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Déjà vu

4:32 PM
Déjà vu

Déjà vu (French pronunciation: [deʒa vy]  is the experience of feeling sure that one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation, even though the exact circumstances of the previous encounter are uncertain and were perhaps imagined. The term was coined by a French psychic researcher, Émile Boirac (1851–1917) in his book L'Avenir des sciences psychiques ("The Future of Psychic Sciences"), which expanded upon an essay he wrote while an undergraduate. The experience of déjà vu is usually accompanied by a compelling sense of familiarity, and also a sense of "eeriness," "strangeness," "weirdness," or what Sigmund Freud calls "the uncanny." The "previous" experience is most frequently attributed to a dream, although in some cases there is a firm sense that the experience has genuinely happened in the past.
The experience of déjà vu seems to be quite common among adults and children alike. References to the experience of déjà vu are found in literature of the past, indicating it is not a new phenomenon. It has been extremely difficult to invoke the déjà vu experience in laboratory settings, therefore making it a subject of few empirical studies. Certain researchers claim to have found ways to recreate this sensation using hypnosis.

Scientific research

The most likely explanation of déjà vu is not that it is an act of "precognition" or "prophecy," but rather that it is an anomaly of memory, giving the false impression that an experience is "being recalled." This explanation is substantiated by the fact that the sense of "recollection" at the time is strong in most cases, but that the circumstances of the "previous" experience (when, where, and how the earlier experience occurred) are quite uncertain or known to be impossible. Likewise, as time passes, subjects can exhibit a strong recollection of having the "unsettling" experience of déjà vu itself, but little or no recollection of the specifics of the event(s) or circumstance(s) they were "remembering" when they had the déjà vu experience. In particular, this may result from an overlap between the neurological systems responsible for short-term memory and those responsible for long-term memory (events which are perceived as being in the past). The events would be stored into memory before the conscious part of the brain even receives the information and processes it.
Another hypothesis being explored is that of vision. The hypothesis suggests that one eye may record what is seen fractionally faster than the other, creating the "strong recollection" sensation upon the "same" scene being viewed milliseconds later by the opposite eye.  However, this hypothesis fails to explain the phenomenon when other sensory inputs are involved, such as hearing or touch. If one, for instance, experiences déjà vu of someone slapping the fingers on his left hand, then the déjà vu feeling is certainly not due to his right hand experiencing the same sensation later than his left hand considering that his right hand would never receive the same sensory input. Also, people with only one eye still report experiencing déjà vu or déjà vécu (a rare disorder of memory, similar to persistent déjà vu). The global phenomenon can therefore at least in certain cases be narrowed down to the brain itself (i.e., one hemisphere being late compared to the other one).

Links with disorders

Early researchers tried to establish a link between déjà vu and serious psychopathology such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and dissociative identity disorder, with hopes of finding the experience of some diagnostic value. However, there does not seem to be any special association between déjà vu and schizophrenia or other psychiatric conditions. The strongest pathological association of déjà vu is with temporal lobe epilepsy. This correlation has led some researchers to speculate that the experience of déjà vu is possibly a neurological anomaly related to improper electrical discharge in the brain. As most people suffer a mild (i.e. non-pathological) epileptic episode regularly (e.g. a hypnagogic jerk, the sudden "jolt" that frequently, but not always, occurs just prior to falling asleep), it is conjectured that a similar (mild) neurological aberration occurs in the experience of déjà vu, resulting in an erroneous sensation of memory. For someone who regularly has such seizures, there is typically a feeling of déjà vu associated with whatever sensations (particularly sounds) may be occurring nearby.

Pharmacology

It has been reported that certain drugs increase the chances of déjà vu occurring in the user. Some pharmaceutical drugs, when taken together, have also been implicated in the cause of déjà vu. Taiminen and Jääskeläinen (2001) reported the case of an otherwise healthy male who started experiencing intense and recurrent sensations of déjà vu upon taking the drugs amantadine and phenylpropanolamine together to relieve flu symptoms. He found the experience so interesting that he completed the full course of his treatment and reported it to the psychologists to write up as a case study. Due to the dopaminergic action of the drugs and previous findings from electrode stimulation of the brain (e.g. Bancaud, Brunet-Bourgin, Chauvel, & Halgren, 1994) Taiminen and Jääskeläinen speculate that déjà vu occurs as a result of hyperdopaminergic action in the mesial temporal areas of the brain. Many scientists are still working towards the actual link of déjà vu with hypnagogic epilepsy.

Memory-based explanations

The similarity between a déjà-vu-eliciting stimulus and an existing, but different, memory trace may lead to the sensation. Thus, encountering something which evokes the implicit associations of an experience or sensation that cannot be remembered may lead to déjà vu. In an effort to experimentally reproduce the sensation, Banister and Zangwill (1941) used hypnosis to give participants posthypnotic amnesia for material they had already seen. When this was later re-encountered, the restricted activation caused thereafter by the posthypnotic amnesia resulted in three of the 10 participants reporting what the authors termed "paramnesias." Memory-based explanations may lead to the development of a number of non-invasive experimental methods by which a long sought-after analogue of déjà vu can be reliably produced that would allow it to be tested under well-controlled experimental conditions. Cleary suggests that déjà vu may be a form of familiarity-based recognition (recognition that is based on a feeling of familiarity with a situation) and that laboratory methods of probing familiarity-based recognition hold promise for probing déjà vu in laboratory settings. Another possible explanation for the phenomenon of déjà vu is the occurrence of "cryptamnesia", which is where information learned is forgotten but nevertheless stored in the brain, and similar occurrences invoke the contained knowledge, leading to a feeling of familiarity because of the situation, event or emotional/vocal content, known as "déjà vu".

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