Thursday, February 01, 2007
A theory of déjà vu
What if there are different kinds of cognition, some more time based than others. Narrative, causal, logical thinking and memory are very time based, and consciousness is rooted in these for the effects of free will (to be able to deduce, construct, improve, etc and say there, I did that). But body experiential, procedural, propioceptive, and gestalt thinking and memory are not. In a situation that for some reasons stimulates the less time based cognitions, this contrasts with the consciousness which is so time based, and an effect arises where we say ah, this experience feels bigger, older, not rooted in the present, therefore I think that I’ve done this before. Most déjà vu experiences are reported around small mundane events, so this may bolster the theory, since at those mundane times the sequential consciousness is relaxed allowing deeper, less time-based, cognitions to operate. Also there is evidence that there are different kinds of memory, and the procedural experiential types of memory are less vulnerable to time-based effects. For example while HM couldn’t form new memories consciously, his body could remember new experiences, and so he could learn new physical tasks. I believe this was to his surprise, "how did I know how to do this" he might say, and his actual response should be researched.
(HM is the real life story behind a film like Memento. HM had a bilateral hippocampal removal in the 1950's which caused him to no longer form new conscious memories. He felt like he was always just waking up, he said. He became a famous test subject at universities including MIT. He always remembered only up to the 1950's, and you could be talking with him but as soon as he looked away and back to you he'd say hi, who are you. But the ways in which he did continue to learn and change remain very indicative of things not entirely understood.)
So how does my theory explain my own experience which i call delayed déjà vu, or retro déjà vu? To explain, I notice often that I can’t remember not having done something before, but only after I’ve done it. It’s usually something significant, striking, not the usual mundane déjà vu scene. In other words, normal déjà vu says "ah! I feel like I’ve done this before", at the moment of a trivial experience. But my retro déjà vu says, "ah, I know I haven’t done this before, this is new and remarkable!" But then afterward I have a nagging feeling that I really have done this before. I remember doing it on the real date I did it, I can logically conclude I hadn't done it before, but emotionally it feels like I’ve done this more than once. Maybe I did it years ago and forgot and only remember now in retrospect that that wasn’t the first time. Haven’t we been through this before? I feel silly, I shouldn’t have had to go through it again so blindly… This seems like a similar collision of memory types – the logical memory is time-based, the experiential body memory is more timeless, and I’m getting dissonance leading me to be uncertain whether I’ve done something before. (Or maybe each act of remembering is another creation, and we slot them in the past rather the present or future).
It may be that the consciousness is needed to record times and sequences onto experience, and when consiousness is relaxed or distant, as with mundane events now or remembering larger events that aren’t inherently unique (ie. I know that 9/11 happened only once, but my car breaking down on this familiar road could’ve happened years ago) then time is more spread out, the event is less pinpointed in chronology and more interpretable as having happened before. Note that we still think only in terms of memory as being about the past, our consciousness is strong enough that we don’t think we’re remembering the future. Variations of saying something has already happened are the possible experience; we don't say i have a strong feeling that this is going to happen again. We remain time-rooted in the consciousness to the point that we doubt the future but think we know the past, and the present is just too intense.