The term déją vu is French and means, literally, “already seen.” Those who have experienced the feeling describe it as an overwhelming sense of familiarity with something that shouldn’t be familiar at all. Say, for example, you are traveling to England for the first time. You are touring a cathedral, and suddenly it seems as if you have been in that very spot before. Or maybe you are having dinner with a group of friends, discussing some current political topic, an nd you have the feeling that you’ve already experienced this very thing — same friends, same dinner, same topic.
The phenomenon is rather complex, and there are many different theories as to why déją vu happens. Swiss scholar Arthur Funkhouser suggests that there are several “déją experiences” and asserts that in order to better study the phenomenon, the nuances between the experiences need to be noted. In the examples mentioned above, Funkhouser would describe the first incidence as déją visité (“already vi isited”) and the second as déją vecu (“already experienced or lived through”).
As much as 70 percent of the population reports having experienced some form of déją vu. A higher number of incidents occurs in people 15 to 25 years old than in

br />any other age group.
Déją vu has been firmly associated with temporal-lobe epilepsy. Reportedly, déją vu can occur just prior to a temporal-lobe epileptic attack. People suffering an epileptic seizure of this kind can experience déją vu during the actual seizure activity or in the moments between convulsions.
Since déją vu occurs in individuals with and without a medical condition, there is much speculation as to how and why this phenomenon happens. Several psychoanalysts attribute déją vu to simple fantasy or wish fulfillment, while some psychiatrists ascribe it to a mismatching in the brain that causes the brain to mistake the present for the past. Many parapsychologists believe it is related to a past-life experience. Obviously, there is more investigation to o be done.
déją vu
Déją vu is French for “already seen.” Déją vu is an uncanny feeling or illusion of having already seen or experienced something that is being experienced for the first time. If we assume that the experience is actually of a remembered event, then déją vu probably occurs because an original experience was neither fully attended to nor elaborately encoded in memory. If so, then it would seem most likely that the present situation triggers the recollection of
f a fragment from one’s past. The experience may seem uncanny if the memory is so fragmented that no strong connections can be made between the fragment and other memories.
Thus, the feeling that one has been there before is often due to the fact that one has been there before. One has simply forgotten most of the original experience because one was not paying close attention the first time. The original experience may even have occurred only seconds or minutes earlier.
On the other hand, the déją vu experience may be due to having seen pictures or heard vivid stories many years earlier. The experience may be part of the dim recollections of childhood.
However, it is possible that the déją vu feeling is triggered by a neurochemical action in the brain that is not connected to any actual experience in the past. One feels strange and identifies the feeling with a memory, even though the experience is completely new.
The term was applied by Emile Boirac (1851-1917), who had strong interests in psychic phenomena. Boirac’s term directs our attention to the past. However, a little reflection reveals that what is unique about déją vu is not something from the past but something in
n the present, namely, the strange feeling one has. We often have experiences the novelty of which is unclear. In such cases we may have been led to ask such questions as, “Have I read this book before?” “Is this an episode of Inspector Morse I’ve seen before?” “This place looks familiar; have I been here before?” Yet, these experiences are not accompanied by an uncanny feeling. We may feel a bit confused, but the feeling associated with the déją vu experience is not one of confusion; it is one of strangeness. There is nothing strange about not remembering whether you’ve read a book before, especially if you are fifty years old and have read thousands of books over your lifetime. In the déją vu experience, however, we feel strange because we don’t think we should feel familiar with the present perception. That sense of inappropriateness is not present when one is simply unclear whether one has read a book or seen a film before.
Thus, it is possible that the attempt to explain the déją vu experience in terms of lost memory, past lives, clairvoyance, and so on may be completely misguided. We should be talking about the déją vu
u feeling. That feeling may be caused by a brain state, by neurochemical factors during perception that have nothing to do with memory. It is worth noting that the déją vu feeling is common among psychiatric patients. The déją vu feeling also frequently precedes temporal lobe epilepsy attacks. When Wilder Penfield did his famous experiment in 1955 in which he electrically stimulated the temporal lobes, he found about 8% of his subjects experienced “memories.” He assumed he elicited actual memories. They could well have been hallucinations and the first examples of artificially stimulated déją vu.


