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Theories Behind Doppelganger Phenomenon

Updated on February 11, 2019
LindaSarhan profile image

L. Sarhan has been a paranormal investigator and researcher for over 25 years and is currently a member of Southern Crossroads Paranormal.

Reports of the paranormal phenomenon of doppelgangers have been occurring for centuries. There are many theories on why this occurs, as well as disagreements on how the doppelganger phenomenon happens. Some believe a doppelganger can only be seen by the person it is impersonating, but other people can attest that doppelgangers can appear to anyone the original person knows. The doppelganger phenomenon doesn't happen often, but when it does it typically makes quite the stir.

There have been many stories and accounts of seeing someone's double. Many accounts include interacting with the doppelganger, thinking it was the original person, whereas in other accounts the original person has encountered his or her own doppelganger. However, this phenomenon never had a name until the late 18th century, even though it was known to occur for centuries prior.

The term "doppelganger" was first used in 1796 in the novel Siebenkas by Jean Paul, a German romance novelist. The word doppelganger is actually two German words put together. Doppel means "double" and ganger means "walker". In the book, the main character is unhappy in his current marriage and his alter ego, referred to as his doppelganger in the book, convinces him to fake his own death. Ultimately, the main character falls in love with someone else and gets married after he fakes his death.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a doppelganger is separated into four characteristics. The first is that a doppelganger is the ghost of a living person. The next is simply a double. Then it references a doppelganger to be a person's alter ego. The last reference is a person who has the same name as another. Although Jean Paul first coined the phrase, Merriam-Webster says that the phrase did not become popular until around 1851.

Many people believe a doppelganger to be their alter ego or higher self, as defined in Jean Paul's fictional novel. It is as though a piece of the soul separates and manifests in a body that looks like the original self. Some mystics believe that once a person dies they are able to bi-locate, or be in two places at once. The theory here is that the higher self is doing just that, separating for a short time and manifesting.

Interestingly, scientists in Switzerland have their own theory behind the doppelganger phenomena. In 2006 they used electric stimulation to a patient's left temporoparietal lobe in her brain. This caused the patient to sense, see and feel her double. The scientists believe that this area of the brain is where people store their sense of self-image, and, when disturbed, it can make a person feel as though he or she is seeing the double. Therefore the scientists believe that, if there is a disturbance of any kind in the left temporoparietal lobe, it can cause a person to see their doppelganger. Of course, these scientists believe that the doppelganger phenomena are a form of schizophrenia and other delusional mental disorders.

Another reference to the doppelganger phenomenon is calling it an evil twin for those who aren't a twin. There have been cases where the doppelganger has appeared and done things that the original person wouldn't. Typically, these things are bad and referred to as evil in nature. Could it simply be a person's alter ego manifesting? This is one plausible theory. Another theory is that it is a demon or a jinn attached to a person, manifesting to cause problems in a person's life.

Some people believe that certain types of ghosts and spirits have the ability to take on any form they choose, so it is possible they could appear as someone you know. However, not many can manifest completely into a living, breathing person, so it is difficult to say this phenomenon is truly a doppelganger. However, demons and angels are known to be able to take solid human form for short periods of time. Some demons have the ability to take on any appearance they choose, so it is definitely another plausible theory for doppelganger occurrences.

The Cherokee have stories about the Nunnehi. They are considered to be a race of spirits that rarely are seen by humans. Many times when they manifest they will appear as someone whom you know. They will even take on the same name as the person they are impersonating. They can be helpful in some cases, but they are offended easily. If offended, it is said that the person who offended them will die a few days to weeks later.

This is similar to the most popular belief about doppelgangers today. It is believed that if you happen to see your doppelganger then it is an omen of your own death or that something else really bad is about to happen. Some believe that the doppelganger brings these bad events to occur but others believe the doppelganger to be just a messenger of events that are already going to happen, with or without a doppelganger sighting.

