Sunday, March 31, 2013

Déjà vu

Déjà vu is a widely reported experience. I don’t know if there’s any good sociological data on the frequency of the experience in the general population, as well as whether there are demographic differences.

There are different theories of déjà vu. A popular paranormal explanation for déjà vu is reincarnation. I have several objections to that explanation:

i) As a Christian, I’d rule that out on theological grounds. And there are alternative explanations.

ii) To say we’re remembering a place we saw in a past life assumes the place hasn’t changed significantly with the passage of time. But if we’ve undergone reincarnation for centuries or millennia, then surely the locations would look quite different. Indeed, in many cases, the locations (as we knew them) would be long gone.

iii) Déjà vu experiences are varied. In some cases they feel like we’re seeing a familiar place we haven’t been to before in this life. But in other cases they feel like a repetition (or turning back the clock) to an experience we had in this life. Even if reincarnation could explain the former type of déjà vu experience, it fails to explain the latter.

Moreover, how many people who experience déjà vu experience something that’s clearly set in a time before them were born, with datable artifacts?

There are other paranormal theories:

i) One theory postulates a link between déjà vu and out-of-body experiences (or “astral travel”).

ii) Another theory postulates a link between déjà vu and precognitive dreams.

Then there’s a “scientific” explanation: A popular explanation is that déjà vu is a temporary neurological anomaly or aberration. Of course I’m no expert, but given the reported frequency of déjà vu experiences, it seems odd to classify something that prevalent as anomalous or aberrational. Seems like that’s more of a default “scientific” explanation on the assumption that more outré explanations are too paranormal.  


  1. In addition to Steve's fine points, maybe this is a naive understanding of reincarnation, but wouldn't the very warp and woof of a memory of someone who was once say a dog (no pun intended) or another animal but now reincarnated into a human be quite different? Do other organisms like insects even have memories?

    I guess though reincarnationists could rule out all déjà vu except for in human reincarnations. But say someone was a male in a past life. Isn't it possible to be reincarnated as a female? (Or vice versa.) Males and females can have subtle but arguably different memories of the same event.

    But maybe reincarnationists could also shoehorn déjà vu into this if they keep the déjà vu experience vague enough. But I would think the more vague a déjà vu is the less likely it is due to a paranormal phenomenon like reincarnation. So there's a tradeoff here.

  2. I've sometimes wondered whether deja vu is sometimes simply the result of being in a situation without all that is occurring registering fully and then a moment later remembering what had just happened as if it happened during a completely different time phrame. In other words "making conscious" of something that just happened because at the time it actually happened, even a split second prior, thoughts were elsewhere.

  3. Could it be paranormal? Sure, why not, as long as it fits God's revelation of the supernatural?

    However, déjà vu isn't addressed in the Bible, by which a paranormal explanation isn't necessary. So there could be a neurological explanation like the "scientific" speculation in Steve's article or the one Reformed Apologist gave.

    The best answer I think we have is that we don't know.

  4. My own experience of deja vu coincides with repetitive behavior. I have the feeling that I've done this before because, as a matter of fact, I have done this before! But there's nothing paranormal about that. It's a *similar* experience.