The vast majority of us will have experienced déjà vu at least once or twice during the course of our lives. This odd sensation can make us feel as though we’ve experienced something before, even though, in reality, it’s impossible to experience the exact same moment – with every sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, movement – more than once. Déjà vu can appear in familiar situations such as getting ready for work in the morning to unfamiliar situations like exploring an old castle for the first time.
Still to this day, scientists struggle to explain this extremely complex phenomenon. In fact, it’s believed there are more than 40 theories speculating why it occurs. Here are a few such theories…
Perhaps you didn’t pay attention the first time
Dr Alan Brown coined the term ‘divided attention theory’ which suggests that in most cases of déjà vu, you have in fact experienced a very similar moment before. However, Brown suggests that the first time you experienced this moment, you weren’t paying enough attention to it to process it as a memory. So when you experience it a second time, you’re oddly familiar with it but can’t pinpoint it.
Small fragments can jog our memory
Dr Herman Snow believes in ‘hologram theory’. This theory suggests certain fragments of a particular memory such as a smell, sight, sound, or movement can remind us of fully formed memories or experiences, making us feel as though we’ve been there before.
Our brains can of course make mistakes
Leaky processing theory suggests that when new stimuli enter our working memory, our brains split this information into two categories – important information and non-important information. However, this theory suggests that some stimuli gets lost without being categorised and so although it’s new, our brain mistakes it as being familiar.
Other psychologists believe déjà vu is simply triggered when you’re looking at something very similar to something you’ve seen before. You get an eerie feeling that you’ve experienced this moment before but because it’s not exactly the same as an actual memory, you just can’t place it.
When parallel universes collide
Could déjà vu in fact be caused by parallel universes colliding? Some experts believe so.
Physicist Michio Kaku likens universes colliding to picking up two radio stations at once. He says: “If you’re inside your living room listening to BBC radio, that radio is tuned to one frequency. But in your living room there are all frequencies: radio Cuba, radio Moscow, the Top 40 rock stations. All these radio frequencies are vibrating inside your living room, but your radio is only tuned to one frequency.” The idea of parallel universes is certainly an interesting and exciting concept, if not a little spooky!
Evoking memories of a past life
Perhaps the sense of déjà vu is triggered by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, emotions and experiences, we’ve encountered in a past life rather than our current one. This would explain why we vaguely recognise something but cannot completely work out when.
Interesting fact: The opposite of déjà vu is ‘jamais vu’. Jamais vu occurs when we experience a situation, word, or person that we know we’re familiar with but the encounter feels entirely new or different. Jamais vu could even occur when seeing your own mother or reading a common word you’re used to seeing every day.
Our memories are extremely powerful and the art of remembering is one of our greatest abilities as humans. Thanks to our memories, we’re able to learn from our past to determine our future. However, déjà vu may just be one of those things we’ll never be able to explain. Is it a case of our brains malfunctioning or are we underestimating our minds? Perhaps our brains are far more exceptional than we give them credit for and are able to recall moments from our past lives or synchronise with parallel universes.
Have you ever experienced a particularly eerie moment of déjà vu? What do you think caused it? Let us know your thoughts by joining in the conversation over on our Facebook page.