Deja Vu
December 29, 2004 7:09 PM   Subscribe

DejaVuFilter: I dream events that will occur to me in the future, on a rather erratic basis. I recognize these dreams when they repeat in the real-world, and sometimes recall the rest of the dream, making it possible to change the outcome of the experience. Does anyone else experience this? Know anything about it? Opinions? [MI]

It's more like a snippet of a dream; a short sequence of events- dialogue, movement, scenery, emotions, senses- everything you can think of that would make up your perception and awareness. They are no longer than twenty seconds, and it's occasionally possible for me to recall the rest of the snippet, and use that to make a change in what I say or do as opposed to what played out in the dream. They have been happening all of my life- the first time was when I was four, I dreamed about walking through a field on an exercise path. Months later, I walked that dream at my father's athletic club in New Jersey. I still remember the trees, walking beside my brother, a bee buzzing, and the clarity of the blue sky.

Now, the frequency of this 'deja vu' is rather erratic- sometimes I'll have a few in a week,
then nothing for a month. They also span different amounts of time- I recollect one experience that I dreamed almost 2 years prior to the repeat experience, and yet had other experiences during this interlude.

I know I'm not the only one who has this, but I haven't talked with anyone who had these experiences in the same way- most people say that they feel they've 'been' somewhere, not that they are re-experiencing a moment in life, like a movie. Thoughts?
posted by id to Grab Bag (55 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I dreamed my son was attacked by a wolf, and it was so vivid I woke my wife to tell her about it. Later that week, he was bitten by a half-wolf half-dog hybrid.

Oddly, James Randi still won't return my calls.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:13 PM on December 29, 2004

Twice, when I was in High School and College, I dreamed about the interior of a house I was about to visit the following day (that I had never seen before) - saw what they looked like very vividly and accurately. Freaked me out a bit. I never have done anything like that since.
posted by kokogiak at 7:25 PM on December 29, 2004

The feeling of deja vu feels to me like the remembrance of a dream, when in fact it's essentially a delayed-feedback loop of what's happening right now. When I have deja vu, that deja vu can last for minutes and often makes me wonder "did I dream this?" until I realize I can't place the night in which I had the dream. I never think "this happened to me already," in the same way most people describe deja vu.

I think you're just, as you already mentioned, experiencing deja vu. Try documenting your dreams in detail: chances are, when you experience this feeling of premonition, you'll find that the dreams you've documented never actually occur in the real world.
posted by eschatfische at 7:26 PM on December 29, 2004

I've had precog in dreams too many times to count. I've never heard a scientific, rational explanation that made total sense. I'm a freak, though, and believe that while our perception of time is linear while it tends to persist in a circular manner, and in a way too complicated to get in to, enables these displacements around phenomena like deja vu, etc.

I have heard that 'waking' deja vu is a result of a perceptual gap between different areas of the brain, leading to a delay. I didn't explain that well. Anyway, like i said, I'm weird in this regard. I'd say just enjoy the ride, and perhaps train yourself to dream topically if you need to discover specific information (before you know you need it).
posted by moonbird at 7:31 PM on December 29, 2004

I have no personal experience with such a thing. However, someone earlier today linked to the skeptic's dictionary, which I happened to notice has several fascinating entries on dreams, lucid dreaming, the law of truly large numbers, and confirmation bias.
posted by advil at 7:32 PM on December 29, 2004

and on post, there is also an interesting discussion of deja vu.
posted by advil at 7:36 PM on December 29, 2004

Your description of "deja vu" sounds exactly like my own sensations of it. I'm more willing to believe that I have a lot of vivid dreams and sometimes find myself in a situation that coincides with one of them than that I am somehow predicting the future.

If you want to experiment for yourself to see which it is, start writing down your dreams and dating them; then, when you have one of those "deja vu" experiences, go back and see how closely it actually corresponds with your dream.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:48 PM on December 29, 2004

Response by poster: advil- Those are good entries- I'll keep the skeptic's dictionary a little closer at hand from here on out. None of them seemed to discuss my experiences directly, however.

I'm beginning to believe that deja vu isn't even the right term for this. Unlike deja vu, the experiences are exact- it's the same words coming out of someone's mouth while driving, a car of the same type passing by, and a particular song playing on the radio- all of these come into a highly directed focus, and then it's like I remember what's about to be said.

