Carl Linnaeus and his Autoscopic Double
Carl Linnaeus is most famous for being the father of modern taxonomy. But as chronicled in his new book Hallucinations, Dr. Oliver Sacks describes how Linnaeus is notorious for something quite different - he saw himself in double.
Linnaeus suffered from migraine attacks, and according to neurologist Macdonald Critchley, when his headaches came on, he’d hallucinate. A second, phantom Carl Linnaeus would often appear — seen only by the first — and would float about, doing whatever Real Carl was doing. So Linnaeus would be in his garden, checking out a plant or plucking a flower, and he could see, at a respectful distance, the Other Carl stooping and plucking the same way at the same time. Linnaeus didn’t fear his phantom; in fact he got used to it.
As Critchley describes it, the phantom might sit in Linnaeus’ seat at his library desk, and Real Linnaeus, would, presumably, ignore him. One time, Professor Linnaeus was lecturing at his university and decided to run down to his office to fetch a specimen to show the class, and Critchley says, he got to his office, “He opened the door rapidly, intending to enter, but pulled up at once saying, ‘Oh! I’m there already.’ “
Sacks describes this totally-not-made-up condition as something called autoscopy, and though it’s obviously not common, there is quite a bit already known about autoscopic doubles. For example, autoscopic doubles are always mirror images, so one’s right side is transposed onto the left side and vice versa. Sacks also explains how “the double is a purely visual phenomenon, with no identity or intentionality of its own. It has no desires and takes no initiatives; it is passive and neutral.” Autoscopic doubles are also accompanied by unpleasant symptoms like migraines, epilepsy, post-traumatic disorders, and other brain issues. But man, wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a double for just a day or two?