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Deja Vu, Almost Everyone Has Experienced It But What Is It?


Deja Vu, Almost Everyone Has Experienced It But What Is It?

Deja vu is a French phrase that translates literally to “already seen”.

Deja vu is a broad term that is a parent term to a variety of phenomena such as deja entendu “already heard” and deja lu “already read”. In its simplest context it’s the feeling that one has lived through a present situation already. Most of us have experienced this to some degree, but some of us have experienced it overwhelmingly such as this Reddit user. 

I was sitting with a friend in a restaurant and we were seated at a table where the window faced a winding road. There weren’t any cars on the road but as we sat there I had deja vu, overwhelmingly. In it I saw a car come down the road and flip. I turned to the person I was with and said “man I got chills, my deja vu just showed me a car crash”. Maybe 3 minutes later we heard a huge roar, much like the sound of deep thunder. Everyone in the restaurant stood up, and  I turned around and saw a car accident where the car had flipped and a woman was ejected from the car. I ran out and performed CPR until the ambulance came but I don’t think she made it. This was the most real my deja vu has ever been and it’s always been something that no one believes except the person that was there with me.

reddit – artareola

Psychologist Arthur Funkhouser writes”… just exactly what is meant by the words deja vu is pretty vague… As such, it has become a sort of catch-all label for any number of hard-to-explain, sometimes upsetting occurrences of unexpected recognition, in which the person involved has trouble identifying an antecedent for the events and/or places which seem so strangely and intensely familiar.” Funkhouser, who would like to see the term deja vu put to rest, has further separated the experiences of deja vu into three categories of what he calls deja experiences:

  • deja vecu – “already experienced or already lived through”

  • deja senti – “already felt”

  • deja visite – “already visited”

Although the origin of the phenomenon continues to be a mystery and finding a concise definition continues to be puzzling, deja vu is one paranormal experience that is unquestionably common with as much as 96{58fbaaeb3d88bae51ddfeee79f8ae14a7bb41c4b8de510627d9b95f0573fcc51} of the population having experienced it. 

Even before the term was coined Nathaiel Hawthorne In his book, Our Old Home, related his experience with deja vu. In the book he is visiting Stanton Harcourt a English manor. Upon entrance into the kitchen, Hawthorne was struck with the eerie feeling that “somewhere or other I had seen just this strange spectacle before.”

In this experience he was standing in the manor kitchen. The kitchen was huge, taking up all of a 70-foot tower.  Hawthorne described it as a “vast chimney” that held the “reminiscence of the fires and feasts of generations that have passed away.” Although certain he had never before seen the room or any room similar, he described the sensation as “that odd state of mind wherein we fitfully and teasingly remember some previous scene or incident, of which the one now passing appears to be but the echo and reduplication.”

It would be another half century before this type of experience would become known as deja vu. As difficult as deja vu is to explain or define, it is commonly understood that there is no English term that succinctly describes the experience. 

Frederic Myers (1843-1901), a founder of and ardent voice for the Society for Psychical Research, called the experience promnesia (from the Greek pro, “prior to,” + mnesis, “memory”). In an 1876 letter to the editor of Review Philosophique, Émile L. Boirac called the experience “le sensation of deja vu”; F.L. Arnaud is credited with introducing the name to science in 1896.

Theory and Speculation

Over time, many notable scholars have theorized about the possible causes and origins of deja vu. In 1878, an article in a German psychology magazine proposed that a possible cause of the phenomenon was fatigue. Eleven years later, in 1889, psychologist William H. Burnham proposed the exact opposite, stating that deja vu occurs when the body is “over rested”. He wrote, “When we see a strange object, its unfamiliar aspect is largely due to the difficulty we find in apperceiving its characteristics… when the brain centers are over-rested, the apperception of a strange scene may be so easy that the aspect of the scene will be familiar.”

As early as 1884, some psychologists believed deja vu was caused by “double cerebration” or that one hemisphere of the brain receives information a moment before the other hemisphere. In 1895, Frederic Myers postulated that deja vu occurred when the subconscious mind registered information in advance of the conscious mind.

In an 1896 essay, Arthur Allin, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, put forth several theories on the cause of deja vu, among them he suggested that the sensation might be caused by elements of forgotten dreams or by a brief interruption of attention when encountering a new image.

