two pairs of unrelated people sharing the exact same features than the other. However, it's also true that, despite having its origins in superstitions and myths, the idea of the doppelgänger isn't as unreal as it might sound. Because we tend to distinguish only specific features when looking at faces, the myth is rooted on actual functions of our brain. That's why it's very likely that we'll think we have run into our doppelgängers at some point in our life.
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