Have you ever walked in to a place and felt like you’ve been there before… even though you’ve never actually been there before? Or met a total stranger for the first time and instantly felt like you had met them previously in another time or place? If so, you may have experienced the unnerving, uncanny sensation known as déjà vu
. Can déjà vu be scientifically explained, or is it simply an ambiguous phenomenon?Déjà vu interpreted.
Déjà vu is a French word that when translated means “already seen.” Psychiatrist Vernon Neppe scientifically defined déjà vu as, "any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of the present experience with an undefined past." Déjà vu can be interpreted as a positive reinforcement that you’re on the right track
or a prelude to avoid making a mistake. It is often described as having entered into a parallel universe.
At least a third of the population will experience déjà vu at some point in their lives. Studies have shown that déjà vu requires a certain level of brain development. Episodes of déjà vu will usually occur for the first time around eight or nine years of age and then more frequently throughout the teens and 20’s. It is also more prevalent when a person is tired or stressed
. Pre-cognitive experiences vs. Déjà vu.
These two are often inappropriately interchanged. Precognitive experiences are related to gut feelings when someone knows what will happen next prior
to an event. Déjà vu, on the other hand, is an experience that occurs during
an event.Déjà vu theories.
Déjà vu is quite complex and little is understood about the unnerving sensation. It is very difficult to study déjà vu since it crops up announced and usually lasts only between 10 to 30 seconds. Consequently, many researchers believe that déjà vu is too confusing to investigate further. However, there are more than 40 various theories related to how and why it exists. Associative déjà vu
is the most common type of déjà vu. Researchers believe that it is based on memory experiences and assume that it originates in the memory centers of the brain. For example, Alan Brown author of The Déjà Vu Experience
theorizes that there are copious scientific explanations for déjà vu; one of which is the concept of dual processing. Dual processing occurs when typically separate brain functions activate at the wrong time.
Another neurological explanation is when electrical brain signals misfire. If there is a delay between two signals carrying information to the brain, the glitch may be perceived as a memory. Sometimes, the brain simply gets confused. It misunderstands the difference between memory and reality. If something triggers a repressed memory that wasn’t actually experienced but may have been viewed, such as a scene in a movie, it may be mistaken as a déjà vu sensation. Many psychoanalysts dismiss déjà vu as simply wishful thinking, while numerous parapsychologists have linked déjà vu to past lives and clairvoyance. The more open-minded one is, the more likely they are to experience déjà vu.The déjà vu and epilepsy connection.
Déjà vu has been reported to occur prior to a temporal-lobe seizure, such as those that occur in someone who suffers from epilepsy
. This is known as biological déjà vu
. Often during a seizure, or in between convulsions, people will experience déjà vu. Medical professionals believe that this unusual sensation, known as an aura
, is actually a small seizure that acts as a warning and prelude to the larger temporal-lobe seizure. This discovery has given researchers an opportunity to better study déjà vu.What is Déjà vecu?
Another form of déjà vu is déjà vecu
, translated as “already lived through.” This is an extended, often chronic, form of déjà vu and is experienced more frequently. Déjà vecu is most commonly associated with the feeling of experiencing a prolonged event and remembering it in great detail. This sensation offers further knowledge of what will happen next.
Sigmund Freud believed that déjà vu sensations appear after stressful events that can no longer be accessed in the form of memories. For instance, someone experiencing PTSD may go over and over in their mind something they could have done differently in a particular traumatic memory. The more they obsess about the incident, the more distorted the memories become, and the imagined negative images seem more real. With an understanding of recollective experiences evidenced by déjà vecu, cognitive therapists may be able to work with patients to retrain their memory.
So next time you feel like you’ve “been there, done that”… maybe you actually have. Or have you?
Below are some of the many ways which déjà vu can manifest:
- déjà entendu - already heard
- déjà éprouvé - already experienced
- déjà fait - already done
- déjà pensé - already thought
- déjà raconté - already recounted
- déjà senti - already felt, smelt
- déjà su - already known (intellectually)
- déjà trouvé - already found (met)
- déjà vécu - already lived
- déjà voulu - already desired
Psychiatrist Vernon Neppe suggested the following additional terms:
- déjà arrivé - already happened
- déjà connu - already known (personal knowing)
- déjà dit - already said/spoken (content of speech)
- déjà gouté - already tasted
- déjà lu - already read
- déjà parlé - already spoken (act of speech)
- déjà pressenti - already sensed
- déjà rencontré - already met
- déjà rêvé - already dreamt
- déjà visité - already visited
Markman, Art. "Ulterior Motives." What Is Deja Vu? Psychology Today
, 5 Jan. 2010. Web. 18 July 2012. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ulterior-motives/201001/what-is-d-j-vu>
Obringer, Lee Ann. "How Déjà Vu Works" 11 April 2006. HowStuffWorks.com
. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/extrasensory-perceptions/deja-vu.htm> 18 July 2012.
Ratliff, Evan. "Déjà Vu, Again and Again." The New York Times
. The New York Times, 02 July 2006. Web. 18 July 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/02/magazine/02dejavu.html?_r=1>.