You know that feeling when you're doing something you've never done before, like driving along a country road and seeing a white horse in a field to the right while a farmer waves to you from a blue tractor as he passes you on the left, and you're suddenly struck with the peculiar sense that you've been there before even though you know you haven't?
Well that feeling, commonly known as déjà vu, is what a team of psychologists from Colorado State University have been trying to understand.
People have offered up a host of explanations for Déjà Vu: everything from past life experiences and dreams to alternate realities and precognition. But this new study, using virtual reality as a tool, has researchers arriving at a much less thrilling interpretation. Based on their findings, déjà vu is merely a feeling, and doesn't hold any mystical or mysterious secrets or enable a person to predict the future.
Here's how they arrived at their conclusion:
Using the video game The Sims, test subjects in the experiment navigated through a series of mazes. Some of the mazes were completely different, but some of them used the same underlying framework and just looked different, i.e. instead of a junkyard you're in a garden. It was in these structurally similar mazes that subjects experienced something like déjà vu.
But the study found that this didn't give the subjects any better idea of how to proceed through the maze.
Cognitive psychologist and the primary author of the study, Anne Cleary, described déjà vu as a trick of the brain similar to when a word is on the tip of your tongue.
Describing what scientists call "metamemory" phenomena, Cleary said:
We cannot consciously remember the prior scene, but our brains recognize the similarity. That information comes through as the unsettling feeling that we've been there before, but we can't pin down when or why. My working hypothesis is that déjà vu is a particular manifestation of familiarity.You have familiarity in a situation when you feel you shouldn't have it, and that's why it's so jarring, so striking.
Postulating on the various theories for Déjà Vu, Cleary said:
I think the reason people come up with psychic theories about déjà vu is that they are these mysterious, subjective experiences. Even scientists who don't believe in past lives have whispered to me, "Do you have an explanation for why I have this?" People look for explanations in different places. If you're a scientist, you're looking for the logical reason for why you just had this really weird experience.
What do you think?