Friday, December 17, 2004

déjà vu all over again

I was sitting at the computer reading my message boards (almost as bad an addiction as blogging, 3 years and counting) and checking out my daily news when I got the overwhelming feeling that I had already read those posts, read that news, that I had been sitting at the computer in the same manner, and the light was the same as it had been. Now I have this feeling that I know what today is going to be like, and that I've done all of this before. A textbook case of déjà vu.

The frightening thing is that for me, déjà vu is pretty common. I regularily get feelings that I've done something before, or felt something before when I'm positive that I actually haven't. I don't know how to describe it, but it feels like this has all happened before. I don't know why I feel this way, maybe more than others. It's a very bizzare thing because it is more than merely "not remembering". I don't remember things that I do all the time, but the fact is that I don't find it disturbing. Rather, the uncanny effect of déjà vu is that one gets a sense that one shouldn't feel a sense of familiarity or recognition. It's that strangeness attached to the feeling that separates it from simple lack of memory.

I know that as a child the idea of déjà vu really fascinated me and frightened me, much like dreams or the vastness of space. Déjà vu literally translated from French means "already seen". The textbook definition is "the uncanny feeling or illusion of having already seen or experienced something that is being experienced for the first time". People have come up with numerous ideas to explain what déjà vu is. I'm reminded of the scene in the first Matrix film when Neo sees the black cat walk by twice, and goes "Déjà vu" to which one of the others answers, that means that "they've changed something". It's fun to think of reasons why this might happen. When younger I thought about déjà vu as a possible effect of time travellers messing with time, and when they changed something we felt like we had already done certain things because, perhaps we had, in another reality.

More scientific and realistic theories that I've come across are that usually when one feels one has been or done something before, one actually has, but didn't form full memories the first time. The original experience may have even occurred minutes or seconds before. It is also possible that déjà vu is connected to chemical imbalances in the brain, and not related to any previous experience at all, but rather the neurochemical "feeling" of memory is merely triggered for one reason or another.

Memory is a fascinating thing. In once sense, it sums up what makes us human, our collective experiences and feelings that make us who we are. But memory is also so fragile, as is our view of reality. Or perhaps there is a more "metaphysical" reason for these things. All I know is that it somewhat frightens me to think that I've experienced all this before, and merely don't remember. Think about that for a moment.


At 4:33 p.m., Blogger Ewan said...

You're thoughts on memory are very romantic. Just don't take psych 255 (human memory). It'll crush any beauty of the human memory with its sheer boredom.

At 5:34 p.m., Blogger Johannes de Silentio said...

I have heard that deja vu happens when you're mind takes an experience in twice for some reason or another. Your mind takes the experience in once, and when it takes it in the second time, the original experience is triggered in the memory banks. I liked that explaination, until you said that it was chemicals triggering the function of memory; I like that more. It makes me feel more imbalanced rather than defective, and I can handle imbalanced. Anyway, deja vu happens to me somewhat frequently too, but I'm much more terrified of my hallucinations.

At 8:40 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Anders, you existentialist, you--I wonder if we are the sum of our collective experiences and feelings, or something preformed. Does existence genuinely precede essence, or is it the other way around?


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