Arthur Funkhouser, Ph.D., Bern, Switzerland


The term ‘deja vu’ has been around quite a while, now, and, in the last few years has become practically a

buzz-word, being often found in books, newspaper accounts and magazine articles concerned with a wide variety

of topics (I have amassed quite a collection, should anyone wish to see them). The problem is, though, that while

many see fit to employ it in their writing and conversation, just exactly what is meant by the words ‘deja vu’ is

pretty vague. Many, based on their own experience, believe it must refer to what they encountered and/or felt,

while others, having never had such experiences, have a very foggy notion of what is meant, if at all. As such, it

has become a sort of catch-all label for any number of hard-to-explain, sometimes upsetting occurrences of

unexpected recognition, in which the person involved has trouble identifying an antecedent for the events and/or

places which seem so strangely and intensely familiar.

In addition, the term ‘deja vu’ has become encrusted, over the years, with a number of unfortunate associations,

ranging from reincarnation to temporal lobe epilepsy, which hinder further research. These ‘explanations’ along

with others such as delayed intra-hemisphere transmission over the corpus callosum as well as an astonishing array

of psychoanalytical theories lead people to believe that all that one needs to know about such experiences is

already known and that there is nothing of interest still to be done.

I believe the time has come, therefore, for our terminology, especially in educated discourse, to become more

differentiated (in fact, if I had my way, we would get rid of ‘deja vu’ altogether as over-worked and entitled to a

well-deserved rest). To this end, I would like to draw attention to three forms of ‘deja’ experience, defining each

as we go along, and plea that these be used when discussing the experiences they refer to. Upon reflection,

readers may come up with other, better terms for these experiences or propose terms for other, related

experiences which are not the same as the ones described in the following. Since French scientists and thinkers

were the first to investigate these phenomena, it seems fitting to retain French names for these intriguing


1. Deja vecu (already experienced or lived through)

A fairly well-known quote from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens can be used to introduce what is meant by

deja vecu,

We have all some experience of a feeling, that comes over us occasionally, of what we are saying and doing

having been said and done before, in a remote time – of our having been surrounded, dim ages ago, by the

same faces, objects, and circumstances – of our knowing perfectly what will be said next, as if we suddenly

remember it! (chapter 39)

This describes the feeling that many people know as deja vu (if they know a name for it). A number of surveys

have shown that about one third of the general population have had such or similar experiences. Moreover,

surveys have indicated that such experiences tend to occur more frequently and possibly more intensely when the

respondents were young, say between ages 15 to 25. In addition, such experiences are frequently, if not always,

connected with very banal events. They are so striking, though, that they are often clearly remembered for years

following their occurrence.

Anyone having had such experiences knows that they normally involve more sense modalities than just sight. As in

the Dickens quotation, they can easily involve hearing, tasting, touch and/or proprioceptive perceptions as well.

This is why referring to such experiences as simply deja vu is inadequate.

Another feature of deja vecu that most would agree with is the amazing detail involved. When you are in the midst

of such an occurrence, you are conscious that everything conforms with your ‘memory’ of it. This is why

explanations which suggest that the person has read about or experienced something similar in the past cannot be

valid. Moreover, this is why explanations based on reincarnation and past lives can also be ruled out. A typical

deja vecu experience can easily involve clothing or even a PC, but styles of clothing change practically every year

and it is rather unlikely that someone had a PC on his or her desk in a previous life!

If incidences of deja vecu can be taken as being real, our notions of causality may have to be revised in some

ways. It does not seem to be difficult, though, for modern physicists to entertain notions of time loops, tachyons

(particles that can travel backwards in time) and multiple universes. That our unconscious would then be able to

avail itself of such anomalies and present us with precognitive knowledge via visions and dreams, is then not so

farfetched as it might seem at first glance.

