08 May, 2008

Memories and Deja Vu

I had a whole heap of things that I was planning to write when I next logged in...

...but now that I'm sitting in front of the computer screen, the vast majority of them seem to have completely slipped my mind.

I guess that's a suitable topic of posting.

Why do things slip our minds? What is memory?

Buddhism would state that we are the sum total of our memories. As we experience new things, they embed themselves into our psyche. I've posted about this type of thing previously.

A few years back, when I was working as a printer, I found a book that was written by an old acquaintance.

It was called How Do You Think. It's about the author's journey through life and the things he's picked up along the way. It's not a preachy book and it's written in a very down-to-earth manner. All the way through, it poses questions to make you think about the way you think. It touches on drugs, various therapies, relationships, and all those things that make us who we are.

It's a good read, and it was purely by chance that I happened to come across a copy in the excess bin at the printing company where I worked.

The reason that this book came to mind was a section where it describes the author's perspective on deja vu and short term memory loss.

He says that both are linked to a lack of concentration. If someone is telling you something while your mind is somewhere else, then you haven't really focused on the words and you probably won't recall them in the future.

The mind can only focus on a few specific things at a time (some might even say that the mind can only truly focus on one thing at a time). If you are daydreaming, or thinking about other things, then it's far less likely that your minds focus will be on the other person's words. You mind will be more inclined to remember the things that you were daydreaming about.

It's not memory loss, instead your mind is remembering things that aren't really relevant.

Zen buddhism has a concept of No-mind, a time when your thoughts aren't distracted at all by it's internal workings. The rush of adrenaline when you go on a new roller coaster for the first time, the loss of self at the moment of first falling in love, the feel of a crowd at the critical moment of a sporting match. When the mind is truly at one with the surroundings, it is incapable of distraction. These are the moments that permanently embed themselves into our minds and become a part of our long term memories.

I don't agree so much with the author's perspective on deja vu, but it makes sense in context with the rest of his book. He claims that deja vu arises when the mind is distracted and comes back into focus.

Subconsciously, the mind will always draw in information from it's surroundings. Even when it does become lost in it's own fantasy. Aspects of the mind are always grounded in reality. Sometimes a thought pattern in the mind is prematurely ended. Perhaps a person sees something that suddenly draws their attention; it could be a danger, or it could be a desire. Either way, it ends the mind's fantasy pattern and snaps it back to reality. This takes a few moments to achieve as the mind attempts to makes sense of what has just happened.

It taps into the subconscious thread of information that has been occurring, and sees these aspects as memories. Suddenly, a person believes that they have been in this situation before. In fact, it's just the same situation unfolding...the memory is just tapping the current experience memories in a different way. According to the author, maintaining concentration and not allowing the mind to wander will prevent deja vu. (I may be paraphrasing here, and over-simplifying things, but that's the way I remember it).

Throws away any supernatural aspects of deja vu doesn't it?

Given that some people use deja vu as a justification for belief in past lives, this should give them some pause for thought as well.

As I said though, I don't 100% agree with the authors perspective of deja vu. I'm still trying to work my way through a theory that meshes with my own experiences of the phenomenon.
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