One instance where I actually diverted from what I remembered was when I was buying clothes in a mall. The same things all happened, same scents and noises, and I remembered that my response to the clerk was actually comical in the dream. In reality, my response to her quip about my rather obscene t-shirt (it says 'fuck.' and nothing else) was derailed due to me realizing that I was in the middle of one of these experiences, and I ended up just walking away instead.
posted by id at 7:56 PM on December 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who had a premonition that her mother would die. It came true shortly thereafter. Cancer.
posted by Clay201 at 8:33 PM on December 29, 2004

Do you remember these dreams in detail before the events they predict are happening, or only then? Do these remembered premonitions ever let you tell anyone else something you couldn't otherwise have known?

Déjà vu is the feeling that what is happening is already in your memory; your mind is finding a simple explanation for that feeling: you dreamed it. Keep a detailed dream journal and this will go away.

(Or, I have an alternate theory: your sleeping mind somehow slips the bonds of time and space and perceives distant future events as they are destined to happen; once you've dreamed them no-one else's free will prevents their coming to pass, but you can alter destiny at whim or even by accident. In which case only you really exist, I'm just a figment of your solipsistic imagination, and may I have more money and bigger arms? Thanks.)
posted by nicwolff at 8:49 PM on December 29, 2004

This happens to me. I'll have an especially vivid dream, that can be so vivid I don't realize I'm dreaming it until I wake up, and recall it in detail when I do awake. Then some time later (days, weeks, months) the same event I dreamed about will occur. I usually don't recognize it until I'm in the middle of it or shortly before it ends.

When I do realize I am experiencing something I already dreamed, everything sort of slows down and takes on a flat, spooky, one-step-ahead quality - I know that next someone will walk into the room, and then they do; the person I am talking to will say this, and then they do; I will respond with this and look at the clock, notice the plant in the corner, and then I do. If I catch it early enough I can alter what is "supposed to happen" - but if I don't, it proceeds "as scripted", except I have this awareness that I'm saying "lines". In fact I guess that's how I'd describe it: I've already rehearsed this scene, and now I'm living it. It is not like deja vu for me; deja vu is more vague, a funny feeling, "I know I've been here before and can't quite place it". This is quite clear when it occurs, it plays out point-for-point like I saw it on TV or in a movie, and I can remember when I dreamed it even if it was a while ago.

I've always been curious about it, especially since I have had a couple instances where I wrote down or mentally fixed the dream-images in my head very firmly and then experienced the replay a short enough time afterwards to be sure that I am actually dreaming the future and it's not some kind of mental hitch (deja vu feels more like a mental hitch to me). But I can't recall at the moment any specific instance being about anything very important, just random conversations or scenes, nothing significant, so I never gave it much thought beyond the curiosity. My personal opinion is something along the lines of when we dream, we can tap into the unconscious stuff that links us into a universal energy/hive mind/consciousness - probably a holdover from my quasi-hippie teenage years, but as good an explanation as any for something that you can't concretely explain.
posted by Melinika at 8:51 PM on December 29, 2004

What you seem to be implying, id, is that you:

1) Have a dream, that you recall pretty clearly after waking, and could document immediately

2) Some time afterwards, _after_ you've already remembered the dream, you experience a waking event...which you realize, as it's happening, matches the earlier dream

If that's the case, I'm stumped--if I believe you, I'm amazed. I've certainly had the "in the moment" type of deja vu before, when you think "I've seen this before, and I think it was in a dream", but that's different.

I've read many explanations for that latter type, along the lines of what's been mentioned here--where there's basically a "stutter" somewhere in the visual processing area of your brain, so that instead of the seemingly continuous stream of information, like a movie, you're getting a whole bunch of distinct moments, more like a really fast slideshow. (Before anyone objects, I _know_ a movie is still just a series of still images, but experientially, it's different, and that's my point.) In normal deja vu, for each "slide", your brain says "Wait, I've seen that before", but the "before" is just a millisecond before, and you end up moving through a few seconds of an experience with that weird familiarity.

The former type, though, would be impressive, but you'd have to be pretty rigorous about proving that it's true before I'd really buy it. I'm a natural skeptic, and I'd run through all the explanations around probability, etc., that advil offered before I'd really be convinced.