For information on guided tours and paranormal investigations, visit the website or call 502-933-2142.
For information on guided tours and paranormal investigations, visit the website or call 502-933-2142. | Source

Another theory is that a doppelganger has no soul. This may originate from the folklore belief that doppelgangers do not have a reflection or a shadow. Centuries ago, many paranormal phenomena were also tied with folklore superstition, so it is difficult to pinpoint accurate facts regarding any paranormal phenomena dating back to ancient times.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky, is said to have more cases of doppelgangers. Many people, including paranormal investigators, have had experiences with doppelgangers. Most of the stories coming out of Waverly Hills on the doppelganger paranormal phenomena are where they have seen another member of their team. Sometimes they have interacted with a doppelganger, and other times they have only seen the person down the hall. Upon talking with the actual person in question, the person was nowhere near the location where the doppelganger was spotted.

Regardless of the theories, practically all of them agree on one thing. They agree that for the most part a doppelganger appears to be flesh and bone and not an apparition or ghost. Although, keep in mind that many people still believe a doppelganger manifests in spirit form instead. Because the doppelganger phenomenon is a rare occurrence, it is difficult to study. When it does occur, generally people don't realize it until it is too late. All there is to go on are stories and accounts in hindsight.

© 2014 Linda Sarhan. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the author.

© 2014 L Sarhan


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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      This article is the most well written I've read so far regarding doppelgangers, lots of my friends have seen my double but I don't know whether to believe them or not.

    • Clara Cook profile image


      2 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

      Very interesting, and well written. I enjoyed reading, though I've never had experiences with doppelgangers myself, I do of course believe in them.

    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 

      2 years ago from Port Elizabeth

      Very interesting. Can somebody tell me what it means when you see somebody going pass you in a car, you identify both people and wave at them. Then you walk along and meet up with the same two people that have just past you? This is not mistaken identity, you saw these same two people a few seconds ago.

    • mama Mac profile image

      MacAllister Bishop 

      2 years ago from Bonne Terre, MO

      My husband swears he saw one of our teammates doppelganger's at Kendrick House in Joplin, MO. My husband thought it was him and said hi, but it didn't try to interact or anything.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Thank you Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan, this is very informative.

    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 

      2 years ago from Port Elizabeth

      Very interesting hub. I must admit I have never heard of this before. You really learn so much by reading the hubs on hubpages.

    • DarkMysteries profile image

      Dark Mysteries 

      2 years ago from Brighton

      Very interesting Hub. Thank you for sharing :)

    • profile image

      Brian Anderson 

      2 years ago

      This is well written. Check out the Dostoyevsky story "the Double."

    • profile image

      jen marcel 

      2 years ago

      I've been researching doppelgangers ever since I saw my son, who wasn't here, stroll though the house. The information I've found is vague and to this day, it still freaks me out.

    • PinoyWitch profile image

      Ian Spike 

      2 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I have considered it, maybe in the future. I posted my experiences as comments on kittythedreamer's hub on doppelgangers if you wanna check it out.

    • LindaSarhan profile imageAUTHOR

      L Sarhan 

      2 years ago from Huntsville, Alabama, USA

      Thanks! I have been meaning to add to this article as I find out more in my own research. Another theory to the doppelganger phenomena could be jinn. Some jinn are known to change appearance and even appear as someone familiar to the person experiencing the phenomena. Personally, I do not think there is only one way or one reason why a doppelganger appears. I think each instance should be analyzed against all potential theories. There is so much we do not know about the unseen; something tells me there are not clear-cut rules when it comes to the paranormal. ;)

      I would love to read about your experiences. Have you considered writing a hub/article about it? I think it would be helpful for others researching the doppelganger phenomena.

    • PinoyWitch profile image

      Ian Spike 

      2 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi Linda,

      How come this article does not have so many comments? I mean, superb writing, and the way you presented these theories are not boring at all. You really deserved the praise. Anyway, I was looking for articles on Doppelgangers because I've experienced this phenomena more than a couple of times. Great hub, you have a nice day;)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting analysis of the doppelganger phenomenon. Thanks for sharing the information.


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