Getting to grips with deja vu

Alan S. Brown asks whether we can hope to study this intriguing phenomenon scientifically.

I was at a friends house for the first time, and his mother was serving dinner. All the food was on the table except the ham, and immediately after it was placed on the table, the room sort of froze into a still frame in my mind. The entire scene, background and foreground, reminded me of something I was sure that I had experienced before. It was over in a few seconds, and felt like it had happened in a dream. I walked into a coffee shop with two of my friends on a Sunday afternoon, and we started talking about a new song that we had all heard. Suddenly, I had the eerie feeling that I had experienced this exact same conversation before and even knew what my friends were going to say next. This was impossible because we had never been there before.

THE déjà vu experience, defined as any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of a present experience with an undefined past (Neppe, 1983, p.3), has presented a tantalising puzzle for philosophers, physicians, poets, psychologists and mystics for centuries. Even though this memory illusion has spawned more than 50 different interpretations (see Brown, 2003, 2004), a clear and credible explanation has yet to emerge. Why has the scientific study of déjà vu remained so elusive?


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