There's this scene in The Matrix where Neo casually blurts out "woahhh.....déjà vu..." after seeing a black cat cross an entryway, and then a second later, sees the same exact cat cross the exact same entryway. That scene always annoyed me because that is NOT déjà vu. What annoyed me even more is just how casually he attributes that bizarre witnessing of cats to déjà vu. With déjà vu, you usually don't know where or why something is familiar, but in this scene Neo knows he's just seen the exact thing happen right in front of his nose twice in quick succession. Argh, it's so dumb. Anyways, I don't know about you, but whenever I've had déjà vu, it's usually a very strange feeling. A feeling that makes me feel like I've seen it all before and know what's going to happen next (when I really don't). It's this kind of icky feeling that I can't seem to fully latch on to or describe (which makes the whole experience even stranger).
The reason I'm writing about it here is because I had a very bizarre experience on Mt. Everest this past spring. Once I reached Base Camp at 17,500 ft, I began experiencing déjà vu constantly. I'd say on average about 6-10 times per day. It became so chronic that it turned into something extremely frustrating and invasive, almost like hiccups that won't go away. 6-10 times per day is a lot for me. I typically only experience déjà vu once a month (if even that) in everyday life. But up there at altitude, it was happening non-stop, sometimes even happening back-to-back-to-back. So weird.
I've tried many-a-time to try and think why all of a sudden at altitude I was starting to experience it. I've climbed to high altitudes before and never had déjà vu even once. So what was different? Well, for one, at the time of the climb I was more obsessed with my memory training than I had ever been before and I was training my memory throughout the whole expedition. On past climbs I would either stop memory training completely or I hadn't really gotten into memory training all that obsessed-like yet.
So what does that suggest? That my memory training at altitude was activating some part of the brain that unleashed déjà vu after déjà vu? Yeah sorta, I guess.
Here's my bizarre theory. I've heard many explanations for déjà vu, but no one really seems to know for sure what it is or how it starts (it's pretty hard to conduct scientific studies on the phenomenon since no one knows how to induce it on demand). One explanation I've heard is that déjà vu is a mixing of the unconscious and conscious parts of the brain. Basically, a confusion about memories that occurred in an unconscious state (dreaming). Your conscious brain fires of these warnings that scream, "Hey, this is familiar!" when something that happened in a dream is in someway familiar. Most of what we dream isn't very memorable, but what if in real life, something slightly reminded you about that dream somewhere deep inside your subconscious. That would feel weird right? You would feel like something was familiar but you wouldn't know why or from where. That's exactly what déjà vu is.
Here's where it gets stranger. It's common amongst high altitude climbers to say that dreams at altitude are much more vivid and bizarre. This happens because it's more difficult to breathe at high altitude because of the lack of oxygen. Because your body is struggling to get the same amount of oxygen it's used to, sleep is often interrupted by fits of waking panic and suffocation or sleep apnea, which in turn makes climbers sleep lighter and dream wackier.
Now, because of this whole vivid dream thing, combined with my whole intense memory training, could it be possible that my brain was much more active in searching the unconscious for recognizable things in real life? Was my strengthened memory able to reach deeper into those wacky, memorable dreams and tag them onto moments in real life that bared any type of resemblance? I have no frigging clue, but it sounds cool. Either way, the fact remains that I was experiencing déjà vu many times a day and it wasn't normal. It was actually kinda scary at times. It was like I couldn't get rid of this feeling like I knew everything around me. The weirdness was amplified by the fact that I was somewhere I had never been before in my entire life (Mt. Everest). So I knew, on top of me knowing that this was all familiar, that this couldn't be familiar in any way at all.
Mind == BLOWN.
Anyways, just wanted to share that with you all...(On a side note, my chronic déjà vu disappeared once I returned to sea level, so it was most likely altitude induced).
For all you readers out there, I'd love to know how frequently you get déjà vu? And when you do, what it feels like to you? It's interesting to hear different peoples account of this because everyone describes it differently.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite clips from one of my favorite movies ("I wish we could all live in the mountains...", lol).