A Doppelgänger, also spelled doppelgaenger or fetch, can be the ghost of a living person or any other sort of physical double that look very similar to the ghosts of the deceased. The idea of a doppelganger is sometimes similar to that of an "evil twin."
The word doppelgänger comes from the German Doppelgaenger, literally meaning "double-goer", someone who is walking the same way as you do. Doppelgangers are also linked if not similar to crisis apparitions, a sinister form of bilocation. The word is also used to describe the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a position where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection.
There are many different types of doppelganger, as the definition of the term has become somewhat loose, encompassing any sort of double. The doppelganger may be ghostly or appear in the flesh. It may be an "evil twin" unknown to the original person who causes mischief by confusing friends and relatives, or it may be the result of the original person being in two places at once through an act of magic. In some cases a person will come upon his own doppelganger who is typically engaged in some future activity.
The idea of doppelgängers is also seen in fiction involving time travel and parallel universes. In this case, the doppelgänger really "is" the doubled person, but from a different timeline or different version of the universe.
In folklore, the doppelganger is said to have no shadow or reflection, much like vampires in some traditions. Doppelgangers are often malicious or a bad omen, and they can haunt their earthly counterparts. They may also give bad advice or put thoughts in their victim's heads. Seeing one's own doppelganger or the doppelganger of a friend or relative is considered very bad luck, often heralding death or serious illness of the doppelganger's original. In Norse mythology, a vardøgr is a ghostly double who precedes a living person and is seen performing their actions in advance.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
On 8 July 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley, English atheist and poet, drowned in the Bay of Spezia near Lerici. On 15 August, while staying at Pisa, Mary Shelley wrote a letter to Maria Gisborne in which she relayed Percy's claims to her that he had met his own doppelgänger. A week after Mary's nearly fatal miscarriage, in the early hours of 23 June, Percy had had a nightmare about the house collapsing in a flood, and
- ... talking it over the next morning he told me that he had had many visions lately — he had seen the figure of himself which met him as he walked on the terrace & said to him — "How long do you mean to be content" — No very terrific words & certainly not prophetic of what has occurred. But Shelley had often seen these figures when ill; but the strangest thing is that Mrs W[illiams] saw him. Now Jane though a woman of sensibility, has not much imagination & is not in the slightest degree nervous — neither in dreams or otherwise. She was standing one day, the day before I was taken ill, [15 June] at a window that looked on the Terrace with Trelawny — it was day — she saw as she thought Shelley pass by the window, as he often was then, without a coat or jacket — he passed again — now as he passed both times the same way — and as from the side towards which he went each time there was no way to get back except past the window again (except over a wall twenty feet from the ground) she was struck at seeing him pass twice thus & looked out & seeing him no more she cried — "Good God can Shelley have leapt from the wall? Where can he be gone?" Shelley, said Trelawny — "No Shelley has past — What do you mean?" Trelawny says that she trembled exceedingly when she heard this & it proved indeed that Shelley had never been on the terrace & was far off at the time she saw him.
Percy Shelley's drama Prometheus Unbound (1820) contains the following passage in Act I: "Ere Babylon was dust, / The Magus Zoroaster, my dear child, / Met his own image walking in the garden. / That apparition, sole of men, he saw. / For know there are two worlds of life and death: / One that which thou beholdest; but the other / Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit / The shadows of all forms that think and live / Till death unite them and they part no more...."
Izaak Walton claimed that John Donne, the English metaphysical poet, saw his wife's doppelgänger in 1612 in Paris, on the same night as the stillbirth of his daughter.
- Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone, in that room in which Sir Robert, and he, and some other friends had dined together. To this place Sir Robert return'd within half an hour; and, as he left, so he found Mr. Donne alone; but, in such Extasie, and so alter'd as to his looks, as amaz'd Sir Robert to behold him: insomuch that he earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befaln him in the short time of his absence? to which, Mr. Donne was not able to make a present answer: but, after a long and perplext pause, did at last say, I have seen a dreadful Vision since I saw you: I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: this, I have seen since I saw you. To which, Sir Robert reply'd; Sure Sir, you have slept since I saw you; and, this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake. To which Mr. Donnes reply was: I cannot be surer that I now live, then that I have not slept since I saw you: and am, as sure, that at her second appearing, she stopt, and look'd me in the face, and vanisht.
