“Time and space are modes by which we think, and not conditions in which we live. The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”Albert Einstein
Have you ever heard of déjà vu? No, I’m not talking about Olivia Rodrigo’s pop hit from last year, the phenomenon that occurs way too frequently to not make us ask “what’s going on?”
Déjà vu is the unsettling feeling of doing something over that you know you have never done before. Say you pick up a baseball, and you feel like you remember doing the same exact action before. Déjà vu (translates to “already dreamed” from French) is a widely-known phenomenon, in which about two-thirds of the population have experienced the sensation at least once in their lifetime.
While déjà vu is fairly common, especially with young adults, scientists can’t put a finger on its causes because it often happens without warning, and there are no health conditions that lead to it. Déjà vu is rather complex, but, scientists around the world have a few theories about the causes.
What do experts say?
Déjà vu is one of the most studied unknown phenomenons, and many experts have come to the conclusion that it stems from memory.
One of the many possible explanations is split perception, where you see something two different times. If you unknowingly pick up an image in your peripheral vision that you haven’t fully registered, your brain might form a memory from the pieces of information, making it feel as if you already saw it once before. So, if a bird was perched on a branch beside you that didn’t capture your full attention before, your brain may trick you into thinking you’re seeing it for the first time.
Another theory is that it’s a brain circuit malfunction. When our brains absorb information, the memories travel from short-term to long-term storage, and some experts believe that some short-term memories could be taking short-cuts into the long-term memory storage. So, the dysfunction would make you feel as if you have done the same thing a long time ago.
Many researchers believe that déjà vu is memory-related. Studies suggest that the phenomenon happens when you recall a similar experience that you have had before, but you can’t place the exact memory. If you were able to fully recall the memory, you wouldn’t have déjà vu.
Although the term “déjà vu” was coined in 1876, it wasn’t fully introduced into the scientific community until 20 years later. But, even before the term was fully recognized, philosophers such as Plato hinted at something similar to déjà vu as evidence of past lives. In modern terms, many people like to refer to the phenomenon as a glitch in the Matrix.
Other theories, such as the idea that we live among an infinite number of ourselves in other universes could contribute to the phenomenon. Believers of the parallel universe theory suggest that whatever we are doing while we experience it, another version of ourselves is doing the exact same thing, which would connect the two universes for a brief moment.
Religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation and re-birth, and believe déjà vu as memories from a past life. Christian Bible verses could also point to the phenomenon.