“Hey, I’ve seen you somewhere!”
“You look like someone I know!”
“Have we met before?”
Most of us, at some point in our lives have had these questions thrown at us. The idea of ‘doppelgangers’ has intrigued scientists for decades and has found a place in folklore as well! The widespread urban legend says that everyone has 7 look-alikes in this world.
However, how much of that is fact, and how much of it is fiction?
A freak coincidence led Neil Douglas and the Londoner Robert Stirling to cross paths on their flight to Galway. Their resemblance was so uncanny it looked straight out of a movie!
“I was the last one on the plane and there was someone in my seat, so I asked the guy to move. He turned around and he had my face”, commented Neil Douglas.
The whole plane laughed at this bizarre turn of events. But the coincidences didn’t stop there- not by a mile! Robert and Neil then both reencountered one another at the same hotel check-in reception to both their surprise.
The universe then once again brought them together a final time at the same local pub down the street. Deciding that this was a sign of fate, both of them decided to share a drink together. The next day, they both woke up to two things:
A hangover. And a call from an Argentinian radio talk show.
Their selfie had gone viral!
But are doppelgangers as common a thing, or were these two men just really really lucky? Well, scientifically speaking it’s possible to have a complete twin of yours- but it is highly improbable that you will bump into them in your lifetime!
Michael Sheehan, an assistant professor of neurobiology and behaviour at Cornell University crunched the numbers of two people sharing a similar face. They based this on 8 key facial features- such as eyes, nose, ears, cheekbones etc. His team’s investigation found that there's about a 1/135 chance that you have a doppelganger living somewhere in the world. This means that it is 0.7% likely that there exists a twin of yours. However, where it gets tricky is the ‘likelihood’ of you walking into your twin.
Michael’s research found that the likelihood of you meeting someone identical to you in all eight facial features is only 1 in 1 trillion. He explains it through a thought experiment called the infinite monkey problem.
The problem states that if you sit a monkey in front of a typewriter long enough, he will eventually write the complete works of William Shakespeare. It is a mathematical certainty based on the concept of probability. For example, the monkey has a 1 in 26 chance of getting the first letter of Macbeth right.
However, from the second letter itself, the probability has plummeted to 1 in 676 (26 x 26), and similarly for the 3rd letter. He says that “when you multiply probabilities together, the chances of something actually happening disappear very, very quickly.”
So, just as it is possible that eventually, the monkey will get the entire play of Macbeth correct- it is how long he has to toil which becomes the problem. In the same manner, while it is mathematically possible for two people across the globe to be completely similar not just in 8 facial features but also in all other aspects, the chances of you encountering them are so minuscule that it is almost impossible!
If you do have a twin out there- just hope he’s not evil!
By Kayannush Guard