Have you ever scrolled through those celebrity look alike articles and wondered, “Who out there looks just like me?” Maybe you’ve done a double-take when you suddenly saw someone who looked just like someone you know. Or you may even have even tapped them on the shoulder and said hi! (only to embarrass yourself when you realise it was a case of mistaken identity).
Did you know that there is a word for someone who looks just like or similar to you? No, we are not talking about identical twins. The word is — doppelgänger.
What is a Doppelgänger?
It is a German word that literally means ‘double-goer’. In German folklore, it refers to the ghost of a living person. While in German mythology the occurrence of doppelgangers was said to be a paranormal phenomena. It was believed that if one ever saw their doppelganger they would experience bad luck.
However, modern-day definition describes it as someone whose facial features are almost the same as yours, despite not being genetically related.
Do I have a Doppelgänger in the world?
Almost everyone believes that they have a doppelganger. Somewhere out there there’s an almost perfect duplicate of you. This notion has gripped popular imagination for many years – inspiring novels, art and movies.
But is there any truth in it? Let’s see what science has to say about this fascinating question.
What is a face?
Well, that sounds like a simple question. It’s the eyes, the mouth and the nose, along with the dimples of your cheeks and the colour of the eyebrows…all these features, and more, create a picture that you present to the world — your face.
But a picture of a face isn’t what your brain really sees when you look at someone. When we recognise anything, we are comparing what we see with a stored ‘mental picture’ that’s encoded in our brain. Turns out that special cells in our brain are active only when we look at faces, and they are not active when we look at other things. So what are these facial recognition neurons actually seeing?
The science of recognition
When we see someone’s face, our eyes are not just sending information about the nose, eyes and lips of the person to our mind. We are perceiving them as a whole too. In some cases, the geometry of the face, and how the features are arranged with respect to one another can cause some confusion in the brain.
In the areas of our brain that recognise faces, scientists believe that certain neurons fire for eyes that are, say 6 cms apart. Other neurons become active for a mouth that is placed 8 cms below the nose, or for a nose that is x centimeters long and wide.
This combination of firing neurons creates a map, or a code, called facial schema. Hence, to our brains, a face is not a picture, it’s a pattern. And if one of those coded patterns show up somewhere unexpected, we can see a face — even if it’s not there. It’s an effect called pareidolia.
Hey, you look like someone I know
You definitely must have heard this line at least a few times in your life.
So is there some science associated with that line? Let’s find out.
Here is a photograph of two ‘visually identical’ individuals. Have a look at their faces.
They look almost exactly the same, right?
Now in the picture below look at their noses and eyes separately. They look quite different now, don’t they?
You see, a whole face might look similar to another one, but they are not in fact. This is exactly what happens when we come across a doppelgänger.
All of these are examples of how we get fooled, because our brains usually don’t pay attention to the details of the faces. And sometimes the brain is not able to decipher the visual patterns correctly.
Of course, the more time we spend with people, the better we can tell their faces apart from others’. It’s because our facial recognition part of the brain gets help from our long-term memory. But if you don’t know two similarly-looking people personally, like the two girls above, then you are more likely to think that they look alike.
Some people are just better at recognising faces than others, and scientists don’t really know why. For instance, those of you who didn’t think that the girls in the picture above looked alike are probably able to sense details in their face pattern that others can’t.
So, do Doppelgängers exist?
It’s quite likely that you have a doppelgänger out there who looks somewhat or exactly like you. But if you were to scrutinise their features using science, you will see that they are physically different in several ways. Science tells us that technically doppelgängers don’t exist. Every face that’s ever been is unique — even that of identical twins.
Tell us in the comment section if you have seen someone who looked just like yourself or someone you know.
And for those curious minds who want to meet their ‘body-doubles’, here is a little trick: Do a reverse Google image search and look through the “visually similar images. Who knows you might just find your body-double!
Raza has been writing since 2008, be it fiction, poetry, or articles on science, politics, and history. He believes that words can change the world, and he uses them to inspire and empower people through his writing. When he is not working, he is watching nature documentaries or playing with his cats.
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