Seeing double?

A doppelganger is a mysterious, exact double of a living person. It’s a German word that literally translates to “double walker” or “double goer”. A doppelganger isn’t someone who just resembles you, but is an exact double, right down to the way you walk, act, talk, and dress. A friend or even a close relative who encounters your doppelganger will swear it was you, even though you can prove you were not in the location the double was sighted.

In German folklore, a doppelganger is a wraith or apparition of a living person is distinguished from a ghost. The concept of the existence of a spirit double, an exact but usually invisible replica of every man, bird, or beast, is an ancient and widespread belief. To meet one’s double is a sign that one’s death is imminent.

English speakers have only recently applied this German word to a paranormal concept. Francis Grose’s, Provincial Glossary of 1787 used the term fetch instead, defined as the “apparition of a person living.” Catherine Crowe’s book on paranormal phenomena, The Night-Side of Nature (1848) helped make the German word well-known. However, the concept of alter egos and double spirits has appeared in the folklore, myths, religious concepts, and traditions of many cultures throughout human history.

Many reports of doppelgangers are probably cases of mistaken identity, but such an explanation becomes harder to accept when they are seen by best friends, siblings, and parents who know the real person intimately. It seems hard to believe that they would be fooled by another person who simply resembles the original. And how likely is it that they would have the exact same haircut and clothes, as is so often reported?

It turns out that unrelated doppelgangers may have quite a bit in common beyond just twin faces. New research suggests that lookalikes with incredibly similar faces tend to share many genetic variants—variants that don’t just seem to shape their appearance but general aspects of their life. At the same time, other important influences, such as the microbiome[1], appear to contribute little to their symmetry.

Movies that have portrayed doppelgangers include Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958), Christopher Nolan’s “Prestige” (2006), “The Man Who Haunted Himself” (1970) starring Roger Moore, “Femme Fatale” (2003), and “Doppelganger” (1993) with Drew Barrymore. Television has had episodes including “Friends” – ‘The One With Russ’, “The Dukes of Hazzard” – ‘Double Dukes’, “The Incredible Hulk” – ‘Broken Image’, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – ‘Doppelgangland’.

I just watched the TV show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents…”, season 1 episode 10 “The Case of Mr. Pelham” where this man’s look-alike, Tom Ewell, completely takes over his life and destroys him.

Literature that depicts Doppelgangers includes “The Devil’s Elixir” (1815) by E. T. A. Hoffmann, “Prometheus Unbound” (1820) by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Double” (1846) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “The Other” (1972), “Despair” (1936) by Vladimir Nabokov, “Glamorama” (1998) by Bret Easton Ellis, “The Likeness” by Tana French, and “The Outsider” (2018) by Stephen King.

  1. The microbiome is the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us. Although microbes are so small that they require a microscope to see them, they contribute in big ways to human health and wellness. They protect us against pathogens, help our immune systems develop, and enable us to digest food to produce energy. Because the microbiome is a key interface between the body and the environment, these microbes can affect health in many ways and can even affect how we respond to certain environmental substances. Some microbes alter environmental substances in ways that make them more toxic, while others act as a buffer and make environmental substances less harmful.


The Westport Library

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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