Thursday, January 23, 2014

Deja Vu

Deja Vu is a french term which literally means 'already seen.' Almost 70% of the population, reportedly, claims to experience this phenomenon. It may be defined as an eerie sense of familiarity amidst a first time experience. Personally, I've experienced Deja Vu a number of times in my life. I can not recall how often, but I'd guess maybe a total of 20 times. Though I haven't experienced Deja Vu in quite some time, I thought I'd share some theories.

First, I'll throw out (for consideration) and throw out (to the trash) a few fairly popular theories.

Some suggest that Deja Vu is best explained because some form of reincarnation is true. In other words, we experience a sense of familiarity because we've actually experienced almost the same thing in a previous life. I discard this theory because there is no good evidence for reincarnation AND because it doesn't really address the issue very well. Why would memories from a completely different life (different time, place, people) be more likely to cause deja vu than memories from your current life?

Another explanation that, I think, should be dismissed is one often embraced by Christians. It has been suggested that the reason we experience Deja Vu is because our spirits are eternal. Previous to being placed in a body, our spirits existed in the spirit realm with God (which is supposedly outside of time). Deja Vu happens when our spirit temporarily remembers something that it saw from that vantage point. Again, I dismiss this theory b/c, biblically, there is no evidence that our spirits existed before our conception. It is even debated whether God exists outside of time. What's more, why would the spirit remember these Deja Vu moments and not others (most of my Deja Vu experiences were rather mundate events)?

A similar suggestion is that the experience of Deja Vu is a sort of prophetic experience. The person experiencing it was given a glimpse of the future before it happened (so that when it happens, it seems familiar to them). But again, my experiences with Deja Vu have been inconsequential. Why would God give me a preview of my friends and I snacking and playing a board game?

I would, however, like to suggest a number of theories that I think may help explain Deja Vu.

First, in the spirit of seeking the simplest solution, I would suggest that Deja Vu sometimes happens when we are experiencing something VERY SIMILAR to something we've experienced before. One might counter that they don't recall a similar experience, but that could just as easily be attributed to our faulty memories. My experience of Deja Vu was often (though not always) in situations that were, indeed, very similar to some earlier situations I had been in.

Second, and just a little bit more complicated, is the theory that the experience of Deja Vu is connected to our dreams. Dreams are a very interesting subject in their own right. Last night I had very vivid dreams, but 2 seconds after I woke up... what I dreamed about was now a mystery. I could recall that the dream was vivid, but I couldn't recall a single detail about it! The memory of that dream (and all my dreams) is, I believe SOMEWHERE in my brain. Imagine how much content we're talking about! Perhaps Deja Vu is the experience of something in real life that is very similiar to something you previously experienced (and forgot about) in a dream.

My next two theories are hot off the presses (I just thought of them this morning, though I'm sure they are not original to me). They are computer/internet based theories.

Since I am currently teaching through the Bible for a second time, I have somewhat frequently tried to save a document only to find that I already have a document saved with that same title. I have to make a quick title change in order to store this new file. Could it be that our brains 'title' new memories and sometimes run into the problem of finding another memory claiming that title? Come to think of it, this is just a more technical version of the 'simplest solution' above.

Or maybe Deja Vu is more like a 'double post' like we sometimes find on the internet. Maybe on occasion our brain goes a little berserk and tries to send the same new memory to its storage facility twice. In this sense, Deja Vu would not so much be 'already seen' but 'seeing twice.' Scientists sometimes suggest, similarly, that Deja Vu could be the overlap of 1 memory existing in both the short-term and long-term sections of the brain.

What has been your experience of Deja Vu? What are your theories?


Carrie J said...

It is interesting you write on this topic, Emma (my daughter) & I were just talking about this. I have had several instances of this happening,Emma recently did have one. Mine have all been mundane everyday occurrences,however some are longer "scenes". At a recent family gathering I thought to myself "this exact situation happened,i remember it" but upon thinking further there were details that couldnt possibly have been there before,but I knew it was going to happen because I "remembered" it. Odd!!

The AJ Thomas said...

I'm not sure any of these cut it for me. I think that in some way my brain has processed the exact same experience before. Maybe in a dream but then how did I dream exactly what i would later experience?

You see for me Deja Vu is not just a sense of familiarity but an experience of exact repetition. I have had prolonged experiences of Deja Vu (30-45 seconds) where I actually knew word for word what people were going to say next like a scene in a movie I have seen a dozen times. I've also had experience of Deja Vu where I say I'm experiencing Deja Vu and that is also part of the Deja Vu.

Let me throw out two other twists on the theories. First - our consciousness actually has, likely while we were sleeping, somehow skipped ahead in time for a few seconds and then moved back to it's proper place. Like a record that jumped a few grooves over and then got pushed back to the current song. Or maybe it's happening simultaneous to the experience. Our consciousness actually jumps ahead in time a fraction of a second, just enough to make an experience feel like we have already experienced it because we did - half a second ago.
Second - We haven't actually experienced this situation in any way whatsoever but instead some stimulus other that the actual experience has triggered the part of our brain that experiences things as "familiar." Sort of like how you can trigger different senses in the brain by stimulating that part of the brain rather then but inputting the actually stimulus through the body.

matthew said...

AJ... It could be that if I had personally experienced the sort of Deja Vu as you have, I would have added to my list of theories!

Your first twist seems to assume that the 'future' already exists. I probably did not consider this b/c I lean heavily toward open theism. I recognize that I could be wrong on that, so I consider that worthy of consideration (and quite similiar to the 'prophetic experience' I mentioned).

Your second twist is a variation of the brain blip theory I was speculating about in my final paragraph.

Needless to say, your heightened experience of Deja Vu over against my experience is quite interesting. You might want to get that checked out! J/K

The AJ Thomas said...

Yeah - I don't think I believe in the future either but if it actually exists it makes the whole thing a lot easier to explain. I get my head checked out but I'm rather worried about what they would find :)

Mandy said...

I have heard that math has proven that time travels in two directions at once. We're only conscious of its forward movement most of the time. I think big energy moments may cause those who are sensitive or spiritually discerning to pick up on them (the latter as God wills). An example is the "vision" I had on my way to Seattle in late August 2001. My dad had cancer and was in the hospital and we were on our way to see him. While on the ferry and looking at the Seattle skyline I "saw" an airplane crash into a skyscraper. At the time I dismissed it as stress from our own situation and thought "no one would do something so terrible!"
I'd had something similar happen in seminary when a friend committed suicide. Before we knew for sure what had happened I put my head against the door of her dorm room and said, "Where are you?" I "saw" her dead and lying on the floor and then I saw her hanging. When found she was hanging from a low bar so that her body was on the floor. I asked a professor why I would have such a vision if it was too late to help. He thought that God gave me a "stress inoculation" to help me deal with what was coming. Considering the later event and how 9/11 intertwined with the last days of my dad's life, I think that idea has merit as is evidence of God's love and foreknowledge.