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Let's say you are a young (20 something) clone of an old (over 80/90) person. Under what circumstances you'd be unable to recognize them as being... well, you? To make things even more complex, your friends shouldn't be able to tell, either.

By the time people reach their late teens, I'd say it's pretty obvious what their face looks like. Some old people are easily recognizable even from their childhood photos.

You are a perfect replica of this person, so it's not like I can play around with genes and appearance. The only thing I can think of is an injury to the original's face, but that one is too obvious/cliche.

EDIT: I guess this answers it - Highly likely; nothing to worry about

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    $\begingroup$ Does it matter for your story if they see the resemblance and start asking "Are we related?". That seems a much more likely reaction than "I must be a much younger clone of you.", unless they do genetic testing. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 12, 2020 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ No, there is not a possibility of them being related, and the clone knows it. My problem is not for them to suspect they are a clone but not to see anything suspicious about that person. $\endgroup$
    – kiki
    Commented Jan 12, 2020 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Your person could merely be one of those people whose appearance does change markedly as they age. Alternately, you can obscure a lot simply with different hair, different hair color, glasses, beauty mark, etc. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Jan 12, 2020 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you think faces are all that recognizable? I don't really even recognize myself in photographs (and only partly because I mostly see my face in a mirror) or the security video screens in stores, and that's without makeovers as in the answer by @Willk $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 2:15
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    $\begingroup$ @PTm rephrased like you did, I would agree. As written? No. If someone wants to edit the question to be the world setup, I’d vote to reopen. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 15:15

7 Answers 7

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Barring mental degradation such as Alzheimer disease, the old version will always recognize the younger from the memories they have from when they were young.

But the opposite is not necessarily true.

We all keep an idealized version of ourselves in our mind, which is forever young and clean and strong. The rigors of daily life rarely touch this interior self image and after the first few decades, age itself has no effect on it at all.

With more than five decades under my belt, I often jump at the sight of my aging visage in my mirrors. Who is that? my inner mind screams. Only after a moment of self horror does my mind's pristine self image yield to my far more haggard actual appearance.

It would be surprising to me if the younger clone managed to recognize the older original. After all, he has no experience in what six decades can do to a body; and being young, he likely believes that he will remain young forever. He might recognize a few family characteristics which might lead him to believe that the older is some distant relative. He might feel innate trust and friendship towards this older man. But nowhere in his young life's experience is there anything which might lead him to believe that two such different people are actually the same person.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, forgot to add: the old one knows; it's not the problem. Good point about old age, especially advanced old age. $\endgroup$
    – kiki
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 0:14
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    $\begingroup$ Introduce some fun stuff, like male pattern baldness or a beard that the younger self doesn't have, and it becomes really easy not to recognize your older self. Obviously that doesn't work as well for women, but I know that I got stopped and questioned about my passport based on my appearance 6 years after it was taken. Young me had a mop top of curly hair and was clean shaven. Old me had a shaved head and a bushy beard. You wouldn't know we were the same guy unless someone told you. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for not recognizing the old fart in the mirror. I also have 5 decades under my belt, and shaving is becoming more and more surreal . . . $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 13:11
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Appearance is pretty malleable

As a good example, let's take identical twins. Now, identical twins generally look the same but there are differences between them which are obvious to anyone looking. Now the question is - why is that? And the answer is simple: phenotype, that is the physical expression of genes doesn't always match genotype, the genes themselves. The environment around development can adjust several factors, and thus differences are created.

So, for instance, take a clone. Now this might sound weird, but if a clone is given birth to in a womb that wasn't the same as the original womb (that is, a different woman's womb or possibly even an artificial one if you want to dip into science fiction), and especially if certain factors come into play during the embryo's gestation. Anything like odd impacts sustained by the surrogate mother to the diet consumed by her could adjust the development of the embryo. Now, if you throw in a few childhood incidents, like say a broken nose to adjust facial structure a bit, it's not hard to have a face which is noticeably different than the original's. Even more so if you add in a few factors other factors. Let's say that the clone decides to grow a full beard, but the original does not have one (assuming male). Let's say that the clone has a healthy head of hair, yet the original lost all of theirs.

You can't erase all traces of similarity, but if you play around with the factors, you can have the characters meet each other with them suspecting nothing, and the worse thing that could happen is a friend points out that the old person looks like he could be a great-uncle twice removed.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great point about the womb and birth circumstances. I might want to play with that. $\endgroup$
    – kiki
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 0:16
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Circumstances are different for the young and the old.

https://www.demilked.com/women-makeovers-yevgeny-zhuk/

makeover

I am always blown away by these striking makeovers. Now imagine a makeover decades in the making.

Your old person grew up in the country. She worked hard. She had bad acne because there was not much to do about it, and she carried the scars. Maybe she even had smallpox. There was no fluoride in the water and her teeth were not fixed or straightened. She pulled her hair back and that was that. She got a lot of sun and later this took its toll. She walks as though she were carrying a heavy load, which most of the time she was. She was never a great beauty.

The young clone is a city girl. She had vaccinations, fluoride and high end medical care for her skin. She protects her skin from the sun. She has a fashionable haircut and she is skilled with cosmetics. She walks like she is a dancer and she is an excellent dancer. She is a great beauty.

I would not be surprised that these two do not give each other a passing glance.

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    $\begingroup$ True! I overestimated the issue. $\endgroup$
    – kiki
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 2:16
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Our looks change a lot as we age. My grandfather once showed me some pictures of himself when he was aged 10-25 and my first reaction was "Hey, that's my cousin". And it really did look like my cousin; he was practically a clone of my grandfather at the same age. Even so, I had never before thought they looked anything alike despite meeting both at the same time several times every year.

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Facial processing ability varies a lot.

So long as the character isn't deducing family relationships from similar appearances or recognizing people after decades apart, there's no reason to suspect he'd be able to identify himself aged 60 years.

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The circumstances in which this would happen are called normal circumstances.

Kind of unusual for a query in this forum!

Consider:

  • The clone is not a 100% duplicate -- much more like a twin sibling
  • Neither twins nor clones have identical appearances or personalities: the young clone is an entirely new individual with entirely different perspectives, education, upbringing, etc.
  • The clone and friends alike have no experience of the nonagenarian original

At best, I'd suspect that your posited clone & friends might wonder if the elderly stranger is an uncle or grandparent. "Oh! That's obviously the original I was cloned from!" is not the looked for response to be heard when they meet.

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  • $\begingroup$ Makes sense. It's one of those things that is not the main focus of the story. (I assumed they wouldn't be able to tell). Then I started wondering. Found a pic of my grandmother where I could tell it was her. But hey, I knew her in her 80s; seems that the opposite is more difficult to recognize. $\endgroup$
    – kiki
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 0:32
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A lot would depend on expectations.

If the clone knows they are a clone, and wonder constantly about who their original is, they stand a much better chance of spotting them. There are even apps that can take their photo and make it look older. Not accurately, but might still give them an idea of what to look for.

On the other hand, if all they know is that they are adopted, and have been told that their parents are dead, they stand almost no chance at all. Or if they just don't care.

Also, how is the original behaving? As other have said, they have a much better chance of spotting their clone than the other way around. So, if the clone is suddenly approached by this old person who looks kind of familiar, and they start asking all sort of personal questions, they might be able to add two and two.

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