What Is Déjà Vu?

Theoretical Physicist, Author, and Science Educator

Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Michio Kaku: Déjà vu is a phenomenon that all of us have experienced, that eerie feeling when you walk into a room or enter a new situation and you say to yourself, “I’ve been here before. I mean, everything here is familiar.” 

It turns out that we can actually induce forms of déjà vu in subjects in experiments. So there is a theory that says that déjà vu simply elicits fragments of memories that we have stored in our brain, memories that can be elicited by moving into an environment that resembles something that we’ve already experienced. So we don’t have to invoke parallel universes, we don’t have to invoke the multiverse in order to explain most déjà vu.

However, it does raise the other question: is it ever possible on any scale to perhaps flip between different universes? And the answer there is actually rather unclear.  We physicists believe, for example, that there is really a multiverse that exists even inside our living room.  We are waves, vibrating waves given by the **** function, and these waves vibrate and then split apart with time. 

Steve Weinberg, winner of the Nobel Prize, compares it to the following.  Think of radio.  If you’re inside your living room listening to BBC radio, that radio is tuned to one frequency.  But in your living room there are all frequencies - radio Cuba, radio Moscow, the Top 40 rock stations.  All these radio frequencies are vibrating inside your living room, but your radio is only tuned to one frequency.

Now, in other words when two universes are in phase, they are coherent and you can move back and forth.  But as time starts to evolve, these two universes decouple. They start to vibrate at different frequencies. They can no longer interfere with each other. So why is it that your radio cannot listen to Radio Moscow?  Why isn’t it possible for your radio to listen to all frequencies? Because your radio is decohered.  It is no longer vibrating in unison with these other frequencies.

And the same thing in quantum physics.  We consist of atoms. Our atoms vibrate, but they no longer vibrate in unison with these other universes. We have decoupled from them, we have decohered from them. So in other words, deja vu is probably simply a fragment of our brain eliciting memories and fragments of previous situations. However, in quantum physics, there really are in some sense parallel universes surrounding us, the problem is, we can’t enter them because we have decohered from them. We’re no longer vibrating in unison with them. Sorry about that.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd


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