With the advent of Freudian psychology many scholars accepted the belief that deja vu was a defense mechanism the ego used to defend itself from the id and superego.

The noted psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) speculated that deja vu is the product of “collective consciousness”, drawing on the fragments of the body of human experience that survive from generation to generation, yet never breaching conscious memory. Jung’s theory possibly arises from his own deja vu experience. During his first trip to Africa, on looking out the window of his train, Jung felt as if he was returning to a home that had been his five thousand years earlier. In his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he described the feeling as recognition of “immemory.”

Paranormal Reasons for Deja Vu

Some have even considered paranormal reasons for the origin of deja vu. Psychic medium Jay Lane gives the following explanations of deja vu on her website

One of the most common beliefs is that moments of deja vu are markers or reminders from dreams. In dreams we don’t have any conscious control, we’re in a state where the subconscious can come to the surface and run the show, so to speak.

Moments of deja vu are moments we have experienced in dreams that we are able to remember during our waking life. This makes them a type of precognition.

Another theory points the finger at aliens. People who believe they have been abducted report more frequent moments of deja vu. The argument is that deja vu is the result of erased memories bubbling back up to the surface.

Deja vu may also be the result of memories from a past life reaching the conscious mind. Perhaps in a past life, you interacted with a particular place, person or spirit. When you encounter these energies in this life, you recognize them subconsciously, but the conscious mind doesn’t.

Finally, she shares her own theory. Which states that moments of deja vu are gentle reminders of what the spirit realm has planned for you. Time is different on the other side, it’s sort of flexible allowing for memories of the past, present, and future to exist, as hard as that is for the living to understand. My belief is that it is a gentle reminder that you are on the right track for the life that you planned.

Although some interpret deja vu in a paranormal context, mainstream scientific approaches reject the explanation of deja vu as “precognition” or “prophecy”.

 This certainly does not explain experiences such as this one from reddit. 

No one believes me that this happened and that’s fine, but I wanted to put it out there in case anyone else has had the same experience. A couple of months before Kobe Bryant died, I dreamt that he and his daughter died in a helicopter crash. I remember I woke up and told my sister. I remember asking myself the question “why would he be in a helicopter? He’s a rich man and can afford a private jet”. He was still fairly young in the dream. I was gonna post it on Facebook but I didn’t think anyone would care so I didn’t. I also remember that in the dream I was walking the streets of LA and vividly remember seeing people’s sad faces. They were wearing his jersey and other stuff supporting him. This was strange because I never go to LA.  Why in the world would I be walking there? 

Fast forward a few months later, I was in LA at a fitness expo for the weekend when the news broke that he and his daughter had died. I couldn’t believe it. I felt sick to my stomach and decided to go for a walk. As I walked the streets of LA I saw everyone’s despair and sadness. It was EXACTLY what I had seen in my dream. I called my sister but she didn’t remember me telling her which creeped me out more. I’ve been having vivid moments like this for a LONG time and I don’t know why. 

Just recently I had a dream that someone I knew caught her car on fire. This was strange because she didn’t even have her license let alone a car. I didn’t think much of it until a couple of months later when she got her license and bought a car, the day after she bought it, it caught on fire. I remember telling my boyfriend when I dreamt it and he confirmed that he remembers me telling him. I don’t know why this keeps happening, but I’m scared. 


reddit – lolhernandez

Or this experience 

For context I’ve been lucid dreaming for most of my life and for the most part I can recall entire parts of my dreams with ease. I met a new friend and went to his house for the first time, we were alone, and he mentioned that he was thinking about throwing a party in a couple of weeks when his parents were out of town for a few days. That night when I got home, I went to bed and dreamt about possible outcomes for the party. What activities we could do, layout of the place, etc. Just random stuff. Anyways at one point in the dream I headed down to his basement, introduced myself to two girls, and started playing beer pong against them. Nothing special about any of this.

Two weeks later I’m at the party. There’s around 80 people there and it’s pretty wild. I went out for a smoke and after heading back in I decided to go downstairs for the first time all night, and lo and behold, there’s an unused table with a couple cups and pong balls waiting for me. I grab a couple beers, get some more cups, and loudly ask if anyone’s down to play. Here’s the freaky, mega deja vu part. Those two EXACT girls I met in my dream walked up to me and said they were up for a game. One of the girls asked me my name and I answered. I’m tripping out at this point cuz I’m positive I’ve never met these girls before but proceed to tell them both their names. The girls look a little confused. How did I know their names? 

