• Murphy

How Do You Know You’re Not Dreaming?

Credit: Lim Kwong Ling

Ever feel like you’ve been there, done that? Maybe you’re walking across the road and you drop your phone. As you reach down to pick it up, you get the distinct feeling that you’ve done this before. Or picture this: you’re sitting with a friend at a coffee shop, chatting away. And then you notice a stranger, who smiles at you over a bowl of mee pok. You zone out of the conversation because an eerie feeling has taken over, a familiar unfamiliarity. A sense of having experienced the unexperienced.

Do you even know each other? From where?

According to numerous studies on the matter, two out of every three people have experienced déjà vu. French for “already seen”, it occurs more frequently among younger people but has no gender bias. Oddly enough, your odds of having déjà vu increase if you are a frequent traveler.

Credit: @_nguan_

Also intriguing is the sense of déjà rêvé, French for “already dreamt”.

According to the Brain Stimulation Journal, which is a peer-reviewed medical journal set up in 2008, there are three distinct categories of déjà rêvé.


You recall with 100% clarity the dream in which you’ve experienced this situation before.


You recall some of it but not all of it. Like a drunken memory, it's there but not quite coherent.


Did you experience this situation before? What if you dreamt that you were dreaming? That’s the fuzziest, most surreal type of déjà rêvé.

Credit: u/Twizted_Overlord

A colleague told me that she had the feeling once. She remembers it vividly till this day. The best way to describe it, she says, is that it was like "dreamception". It’s like a dream within a dream wrapped in another dream. She was in the school canteen, sitting down with a classmate and they had a word-for-word conversation down to the way she remembered it. She was absolutely convinced that she had the same conversation in a dream before.

How does she know? As she was dreaming, she remembers it happening - because she was completely lucid. She’s always had lucid dreams since she was a child and tends to remember her dreams most of the time.

Some scientists think déjà rêvé occurs because we think we remember something similar that’s happened before. A French study in 2018 found that electrical stimulation could summon previously discarded, forgotten dreams. However, we know far less about déjà rêvé than we do about déjà vu.

Credit: @_nguan_

Which brings me to how some scientists think déjà vu comes from our brains recognizing a pattern in what we are currently experiencing and matching it to patterns already present in some of our fragmented memories. As our brains try to establish the correct narrative, the result is a sense of unsettling familiarity. Other scientists believe that déjà vu is the result of funky information transfer between two halves of the same brain. For left side of the brain to transfer information to the right side, it first has to process the information and then send it over. In doing so, it’s already seen this information twice, thus the strange familiarity.

In trying to explain the phenomenon, my colleague brought up the possibility of alternate realities and alternate selves. Her words happen to somewhat echo that of Michio Kaku, well-known American physicist, who used radio channels to explain this theory. Fittingly, Kaku’s words are echoing that of physicist Steven Weinberg.

I’ll paraphrase Kaku paraphrasing Weinberg here.

Credit: @_nguan_

Imagine you’re in your car and you’re tuned into Class 95. But you don’t have to be tuned into Class 95. It could be 98.7 FM. It could be Warna 94.2 FM. It could be any station your car’s radio can reach but right now you’ve made the choice to tune into one station, Class 95. Sometimes we even hear two stations at once. Maybe, Kaku posits, déjà vu occurs when our minds somehow switches radio channels for a brief moment - and the sensation itself comes from the clash of worlds that were never supposed to meet.

How’s that for a head-scratcher? Are you confused? Because I’m confused.


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