Déjà vu is a French word that literally means, “already seen.” Those who have experienced this feeling describe it as an overwhelming sense of familiarity with something that shouldn’t be familiar at all. For example, you are sitting with a group of friends having a conversation and suddenly you feel like you have been here before having the same conversation with the same bunch of people in this very same place, sometimes even accompanied with an overwhelming feeling of knowing or almost knowing what’s going to be said next or what’s going to happen next. This can also happen when you are visiting a place that you have never visited before and you suddenly feel like you have been there before.
Déjà vu is said to be experienced on random occasions by 60-80% of the population. It is a very surreal feeling to have and I have personally experienced déjà vu several times in my life and it never fails to surprise me when it happens. This is because déjà vu puts the observer in a state of cognitive dissonance as they simultaneously experience something to be both new and old.
People have been fascinated by this phenomenon for a very long time and have been trying to uncover what it means. Here are some of the possible explanations that have been put out over the years.
Déjà vu in science
Déjà vu is a difficult thing to study, as the incident is usually fleeting, occurs randomly and only to one person, therefore leaving no tangible evidence or witnesses to examine. Déjà vu was once attributed to be an indication of mental illness, such as schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder. However since most of the population experience déjà vu at one time or another, this theory did not hold up, as they were not all not of course mentally ill.
One thing that can be scientifically held valid is that déjà vu has been firmly associated with temporal-lobe epilepsy. Reportedly, déjà vu can occur just prior to a temporal-lobe seizure. People suffering a seizure of this kind can experience déjà vu during the actual seizure activity or in the moments between convulsions. So keeping this in mind, a theory was made regarding brain synapses misfiring or the brain having an overload of electrical activity which evokes the strange sensation of déjà vu. Some researchers believe that an electrical malfunction of the brain may occur causing some memory neurons to fire. This misfiring in the memory part of the brain is said to cause the person to feel like they have had this experience before.
Another theory is that Déjà vu is an experience that one has already had which had been recorded in the subconscious as a memory but was forgotten about. This is termed as cryptomnesia. So when the current experience triggers déjà vu, especially in the memory part of the brain, to feel like a new experience, it is actually an experience that you have had before but had forgotten and hence causing you to feel like it is actually a new experience. But since people usually experience déjà vu when they visit new countries that they know that they haven’t visited before, this theory doesn’t hold much water.
But the current leading theory is that when a situation resembles another similar past situation, our brain simply believes that we have already done that thing or been in that situation before.
Déjà vu in spirituality
Déjà vu has not just fascinated scientists or psychologists, but philosophers and psychics exploring the realms of spirituality who have also been deeply interested in this phenomenon and have come up with many theories of their own.
One of such theories to be put out was that of precognition. This theory is based on the idea that your subconscious mind is not confined by time or space, and déjà vu is explained as something your mind psychically foresaw before you experienced it. It is as if you saw into the future. So, when you have the moment of déjà vu, your mind treats it as a memory, hence the familiar feeling you get. Another one is the precognitive dream theory, whereby déjà vu is a replay of a dream you’ve already had hence appearing familiar to you.
Some spiritualists see déjà vu as a message from the universe, granting a hidden meaning to the moment meant for only you. This coincides with themes like synchronicities and other strange phenomena that are said to be a way for the universe to communicate with you. Some believe it to means that you are in the right place at the right time.
But one of the most common explanations regarding déjà vu has to be the past-life theory. This theory sees déjà vu as an experience that you have had before in a past lifetime. Perhaps you are now visiting somewhere that you have been in another life, or are having a similar experience to the one you had as someone else. This explains the déjà vu feeling of having ‘been there, done that’.
Another theory similar to the past-life theory is the parallel life theory. While the concept of parallel universes and parallel lives may seem too far fetched and difficult for an ordinary person to understand or grasp, it is quite common in the current world of spirituality as more and more people start understanding theoretical physics, such as quantum mechanics and string theory. In this view, there are an infinite number of possibilities to life experience and each possibility plays out a separate life apart from the one you know. It states that there a number of you playing out different scenarios in the universe (but you are aware of only this one as your focus is currently on this). So according to this theory, Déjà vu is said to occur when your parallel self is coincidentally doing the same thing as you are and both realities overlap causing you to feel déjà vu.
Another over the top explanation is from simulation believers. For those familiar with the movie Matrix, there are many who believe this world to be a simulation (or Maya) and they believe that déjà vu happens when there is a glitch in the system. This may sound pretty crazy but it is nonetheless very interesting.
So what exactly is déjà vu?
The trouble is that each theory was formed through the biased knowledge and belief system of its creator. So there is no way to know for sure what exactly déjà vu is or why it happens. Whether déjà vu is a harmless blip in the brain which causes us to feel strange sensations for a millisecond with its effects lasting for some moments thereafter or whether we are living our past life experience again, we have no conclusive evidences to prove any of these theories and hence déjà vu will continue to be a mystery to baffle many for years to come. Whether or not we can solve this mystery in the future, only time will tell.