Last night I met my doppelgänger. Or did I? One thing's for sure: he was not my identical hand twin.
Faces are funny. Unlike every other aspect of our lives, our brains seem completely incapable of forgetting a face. Names are easy to forget. Was it Dave? Steve?... Oh it's Mary, my bad. Faces on the other hand seem to have an entire portion of the brain dedicated to them. A quick Google tells me it's a not-so-little area called the fusiform gyrus, which occupies parts of both the temporal and occipital lobes, that makes faces uniquely memorable. I won't remember exactly where the crack in the coffee table I'm sat at is, but I'm unlikely to forget my mate's hideous nose mole. I wish I could. For a bit of perspective on how much work our brains do to make faces so memorable, there are people who, due to developmental problems, or, more rarely, brain damage, can sometimes have this facial recognition superpower hindered or lost entirely. This condition is called Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, and for sufferers, recognizing another person by their face would be as difficult as you or I trying to recognize each other by our hands.
A weird consequence of this face memory overkill is that people then see faces in everything. If I hold the sugar cube in front of me at the right angle, I'd swear it was grinning at me maniacally. Clearly the only maniac here is me, but only for squinting at a sugar cube, seeing faces everywhere is completely normal. I recommend you, dear reader, waste half a day scrolling through the Faces in Things twitter feed. From buildings, to fire alarms, to plaster board, faces appear everywhere. Clearly we haven't evolved this habit of seeing inanimate objects smiling at us for a reason, it's just lucky. And then there's this delightful website that collates pictures of things that look like Hitler. Surely it's impossible for a thing that doesn't have a face to look specifically like Hitler, and yet... This Staples A4 binder is so Hitlery!
It gets weirder. Take a look at these two pictures and ask yourself which one looks more like Prince Charles.
A sophisticated piece of facial recognition software would pick out the left immediately, and assuming it's very sophisticated, would look at us in bewilderment for leaning towards the caricature. The cartoon is a deformed, exaggerated representation of a well known face, but it's those exaggerations which make it so distinguishable. This, it seems, is what our brains do internally in order to remember faces so well.
The brain doesn't take a snapshot of your neighbours face and save it as adamsface.jpeg, it intentionally exaggerates the persons more distinguishable features in a sort of monstrous internal caricature. His nose is now far bigger than it really is, her eyes are more bulbous, that guy's slightly crooked tooth is exactly like that in the Mary Poppins spin-off Nanny McPhee.
So when, in an admittedly slightly inebriated state, I was confronted with my doppelgänger - let's call him Karl - I posted the encounter to Facebook, and texted the photo to more-or-less my entire contact list. I was surprised by the variety of responses I got. My sister (maybe jokingly, I can never be sure) thought I was the other guy. My best mate said he couldn't see any resemblance at all, and called me a fool. The girl who first got us together stood so wide-eyed with amazement that I could see her optic nerves - though alcohol may have played a part in her tale. When I look at the photo, it's with no insincerity that I can say that I think the other guy looks more like me than I do, and I see my real face all the time. Like, almost every day.
A popular fact to pull out at dinner parties is that when Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest, he came third. I think the reason for this is the same as why I think Karl looks more like me than I do. It's not that I'm an idiot - not entirely anyway - it's because he looked like my caricature, his face is exaggerated in just the right ways (mostly by being younger and better looking) to line up with how I perceive myself more than my actual aging, haggard face does. How our brains create these little internal cartoons of each other will depend entirely on how the person looked the day they met, and probably also on what characteristics you normally find distinguishing - clearly in my mind I am thin and still in my early twenties. So when people end up disagreeing on whether I looked like Karl, it's not because we do or don't actually look alike, it's because they aren't really comparing our faces, they're comparing their cartoons of our faces. And that, I think, is fascinating.
That said, clearly I look exactly like Karl.