2. Deja senti (‘already felt’)

I would like to turn now to a phenomena that is often confused with deja vecu. To introduce it, I would like to

quote from an 1889 paper by Dr. John Hughlings Jackson, one of the foremost pioneers of modern neurology. In

the words of one of his patients, a medical doctor suffering from what has come to be known as temporal lobe or

psychomotor epilepsy, he wrote:

What is occupying the attention is what has occupied it before, and indeed has been familiar, but has been

for a time forgotten, and now is recovered with a slight sense of satisfaction as if it had been sought for. .

At the same time, or . more accurately in immediate sequence, I am dimly aware that the recollection is

fictitious and my state abnormal. The recollection is always started by another person’s voice, or by my

own verbalized thought, or by what I am reading and mentally verbalize; and I think that during the

abnormal state I generally verbalize some such phrase of simple recognition as ‘Oh yes – I see’, ‘Of course –

I remember’, &c., but a minute or two later I can recollect neither the words nor the verbalized thought

which gave rise to the recollection. I only find strongly that they resemble what I have felt before under

similar abnormal conditions.

This state, which sometimes appears in the aura of temporal lobe epilepsy attacks, Jackson termed ‘reminiscence’

and I believe could be best termed deja senti. Three features are evident from this description, however, that

distinguish it from deja vecu: a. it is primarily or even exclusively a mental happening; b. there are no precognitive

aspects in which the person feels he or she knows in advance what will be said or done; and c. it seldom or never

remains in the afflicted person’s memory afterwards.

A book has recently appeared which has temporal lobe epilepsy as its main focus. In it, the author mentions deja

vu as being a symptom of psychomotor epilepsy, a contention that also persists in most medical and psychiatric

textbooks and which would seem to be based on this and other remarks by Dr. Jackson. The book quotes a

neuropsychologist named Paul Spiers who told students at a lecture that if they had had deja vu experiences, they

were epileptics! This sort of nonsense continues at least in part because, up till now, our terms have been so

poorly defined and this has hampered making adequate surveys which distinguish between the various deja


3. Deja visite (‘already visited’)

There is another phenomena which is also often confused with deja vecu. It seems to occur more rarely and is an

experience in which a person visits a new locality and nevertheless feels it to be familiar. He or she seems to know

their way around. C. G. Jung published an interesting account of it in his paper on synchronicity. To distinguish it

from deja vecu, it is important to ask whether it was purely the place and location of inanimate buildings and/or

objects that were familiar, or did the situation that the person was in also play a role. Deja viste has to do with

geography, with the three spatial dimensions of height, width and depth, while deja vecu has to do more with

temporal occurrences and processes.

Deja visite can be explained in several ways. It may be that the person once read a detailed account of the place

and has subsequently forgotten it. This happened to Nathaniel Hawthorne on a visit he made to the ruins of a

castle in England. He ‘recognized’ the place but didn’t know how or why. Only later was he able to trace it to a

piece written two hundred years earlier by Alexander Pope about it. The incident ofdeja visite described by Sir

Walter Scott in his book, Guy Mannering, is also based on this hypothesis. Reincarnation might also offer a way of

explaining some instances of deja visite. A third possibility are so-called ‘out-of-the-body’ experiences in which a

person is apparently able to travel abroad, leaving his or her body behind.

It is possible that mixed versions of these three forms of ‘deja’ experience may occur. There are also several other

phenomena which resemble these in various ways, but space does not permit going into them here. Those wishing

to know more and explore the various aspects of deja phenomena more deeply are referred to the excellent

overview in the book by Neppe.

Here and Now, There and Then.
The experience of Deja Vu in clinical and spiritual terms.