This account first appears in the edition of Life of Dr John Donne published in 1675, and is attributed to "a Person of Honour... told with such circumstances, and such asseveration, that... I verily believe he that told it me, did himself believe it to be true." At the time Donne was indeed extremely worried about his pregnant wife, and was going through severe illness himself. However, R. C. Bald points out that Walton's account "is riddled with inaccuracies. He says that Donne crossed from London to Paris with the Drurys in twelve days, and that the vision occurred two days later; the servant sent to London to make inquiries found Mrs Donne still confined to her bed in Drury House. Actually, of course, Donne did not arrive in Paris until more than three months after he left England, and his wife was not in London but in the Isle of Wight. The still-born child was buried on 24 January.... Yet as late as 14 April Donne in Paris was still ignorant of his wife's ordeal." In January, Donne was still at Amiens. His letters do not support the story as given.
Carl Sandburg's biography contains the following:
- A queer dream or illusion had haunted Lincoln at times through the winter. On the evening of his election he had thrown himself on one of the haircloth sofas at home, just after the first telegrams of November 6 had told him he was elected President, and looking into a bureau mirror across the room he saw himself full length, but with two faces.
- It bothered him; he got up; the illusion vanished; but when he lay down again there in the glass again were two faces, one paler than the other. He got up again, mixed in the election excitement, forgot about it; but it came back, and haunted him. He told his wife about it; she worried too.
- A few days later he tried it once more and the illusion of the two faces again registered to his eyes. But that was the last; the ghost since then wouldn't come back, he told his wife, who said it was a sign he would be elected to a second term, and the death pallor of one face meant he wouldn't live through his second term.
This is adapted from Washington in Lincoln's Time (1895) by Noah Brooks, who claimed that he had heard it from Lincoln himself on 9 November 1864, at the time of his re-election, and that he had printed an account "directly after." He also claimed that the story was confirmed by Mary Todd Lincoln, and partially confirmed by Private Secretary John Hay (who thought it dated from Lincoln's nomination, not his election). Brooks's version is as follows (in Lincoln's own words):
- It was just after my election in 1860, when the news had been coming in thick and fast all day and there had been a great "hurrah, boys," so that I was well tired out, and went home to rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau with a swinging glass upon it (and here he got up and placed furniture to illustrate the position), and looking in that glass I saw myself reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again, I saw it a second time, plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler — say five shades — than the other. I got up, and the thing melted away, and I went off, and in the excitement of the hour forgot all about it — nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home again that night I told my wife about it, and a few days afterward I made the experiment again, when (with a laugh), sure enough! the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a "sign" that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.
Lincoln was known to be superstitious, and old mirrors will occasionally produce double images; whether this Janus illusion can be counted as a doppelgänger is perhaps debatable, though probably no more than other such claims of doppelgängers.
Robert Dale Owen was responsible for writing down the singular case of Emilie Sagée. He was told this anecdote by Julie von Güldenstubbe, a Latvian aristocrat. Von Güldenstubbe reported that in the year 1845–46, at the age of 13, she witnessed, along with audiences of between 13 and 42 children, her 32-year-old French teacher Sagée bilocate, in broad daylight, inside her school, Pensionat von Neuwelcke. The actions of Sagée's doppelgänger included:
- Mimicking writing and eating, but with nothing in its hands.
- Moving independently of Sagée, and remaining motionless while she moved.
- Appearing to be in full health at a time when Sagée was badly ill.
Apparently, the doppelgänger also exerted resistance to the touch, but was non-physical (one girl passed through the doppelgänger's body).
Queen Elizabeth I reportedly saw herself lying pale and still in a vision, soon before she died. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German polymath is said to have seen his double adorned with a gray suit, trimmed in gold, riding towards him in the opposite direction while on his way to Drusenheim. Eight years later, while riding from Drusenheim on the very same road, he realized he was wearing the exact outfit that he had seen on his double eight years earlier, somewhat personifying his philosophical Apollonian and Dionysian. Catherine the Great of Russia saw her own image coming toward her and became so frightened that she ordered her soldiers to shoot and demobilize the ghastly replica. Much to her surprise, this was without effect.
Theories and analysis
Theories about origin and existence
In his philosophical text entitled Sex and Character, philosopher Otto Weininger writes that: "Or again, consider this: no animal is made afraid by seeing its reflection in a glass, whilst there is no man who could spend his life in a room surrounded with mirrors. Can this fear, the fear of the doppelgänger, (it is notable that women are devoid of this fear; female doppelgängers are not heard of) be explained on Darwinian principles? The word doppelgänger has only to be mentioned to raise a deep dread in the mind of any man. Empirical psychology cannot explain this; it reaches the depths" (Second part: Chapter IX).