Are you really talking about early dreams, with very specific details, that you've documented _before_ the fact, or just a real conviction, _after_ the fact, that "I've dreamed this somewhere before"?
posted by LairBob at 8:54 PM on December 29, 2004

I haven't experienced this. Had I, however, I'd try real hard to think about winning the lotto before I went to bed.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:02 PM on December 29, 2004

id, something very similar happens to me. The first time this happened to me was first grade, I guess I was six. It used to happen to me a lot as a child and has since cooled off. After some analysis and experiments, I can safely say I'm not predicting the future.

What seems to happen is this: 1) I have a vivid dream--sometimes this can even be a day dream 2) in real life, I find myself in a situation that's extremely similar to the situation in my dream 3) during such situations, the actual event would cause me to recall the dream 4) the dream "overlaps" with the real events producing something not-quite-like deja vu. As you said, it's like watching yourself on a videotape that you also just saw last week. It's pretty disorienting--you end up simultaneously experiencing the past, present, and future.

This used to really freak me out a bunch because I would re-experience entire conversations--like to the word. But when I began to carefully review what was happening by writing down a detailed description of the experience important differences emerged. People would be wearing different clothes or it'd be a different time of day.

Also note that this almost always happens with events that are subject to a high degree of regularity or predictability. For example, somehow I could always nail spelling quizzes (teacher gives you 25 words, only 12 of which would be on the test) and I ended up predicting many conversations with those close to me (usually my best friend or a family member).

In the end, when this happens don't be afraid to go with the flow. Two years ago the only reason I made it out of a bar alive was because I'd dreamed about a very, very similar situation a few weeks before.
posted by nixerman at 9:03 PM on December 29, 2004

A friend of mine gets this routinely (he has an exceedingly New Agey mother and evidently inherited a fantasy-prone personality), and being an atheist materialist, chooses to explain the various premonitions (both dreams and waking inklings) as a constellation of coincidence, selective memory, etc. I imagine considering how overwhelming the evidence is from his perspective there's some degree of cognitive dissonance there, but he handles.

For a while he would write them down and IIRC they didn't pan out as much in that time - you may want to try that. Write down the dialog from these vignettes, in the case where there's dialog, and then show the relevent page in your notebook to the other party so they can confirm or deny that it's more or less what just happened. This helps rule out selective memory.
posted by abcde at 9:04 PM on December 29, 2004

id, I have the same thing happen to me all the time, but rarely mention it in polite company for fear of James Randi cracks like Crash's kisses Crash . The first one I can remember was when I was in Kindergarten, and I dreamed about being lined up from recess with the other kids in my class and pulling on two mismatched mittens. I was so shocked by the feeling that I can remember all the sensory input from that moment ... visuals, smells, textures, etc ... 100% clearly to this very day.

When I was in High School I started keeping a Dream Diary, and then going back and marking the pages when thinks happened to me that I knew I had dreamed before. Over the course of about six years I had at least 150 dreams that I can document came true ... in exact detail ... sometime later (usually the day of the morning I awoke from the dream). I have about another 50 or 60 instances where I dreamed about someone and would have an unexpected letter, phone call, or meeting with them the next day (but that was not the exact same situation as the dream). Part of the trick of the Dream Diary was it was always the very first thing I did in the morning, before I got out of bed and often before I was completely awake. What was odd was that I would go back through the days and find that I had recorded dreams that I had no memory of at all a few days latter.

I haven't kept a Dream Diary in probably ten years, but I still have these sorts of dreams -- and other, super vivid dreams, many of which have an ongoing story line over many nights or which repeat characters and locations but not plot points -- mostly very early in the morning, usually within an hour or two of the time my alarm is set for. One thing I've had to actually learn to do is to time when I go to bed and/or get up around my dream cycle -- its not unusual for me to be dreaming so vividly and heavily that its almost impossible for me to wake up.

I have no idea what causes it, and I have no theory (tinfoil hat, James Randi fodder, or otherwise) about why it happens. I've never dreamed about anything important that came true -- its always snippets of conversation or trying on a shoe or someone telling a joke -- just the fabric of everyday life.
posted by anastasiav at 9:11 PM on December 29, 2004

I'm with id (and on preview, with Melinka) on this- I'm quite the skeptic, but sometime's I've had incredibly vivid "deja vu"- but such that it was more than just that very brief, somewhat dizzy sense of vague memory.

It'll happen rarely, but with great intensity, like I'm watching a movie, and I'll more accurately recall not just dreaming something that was like this, but recall thinking in normal waking life something precisely like the present moment weeks earlier, to the point of a very specific place and time that I envisioned it initially.

