Monday, 25 February 2008

"All of this has happened before..."

Déjà vu (or properly, déjà vécu) is a strange phenomenon: the feeling, pure and undiluted, that one has experienced a scene before although rationally they could not have. Sometimes it feels like you have lived the exact moment, sometimes as if you are just remembering it from a dream or an imagining. And unfailingly there’s the agonising feeling that if the memory came just a little faster, you could predict or change the course of events.

Modern science tells us that déjà vu is a simple neurophysiologicalproblem: a faulty electrical discharge in a synapse. A fault in the human brain to be associated with temporal lobe epilepsy. Too much déjà vu can be symptomatic of stronger pathological disorders. I wonder if it’s a coincidence or not that the temporal lobe would have this effect on our perception of time.

Various less-empirical and more ‘far-out’ theories include the idea that déjà vu is a form of ‘future memory’ whereby in dreaming someone may actually experience a vision of their future timeline which they subsequently forget and then later experience, causing the memory to rush back vividly. This admits of the possibility that the human mind is built to experience outside of temporal dimensions, that time is a fixed construct into the future, and that this ability manifests itself in a majority of the population. Experiences like this one have happened to me. Then there are the latest quantum scientific theories about parallel universes which cause some to believe that déjà vu is a wrinkle in time, so to speak; a fluctuating of spacetime causing someone to share the experience of one of their parallel counterparts. The biggest problem with that is also the biggest problem with Plantinga’s ontological proof of God: the burden of proof is on anyone who postulates parallel worlds.

Are we to believe the scientific explanation? If we deny the paranormal/psychical explanations, are we denying the noble anthropological tendency of our ancestors to make up crap to explain our world? Does this lead us to abandon our quintessential humanity? For the most part science is too pragmatic to be ignored and prevailing theory is probably correct; déjà vu is probably a symptom of misfiring neurons.

But that doesn’t preclude the possibility that it happens for a reason nonetheless.

What is it about certain moments that cause the neurons to misfire? People I’ve talked to tend to experience déjà vu in clusters; suffering dry spells of ordinary temporal situating then having a group of déjà vu experiences all at once. Is this scientific coincidence or could there be moments when life is bent towards a certain important or necessary purpose; when the universe manifests itself in our minds to show us approaching these dense sections of life; these ‘nexus points’?

Probably not: this is all irrational conjecture. Nevertheless there is something to be said for enjoyable déjà vu experiences and all the better if they lead one to question the reality and direction of life. Real déjà vécu is a feeling too strong to be ignored and if we deny our emotions, wouldn’t that take all the fun out of life? As long as you can reconcile your own beliefs rationally, no-one can tell what you can’t do.

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