Throughout history, many cultures have developed folklore related to the concept of the doppelgänger - an exact lookalike of an individual. Sometimes doppelgängers take the form of a complete stranger who looks uncannily like another individual, or they can be a shadowy, ghost-like presence stalking people until they go mad. In some cultures, meeting one’s doppelgänger is a sign of impending doom, while in others the doppelgänger is a type of shadow self, following individuals everywhere they go but remaining at the edges of their own reality. Many famous figures have encountered their doppelgänger shortly before meeting some form of violent end or suffering, including Abraham Lincoln and French author Guy de Maupassant.
More recently, one teen’s chance meeting in a San Diego shopping mall led her to discover not one but six doppelgängers who like uncannily like her. Santana Gutierrez, a seventeen-year-old student at UC San Diego, was strolling the mall when she ran into her seeming twin. The two were startled by their close resemblance, and posed for a picture together. After posting the picture to Twitter, Gutierrez saw her post go viral.
That attention led to tens of thousands of likes and shares on Twitter, not to mention the discovery of the six other doppelgängers. All seven of the girls are complete strangers and have no known family connections. If various doppelgänger myths are to be believed, does this mean some sort of impending doom is on the way to one or more of the girls? Let's hope not.
In recent years, social media has led to thousands of people discovering their real-life doppelgängers due to automated facial recognition algorithms. Websites such as Facebook often detect images of users’ faces to be completely different individuals who happen to look startlingly alike. Several websites, such as TwinStrangers.net, have sprung up to try and link people with their own doppelgängers. Could these lead to the discovery of some as-yet unknown genetic markers for facial appearance, or perhaps even some sort of shadowy worldwide cloning conspiracy? While the first one is likely, don’t cast your bets on the second. There are likely boring, genetic underpinnings for the phenomenon of so-called "twin strangers."