The Interstate to Memory Lane: Why Deja Vu Happens

The summer after 7th grade in 1994 I went to Gatlinburg, TN for the first time.  Amidst all the tacky airbrushed t-shirts and options to get my picture taken as a redneck wearing overalls and a raccoon hat, the shop that intrigued me the most was a now out-of-business magic store.  I bought a few magic tricks there and half-way impressed my friends with them.  But the more magic tricks I learned, the more I realized the emphasis was on the word “trick”.

Not only a trick, but a cheap trick.  False decks of cards.  Drawing the audience’s attention to a bright handkerchief while in the other hand I put the “disappearing dime” in my pocket.  An almost invisible piece of fishing line used to make a matchstick “float in the air”.  There is a bittersweet feeling of realizing something unexplainable is not only explainable, but easily understandable.

So is the case of Déjà vu, the French word for “already seen”.  A fascinating yet weird experience we all encounter from time to time where we are positive the situation that just happened has happened before.  Or that it happened in a recent dream.  Makes some evidence for those who believe in reincarnation.  Until the cheap trick is revealed.

We have a long-term memory which consists of memories that have happened in the more distant past, along with learned skills, and even many of our dreams.  (I can remember dreams I had as a kid.)

And we also have a short-term memory which serves as the “live feed” of the events we are currently experiencing.  Sometimes the long-term memory overlaps the short-term memory, causes us to firmly believe that the current experience (conversation, setting, people involved, etc.) has already happened or was recently dreamed about.

When in reality the current experience accidently bypassed the Live Feed and went straight to Long Term Memory.

And voila, what a let-down.  The mystery is gone.  We were designed with powerful memories that sometimes slip up and make us feel like we’re in a sci-fi show on Fox.






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