Friday, August 30, 2013

Déjà vu – meaning

What is the meaning of déjà vu? Is déjà vu real and is there any scientific explanation of déjà vu phenomenon? Some people argue that the feeling of déjà vu has a spiritual meaning, others call it just a dream. The best way to define déjà vu is to translate it from French to English – déjà vu means literally already seen. To put it simply, déjà vu is a strong sensation that you have already experienced what you are experiencing right now. I know what you’re going to ask – yes, déjà vu has a scientific explanation.

Before I proceed with a scientific and philosophical approach I just want to clear some things up. Déjà vu has recently become so popular that it is now considered by many as an urban legend or, not surprisingly, as something supernatural. There are many common misconceptions circulating on internet and I certainly do not want to mention all of these absurd theories which treat déjà vu as an evidence for past life, precognition abilities or contact with aliens and so on and so forth. While déjà vu is real, it has not much to do with all these science fiction conceptions.

Edward Bradford Titchener
So let’s just leave popular culture aside and concentrate on what we can learn from science about déjà vu and whether it has any significance for the philosophy of mind. The first scientific description of déjà vu I have found on internet is by a British psychologist Edward B. Titchener (1928) who argued that déjà vu occurs as a result of a brief glimpse of an object or situation before the brain has managed to construct fully conscious perception of the experience. This is the memory-based explanation but there is also another way of explaining déjà vu – pharmacological. Higher level of a neurotransmitter dopamine has been observed to be linked with a higher frequency of déjà vu. It may be the reason why déjà vu occurs with the highest frequency among people aged 15-25 – during this time human body produce the most dopamine. Since you are reading this post, you have probably experienced déjà vu yourself (so have I!). No worries – it is perfectly normal – unless it occurs with a very high frequency.

But let’s come back to philosophy. Déjà vu gives us an interesting insight to the famous mind-body problem and tells us something more about consciousness. Based on the memory-based explanation, you might argue that it is not your mind that is responsible for the feeling of consciousness as it is possible to perceive reality without being fully conscious at the same time (E. B. Titchener) and therefore consciousness may be just created by your physical body. Monists may use it as an argument in favour of the lack of soul (or mind existing outside the body) but dualists may point out that people are sometimes conscious even when their brain has ceased to work. There are some medical accounts of such phenomena – just think about Pam Reynolds. Whatever your personal philosophical sympathies are, just bear in mind that while there are some scientific explanations of déjà vu the exact mechanisms still remain unknown and complexity of a human brain/mind still is a great mystery.

What is your opinion about déjà vu? How does it relate to mind-body dichotomy? If you do not want to miss the new posts about philosophy of mind, don’t forget to like our Mind and Philosophy Facebook page!

Have you ever experienced déjà vu?


  1. this sucks and boring

  2. Deja vu can be from dreams

  3. "Dejavu" - opportunity to do things better 'this time'. Please read "Seven planes of existence" by Vianna Stibal.


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