Déjà Vu...Again

A variety of polls in the United States show that up to 80-90% of the population believes in ESP. Perhaps one reason for this high level of belief is that most people have personal experience with ESP. A Glamour magazine survey found that 90% of their readers believed in ESP, and often this belief was based upon personal experience. Most reported experiences consisting of dreams that foretold exact details of a present situation.

What sorts of ESP-like experiences did readers of Glamour most often report and how might they be explained?

As pointed out in Chapter 2, this feeling of having predicted the present moment is essentially an illusion caused by a temporal lobe discharge. It is probably the same exact thing as a déjà vu sensation, interpreted as a dream being remembered. Psychologists have proposed various ad hoc explanations of the déjà vu sensation, involving reverberating circuits and such, but they are very speculative. There might be no rational explanation for a déjà vu sensation, any more than there is a rational explanation for a hiccup when one occurs.

How do people explain déjà vu sensations to themselves?

What is remarkable about déjà vu is the complex cognitive processing that takes place during a déjà vu sensation. Every detail of the present moment seems familiar. People often explain this to themselves by assuming they have dreamed the present moment. If the feeling persists for a few seconds, they feel they are predicting each event as it happens. The illusion is familiar to neurosurgeons who call them "dreamy sensations" and consider them diagnostic of seizure-like activity in the temporal lobe or limbic system. Brain surgeon Foster Kennedy gave the following description:

The patient suddenly becomes aware of everything being changed, yet very familiar: a feeling of reminiscence, as though everything had happened before... The feeling of old-time familiarity is so acute that it seems as though it must be that he surely knows what is about to happen; what the next word in the conversation will be. (in Kahn & Crosby, 1969 p.49)

No wonder many people believe they have experienced episodes of precognition. In a classroom survey, 95% of students in an introductory psychology class reported having déjà vu sensations, and 80% reported cases in which the exact details of a dream or a premonition have "come true." My theory is that these two events are the same thing. Feelings of a dream coming true are often déjà vu sensations mistakenly interpreted as dream memories. This is particularly obvious when the so-called dream involves trivial details like exact words of a conversation.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey