by Helen Phillips
Magazine issue 2701
Mr P, an 80-year-old Polish émigré and former engineer, knew he had memory problems, but it was his wife who described it as a permanent sense of déjà vu. He refused to watch TV or read a newspaper, as he claimed to have seen everything before. When he went out walking he said the same birds sang in the same trees and the same cars drove past at the same time every day. His doctor said he should see a memory specialist, but Mr P refused. He was convinced that he had already been.
Déjà vu can happen to anyone, and anyone who has had it will recognise the description immediately. It is more than just a sense that you have seen or done something before; it is a startling, inappropriate and often disturbing sense that history is repeating, and impossibly so. You can't place where the earlier encounter happened, and it can feel like a premonition or a dream. Subjective, strange and fleeting, not to mention tainted by paranormal explanations, the phenomenon has been a difficult and unpopular one to study.
Now that is changing, spurred in part by Mr P and a handful of people who, like him, have dementia and experience continuous déjà vu, and also by the discovery that there is a group of people with epilepsy who have déjà vu-like auras before a seizure. They are making it possible for researchers to catch the process in action, bringing hope that the secrets of this strange and disturbing phenomenon could finally be unlocked. Surprisingly, not only is déjà vu proving an interesting window on the peculiar ways that our memory works, it is also providing a few clues about how we tell the difference between what is real, imagined, dreamed and remembered - one of the true mysteries of consciousness.
Read the full story at http://www.newscientist.com