Originally Posted: July 31, 2019
Déjà vu is a French term that literally means “already seen” and is used to describe the feeling that something being witnessed has already happened. The term was first coined in 1876 by Émile Boirac, a philosophy professor who described his own experience with it in a letter published in the Revue Philosophique. But “déjà vu” wouldn’t be an accepted scientific term until two decades later, when French neurologist F.L. Arnaud officially proposed its use at a meeting of the Societe medico-psychologique.
The concept of déjà vu has fascinated psychiatrists and laypeople alike for decades, with examples ranging from Sigmund Freud’s A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis to Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. In a 1991 study titled “The déjà vu experience: Remembrance of things past?” it’s noted that somewhere between 30 to 96 percent of people have experienced déjà vu at some point in their lives — a wide variation that probably has something to do with differing definitions for the experience.
So what exactly is déjà vu? The scientific community is split on its causes, and there are studies that back a number of different explanations. This is what’s really going on when you experience déjà vu.