Prescience, Dreams & Déjà Vu — All Over Again

The character telling the story in my novel-in-progress is recalling events that happened 15 years ago. Early in the novel she admits that some of her initial observations about the principal characters might be enhanced by what happened later in the story. She acknowledges the phenomenon of feeling prescient, of the common, self-deluding, itchy feeling that “we knew it all along.” I think it’s related to déjà vu and the vague memory, or false memory, telling you “I dreamt that last night.”

It’s pretty much impossible to study déjà vu in a laboratory, but studies on memory and recognition have been done with Functional MRIs. (A functional MRI reveals which part of the brain is working at a particular moment.) There are specific regions of the brain that kick into gear when you distinguish between faces and places you know, versus faces and places that are new to you. These areas communicate with the hippocampus where memories are recalled. So, although there are many romantic theories about déjà vu — reincarnation, extra sensory perception, etc. — I think a momentary glitch in the wiring that sends a signal as if it were a memory covers a great many déjà vu and “I dreamt it” experiences.

Prescience might have a component of neurological wiggling, but I’m of the opinion that it has more to do with the stories we tell ourselves all the time, the way we rewrite events to make us less guilty, more noble or simply smarter. The narrating character in my book is an erudite professor with a healthy dose of self-knowledge and self-doubt. It makes sense for her to realize she may be granting herself more insight in the other characters as she describes meeting them, than she could have had at the time.

The unreliable narrator is an important tool for many storytellers. Poe was a master at this kind of literary sleight-of-hand. His stories often feature a first person voice with obvious, if subtle, subterfuge and a hidden agenda.

Do you have any thoughts on prescience, déjà vu and that “I dreamt it last night” feeling? Please share them here.


    • Candy Korman

      It’s a relatively common phenomenon. It’s fun to speculate about past lives — “I’ve LIVED in this castle, but I’ve never been to Germany before in my life” or “You are so familiar, we must have known one another before, but it’s impossible.” But my money is on the results from the functional MRIs.

      Of course, I enjoy the ideas that make great fiction! Nothing like being a skeptic AND a storyteller. It’s a challenging combination. I hope you simply enjoy the feeling when it comes.

  1. Deja vu is just a glitch in the matrix.

    I love a good conspiracy theory. The idea that our lives are not our own and these odd feelings are reality asserting itself can be fun points for some spooky, creepy tales.

    • Candy Korman

      Conspiracy theories like that one are a great starting point for all sorts of fictional mayhem. That creepy feeling of having been somewhere before OR the creepy feeling of knowing something you can’t possibly know are the kind of leaps that start the story off. Add a conspiracy — criminal, governmental, scientific (or all three) and you have mystery gold!