This also happened most recently for me a week ago. Our team at work decided to go to a place called Tech City Bowl in Redmond, Washington. Our whole team was there, including my relatively new manager. As we were bowling, I suddenly shifted into that space and was watching the game progress as he bowled his frame, and as I watched knowing this whole thing playing out, I specifically remembered imagining this very scene a month before I met him during the interview, while at lunch with two co-workers at the Teriyaki place we go to on 24th street. We were talking about our then current boss leaving, and I drifted off and wasn't following the conversation and had a musing on the whole team, that involved bowling oddly enough, and what my manager looked like. Thing is, he looks very much like I imagined him, and when I fell into that head space while we were bowling I realized I'd imagined this all before it happened. This wasn't a "did I dream this?" experience but a "I imagined this on this day 4 months ago, when we were at that restaurant, and I wasn't dreaming or asleep, I was just on lunch break." experience.

It can go on for a minute or longer, like I'm watching a movie I've seen a dozen times, but with the certain sense of my own imagining of this some time earlier, exactly like I'm seeing it now. It's that same sense of remembering you'd get if someone told a joke that you yourself told them a week earlier, and knowing you'd told that joke. As they tell the joke, you know how it ends, and there's no "doubt" or "skepticism" about whether you know the joke or have told it yourself. It's that same certainty, not a nagging "whoa, haven't I dreamed about this?" feeling.

As a fan of Memento, I'm not supposing it's anything more than wacky brain hijinx... but the experience is more than simply the deja vu I've also had, where it's a single phrase or visual impression that feels "remembered", for only a second. So the "deja vu, 1 second time delay in the centers of the brain" explanation doesn't work for these experiences (as easily).

I guess it could be an extended period of time where you experience an event twice, once as it comes in to the initial processing in the brain, and again as it commits to memory, and get an "echo" sensation that you chalk up to memory. And certainly your brain could do something as spiffy as make a past memory on the spot- perhaps I never did have lunch that day, in that way, and imaging anything, but have only convinced myself after the fact that I did.
posted by hincandenza at 9:16 PM on December 29, 2004

I think I should have also linked to the memory entry first. Some choice quotes (not that one should necessarily believe everything in the skeptic's dictionary of course, you should judge its credibility as you would any other source):

Subjectivity in remembering involves at least three important factors:
1. Memories are constructions made in accordance with present needs, desires, influences, etc.

(to be honest I'm not precisely sure what this means - but I would definitely want to know more before drawing conclusions about the post facto accuracy of a memory of a dream.)

Another interesting fact about memory is that studies have shown that there is no significant correlation between the subjective feeling of certainty a person has about a memory and the memory being accurate.

Also, since many people probably haven't followed my earlier links, here is a quote from the dreams entry tailored to the discussion that has emerged:

While it is admitted by most parapsychologists that some amount of coincidence is to be expected between what a person dreams and what actually happens, it is argued that there are too many cases of seemingly prophetic dreams to reasonably explain them all away as due to coincidence. It is true that not all prophetic dreams can be explained away as being due to coincidence. Most of them probably should be so understood, but many of them may be explained away as due to filling in memories of dreams after the facts and many others should be explained away as cases of lying. But the vast majority of prophetic dreams are probably coincidences. Such dreams are impressive to those who lack understanding of The Law of Truly Large Numbers, confirmation bias, and how memory works. If the odds are a million to one that any given dream is truly prophetic, then, given the number of people on earth and the average number of dreams people have during each sleep period (250 dream themes a night, according to Hines, p. 50), we should expect that every single day of our lives there will be more than 1.5 million dreams that seem clairvoyant.
posted by advil at 9:21 PM on December 29, 2004

hincandenza, it was probably a day dream. I've had day dreams trigger this experience. As I said earlier, it's usually a vivid (day) dream that is very, very similar to what's currently happening at the moment.

I didn't expect this to be so common. I wonder if there's a name for this sort of thing?
posted by nixerman at 9:22 PM on December 29, 2004

I've had the same (along the lines of "event-happening-then-I-think-I-saw-it-in-my-dream-before"). I tried telling my SO my dreams some times in hope that I can prove it to him that I'm not crazy. I think it worked once, and he was pretty amazed.
posted by christin at 9:23 PM on December 29, 2004

This happens to me. Less of an event than you seem to experience. I have a dream of a simple moment and I can remember thinking about it when I wake up, wondering why I dreamed of a doorknob, some girl's skirt, a delicate hand gesture, useless things.

