A friend once sent me the portrait of an English king which shook me to the core, for the simple reason that it looked like me. There’s no doubt that the real king was as different from me as any stranger, but this portrait… the resemblance was objectively there.

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The theme of doppelgangers is also popular in the world of art: from Gilgamesh to the Indian films, from R. Varo to V. Nabokov. There are many mystical theories that attempt to explain this phenomenon, although not everyone believes it to be true of themselves. You may have a twin, but it’s doubtful that I do… there is only one copy of me.

On the other hand, who didn’t dream of having a twin when they were young, who would go to school and do our lessons for us? Or take vaccinations on our behalf. It would have been interesting to compete against him/her and see who’s the best at air hockey or checkers. Some, though, find the idea of meeting their look-alike terrifying.

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How likely is this event to take place?

Before we answer that, let’s talk about a famous case.

“The last time I went into the (airplane) cabin someone was sitting in my spot. I asked this wiseguy to get out of my seat, he looked at me, and then I saw his face, “ said Neil Douglas, who flew in that day for a wedding in Ireland. “All the other passengers looked at us and laughed. Then I took this photo.”

But that was only the beginning of a series of coincidences. When Douglas got to the front desk of the hotel, that same guy was standing there. But that isn’t all. That evening, Douglas went to a bar and saw him again. At this point, they decided that the universe wanted them to have a drink together, and they did so immediately.

The next morning, tormented with a hangover, Douglas was awakened by the sounds of Argentine radio, announcing that his photo on the plane had gone viral.

We are accustomed to thinking our faces are unique. And some love their faces so much that they post pictures of themselves every day on social media, on one platform or another, or even all of them at once.

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Yes, we think, this is our face. It’s in our passport. Criminals are identified by their face when victims pick them out of a line-up. We recognize old friends in public, our faces barely concealing the thought, “My God, time has taken its toll.”

The day is coming soon when they will be able to track every store you visit through facial recognition, much like the movie Minority Report.

Or maybe it isn’t that near, because your face probably isn’t that unique.

Researcher Teghan Lucas studied the faces of four thousand people, measuring the distance between their eyes and ears, and then calculated the likelihood of the existence of two identical individuals.

And? Less than one in a trillion, and there are only 7.4 billion people on the planet. The chances of giving birth to a set of doppelgangers, though, is 1 in 135.

But this just applies to absolute or exact resemblance. If one twin has ears 6cm in length and the other one just a millimeter less, observers won’t notice, or at least not right away. The brain captures the complete image, or Gestalt. When you see twins by themselves, they look like exact copies of each other, but don’t look so similar when they’re next to each other (especially from their point-of-view). They will often deny even the slightest resemblance.

François Brunelle somehow found and photographed more than 200 doppelgangers for a project called “I’m Not a Look-alike!”

It is very interesting concept, but I have to admit that I’m more strongly drawn to the fact of Neil Douglas’ repeated encounters with his doppelganger. Anyone who can give a scientific explanation for it must be a genius.

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Text: S. Varo
Translation: Richard Crenwelge

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