Todd Murphy © 1999

Deja Vu refers to those odd and usually rare moments when the present feels like the past. Its a hard experience to interpret. Some people search their memories for dreams that might have been like the present. Others think that the experience is what happens when things from past lives emerge in this one. Both notions are impossible to prove, disprove, or (until recently), investigate. The belief that its about past lives is a matter of faith. The idea that it has to do with dreams is less a matter of faith – only a few people claim to recall past lives, but almost everybody remembers some of their dreams. Some recall a lot of them. The theory of reincarnation that is most consistent with modern brain science (Algorithmic Reincarnation) predicts that no memories are passed from one life to the next. What is transferred is a set of signals that reflect states of consciousness. Memories don’t need to go along.

Memories are state-specific. We can have experiences in one state of consciousness (like when we are drunk, for example) that we cannot remember at all when we are in another. States of consciousness provide a much more direct way for someone to select how they will behave than remembering past behaviors and comparing them to present possibilities.

There is a fly in the ointment with dreams as well. Both dreams and deja vu experiences happen in non-normal states of consciousness. Most altered states are are a fertile ground for confabulations. This means that in the moment when someone is experiencing deja vu, its easier for them to create a false memory than it would be normally. In fact, during moments of deja vu , one’s consciousness has unusually direct access to long-term memories, and the brain processes that allow us to retrieve them.

I’m not going to write it here that deja vu doesn’t come from past lives or dreams, and that that’s just how it is. But we want to understand what deja vu is, and how we can respond to it when it happens. If we explain it in terms of past lives and dreams, we are giving ourselves explanations that can’t be proven. Or proved to be false. It will boil down to a matter of faith.

There are some people who experience precognitive dreams, but most episodes of deja vu happen without the person having any sense of it relating to a dream. Precognitive dreams are a different matter altogether. Having the present moment feel like a repeat of something from the past is not the same as having the present validate a previous precognition. I have spoken to some professional psychics about this, and one of them said that he could tell the two apart, but that it took him some time to learn the difference. I asked him what the difference was, and he said that it was an ‘energy.’ That’s not really enough to help understand what the difference was, but enough for us to know that there might be one.

How does deja vu happen?

The scientific explanation is that it has to do with memory processes. I’ll make it as simple as I can here. The basic idea is that there are portions of the brain that are specialized for the past, the present and the future. In general, the frontal lobes are concerned with the future, the temporal lobes are concerned with the past, and the underlying, intermediate portions (the limbic system) are concerned with the present. When these are all doing their normal thing, in normal states of consciousness, the feeling that ‘something is going to happen will only come up when we are thinking about the future, worrying about it, anticipating it or making plans for it. The sense of the past will only come up when our memories have been triggered in some way.

The structure that overwhelms our consciousness when we are ‘in the present are ‘being here now’ is the amygdala. It assigns an emotional ‘tone’ to our perceptions. When you step into the street and see a car speeding towards you, and you instantly freeze in terror and jump out of the way, that terror is the amygdala at work. Present. Here and now. The amygdala also recognizes expressions the expressions on people’s faces. When we are talking to someone, we can recognize their expressions and change the way we are talking to them just as quickly as we recognize danger. Words can often seem dangerous to the one hearing them. “we’re thinking of letting you go.” “I’ve been thinking that our relationship is holding me back.” “You are under arrest.”
Phrases like these need instant, appropriate responses, and the amygdala is specialized to provide them. For example, one function it participates in, the maintenance of the sense of self, is repeated 40 times per second. Each instance of the self is able to manifest a new emotional response, but only if circumstances have changed. Every 25 milliseconds. In fact, the duration of the ‘present’ in neurological terms is so brief that we don’t experience it so much as remember it.

The next level could be called ‘being around here-just about now.’