Long story short, I had a massive deja vu in which I dreamt I met two random girls at a party and it literally happened down to every detail in real life.

reddit – oblivious student

Others suggest that deja vu is caused by parallel universes overlapping or syncing temporarily, like “glitch in the matrix.” This theory relies on the idea that an infinite number of universes exist alongside an infinite number of you’s. Versions of us that we can’t normally view.

Think of a radio. You can only listen to one frequency at once because they operate at different wavelengths and levels. Proponents of this theory believe parallel universes may work the same way.

Vibrating at different frequencies, these universes could be all around us but we do not notice them. However, it is possible that for a certain moment, two frequencies could be “in phase” allowing for universes to interact for a short amount of time.

Supporters of this theory believe that deja vu may occur when universes are in sync for a short moment. When your actions in the multiverse correspond perfectly, shortly after another you in a parallel universe, you may be in sync for a moment. Resulting in deja vu. 

The universes overlap and you feel as if you just did something because in another universe you actually did.

Modern Explanations of Deja vu

There is still plenty of modern research into the phenomenon of deja vu. One of those researchers is Adam Zeman, a clinical neurologist at the University of Exeter in the UK. Zeman states that “We know deja vu as a weird fleeting moment. You pause and bask in the strangeness, then move on—perhaps not to feel it again for months or years. We brush it off in our daily lives but deja vu can be a window into the many ways our brain regulates memory, familiarity, and other related processes.”

Zeman says that even though we tend to lump deja-vu-like experiences together, researchers are now distinguishing between different kinds of deja vu.

For instance one modern relationship is between deja vu and temporal lobe epilepsy. Deja vu has long been associated as an aural or prodromal symptom. Many people with this type of seizure disorder experience intense deja vu before having a seizure.  

In the late 1970s, it was shown that you could even provoke deja vu through electrodes in the medial temporal lobe, and more recent work has found with even more specificity which parts of the medial temporal lobe are associated with deja vu.

The current theory is that epileptic deja vu is caused by abnormal discharges of electricity in that familiarity region. When that area is hyperactive, you feel familiarity that’s not accompanied by recollection—which is why it feels so weird.

So, one might ask then how can this warning bell for a seizure manifest in people who don’t have epilepsy? Zeman says we don’t completely know. One theory is that ordinary deja vu is a kind of seizure that healthy people experience.

Chris Moulin, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Université Grenoble Alpes, is also one of the leading researchers in deja vu today. 

In general, Moulin thinks that there is probably a spectrum of deja vu, from the intensity of the experience itself to how much you know it to be false. In healthy people, he now considers being able to recognize when you have deja vu a healthy symptom. If you feel that something is overly familiar, but you know that’s not right, it’s a sign that you’re highly cognizant of what’s going on in your brain.

Moulin explains that the latest theories on deja vu involve other parts of the brain aside from just the familiarity regions. Moulin thinks that might not be enough. Over-activity just in the familiarity areas would lead only to a feeling of familiarity—like thinking you know somebody on the street when you don’t. But the typical deja vu isn’t only familiarity but also the self-awareness that that familiarity is false.

That bit of it—the awareness part—led Moulin and others to think the prefrontal cortex is involved too, as a kind of control mechanism that helps monitor and organize the entire memory system. In the case of deja vu, the prefrontal cortex is watching what’s going on in the memory regions, and then detects a conflict between what’s logically possible and what the memory system is saying is familiar. “That again fits in with this story that normal deja vu is a healthy thing,”because your prefrontal cortex is astute enough to notice that this over-activity in the memory system isn’t quite right.

This may also explain why younger people tend to experience deja vu more often than older people. According to Moulin “as you get older, you lose the precision in the memory system and the fine-grained control of what’s happening in that system.


All in all while there are many theories that attempt to explain the origin or cause of deja vu, no theory has been successfully proven due, in part, to the enigmatic nature and the many faces of the phenomenon. Until then deja vu will have to continue to be an unexplained phenomenon delving into the realms of neuroscience, space, time, and the paranormal.  

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