The Double


Oil on canvas

60 cm x 90 cm


The Double

Oil on canvas

100 cm x 140 cm


The Double II

Oil and collage on canvas

60 cm x 70 cm


Oil on canvas

60 cm x 70 cm



Oil on canvas

50 cm x 70 cm


The Likeness is Uncanny

A series of aquarelles made into a publication

Something is off in the painting.

The familiar becomes the unfamiliar.


The concept of double spirits is something that has appeared in folklore, myths and religious concepts throughout human history.


In Norse mythology, the vardøger as well as the etiäinen in Finnish mythology is a ghostly double that performs a person’s actions in advance. It has been likened to being a phantom double, or a form of bilocation.

In “The Greek Princess” mythology, the Egyptian take on the Trojan war, a “ghostly likeness” of Helen was sent to mislead Prince Paris of Troy.

Various Native American creation stories also provide for the phenomenon of dualistic twins. Hopi legends refer to the twins called Child of the Sun and the Child of the Water. Another Native American myth told of the Upper World and the Under World, where the good people live in the Upper World, and their evil twins live in the Under World.

In some cultures, the shadow was believed to be an external version of a person’s soul. In German provinces, it was believed that if a person would cast no shadow, they would die within a year. Stepping upon one’s own shadow would also be considered a sign of death.

In literature, a doppelgänger can appear as a physical double, or a likeness which has been detached from the ego and become an individual being, such as a shadow, reflection or a portrait. It is often seen as the conscience of the protagonist, or a sinister force that brings bad luck for the protagonist. In both cases, it is a source of fright for the protagonist. The use of the theme of the double originates from a universal human problem, the relation of the self to the self. The double can be seen as the immortal self, a representation or a projection of the unconscious.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, the doppelgänger of the protagonist serves as a representation of the protagonist’s conscience. Seeing him throughout his life eventually drives him to insanity, so he decides to kill the doppelgänger.


Through layers of paint, a whole new version of a person is formed. The painted person becomes the double.

The sensation of the uncanny is evoked.


Freud’s essay The Uncanny (1919) handles the subject in a psychoanalytical context. He used the German word “unheimlich” and its opposite “heimlich” to describe the phenomenon of something frightening, but somehow familiar at the same time. “Unheimlich”  means both “familiar” and “unfamiliar”, which translates into uncanny in English.


Freud uses E.T.A. Hoffman’s story “The Sandman” as an example in his essay to explore the feeling of the uncanny in literature. “The Sandman” is a story about a man called Nathaniel, who as a young boy gets to know of another man called Coppelius, whom he believes to have caused his father’s death. He associates Coppelius with his childhood terror of the legend of the Sandman, who was said to take away the eyes of children who would not go to bed. As an adult, Nathaniel comes to know of a man named Coppola, whom he believes to be Coppelius, and begins to seek vengeance. Nathaniel comes to know a physics professor named Spallazani, and soon meets his daughter Olimpia, who he instantly falls in love with. Whereas other people find Olimpia beautiful, but dull and strangely mechanical in her behaviour, Nathaniel is completely enchanted by her. One day, as Nathaniel is on his way to Spallazani’s home with the intention of proposing to Olimpia, he arrives to Spallazani and Coppola arguing over who made what part of Olimpia. It turns out that Olimpia is an automaton created by the two of them. Coppola wins the struggle and leaves with the lifeless and eyeless body of Olimpia. Nathaniel sees the eyes of Olimpia lying on the ground and is driven to madness by the sight. Freud’s idea of the uncanny is linked to the idea of being robbed of one’s eyes. According to him, the loss of eyes in dreams, myths and fantasies represents the fear of castration.


Otto Rank wrote a psychoanalytic study of the doppelgänger, called The Double (1925). In his study, he thoroughly examines the subject in literature, myths and the psychology behind it. According to Rank, the double was originally an insurance against the death of the ego, a sign of immortality, its source being the primary narcissism of a child. However, encountering the double later in life revokes a sensation of the uncanny, as it brings the person back to a primitive state. Then the double serves as a harbinger of death.


Some scientists believe that the double phenomenon occurs based on injuries or stimulation of certain parts of the brain which causes errors in spatial reasoning. Others believe it to be the result of a vision, hallucination or to be a part of a theory of parallel universes, in which everything is replicated into another dimension.



“’Aha! Aha! Aha! Fire-wheel – fire-wheel! Spin around, fire-wheel! Merrily, merrily! Aha! Wooden Doll! Spin Around, pretty wooden doll!’”

                                                  (E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Sandman)


In 1970, a Japanese robotics professor Masahiro Mori coined the term “uncanny valley”, which represents the emotional reaction, more specifically the revulsion of human beings toward things that appear almost human. The reaction is a cause of seeing something that is strangely familiar, but not quite right.

For example, a robot made to look extremely human-like in appearance, but still having stiff movement and an artificially sounding voice. The uncanny valley usually involves android robots, puppets, dolls and mannequins.


Many aspects of The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann come back in The Uncanny Valley, such as the reactions of the townspeople towards the robot/doll Olimpia. There was something eerie about her looks, which is why people did not tend to approach her.


Mori warned others of the danger of diving into the uncanny valley the more we try to create robots to look more human-like. The Sandman also questions how human-like are humans willing to make robots look like, to the point that they can no longer be differentiated from real humans. It is a valid question in today’s society, where robots are going in that exact direction. Android robots are made more humanlike by the day – not just by looks, but also by interaction with humans.


In current times, CGI animation is going further in creating human-like appearances on screen. This can also cause the effect of the uncanny valley. A very good example being when an actor has recently died, but was signed to act in an upcoming film, is revived in the said film in CGI. These CGI versions can be made extremely well, but there is always something that makes the viewer see that the actor is indeed not real.

Copyright © Ines Laukkanen

All rights reserved

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