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The Non-Expert

Troubleshooting Your Déjà Vu

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we explain how you can tell if what you’re experiencing is déjà vu or not, and how best to proceed when it is.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


Question: What causes déjà vu? —Andreas V.

Answer: What we call déjà vu, and what the French call “already seen” (or maybe it’s the other way around) is that peculiar, unsettling feeling you sometimes get when you think what you’re experiencing in the present is something you’ve already experienced in your past—though exactly when you can’t remember. The theories about why déjà vu occurs are widespread: Psychologists say it’s due to unfulfilled desires, or an overactive imagination, or both. Some people think déjà vu is little more than a trick of the mind, while others believe if we knew what really caused it, the answer might be too much for us to handle. But until we learn what’s behind it, what you should do when you’re experiencing it is a very real concern—one that we happen to know how to approach with the following troubleshooting guide. Good luck.

You have the strangest feeling you have been here before.

This is an altogether common feeling. Give yourself a few seconds and wait for it to pass.

After waiting for a short period, you continue to feel like you have been here before.

Continue whatever activity you were involved in and try to distract yourself from the possibility that you may be about to experience déjà vu.

Somebody just said or did something you knew they were going to say or do.

This is confirmation that you are having an episode of déjà vu. After all, you rationally know that you cannot mentally control the actions of others. Try it and see: Imagine what somebody is going to say or do next. If they say or do it, this is further confirmation of your déjà vu episode. Continue attempts to distract yourself: Try watching television.

You are absolutely certain you have seen this episode of Seinfeld before.

It is probable that, due to the enduring popularity of the show, you have seen this particular episode. If the year is 1975, however, you have not—you are actually experiencing time travel, not déjà vu. You should reference another guide.

You begin to feel like this is a prophecy that you are on the correct path in life.

Since, at some unremembered point in your past, you imagined yourself to be at this place now, you may have correctly followed fate, and may indeed be at a proper, predetermined place in your life. Whatever you do, though, do not consider this déjà vu to be a prophecy that your life will soon take a turn for the worse. There is little chance of that happening, though there is one exception:

You are operating a vehicle when the déjà vu occurs.

First, slow the vehicle and try to ease it off the road. If you cannot do this safely, try concentrating on your déjà vu to see if you can forecast your near future. If you clearly see your car hopping the guardrail, it would be a good idea to check your seatbelt.

Your feeling of déjà vu passed momentarily, then returned.

The belief your déjà vu was going away was itself part of this déjà vu episode.

Your experiences with déjà vu most often occur under the influence of alcohol.

Check to see if you really have been here before. Ask bystanders or, in this case, the bartender. Some episodes of déjà vu are really just extraordinary forgetfulness, brought on by the alcohol in your system, which is now causing you to forget entire sections of your life. As long as this particular activity persists, the frequency of your bouts with déjà vu will increase.

You believe you may only be dreaming.

Pinch yourself. If you do not wake up, pinching yourself and not waking up was itself part of this déjà vu episode.

You wonder if the déjà vu is a memory from a past life. Or that you may have always been in a past life and have only been imagining your future—which you had to this point believed was your real life.

If you already know your past-life history, verifying this will be easy for you. If you do not, here is how to tell where—or rather when—you are: Look for flying cars. If you do not see any, then you can be certain that up to this point you were living only in your imagined future, and this—your past—is your real life.

Note: If you were flying a car at the onset of the déjà vu episode, please try to land the vehicle.

Your déjà vu is accompanied by headaches and/or ringing in the ears.

You really have been here before. Indeed, everything you were ever told was simply a figment of your imagination was never that, since your imagination really is the world as you have known it. And when you were younger and thought you were the only person alive, that everyone else was a prop in your imagined world—it was true then, and it is still true now.

Your feeling of déjà vu has passed.

No further action is required.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack