Return of the Doppelganger

Jan 25, 2004 9:36am

Okay, so this is the part of the story where the twilight zone music begins playing softly in the background. When we last met our hero he was beginning to wonder if he really was the only version of himself walking the Earth. But these philosophical amusings have now been brought home in a profoundly disturbing way: my girlfriend has groped him.

There was little warning, though the allusive hints of the first chapter had continued. Casual, seemingly innocuous statements. The owner of a newsagent I’d never been to smiles and says “We haven’t seen you in a while”. Things like that. But nothing to suggest the existential quandary into which I was about to be plunged. I was at my computer late the other night, checking my emails, much as I am now, when my girlfriend came online and proceeded to tell the following story:

“I was on the morning train and *you* got on at Taringa, towards the middle of the platform. You had your khaki pants and a new shirt on. It was white with blue stripes. I hadn’t seen it before. I called out to you and you ignored me. It was crowded so everyone turned and stared at me. I called out again, and when you still didn’t respond – and everyone was still staring at me – I walked up to you. You ignored me still, and as I put my hand on your hip (you were bent over trying to unhook your khaki umbrella from your backpack) and said quite concernedly ‘Chris you jerk’, you turned around and morphed into a man about 30 years older. At which point I learnt how to choke on my epiglottis. It was freaky. Very, very freaky. He has the same specs!!! He furrowed his brow like you do and said ‘oh sorry, am I in your way?’ When I said ‘oh err sorry I thought you were my boyfriend’ he said, (in that condescending way you do) ‘yeah, uhuh. mm.’ [Ed: note this has not been verified by a third party.] I went and sat down, but I kept double-checking his face. I thought maybe you were playing a joke on me. His goatee was grey, and his eyebrows were a little more bushy, but he only had a few lines. He got off at Central too.”

So it’s true: the Anti-Chris is real. And *he lives down the road*. [Cue music volume.]

***

This raises all kinds of metaphysical questions, as I’m sure you realise. If someone looks like me, acts like me and wears the same clothes as me, aren’t we forced to conclude that he must *be* me? It sounds silly at first, but when you think about it, how else do you know that your friends and family really are who you think they are? There’s a very interesting psychological illness called Capgras’ syndrome, apparently relatively common as these things go. People with the dysfunction quite sincerely – and delusionally – believe that significant people in their life have been replaced by identical doubles, and can’t be convinced otherwise. But that doesn’t help explain my situation.

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about what my face means to my identity. I read recently that doctors are considering the first face transplant within the next few years. How would that change who I am? I’d like to think not at all, but I know that isn’t true. At the moment I look almost identical to my father when he was my age, and our personalities are not dissimilar. We share the same genes, of course, so that’s not surprising. But genes aren’t everything – even identical twins can be different in personality. Perhaps each distinct personality has more than one possible solution, emerging from a tangled matrix of genetics and contingency. There could be several versions of all of us out there, rolling the dice and seeing what happens.

It wouldn’t surprise me. Like everyone, I’ve met people who have the same smile, or who tilt their head the same way, or who just *feel* similar. What happens when all of these things come together in a person? Is it a coincidence, and they’re actually nothing like the person you know? Do similar appearances lead to similar behaviour over time? Or do they do the same things *because* they have the same personality? Where does the arrow of causality point: from the face to the mind or the mind to the face?

***

I’m obviously quite curious to meet this doppelganger of mine, though whether the space-time continuum will allow it is debatable. (I admit my first thought when I heard his age was “I’m still living in Taringa in 30 years??”) Apparently I also have another double to worry about. My girlfriend’s revealed that she saw a younger imposter on the other side of a road last year. So it seems I’m either narrowly avoiding time paradoxes every day, as multiple Chris’s attempt to track me down and warn me about the terrible danger I’m in, or I need to get my girlfriend checked out for Capgras’ syndrome. Hmm. Stay tuned for the final thrilling episode of … cue music volume] “The Doppelganger”.

~Chris
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