What if you hadn’t ventured out of Delhi for the last few weeks and a friend called up to say, “ Hi, it was nice meeting you in Russia when the foot ball World Cup matches were on, but we must now meet up here in Delhi for a relaxed lunch or dinner sometime… see you soon, bye…”. Russia???! Had you heard right? How could someone have seen you in Russia—either recently or ever, since you’d never visited Russia? In all probability, your friend saw your doppelganger. Doppelgangers or references to the existence of “another self” have featured in mythology, folklore and works of fiction for centuries.

Derived from a German word which literally means “double-goer”, the Oxford Dictionary defines doppelgänger as “an apparition or double of a living person”. According to Wikipedia “A doppelganger… is a non-biologically related look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a ghostly or paranormal phenomenon and usually seen as a harbinger of bad luck. Other traditions and stories equate a doppelgänger with an evil twin. In modern times, the term twin stranger is occasionally used… and in slang, to describe any person who physically or behaviorally resembles another person.”

Some time ago the BBC provided amazing insights in an indepth article titled “The Dangerous Consequences Of Seeing Your Doppelganger” based on a chapter of Anil Ananthaswamy’s book, The Man Who Wasn’t There. During a classic full-blown out-of-body experience, the article said, people report leaving their physical body and looking down at it lying in bed. Such hallucinations are classified as autoscopic phenomena, from “autoscopy”.  In Greek, autos means “self” and skopeo means “looking at”. The simplest form of an autoscopic phenomenon involves feeling the presence of someone next to you without actually seeing a “double”—a sensed presence. The doppelganger effect takes this phenomenon a step further, so that a person may hallucinate that they are actually seeing and interacting with another “me”—a visual double…

The doppelganger effect is also known in neuroscientific jargon as heautoscopy. During heautoscopy, the BBC article explains, you perceive an illusory body, and your centre of awareness can shift from within the physical body to the illusory body and back. The other key components of heautoscopy are the presence of intense emotions and the involvement of the sensory-motor system.

“Usually, the double is moving and there is interaction, there is sharing of emotions, of thoughts, and that’s what’s giving the impression of a doppelganger,” opines neurologist Lukas Heydric. Using data from brain scans, Heydrich and Olaf Blanke, a neurologist at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have found that patients who have reported heautoscopic hallucinations typically show damage to the left posterior insula and adjacent cortical areas. Given that heautoscopic hallucinations involve emotions, it’s revealing that the insular cortex is implicated. The insula is the hub that integrates visual, auditory, sensory, motor, proprioceptive, and vestibular signals with signals from the viscera. It’s the brain region where the body’s states seem to be represented and the representations are eventually manifested as subjective feelings, giving rise to the perception of a bodily self.

When abnormalities arise in the integration, it’s as if there are now two representations of the body instead of one, and somehow the brain has to choose the representation in which to anchor the self, or rather choose which representation to imbue with self-location, self-identification, and first-person perspective. However, in addition to extensive supernatural lore, numerous first person accounts of doppelgangers from notable personalities and significant incidents are no less convincing. Abraham Lincoln, for example, hailed as one of the greatest statesman the world has ever known, is said to have personally witnessed his double-self in 1860 after his first election and has been chronicled by Noah Brooks in his book, Washington in Lincoln’s Time. While resting on a couch briefly after the elections, Lincoln saw his own visage in the mirror. The pale apparition faded out when he stood up. His wife was certain that the doppelganger foreshadowed bad news, and interpreted it to mean that Lincoln would be re-elected for a second term but wouldn’t “last through it” because the mirror image looked deathly. Lincoln was assassinated shortly after winning the second term.

Physicists and other have speculated that the Big Bang led to the creation of other parallel universes. Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos believes the theory of parallel universes supports the idea that we all have doppelgangers. “The argument for doppelgangers is pretty straightforward. Assuming that space goes on infinitely far, in any finite chunk, matter can only arrange itself in a finite number of ways, like cards in a deck. You and I are just a configuration of particles, so sooner or later we’re going to repeat. Matter can almost repeat its configuration but not repeat it identically. Your physical body may repeat, but your mental configuration can be a little bit different, so there might be an evil version of you, and a version that loves skydiving.” Obviously, scientific theories are not confined to the doppelganger phenomenon occurring purely in the brain and that it is based on injuries or stimulation to certain parts of the brain. And clearly, despite dedicated, fruitful experiments scientists still have to find answers to an array of questions.

Jayne Harris is a qualified psychologist, member of the Parapsychological Association, Chairwoman of the Midlands Society for Paranormal Research (MSPR) and author of What Dwells Within—A Study of Spirit Attachment which received the Readers Favourite 5 star award has spent almost two decades studying, investigating and experiencing paranormal phenomena first hand. According to her, the doppelganger idea goes far beyond folklore and ancient superstitions. “ Whatever the real truth,” she says “  belief in the spirit double has instilled both fear and wonder in people for thousands of years and will no doubt continue to do so. After all, the wonder of life is surely its mysteries.” Certainly, the doppelganger is not only a fascinating mystery, the possibility that we all may have duplicates or doppelgangers, perhaps in a parallel universe, perhaps in more than one universe, perhaps in this world, is an intriguing possibility.

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