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Originally posted December 1 2006 at 15:12 under General. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.

Seen This Before

Same old, same old ;-)
Dr Dre, Dretox Mixtape

déjà vu…it’s weird

There’s an interesting story about a blind man experiencing déjà vu doing the rounds.

[Rather long and involved Aside: That link is to the press release of the story. I have to confess I’m not exactly a huge fan of this whole press release thing for every scientific story. It seems to be more prevalent in biological sciences (I think) but has certainly crept into physical ones as well—the recent “invisibility cloak” thing springs to mind. It just seems to me not to be fully in the spirit of the normal course of scientific inquiry; often these things appear before publication in anything like a peer reviewed journal (at least in this case the paper is in press), often with a spin that is more sensational than informative. Of course communication to the public is important but it seems like playing the game that way means it doesn’t matter where the story is published (and hence reviewed) or how well it stands up to subsequent scrutiny, but is more reliant on how well a particular institute’s press office does its job. I’m not trying to lay blame here—there is a constant pressure on researchers, departments, universities, to be seen to be doing something, and if it’s better to point to a few lines in The Sun (or even a link, on the University front page, to Google News to show how successful that press release is—I kid you not) than something in Nature to raise the profile, increase the funding and wave in front of those questioning purpose then good luck to them. It doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea though.

In this case I had to link to the press release because it was the only thing I could find to link to (well, other than the journal the actual work is published in—by the way, it’s A. R. O’Conner & C. J. A. Moulin (2006) Brain and Cognition, currently in press). The University of Leeds, in whose Institute of Psychological Science the authors are based, seem to be taking the whole idea to extremes (or at least, that institute is). All the staff seem to have a university hosted blog, which is great, but when looking for information on the author’s research areas all I got was a brief paragraph and a link to a blog—is a blog really the right place to give me an overview of someone’s research? Thankfully Dr Chris Moulin’s own website, whilst pointing back to those university pages and blog, does seem to contain some interesting content with gives an idea of his views on déjà vu, and I’m still enjoying reading through.]

Anyway, back to the point…There’s an interesting story about a blind man experiencing déjà vu doing the rounds. I’ve always thought déjà vu was pretty interesting, not least because it’s something I’ve direct experience of (I think most people have, though I seem to encounter it quite often and have actually experienced déjà vu of déjà vu—i.e. I’ve had the feeling of having already had the feeling I’m having of having experienced a specific event before—which is pretty freaky). The fact that a blind man experiences déjà vu would seem to pretty much rule out one old but persistent explanation for the sensation, optical pathway delay (the basic hypothesis being that the signal from one eye arrives/is processed in the brain some time after the signal from the other). As a complete non-expert I’m not surprised to learn that hypothesis is incorrect. At least to me (and a straw poll of oneself is never very good but never mind) déjà vu has always seemed a more encompassing feeling than just having “already seen”.

I was interested to read about what is termed jamais vu (never seen), a sense of momentary unfamiliarity. I had never realised this sensation was so common. I can think of at least one instance of having personally experienced something like that, involving a tree in a quadrangle, that was extremely intense. Good to know I’m not insane, and probably didn’t slip through parallel worlds.

There were a couple of other things which struck me from that press release, so I may as well mention them while rambling. It mentions an experiment involving word memorisation and hypnotism leading to a feeling described by the subjects as déjà vu. That’s interesting because, of course, there is an important difference between normal déjà vu and the second viewing of the hypnotically forgotten words—the subjects really had seen them before (unless of course that distinction isn’t real…but that way lies craziness). I was also amused by O’Conner’s final comment, wishing he could study spontaneous déjà vu using neural imaging. I’m still trying to decide if anything produced on demand is spontaneous :-)

Off to do some more reading now, unless I already have!

(And yes, I’m desperately resisting the temptation to repost this whole thing a second time ;0)

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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