It's not Deja Vu. I've had that too. This is much richer and more nuanced. It's not a feeling of "I've been here before" but more of a sense of awe. You are almost hypnotized by this small thing as it dances around reality. Everything slips into slow motion. It's as if the world, time, existence are calling your attention to this thing, giving it utter significance. You can hold onto this feeling and move on, carrying it with you if the situation gives you the luxury. It's sooo good.
posted by tinamonster at 9:42 PM on December 29, 2004

anastasiav: 6 years = 2000+ nights, so you're saying that on about one day out of every two weeks you had a dream you'd written down in detail happen precisely as you documented it? But it was never anything important, so you never brought it to anyone else's attention - say, by finishing their joke? Even though you had evidence at hand of your prophetic ability?

nixerman: this sort of thing has many names: "déjà vu", "false memory", "self-aggrandizing semi-anonymous on-line fabulising", "con artistry", "brief psychotic disorder".

Anyway, id wanted opinions but I don't want to harsh your senses of magic with my cold rationality, so y'all enjoy the thread...
posted by nicwolff at 9:53 PM on December 29, 2004

eh, skallas, I don't think confirmation bias is the right diagnosis. Comparing mine, id's, Melinka's, and a few other's experiences (which are all remarkably similar) you'll note that this is not a conscious act. Nobody walks around saying "I'm gonna predict the future soon, you just wait and see"--instead something always seems to trigger it and it just comes upon you.

nicwolff, I don't think anybody here is seriously claiming to be able to predict the future. In my case, after careful review, I'm often able to point out important differences between the dream and the actual event or there'll be gaps leading to an overlap. I'm sure you're very proud of your "cold rationality" and are always eager to flaunt it but it in this case it's not helpful at all.

Anyways, I'd be curious if there was a name for this phenomenom. It's just one of those strange little things that keep you up at night...
posted by nixerman at 10:16 PM on December 29, 2004

This happens to me too, though it was more common when I was younger. And your description is the same: I find myself in a situation that I suddenly recognize and I specifically remember having dreamed it at some earlier point in time.

The dreams (or dream fragments; they're usually pretty short) usually show up in early morning, just before waking up, in that half-awake period. The time lag between the dream and the experience can be up to six months or so. The dreams are no more or less vivid or weird than any others, so I don't know ahead of time which ones will happen.

The experience of realizing that you're seeing something you've seen before, realizing that you're in a re-run, is always rather weird. Most of the *content* of the experiences are really mundane, though. Here's two I can think of off the top of my head:

1) Real life version: I'm at summer camp in Maine, and I'm about nine years old. I'm in a canoe with a friend and we're paddling along on the lake, when we see some teenage guys standing on the shore motioning to us to come over towards them. There's a vacation trailer park near the camp; the boys have likely trespassed onto the camp property from there and are curious. We start paddling over, we're smiling at them, when suddenly the counselor roars by in her little speedboat dinghy and warns the guys to get off the property and leave us alone. This is just as they've started throwing small stones at us from the shore.
Dream version: same thing, but no counselor showed up, and as we approach the shore, a feeling of foreboding was pervasive. Dream cut off with the uneasy feeling that something bad might happen.

(Years later, I realize that something bad *could* possibly have happened, what with two scrawny girls paddling naively towards a few law-breaking teenage boys, but I was totally unaware of that angle at the time of the dream and of the experience.)

So in that case, it's as though the dream version was *a* version of the future, and the real life version had a different ending.

2) Real life version: I'm at a different summer camp, this one in the Berkshires. Different bunks are putting on skits to different songs inside a dance studio. One of the bunks is doing, I think, a disco song with disco dancing. One girl in the bunk suddenly comes bopping along into the skit, dressed in totally 80's clothes and hair, and has a sign around her neck saying "80's Music". The other girls look at her in disgust, she looks at them in confusion, and she exists.
Dream version: I had seen all of it before, specifically recalling the girl.

I sat there watching the skit with my jaw dropped open, it was so weird. I mean, if you dreamed of a girl who was meant to represent 80's music, wouldn't you just think it was yet another weird dream with weird dream symbolism?

Yeah, so the dreams are not always *exactly* like the real life versions. It's like I can see *a* version of the future, but it's not always exactly how it plays out, though close. And very few of the experiences have to do with any direct action or choices on my part, but rather with something or some phenomenon I'm observing.

