“If you meet your double, you should kill him” – Chris Cabin, Double Take
The marketing potential with doppelgängers is endless. Let’s face it, the future of sales is targeted advertising, personally tailored to your most guarded wants, needs, politics, fetishes, and personal peccadilloes – particularly those you don’t want to share publicly. You know. Your strange fascination with Robe Lowe. Your comprehensive collection of Hummel figurines. The creepy, but titillating sex dungeon in your basement. The fact that you like to collect all the dead cats you can find, put them in a circle, stand in the center, and then for one small moment you’re the leader. Now mostly, we keep these things under wraps by anonymizing our IP addresses, adopting untraceable avatars, or relying solely on tight networks of fellow travelers. The existence of doppelgängers would throw a serious wrench in the works. The doppelgänger is the ultimate in predictive advertising tools, and by most accounts doppelgängers feel far less constrained by traditional social norms. This allows the savvy marketer to burrow into the twisted depths of your psyche, and sell you the stuff you would never admit to craving in the cold light of day.
Should scientists or occultists ever figure out the dynamics of doppelgänger generation, we are pretty much screwed. Doppelgängers don’t have day jobs, unless lurking is considered an occupation. So, clearly they really need fast cash, and can absolutely be relied upon to give up the minutest sordid details of your personal profile to hungry marketers in the name of a buck. Or maybe just to mess with you. These preternatural doubles have no respect. And they’re all about mucking around in your psyche looking for dirt. Without the presence of a doppelgänger, that pesky, self-directed, and ill-defined thing we call consciousness has an inward orientation, despite the fact that it is how we apprehend the world (not perceive, but synthesize into a world that includes us). Hence Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, which incidentally he later felt needed some elaboration and amended to say, “dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum” (“I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”). When you get down to brass tacks it’s both our blessing and our curse that as Eugene O’Neill said, “Life is for each man a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors”. This sounds like a rather pessimistic viewpoint on the surface, but it implies that we are each alone in our heads with our own angels and demons. In the depths of your consciousness you may find yourself to be a saint or a monster, but only what you choose to express bleeds into the external world.
I’m not saying that ultimately we’re a bunch of navel-gazing morons. That would be harsh. But we can take comfort in the one thing that is truly our own, that is, our consciousness and how it relates to the world around us. Except when a freaking doppelgänger is involved. That’s like having your consciousness exposed, so that others may rifle through your cognitive unmentionables. Now, I like to think what I have bouncing around my brain isn’t so far outside the statistical average that it would horrify anybody. I’d like to think that. Most of us don’t have any state secrets, buried bodies, a curious thirst for blood, or plans for world domination buried in there. Sure there is some weird stuff, which is why poets and writers often mention having run into their doppelgängers, but don’t seem particularly distressed. I mean after all, those artists just bleed consciousness all over the page. Thus they have a much more charitable view of their doppelgänger. My recommendation to you, should your doppelgänger manifest itself is to take that sucker out, following the famous example of Russian Czarina Catherine the Great (1729-1726) “who is said, while lying in bed, to have been seen by the ladies to enter the throne-room, and, being informed of the circumstance, went herself and saw the figure seated on the throne (Crowe, 1868, p161). Now Czars and Czarinas generally play by Highlander rules, that is, there can be only one. The traditional story, told by an eyewitness named the Comte de Ribaupierre (1717-1777), who served in the court of the Czarina.
In the exercise of his duties as one of the pages-in-waiting, Ribaupierre followed one day his august mistress into the throne-room of the palace. When the Empress, accompanied by the high officers of her court and the ladies of her household, came in sight of the chair of state which she was about to occupy, she suddenly stopped, and to the horror and astonished awe of her courtiers, she pointed to a visionary being seated on the imperial throne. The occupant of the chair was an exact counterpart of herself. All saw it and trembled, but none dared to move towards the mysterious presentment of their sovereign. After a moment of dead silence the great Catherine raised her voice and ordered her guard to advance and fire on the apparition. The order was obeyed, a mirror beside the throne was shattered, the vision had disappeared, and the Empress, with no sign of emotion, took the chair from which her semblance had passed away (Lang, 1899, p87-88).
No muss. No fuss. Dead doppelgänger. Or at least ushered off unceremoniously into whatever dimension doppelgängers slouch in from. Apparently, there is some risk involved as it is said this occurred about a week before the Empress died of a stroke. Then again, being the Empress of All Russia is a lot of pressure, so attributing her demise to the summary execution of her doppelgänger seems like the sort of propaganda that would likely be spread by doppelgängers who wished to avoid a similar fate. Catherine didn’t have to think twice before ordering her soldiers to dispatch the nasty preternatural interloper.
Of course, odds are most of us in the modern, enlightened era won’t run into our creepy double. Not in the flesh at any rate. We’re far more advanced than that when it comes to replicating your consciousness. It’s all that time you spend on the internet, clicking on things and filling out profiles, ordering stuff off Amazon, bidding on E-bay, and signing up for all manner of cool services. All this data with clues about what goes on in our strange little minds is shaken and stirred, crunched and collated, producing neat sounding things like interest graphs, predictive algorithms, and precisely targeted advertising. Artificial intelligence and deep learning (what all the cool computer scientists are working on) is at heart an attempt to replicate, or at least simulate consciousness. And while it’s really amazing that Big Blue can win at Jeopardy, the winnings aren’t going to pay the bills at IBM. Advertising clicks are how money is made online. And getting us to click on what they’re selling is about understanding our consciousness. In essence, the cutting edge of internet marketing is replicating the way we users think, and effectively enticing us with clickbait. In other words, creating our doppelgänger and mining his memory for tasty tidbits. Taking a sledgehammer to one’s computer, while tempting, doesn’t really help as even when there are no consciousness profiles specific to your wacky little brain, guaranteed there is someone out there that behaves very much like you online, and we can just borrow the graph of his or her consciousness. Makes you wish for the good old days when we could just shoot our doppelgänger and keep our consciousness to ourselves.
Octavio Paz once said, “Self-discovery is above all the realization that we are alone: it is the opening of an impalpable, transparent wall – that of our consciousness – between the world and ourselves”. In the Information Age, nobody is truly alone as we are busy replicating our own consciousness across the bits and bytes, morphing our self-discovery into a self-discovery by proxy.
Crowe, Catherine, 1790-1876. The Night-side of Nature, Or, Ghosts And Ghost Seers. New York: Widdleton, 1868.
Lang, Andrew, 1844-1912. The Book of Dreams and Ghosts. New Impression. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1899.