"The Deja vu Enigma:

 Doing It Again for the Very First Time"


Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman


(From the Introduction)*



It comes on without warning. It can happen at any time, in any place, with any one. Suddenly, you get that eerie feeling of "I've been here before." Yet, you are certain that this is the first time you have ever set foot in such a place. Maybe you are in the midst of a conversation, and realize that you have spoken those very same words before, to the very same person now standing before you. But there is no possible way you could have.

          Deja vu anyone?

          French for "already seen," Deja vu is one of the most widely reported, yet least understood, anomalies of the mind. Theories run the gamut from a neural glitch, to a brain slip, to a glimpse into a parallel world, to a backwards memory of something happening in the present instead of the past. But how could you remember something happening ... now?  Yet that is exactly what Deja vu appears to be -- the memory of something that is happening in the present moment.

          The most common theories into Deja vu involve the brain and memory. The latter part of the 20th century has led to some serious scientific study of the phenomenon as an anomaly of memory recall. To validate this explanation, researchers point to the fact that the "sense" of recollection of a Deja vu is actually stronger than the actual details of the recalled event itself. It is this "sensing" that the focus is placed upon. Some people, studies claim, actually will go on to have Deja vu of past deja vus!

          While this sounds incredible, the emphasis here is on a glitch in the brain's short term memory processing. This software "bug" in our brain's programming gives an almost precognitive feel to the experience, like we are getting a peek into the future. Perhaps there is an overlap between the neurological systems responsible for short-term memory and those responsible for long-term memory.

          In 1955, American-born Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield conducted his now famous experiments stimulating the temporal lobes of the study participants with electrical charges. Penfield, a pioneer in research into the human mind, found that only approximately 8% of the participants experienced such Deja vu type "memories" afterwards.

           More current research by such noted scientists as Chris Moulin, a psychologist in the Cognitive Neuropsychology Dept. at the University of Leeds and his former PhD student Akira O'Connor (now at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri) has pointed to the use of hypnosis to trigger Deja vu experiences in subjects, as well as a connection with the temporal lobe. Interestingly, many people with temporal lobe epilepsy do report more frequent Deja vu, leading O'Connor to posit that Deja vu may actually originate in this part of the brain.

          But you don't have to have a temporal lobe disorder to experience Deja vu. In a December 2008 report published by Current Directions in Psychological Science, researchers from Colorado State University studied the parallels between Deja vu and theories of human recognition memory. Headed by Anne Cleary, the research team's findings suggest that Deja vu occurs when a current situation resembles a situation that has previously occurred in one's life. A sort of "situational overlap" leads to the feeling of familiarity. 

          Not everyone agrees that Deja vu is an anomaly of the memory, or even some kind of simple brain slip-up. Some suggest that Deja vu is a doorway, or rather, a peek inside the keyhole of a door that leads to other worlds. Or perhaps a fleeting vision of a past life ... or even a parallel life in another dimension, another universe. 

          The mind is still a mystery, and the way that memory is stored and recalled still eludes complete explanation. Deja vu is one of many anomalies of the mind, memory and time that continues to fascinate both scientists and paranormal enthusiasts alike, both of which see clues to their own pet theories in a phenomenon that occurs with more frequency than any other.



         * This excerpt reprinted by permission of the publishers, Bear & Co. Copyright C 2010 by Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman, All Rights Reserved!

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