Once I was sitting in the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. The concert hadn’t yet begun and I was distracting myself by looking around. Suddenly I noticed, on one of the balconies, myself sitting there, staring down at me. It was strange and unsettling, I felt spatially displaced and dizzy. How could I be here and there at the same time? The lights then went down and the music began. Later when the intermission came, I looked back up at the balcony again, but I was no longer there.
A similar thing happened once while driving through Switzerland. Our van pulled into a gas station and we waited our turn behind a car parked at the pump. A man came out of the station. He stopped at his car, turned towards us, smiling, then made a sign that he was leaving. It was me again. This time there were witnesses. I said, pointing, “Look, it’s Me!” But he—me—had already got into “my” car and was driving away, so no one saw. I had that same feeling of displacement and dizziness. I think the others in the van thought I was crazy.
Even though meeting either of these other me’s would’ve been bizarre, I’ve wondered since if I would’ve shared anything in common with Myself. This type of thinking takes several directions. Let’s say that, though we were living parallel lives, they crossed like lines in hyperbolic geometrical space. In the case where I met Me, what would I say to Myself ? I wouldn’t need to ask Myself how I was doing because I’d already know. We’d probably have nothing to talk about, knowing the other’s response, as well as the question, beforehand. It could be depressing, seeing oneself objectively, free from any personal illusions of grandeur. Maybe I wouldn’t like my own jokes. That would be a drag.
Or what if the alternative Me was my evil twin? In fiction, doubles usually serve to illustrate the hidden, dark side of a character. Among many examples are Poe’s William Wilson, or Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though I don’t consider myself a paragon of virtue, what if the other Me was some form of an unrepentant, depraved monster? In that case I could only assume that I was an illustration of what I truly am but can’t bring myself to face.
And the last variation in that line of reasoning is that maybe the Me that I’d meet would be a super-achiever, like Shakespeare’s conquering Fortinbras, the double of Hamlet. In that case I’d be in for a long period of soul-searching.
However, I’ve also reasoned that maybe the experience of seeing oneself isn’t all that unusual. Consider the police sketch artist: he draws upon a few head shapes, a few mouth types, noses, lips, foreheads, cheekbones, etc. and these are recombined to create any one of a billion possible suspects. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that maybe we all have a series of doubles in places all over the earth. I recall that once I was sitting in a café looking through the window at the passing crowd. As I watched the stream of humanity file past on the street, I felt what I was seeing was a series of variations on a relatively limited theme. There were a variety of types, but really not that many. Furthermore, it seemed that within any given ethnicity, the range of possible phenotypes was relatively limited. It’s just a matter of close observation.
That experience led me to think that in a certain sense we are, each of us, the potential double of everyone else. That is, from the basic perspective of humanity, we reveal what the other could’ve possibly been and the other reveals to us our possible other selves if the circumstances had been different. Who hasn’t heard someone say, “If only things had been different, I’d be a different person.” Maybe we’re surrounded by innumerable potential doubles.
Finally, there’s the possibility that the other Me’s that I saw were in no physical way identical to Myself but that some intangible factor caused me to see Myself in them. If this is true, it could answer otherwise unknowable questions of personal affinities between seeming opposites.