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Been there, done that

Published: Sat, January 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.

Los Angeles Times: Did you ever have a sense you'd already read something or been somewhere before?
Did you ever have a sense you'd already read something or been somewhere before?
But you hadn't?
This eerie experience was dubbed deja vu by scholars who obviously thought the English "already seen" lacked cachet. According to an article by Alan S. Brown in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, new medical tools and imaging systems plus an evolving grasp of the human brain's intricate ways are enabling researchers to zero in on deja vu and its causes. Obviously, much remains to be researched and studied.
But, researchers now know, deja vu is an illusion, a vivid mental trick played by the mind on itself. Only we're too dim to get the joke. Say, you walk into a charming Italian courtyard, where you've never been, for lunch. Suddenly, you're certain, absolutely positive, you've been in that exact spot doing the exact same thing before.
Neural pathways
However, it turns out that what's really happening is your brain is processing the experience along several neural pathways simultaneously. They all meet in the brain's higher processing centers and get filed into memory as one incident. But sometimes one copy of the message takes a shortcut and zips into the memory first. When the other identical messages arrive, the processor announces, accurately, that they're exact repeats. To the brain, this means you've been there before.
Research compilations by Brown, a Southern Methodist University psychology professor, indicate that these events are typically ignited by a physical location, usually during leisure activities among friends when the person is tired.
Two of three people report having had the experience. The incidents decline with age. Nobody knows yet why older people with more accumulated memories to compare have fewer deja vu episodes or why many epileptics experience the phenomenon just before seizures. Obviously, much remains to be researched and studied.
Wait a minute. ...

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