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Colorado State University psychology professor Ann Cleary believes a feature of our memory sometimes causes us to believe we are familiar with places or situations we have never visited or experienced. "Imagine you're visiting Paris for the first time, and you have arrived at the Louvre. Your gaze lands on the giant glass pyramid jutting out of the museum’s main courtyard, and you get that strange feeling. ... A few months ago, you watched The Da Vinci Code, a film that provides an up-close look at the Louvre Pyramid. 'In the absence of recalling that specific experience,' Cleary says. 'You’re left only with this feeling of familiarity with the current situation.'"

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Early doctors thought déjà vu was brought on by brain seizures which crossed neural wires with unpredictable consequences. "Yet another possible explanation for déjà vu, says Cleary, dates back to 1928, when psychology Edward Titchener described the sensation using the example of crossing a street. As we begin to cross a street, we instinctively look to the left, but if something catches our attention on our right, we turn in that direction. By the time we look to our left again, our brains may have forgotten the first glance. This second glance triggers a feeling of familiarity, because, in this case, we really have seen something before."

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Read it at Smithsonian