Linda Storsteen, M.S., M.A.
Edited by Karen Storsteen, M.S., M.A.
February 14, 2010
Copyright©2010 Linda and Karen Storsteen
Déjà vu. Everyone thinks they know what it is. No one knows what causes it. “Word” knows it well enough to automatically put the accents in the right place. Despite this universal recognition, still we struggle to define it. Marie Jones, in her book PSIence, perhaps defined it most succinctly: “When you have Déjà vu, you are remembering what is happening to you in the present moment.”
On the other hand, Wikipedia states that Déjà vu, which literally means “already seen,” is the experience of “feeling sure that one has witnessed or experienced a new situation previously.” The phrase “Déjà vu” was “coined” by the French psychic researcher Emile Boirac who explained it as a subjective experience with strong emotions attached, such as a “compelling sense of familiarity” and feelings of unease, oddness, and weirdness. Another component of the experience is that it is usually difficult to remember the previous occurrence. Wikipedia shares these additional facts:
* The phenomenon has happened throughout history to both children and adults.
* It is hard to duplicate the experience in a laboratory setting.
* 70% of people have had a Déjà vu experience.
* The most likely age group to undergo an event is 15–25.
* There is no special connection between Déjà vu and psychological disorders.
* Déjà vu experiences increase with those who have greater incomes, higher education, and increased travel.
* Most experiencers have active imaginations and are able to recall dreams.
* A true Déjà vu experience usually lasts only 10-30 seconds.
Déjà vu is a complex phenomenon. There are many theories as to its causes and it is very likely that there is more than one explanation. The world's leading authority on Déjà vu is Vernon M. Neppe, MD, PhD. He has identified 15 types of Déjà vu experiences. Various scientists have postulated or suggested up to 40 different causes for these events. We will not examine them all, but will briefly discuss some of the more likely explanations. Since memory issues are an obvious candidate, some differing memory explanations will be touched upon under the umbrella of “memory anomalies".
Precognition, “also called future sight, refers to perception that involves the acquisition of future information that can not be deduced from presently available and normally acquired sense-based information (Wikipedia).” At least one third of the population believes in the occurrence of precognition; and apparently, precognitive dreams are common: many have them without realizing it. Swiss scientist Arthur Funkhouser believes that precognitive dreams are one source of Déjà vu. The idea that a dimly remembered dream is a/the cause of Déjà vu is an attractive one. But in the writers’ view, it is an erroneous one. In her article, How Déjà Vu Works, posted on “How Stuff Works,” Lee Ann Obringer makes this perceptive comment: “The most common misuse of the term Déjà vu seems to be with precognitive experiences-experiences where someone gets a feeling that they know exactly what’s going to happen next, and it does.” This writer agrees with Ms.Obringer’s opinion that, even if vaguely remembered, a precognitive dream is not a Déjà vu event. The difference between a precognitive event and Déjà vu is that Déjà vu happens during the event, not before.
I recall an incident in New Mexico when I was twelve. I had a very vivid dream one night, and what made it even more vivid was the fact that it was a totally inane dream. My mother and I had gone grocery shopping and coming out of the store and into the parking lot, I overheard a conversation between members of a family who were in the process of putting their groceries into their car. I could not only describe the people and the car, but I could also recite the license plate number. The next day my mother and I did go to the grocery store. While in the store I told my mother in detail about the dream because here we were and wasn’t it weird that I had such an unimportant, meaningless, dream. As we exited the store, I saw up ahead the same car, the same people, which had been in my dream. As we approached closer, I could hear the exact same conversation taking place. I turned to my mother in disbelief and pointed to the family and car. As further evidence of the correctness of the dream, I turned away and told my mother the numbers on the license plate. Had the dream not been so vivid, or had the event not been so close in time, this incident would have fit the classical example of a Déjà vu experience. However, I know unequivocally that what I experienced was a precognitive dream, not Déjà vu. It wasn’t just the feeling of “being here before,” I knew what would happen next. I could predict what words would be spoken next.
Some alternative candidates for the cause of Déjà vu are anomalies of memory. Wikipedia states “the most likely explanation of Déjà vu is not that it is an act of ‘precognition’ or ‘prophecy,’ but rather that it is an anomaly of memory giving the impression that an experience is ‘being recalled.’” Usually the “recollection” feeling is strong, but the ability to summon up specific data such as how, when, where, and why is difficult. As time passes, even less is remembered, although the Déjà vu experience itself is retained. “This may result from an overlap between the neurological systems responsible for short-term memory (events which are perceived as being in the present) and those responsible for long-term memory (past events) (Wikipedia).” In other words, the episode is first retained in long-term memory giving the feeling that it happened in the past. Another, similar, explanation by Robert Efron called “Dual Processing,” suggests that it may be a delay in neurological response. “Because information enters the processing centers of the brain via more than one path, it is possible that occasionally that blending of information might not be synchronized correctly (from How Stuff Works).” Hence the feeling of Déjà vu.