Left temporoparietal junction
In September 2006 it was reported in Nature  that Shahar Arzy and colleagues of the University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland, had unexpectedly reproduced an effect strongly reminiscent of the doppelgänger phenomenon via the electromagnetic stimulation of a patient's brain. They applied focal electrical stimulation to a patient's left temporoparietal junction while she lay flat on a bed. The patient immediately felt the presence of another person in her "extrapersonal space". Other than epilepsy, for which the patient was being treated, she was psychologically fit.
The other person was described as young, of indeterminate sex, silent, motionless, and with a body posture identical to her own. The other person was located exactly behind her, almost touching and therefore within the bed that the patient was lying on.
A second electrical stimulation was applied with slightly more intensity, while the patient was sitting up with her arms folded. This time the patient felt the presence of a "man" who had his arms wrapped around her. She described the sensation as highly unpleasant and electrical stimulation was stopped.
Finally, when the patient was seated, electrical stimulation was applied while the patient was asked to perform language test with a set of flash cards. On this occasion the patient reported the presence of a sitting person, displaced behind her and to the right. She said that the presence was attempting to interfere with the test: "He wants to take the card; he doesn’t want me to read." Again, the effect was disturbing and electrical stimulation was ceased.
Similar effects were found for different positions and postures when electrical stimulation exceeded 10 mA at the left temporoparietal junction.
Arzy and his colleagues suggest that the left temporoparietal junction of the brain evokes the sensation of self image—body location, position, posture etc. When the left temporoparietal junction is disturbed, the sensation of self-attribution is broken and may be replaced by the sensation of a foreign presence or copy of oneself displaced nearby. This copy mirrors the real person's body posture, location and position. Arzy and his colleagues suggest that the phenomenon they created is seen in certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, particularly when accompanied by paranoia, delusions of persecution and of alien control. Nevertheless, the effects reported are highly reminiscent of the doppelgänger phenomenon. Accordingly, some reports of doppelgängers may well be due to failure of the left temporoparietal junction.
See wikipedia:monothematic delusion for a detailed description of various psychological problems including the syndrome of subjective doubles, which may be related to the doppelgänger. See also wikipedia:out-of-body experience for the related work of Olof Blanke.
Art / Fiction
Doppelgängers, as dark doubles of individual identities appear in works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror from wikipedia:Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Double to wikipedia:Season of Migration to the North to wikipedia:Ralph Ellison's wikipedia:Invisible Man. Guy de Maupassant's short story Lui (Him) tells of the writer's own experience with a doppelganger. English poet John Donne claimed to have met his wife's doppelganger in Paris shortly before his daughter was stillborn. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and President Abraham Lincoln both saw doppelgangers that presaged their death; Shelley in a dream and Lincoln in his mirror.In its simplest incarnation, mistaken identity is a classic trope used in literature, from wikipedia:Twelfth Night to wikipedia:A Tale of Two Cities. In these cases, the characters look similar for perfectly normal reasons, such as being siblings or simple coincidence. These simpler cases of mistaken identity may not constitute true doppelgangerdom.
Some mythology offer more mystic explanations, where the double is created as a kind of curse or otherwise through magic. These doppelgängers are typically, but not always, evil in some way. The double will often impersonate the victim and go about ruining them, for instance through committing crimes or insulting the victim's friends. Sometimes, the double even tries to kill the original. The torment is occasionally earned; for instance, in Edgar Allan Poe's short story "William Wilson," the protagonist of questionable morality is dogged by his doppelgänger most tenaciously when his morals fail. Some works of fantasy include shapeshifters, as either talented individuals or as a separate race, who can mimic any person. In the case of doppelgangers as a harbinger of doom, in the film wikipedia:Ghost Dog, the title character is confronted by a Fetch-like dog before his death. This same animal seems to act as an omen of major turning points in his life, so it could be seen as a doppelganger of sorts, owing to mythology in which such can take on the form of non-human animals.
Another variant, usually seen in science fiction, involves clones. While genetic cloning in actual science may create a genetically identical new being (that will not have the memories and experiences of the original), some futuristic variants in fiction clone living beings in their entirety, albeit sometimes with modified memories and motives.