Oh, and one more major deja-vu instance in my life: the Challenger disaster. I was six. The teachers told us at lunchtime. I turned to my friend and asked why they were making such a big deal out of this, making us watch Reagan's speech on a TV they wheeled in, and all. Didn't this all just happened *yesterday*? We'd seen all this already, we knew all this stuff already. (Or, at least, I did.)

Years later, in a fit of skepticism, I wondered if that deja vu was born just out of a sense of shock at having watched the explosion--that it was a psychological shock absorber or something--but I'm unconvinced. I honestly felt as though I was stuck living through the day all over again, and the six-year-old me felt bored by it.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:21 PM on December 29, 2004

eh, skallas, I don't think confirmation bias is the right diagnosis. Comparing mine, id's, Melinka's, and a few other's experiences (which are all remarkably similar) you'll note that this is not a conscious act.

No one here has said confirmation bias is conscious - in fact learning to compensate for it is a quite unnatural thing to do (one which I'm certain I'm nowhere near mastering). And the fact that the experiences are shared could have many explanations - all it seems to suggest is that whatever causes these experiences is innate or common to many people in some way. It seems that confirmation bias has this property (though I do agree that confirmation bias by itself isn't a complete explanation - subjectivity of memory also plays a major role, see my post earlier).

In fact, consider the population sample of metafilter. It is not very large. Further, consider the sample reading this thread. It is smaller. I think it is much less likely that this many people out of this sample share precognitive dreaming (assuming such a thing is possible), than that they share confirmation bias and subjectivity of memory.
posted by advil at 10:32 PM on December 29, 2004

I had an experience in high school that I've reluctantly chalked up to coincidence.

I dreamt that in the middle of my english class, some guy that I'd never spoken with or thought about crosses the classroom diagonally, stepping over a chair, to ask me an irrevelevant question. This happened the next day, exactly like my dream. Because he hung out with a different crowd (remember high school) it was unlikely that either of us would ever make a point to talk to eachother (let alone cross a room.)

It's a silly story, but at the time I was fascinated by what happened. I later realized that I was attracted to him and that it may have been mutual. Because of that, the dream and the next day seem more likely to be a strange coincidence.
posted by sophie at 11:32 PM on December 29, 2004

I'm a 100% skeptic about all the ESP bullshit but this happened to me just once and I have NEVER been able to explain it.
I was just a kid but I dreamed a conversation with a friend in a particular location. The dream ended with her asking me over and over again, "what's wrong? what's wrong?" I couldn't figure that last part out at all - there was no dream explanation for her saying that.
About a week later, I was sitting with the same girl in the same location and I suddenly realized that I knew exactly what she was going to say because I had dreamed it. And she did. And then I replied as I had in the dream and she said the next prescribed thing. I started freaking out completely, so she asked, "what's wrong? what's wrong?"

I have no satisfactory explanation for this event at all. It's the only thing of any "supernatural" character that has ever happened to me.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:36 PM on December 29, 2004

Response by poster: nicwolff- "In which case only you really exist, I'm just a figment of your solipsistic imagination"

The funny thing is that this is quite possible- you may actually be a figment. I can only vouch my own consciousness. (=

Thanks for the replies- good to see I'm not completely nuts... yet.
posted by id at 3:27 AM on December 30, 2004

Not to sound like the skeptic I am...can one of your deja vu people keep dream diaries please.

Start playing the lottery and when you deja vu in your dream winning the lottery, could you please just send me the numbers?
posted by filmgeek at 3:34 AM on December 30, 2004

But it was never anything important, so you never brought it to anyone else's attention - say, by finishing their joke? Even though you had evidence at hand of your prophetic ability?

nicwolff, normally when I bring it to people's attention, they either freak out, laugh nervously, or go off all skeptic on me. I've pretty much stopped talking about it (except here, obviously) since its not a very useful talent. Also, carrying your dream diary around with you waiting for something to happen where you can point to it and say "ah ha! I dreamed you would tie your shoelace and then pick up that gum wrapper six days ago" seems kinda geeky, don't you think? I dated a guy once (briefly) who used to sort of taunt me with it -- "hey, did you dream this? huh huh did ya did ya" which wasn't really all that pleasant.

I also spoke with a psych professor at length about it when I was in college, but she was also pretty dismissive -- basically she suggested that I was probably somehow bending my waking perceptions to meet the expectations my subconscious had set due to the dream.

