Double Vision: The Science (and Mystery) of Doppelgängers

Wednesday September 19, 2018 Written by Sam

Doppelgangers

As anyone who’s read Edgar Allan Poe’s creepy short story William Wilson knows, discovering you’ve got a doppelgänger isn’t necessarily a happy experience. But if there’s any truth to the theory that each of us has seven lookalikes somewhere on the planet, then the possibility of running into one of them is something we should probably be prepared for.

Just ask the subjects of Canadian photographer Francois Brunelle’s ‘I Am Not a Lookalike’ project. Despite being born in different cities (or even countries), growing up in different circumstances and being completely unrelated to each other, these folks share almost twin-like resemblances.

Doppels

Curiously, after snapping hundreds of lookalike duos, Brunelle remarks that the most interesting thing about them is not so much “that they look exactly alike, it’s the fact that they don’t”. He has a point: once the initial impact of their striking similarities has subsided, their dissimilarities gradually emerge – subtle discrepancies in ears, noses, eyes, lips. Kinda same same, but different.

Which suggests that, rather than being identical down to the last millimetre like some kind of supernatural mirror-self from another dimension, a doppelgänger is more about the overall impression of sameness. “For me it’s when you see someone and you think it’s the other person,” Brunelle says. “It’s the way of being, the sum of the parts.”

Doppels

A recent Australian study bears this out. A University of Adelaide team analysed nearly 4,000 faces from a public collection of U.S. Military personnel photos, assessing them on the basis of eight key facial features, and found that the chances of two people being an exact match in all eight respects are about one in a trillion. In other words, mathematically possible but hugely improbable.

But before you breathe a sigh of relief that your uniqueness is unassailable and you’ll never be charged for the crimes of some evil twin running amuck pretending to be you, be sure to check out Twin Strangers. Sure, science may tell us we can’t be duplicated, but this website – dedicated to connecting lookalikes around the world through the wonders of facial recognition technology – begs to differ…