Déjà vu. The bizarre sensation that you’ve experienced a moment – an exact moment – before. Science tells us, without knowing its true cause, that déjà vu is likely just a problem of memory, misfiring neurons or some other, as Wikipedia calls it, “psychological phenomena.”
Just recently, researchers at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom studied these strange experiences, concluding that they may be the brain’s way of double-checking memories (or what they call “conflict resolution”).
However, despite the research we’ve done, déjà vu remains a fantastic mystery. This, in turn, has given rise to many theories about what could possibly cause us to experience a singular, unique moment twice. Here are just a handful of these alternative explanations.
A Matter Of Time
Time seems to flow in only one direction: forward. The universe marches along with increasing entropy, and time never reverses its direction. We cannot move backward.
But not everyone believes this is true.
In fact, some claim that time is cyclical. It repeats, or even flows in both directions. We, as humans with limited perception, don’t usually notice. Until we do.
One compelling idea is that our consciousness exists outside of our physical bodies in a higher dimension, and when déjà vu occurs, it’s actually a brief moment when that separation becomes clear. We become aware of the forward and backward flow of time, and realize we actually have experienced this very time and place before.
A Glitch in the Matrix
During one scene in The Matrix, Neo crosses paths with the same black cat twice within seconds. “Whoa,” he says famously, “Déjà vu.” What happens next is an interesting revelation: As Trinity explains, déjà vu is actually a glitch in the Matrix, indicating that the computer program they call life has been changed.
Here in the “real” world, some believe the simulation hypothesis may actually be true. We could, like Neo and his friends, be living within a simulated reality. And if that’s the case, perhaps we too suffer glitches on occasion, in the form of déjà vu.
Systems do tend to go down for maintenance, or require upgrades. If so, I can think of at least one other potential glitch they may need to sort out.
You’ve Lived Before
Reincarnation is the belief that, when we die, we begin an entirely new life in a different physical form. If this is true, déjà vu could be the surfacing of a hidden memory, evidence of a previous existence.
Here’s an even stranger possibility: According to the Big Bounce theory, the universe may experience a repeating cycle of Big Crunches (during which it collapses back into a singularity) and Big Bangs. Over and over again, the universe is created and destroyed, perhaps infinitely.
Now, if the universe is infinitely cyclical, could it be possible that, in multiple different variations of the universe, the exact same arrangements of galaxies, planets, particles, me and you could happen multiple times? Could déjà vu be a sign that we’ve lived this exact life before?
Memories from Other Worlds
Science continues to point us toward the existence of other worlds, with ideas like the Many-worlds interpretation opening exciting doorways into the possibility of alternate universes, each branching out with every new observation. Every new choice.
If these parallel universes do exist, could we interact with them?
For now, this appears to be fantasy. But there are stories of those who believe they’ve come from other universes, and remember how things were. In other extraordinary cases, people have experienced what they call alter vus. While they did not change universes or worldlines, they seemingly remember things that happened in them, sharing memories with other versions of themselves.
Déjà vus may, in this case, happen when wordlines converge.
Related to déjà vu is déjà vécu, a much more intense feeling that you’ve lived through a moment before. But it doesn’t end there. During an episode of déjà vécu, you may even feel like you can predict what’s going to happen next. And, in some unexplainable cases, you may be right.
Some believe this is proof that déjà vu and déjà vécu are evidence of clairvoyance or precognition, the ability to see or predict the future.
A Visit from the Men In Black
In 1997’s Men In Black, Agent Zed gives his introduction to the iconic shadow organization, dedicated to protecting Earth from extraterrestrial threats.
And staying hidden.
“Your entire image is crafted to have no lasting memory with anyone you encounter,” he tells their latest recruit, Agent J, “You’re a rumor, recognizable only as déjà vu and dismissed just as quickly.”
In the film, MIB agents use a device called a neuralyzer to wipe the memories of witnesses to extraterrestrial activity.
Alleged encounters with the “real” MIB usually involve interrogations, intimidation, or worse. That said, the technology to erase memory may someday exist, if it doesn’t already (and if it does, I imagine an organization working in the shadows would be keen to use it).
Could déjà vu be a quickly fading artifact from your own encounter with the MIB?