Short term-memory deals in periods of a few minutes. Its mostly based in the hippocampus. We know this because problems with the hippocampus. often lead to severe short-term memory problems. It helps us to stay oriented in time. There have been a few people who have lost all hippocampal functions, and they are unable to remember anything that happened after their brain problems began. Humans are a linguistic species, and an intensely social one. We relate to each other through words. We have conversations. In order to do this, we have to be able to remember what people say to us. We also have to be to think about it long enough to be able to respond to it. We have to remember what we have just finished doing in order not to have to do it again.
There is a joke I heard while working in a nursing home: Happiness is finding your glasses before you forget what you need them for.

Then there is long-term memory. Its ‘seated’ in the surface of the brain, along the bottom of the temporal lobes. The area has been called the parahippocampal cortex, and its very closely connected to the hippocampus.

Ordinarily, there is a fairly seamless integration of the past, present and the future. In simple terms, we experience something in the present, compare it to similar experiences in the past, and decide how we will respond. The time frame can be very brief; even a few seconds. Once in a while, though, there can be too much communication between short-term and long-term memories. When this happens, then the present can feel like the past.
If perceptions from the present are shunted through the parts of the brain that process memories from the past, those perceptions will feel like they are memories, and the person will feel that they are re-living a moment stored in long-term memory.

There is another experience worth mentioning; Jamais Vu. Its the opposite of deja vu. Instead of feeling extra familiar, thing seem totally unfamiliar. In this case there is too little connection between long-term memory and perceptions from the present. When a person is in this state, nothing they experience seems to have anything to do with the past. They might be talking to a person they know well and suddenly they person seems totally unfamiliar. Their sense of knowing the person, and knowing how to relate to them simply vanishes. A room in which they spend a lot of time suddenly becomes totally novel; everything seems new. Details they will have seen a thousand times suddenly become engaging.

Jamais Vu is not so common as deja vu, but it can be just as compelling.

How do I respond to Deja Vu?

That depends on whether you enjoy it or not. Some people are just terrified when it happens. Others find it mildly euphoric.

As with all other altered state experiences, most people who enjoy it think of the experience in spiritual terms, and those who don’t, think about it in psychological terms. I have talked to people who had it often, and found the experience to be terrifying. There is nothing frightening about deja vu in itself, but it can happen that activity from the hippocampus. can spill over into the neighboring structure, the amygdala, which is a highly emotional structure. If it gets into the one on the right, the emotion is going to be unpleasant, most likely fearful.

If you have deja vu appear with fear, you might want to get some help, depending on how strong the feeling is. One of the best places to start is with an epileptologist, especially if you think you might be going crazy. Why not start with a psychologist? Because Deja vu is highly symptomatic of temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), and its misdiagnosed more often than not, usually as schizophrenia, but also as bipolar disorder, and several others..

On reason for the frequent bad calls psychologists make is that TLE isn’t listed in the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Stastitical Manual of Psychological Disorders. This is the standard guide to diagnosing psychiatric illness. Because it isn’t listed, its pathology isn’t covered, and psychologists miss the mark when dealing with it. TLE also has a much wider range of possible symptoms than other disorders. While most seizures of this type (called complex partial seizures) begin in the amygdala, they spread into other structures, and there are quite a number of them. One nearby structure will introduce smells into the experiences, and leave someone a heightened sense of smell. Another will create distortions in spatial perception. Another can leave some one with overactive sweat glands. Another can leave someone wanting to talk or write all the time. Another can make a person prone to brief, intense bursts of anger. Another can make a person’s sexuality change. The list goes on. There are also a variety of personality changes that can happen, as well. Proper diagnosis is going to be a problem, with so many possible combinations.

When deja vu feels good, a person will respond differently. There’s no need for a diagnosis, even if it is a positive-emotional TLE. In that case, it really can’t be called a disorder, but people still feel that it somehow calls for a response, and it will ‘feel’ like a spiritual one will be most appropriate.