Three more “memory based” explanations are “Familiarity-based Recognition,” “Cryptamnesia,” and “Stored Memories.” Familiarity-based recognition is just what it sounds like: you have a Déjà vu eliciting event and your brain matches it with an existing, but different, memory trace. Cryptamnesia is where information learned is forgotten and then invoked when a similar situation unfolds. Finally, Stored Memories are those memories that are gleamed from books, movies, etc. and when you are exposed to something similar, there is Déjà vu. For example: as a young child you see the movie North by Northwest and then when as an adult you visit Mt. Rushmore, you feel you have been there before.
Another strong candidate for Déjà vu is Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Many researchers believe that Déjà vu is a “neurological anomaly related to improper electrical discharge in the brain (Wikipedia).” According to “Probing Q” website and Claire Flaherty-Craig, a neuro-psychologist at Hershey Medical Center, “Those patients reporting Déjà vu are temporal lobe seizure patients.” New to this writer, mild epileptic episodes are very common. Have you ever experienced a “jolt” in a muscle when falling asleep? Yes, it is a mild epileptic episode! Some say that the most common form of Deja vu is Associative (memory based) epilepsy. Others think that Déjà vu is distinctly different. It is a very difficult event to study: you don’t know when it will occur, it happens quickly and only to certain people, and there are usually no witnesses or physical effects other than someone saying, Déjà vu!
Then there is the Hologram Theory. Dr. Hermon Sno postulates that “memories are like holograms, meaning that you can recreate the entire three-dimensional image from any fragment of the whole.” The smaller the fragment, the less clear the picture. “Déjà vu, he says, happens when some detail in the environment we are currently in (a sight, sound, smell, et cetera) is similar to some remnant of a memory of our past and our brain recreates an entire scene from that fragment (Lee Ann Obringer, How Déjà vu Works).” A small piece of familiarity produces a Déjà vu experience.
Not given much credence by the scientific world, many parapsychologists believe that a Déjà vu experience is proof of a past life existence.
Could the “cause” be found within Quantum Physics? If we look back at Marie Jones’ definition of Déjà vu as “you are remembering what is happening to you in the present moment,” we have to ask a question. How can we have a memory in the present? The quantum answer could be one of two possibilities: parallel universes or, you name it, the Akashic Record/Zero-Point Field/Universal Consciousness.
Jones postulates that for those brief moments (remember, a Déjà vu event usually only lasts for 10-30 seconds), your mind is in synchronization with another reality, a parallel universe. One of those universes so possible with today’s quantum theories. One of the many universes, slightly different from our own, that we could be residing in simultaneously with this one.
Alternatively, the phenomenon could be caused by your mind connecting to what the quantum world calls the Zero-Point Field; what the ancients called the Akashic Records. The great Carl Jung called it the Universal Consciousness. By whatever name, this is a “place” out of space-time where past, present, and future intermingle.
We’ve discussed quite a few ideas, by very erudite people, about what it is that we experience as Déjà vu. I turned to the ANSWER BAG site on the internet to find some interesting answers from “you” as to the question of “What causes Déjà vu?” Firebrand thinks it’s “The brain recognizing something in the subconscious mind fractionally before the conscious mind.” Looshk says, “I’ve just been told that it’s suppose to be when your soul travels forward in time and experiences something before your body does. When your body reaches that point in time, you get Déjà vu.” Saboteur succinctly states, “A temporary rift in the space-time continuum.” A very medical opinion comes from LarryH54. “The information gets short-circuited into long term memory before it hits short term memory, tricking you into thinking you’ve seen/been there before.” Someguy believes that “Déjà vu is the brain storing an image and memory and then instantly presenting it back to you as a previously stored memory. It both stores it and recalls it at the same time. Since it is stored in long-term memory, you think it is something that happened a while back when it actually happened literal seconds ago.” Finally, Emikat_is_in_loclab says “I think it has to do with scent. A familiar scent from another time conjures up the old memory and relates it to the current circumstances.” As you can see, some of these opinions have been expressed in this article, while others have not.
My sister Karen expresses her thoughts in this way: “It’s surreal-like you are re-experiencing something or that you are out of time. You notice everything, the table cloth, the person in front of you, the fork situated just in the way you remember it…and at the same time, it feels fuzzy like you are in a dream. It feels like you are a part of this earth, but not part of this earth. It feels like you are back in time and yet forward in time. I used to think that it was due to our subconscious picking up on information before our conscious mind could register it. But it does feel like time is happening all at once…past, present, and future. Because time and space are an illusion, possibly when this happens I am outside of our three dimensional reality. Am I in the Zero-Point Field where I am experiencing my spirit and body at the same time? This is very interesting to ponder!”
Many of you have experienced a Deja vu episode. Often what happens is that you stop what you are doing and say Déjà vu! Then you start to analyze: what’s going on here? By doing this you loose the moment. Jones suggests that instead, you try going with the experience and see where it leads you. What do you think causes Déjà vu? Something to think about.