illustration of deja vu
Image 1: Illustration of Deja Vu | From The Matrix Resurrections (2021), dir. Lana Wachowski. | Warner Bros. Pictures

You’ve probably had deja vu if you’ve ever had the experience that a scenario, people, or place feels very familiar even though you know it shouldn’t, such as when you’re visiting a new city for the first time. Déjà vu, which means “previously seen”, mixes objective unfamiliarity – the knowledge that something shouldn’t be familiar based on adequate evidence with subjective familiarity. Learn more about deja vu.

What is Deja Vu?

The phrase deja vu or “déjà vu” is French and means “previously seen”, using this term means explaining a situation when you feel like you have been to this place or have seen a person, while you have never been to that place before, and have never seen that person before. Those who have felt it describe it as an overwhelming sensation of familiarity with something that shouldn’t be familiar in the first place.

For example, you’re visiting any temple for the first time and touching a bell when it suddenly occurs to you that you’ve been there before. Or perhaps you’re out to dinner with friends, conversation a current political issue, and you have a distinct impression that you’ve done this conversation before, same place, same dinner, same topic.

Origin of the word “déjà vu”

The term sensation de déjà-vu (feeling of déjà vu) was coined in 1876 by French philosopher Émile Boirac (1851-1917), who used it in his work L’Avenir des sciences psychiques. It is now widely used worldwide.

Why does Deja Vu Occur?

There are a variety of hypotheses of why déjà vu occurs and some of the phenomena are complicated. According to Swiss academic Arthur Funkhouser, there are various déjà experiences, and the distinctions between them must be noticed to better understand the phenomenon.

Déjà vu has long been linked to temporal-lobe epilepsy and has been reported to occur soon before a temporal-lobe seizure. During the actual seizure activity or in the times between convulsions, people who are having this type of seizure may experience déjà vu.

Because deja vu can happen to people who may or may not have any medical problems, there is much speculation about how and why it happens. Many psychoanalysts believe that deja vu is caused by simple imagination or wish fulfillment, while some psychotherapists believe that it is caused by a brain mismatch that makes the present an experience. Many parapsychologists believe that it has something to do with past existence.

It’s not uncommon to have a sense of déjà vu. According to a study released in 2004, more than 50 polls on déjà vu found that almost two-thirds of people have experienced it at least once in their lives, with many claiming many instances. As people become more aware of what déjà vu is, this reported figure appears to be increasing. Déjà vu is frequently characterized in terms of what you see, although it is not limited to vision, and even those who are blind can have it.

Study and Research on Deja Vu

Déjà vu is difficult to research in the laboratory since it is a transitory event with no obvious trigger. Nonetheless, depending on their theories, academics have utilized a variety of approaches to investigate the phenomenon. Researchers may conduct surveys, investigate possible linked processes, particularly those involving memory, or devise various experiments to investigate déjà vu. Because déjà vu is difficult to quantify, experts have proposed a variety of theories to explain how it works. Below are a few of the most popular hypotheses.

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Memory-based hypotheses

The notion behind memory theories of déjà vu is that you have already experienced a circumstance, or something quite similar to it, but you don’t recall it. Instead, you recall it subconsciously, which is why it feels familiar, even though you have no idea why.

Single element familiarity: The single element familiarity hypothesis states that if one element of a scene is familiar to you but you don’t recognize it because it’s in a different setting, such as seeing your barber out on the street, you’ll have déjà vu. Even if you don’t remember your barber, your brain recognizes them and generalizes that sensation of familiarity to the entire environment. This hypothesis has also been extended by other researchers to include multiple elements.

Gestalt familiarity: The gestalt familiarity theory examines how objects are arranged in a scene and how déjà vu happens when you see something similar. For example, You may not have seen your friend’s picture in their living room before, but you may have seen a room set out similarly to your friend’s — a painting hung above the sofa, across from a bookcase. You get déjà vu because you can’t remember the other room.

The gestalt similarity hypothesis has the advantage of being more easily tested. Participants in one study were asked how familiar a new space seemed and if they felt like they were experiencing déjà vu after viewing it in virtual reality. The researchers discovered that study participants who couldn’t remember the old rooms were more likely to believe a new room was familiar and that they were experiencing déjà vu if the new room resembled the old ones. Furthermore, the higher these scores were, the more similar the new space was to the previous room.

Neurological hypotheses

Spontaneous brain activity: According to some theories, déjà vu occurs when your brain engages in spontaneous activity unrelated to what you’re doing right now. You may get a false sense of familiarity if this occurs in the portion of your brain that deals with memory. Individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy, in which aberrant electrical activity occurs in the area of the brain that deals with memory, provide some evidence. Patients may have déjà vu when their brains are electronically stimulated as part of a pre-surgery examination. According to one study, déjà vu occurs when the parahippocampal system, which aids in recognizing familiar objects, malfunctions and causes you to believe something is familiar when it isn’t. Others have claimed that déjà vu isn’t limited to a particular familiarity system, but rather encompasses various memory systems and their relationships.

Neural transmission speed: Other theories are based on the speed with which information passes through your brain. Different parts of your brain send information to “higher-order” sections of your brain, which combine data to help you make sense of the environment. If this intricate process is disturbed in any way – for example, if one portion delivers something slower or faster than usual – your brain will misinterpret your surroundings.

Dream-based hypotheses

Dreams can also be used to explain the sensation of déjà vu, and they have three elements in common. According to Brown’s survey, some déjà vu experiences mirror the circumstance in dreams rather than in waking life. Twenty percent of respondents said they had déjà vu episodes in their dreams, while 40% said they had déjà vu in both reality and dreams. Second, people may experience déjà vu as a result of seeing pieces from their previously remembered dreams. Zuger investigated the relationship between recalled dreams and déjà vu experiences and found that there is a substantial link. Finally, people may have déjà vu when dreaming, which has been linked to dream frequency.

Simulation Hypotheses

According to the simulation hypotheses if we are living in a simulated world that is Matrix then Deja Vu is A Glitch in the Matrix. However, Deja vu is a well-known occurrence in science fiction novels and films. In The Matrix trilogy, Carrie-Anne Moss’s character Trinity tells viewers (and Keanu Reeves’s character Neo) that déjà vu is a “glitch in the Matrix”—The synthetic reality that keeps humans unconscious and leads to the belief that intelligent computers have taken over the world.

To Know more about simulation hypotheses Read these articles:

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Is the universe a computer simulation? – Simulation Theory explained
Existence: Is Your Reality a Complex Computer Simulation?
Brain in a Vat: Brain Connected with a Computer and the Computer Simulating the Fake Reality


Though the preceding hypotheses appear to have one common thread: a transient malfunction in cognitive processing, an explanation for déjà vu remains difficult. For the time being, scientists can continue to devise studies that explore the nature of déjà vu more directly to be more certain of the correct explanation.


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