Everyone has had them. You walk into a room, down a set of stairs, or across a busy street and see a flash of color, a sign in a window, a swirl of leaves blowing in the wind, and you know you’ve been there before. The feeling lasts only a few seconds and it’s gone. And, though you can describe this feeling, you cannot bring it back.
Deja vu is a French phrase meaning “already seen,” and it’s been written about in literature and scientific journals for eons. Lots of explanations exist for the feeling, but it’s still pretty much a mystery. We can’t summon it at will. It’s always a surprise. Sometimes a pleasant one; other times not so much.
Involuntary memory is something else. Remember Proust’s cookies? The madeleine that stirred up a treasure trove of childhood memories? It seems to me that, rather than images, the sense of taste or smell can more easily take us directly back to another time and place and be attached to real experiences. One sees and files away so many images, on the other hand, that clear connections between the sight of blue flowers in a vase, the painting of a woman in a red dress, or three taxi cabs lined up just so outside a window may “feel” like an experience repeated when perhaps the image is the only thing that’s the same. With so many pictures stored away in our noggins, it may be that connecting them to precise times and places is not as easy as summoning memories associated with the scent of gingerbread baking, for example, or the aroma of coffee brewing, or the smell of minestrone simmering on the stove.
What do you think? Had any interesting deja vu moments? What about involuntary memories? Does a pan of chocolate brownies hot out of the oven hold as many delicious recollections for you as they do for me?