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Disappointingly, Déjà Vu not a Glitch in the Matrix

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Ed. note: this blog  was originally  posted at Sleights of Mind.

“Deja-Vu x”, By Doris Redrupp:

I hate to break it to all you Keanu Reeves fans out there, but a study from Colorado State University suggests that déjà vu is not what “happens when they change something” in the Matrix. Associate Professor of Psychology Anne Cleary used virtual reality to evoke déjà vu in the lab. The research, published in June in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, showed that déjà vu tended to occur when people viewed a virtual scene with a similar layout to a previously seen scene, but failed to recall the former scene.

(A) The eMagin z800 3D head-mounted display (HMD); head-tracking enables immersive viewing of each scene through the turning of one’s head to look around and 3D presentation allows for depth perception. (B) Sample 2D screenshots of configurally similar scenes (study on left; test on right). Though screenshots are 2D, the actual scenes were presented in stereographic 3D through the HMD shown in A; each illustration represents only a portion of the entire scene, as each could be viewed immersively by turning one’s head or body to look left, right, up or down.


Anne Cleary describes her research in a short video, and Michio Kaku discusses the alternative but unlikely possibility of déjà vu in the multiverse.

Have you experienced déjà vu?

Have you experienced déjà vu?


Susana Martinez-Conde About the Author: Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik are laboratory directors at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Follow on Twitter @illusionchasers.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. bucove 12:25 am 05/3/2013

    My personal experience of Deja Du is not disimilar to the given explanation but comes with the added dimension of dream memory: It is the memory of scenes visited in dreams prior to the awakening experience of the given event or circumstance.

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  2. 2. SteveO 1:04 am 05/3/2013

    I used to get a lot of deja vu in my adolescent years, almost convincing myself that I could see the future! Thankfully, skepticism won out in the end, but I could see how it would be very powerful to people who had no that their brain was tricking them.

    I still get it every so often, but now I love it and try to really examine it when it does occur.

    My favorite explanation so far – the brain receives signals from the senses at totally different times, even some parts of vision (edges, light/dark) come in before other parts (color, context). Your brain then has to assemble all these different perceptions by delaying when you “notice” some things, so it all seems to happen at the same time. When your brain’s timer clock gets discombobulated, you start perceiving the same scene with different perceptions when your brain gets them, rather than delayed. That explains why the scene seems familiar, but not identical, since you are only “pre-perceiving” a part of your usual sensorium, hence deja vu.

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  3. 3. jtdwyer 10:47 am 05/3/2013

    I keep having this strange feeling that sensationalist physicists keep talking about this absurd conjecture that there are multiple universes. It’s like a bad dream – I sure wish it would stop!

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  4. 4. jtdwyer 11:09 am 05/3/2013

    Also, the video by Anne Cleary and the research report abstract are interesting, but I suspect that the deja vu experience triggers may require much deeper memory associations beyond visual recognition. The experiment’s apparent reliance on subjects’ report of familiarity or deja vu would not provide very compelling evidence, especially since the researchers report that the student subjects are interested in the the deja vu topic ‘enjoy using the VR system…’ It seems some additional variable controls might be needed, but then I could not afford to access the research (thanks for the link). See

    If the only intended variable is the visual similarity of VR scenes, that the student’s are more likely to report ‘deja vu’ when a scene is similar to a previous scene than when it is not similar – should not be very surprising! Whether or not the students have actually experienced deja vu seems to be a matter of trust…

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  5. 5. alan borky 1:28 pm 05/3/2013

    No offense but this’s either highly misleading or an example of confused thinking.

    What’s being tested here’s actually two things 1) people’s abilities to perceive and recognise underlying patterns in the midst of apparently randomly arranged structures and 2) their ability to remember where they’ve previously seen those same patterns when re-presented with them carefully hidden under completely different overlying apparently random structural details.

    Deja vue on the other hand’s what’s currently freaking out a friend of of mine who works in a passport office where she periodically experiences the sense the events she’s watching unfold’ve already taken place to the degree she’s able to predict the gender and age and even details of appearance of people shortly before they actually turn up what they’ll say and even the information they’re go’n'o supply.

    Whether that’s down to psychic powers or some other explanation’s a whole other matter.

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