For deja vu that feels spiritual, I suggest meditation. The kind that emphasizes being present in the here and now. Deja vu is an alteration in the perception of the present moment. The two best known ones are Zen and vipassana, both Buddhist practices. I’m not saying that people who have deja vu a lot should become Buddhists, only that these two Buddhist practices are well suited for those with frequent deja vu experiences. There are times I’ve thought that Jesus might have been close to these practices when he said to ‘be still and know”. The more often Deja vu happens, the more likely a person will be able to stop their ongoing mental processes, and just be in the present. Deja vu is an experience that won’t go into words very well. When its happening, a person can still speak, but the phenomena that will demand their attention is that sense of the past.

Most commonly, a person having deja vu will give their attention to the feeling that ‘this is the past!’ If some one wants to use the experience to enhance their spirituality, they are three things they can try.
1) When deja vu happens, they should pay attention to what is happening in the present. They can pay attention to their senses, and look at the ‘sense’ that perceives that sense of familiarity. If they can get a clear perception of that ‘sense’,
We don’t yet have a definitive account of the mechanisms that produce déją vu but a number of theoretical approaches have been advanced. Sigmund Freud, the developer of psychoanalysis, proposed that déją vu happens when a person is spontaneously reminded of an unconscious fantasy. Because it is unconscious, the content of the fantasy is blocked from awareness, but the sense of familiarity leaks through and results in the déją vu experience.
More recently déją vu has been explained in terms of information processing. For instance, Herman Sno, one of the world’s leading experts on the topic, has proposed that memories are stored in a format that is similar to that used to store holographic images. Most people think about holography as a way of creating cool 3D images and as an excuse to play with laser beams. But the aspect of holography that is central to Sno’s thesis is how holograms store information. In particular, Sno points out that unlike traditional photography, each section of a hologram contains all the information needed to produce the entire picture. The smaller the section one uses, however, the less precise (and fuzzier) the resultant image becomes. According to Sno, human memory works in an analogous way. Déją vu experiences occur when one’s current situation spuriously matches one of these fuzzy images of a past event. It’s rather like convincing yourself that you recognize the person in a blurry security camera picture.
It is also possible to explain déją vu in terms of global matching models of memory. According to these models, a situation can seem familiar for one of two reasons. It may seem familiar because it is extremely similar to a single event stored in memory. But a situation can also seem familiar if it is moderately similar to a large number of events stored in memory. For instance, imagine you are in an experiment in which you are shown pictures of various people in my family: my brothers John and Joe, my sisters Sharon, Linda and Judi, my parents Walter and Patricia, and so on. Now as you’re walking out of the experiment you happen to bump into me. You might have the experience of seeing me and thinking to yourself, “Hey, that guy looks familiar.” The reason for this is that although nobody in my family looks exactly like me (the poor devils) they all look somewhat like me and according to global matching models the similarity tends to summate. Some experiences of déją vu could be explained in a similar way.
Progress toward understanding déją vu has also been made in the neurosciences. In particular, researchers in both cognitive psychology and the neurosciences have distinguished between memories that are based on conscious recollection and memories that are based on familiarity. For instance, most people are able to consciously recollect their first kiss. They can mentally put themselves back into the context of that event (sigh). But we’ve also all had the experience of knowing we’ve met someone before, but not knowing quite where. The person is familiar but we can’t quite place them. Researchers believe that a memory system that includes the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus mediates conscious recollection whereas a memory system that includes the parahippocampal gyrus and its cortical connections mediates feelings of familiarity. Josef Spatt has recently argued that déją vu experiences occur when the parahippocampal gyrus and associated areas become temporarily activated in the presence of normal functioning in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. This produces a strong feeling of familiarity but without the experience of conscious recollection.
they can look there at any time afterwards. Especially while practicing meditation. This practice, for those who have deja vu often enough to take advantage of it, can chop months off the time it takes to get into meditation deeply.

2) The person should try to disconnect from the sense of the past and try to see the present through that same sense.
3) During meditation, the person should pretend that deja vu is happening right then. With practice, the familiar sensations should appear, and then they can stop paying attention to the ‘past’ and go into being ‘present’. When this happens, their meditation practice should acquire something new.

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