The thing I should stress is that these experiences (for me, anyway) are always very very short (perhaps 5 - 15 seconds long) and are never anything important. They're exactly like the examples above -- a stranger crossing the room in a specific way, looking at an unusual object in a store, overhearing something odd playing on the radio of the car next to me at the stop light.

I suppose I could start keeping the dream diary again, and then carry a video camera around wherever I go, but that seems a little awkward. I'm aware this is a weird thing about me. But (as this conversation bears out) I'm also aware that I'm not the only one it happens to ... I honestly believe that its a pretty common, though totally useless, talent -- and one that can be honed if you pay attention to it but that ultimately never yields any useful information.
posted by anastasiav at 6:23 AM on December 30, 2004

I used often to have premonitory dreams of things I had no way to predict. When they'd come true it'd freak me out and I'd wish it didn't happen. Messed with my sense of reality, I guess. But my family has a history of some "fay" characters and strange events, so I guess it's no big deal.

These odd occasions of "synchronicity" happen to everyone now and again. You think of someone out of the blue and the phone rings and it's her and she's the last person on the face of the Earth who, logically, you might have thought would call you...

In my opinion it's okay to acknowledge that strange things happen, it's only trouble if you try to "explain" it too much, i.e. "we're all magically connected" or "God has a plan for me" or "I can influence fate with my willpower," etc. Just let it happen.
posted by Shane at 6:31 AM on December 30, 2004

Just to chime in with another "me too." This has been happening to me for a long time. It has slowed down since the teenage years, but it still happens about twice a year.

I am pretty sure it was occurring long before this, but the first time I strongly remember this happening to me is when I started my first job in high school. I was a busboy at a restaurant and the first time I walked into the kitchen I was floored because I had dreamt about the place a few months before. I will never forget that.

I cannot manipulate what happens in the real world based upon what happened in the dream. My dreams, and consequently what I remember in the real world, are more about a place than the event taking place.

I remember talking to one of my older brothers about this one time and he said it happens to him as well. He says he believes that it means you are on "the right path" in life. Whatever that means. I don't agree with him, but I am not sure what it means, if anything, either.
posted by internal at 7:07 AM on December 30, 2004

In the August 23 New Yorker, Oliver Sacks had perhaps the singularly most alarming, amazing article that I have ever read anywhere, and it addressed this topic thoroughly. I'm afraid that I can't find a free copy on-line, but I did blog it at the time, which includes several relevant quotes.

The premise of the article is this: our brains play with our concept of time all the time. You know how sometimes you'll be jerked awake by kicking something, in a dream, and you wake up because you've just kicked in real life? When you wake, you can even remember that you had a dream about, say, playing kickball, and you were throwing the ball and you struck out three people and then you got up to bat and you kicked and that's when you woke up. OK, here's the totally mind-blowing thing: that dream came after the kick. The kick is a physiological quirk. The kick did wake you up. Between the kick and your waking, you had that entire dream, and your mind inserted it before the kick, time-wise.

Crazy. Totally fucking crazy.

Your brain does the same thing with deja vu, says Sacks. You haven't had that dream. You haven't experienced that before. Your brain just likes to make you think that you have. You think that you know what's going to happen next, but it's only because your brain is making you think that events are happening at a time when they are not, offset by a second or two.

The article is much more extensive than this, and establishes the complete subjectivity of time, to degrees to which I hardly knew were possible. (Some Tourette's patients can catch flies in mid-air by the wings, because they perceive the flies as being so slow. Some Parkinson's patients, previously thought to have been staying perfectly still for hours at a time, protest that they were just scratching their nose, and it only took a second; time-lapse photos show that they're doing precisely that, only it took eight hours.) It's a huge mindfuck, and I love it.
posted by waldo at 8:03 AM on December 30, 2004 [2 favorites]

Thanks, waldo. I knew I had read something brilliant about this recently, but I couldn't remember whether it was Sacks or Ramachandran who had written it.

Everyone who has this "I've seen you in my dreams" experience, please read that Sacks article.

I have had these experiences very frequently since childhood, as vividly as anyone describes them on this thread. As a teenager, I wondered if I wasn't, perhaps, somehow precognitive (in a totally useless way, of course!), or if somehow I was "crossing the time spiral", or [insert your favorite "Twilight Zone" plotline here].

As an adult, subjecting these experiences to a rational scrutiny, I have come to the conclusion that a) I have a lot of vivid dreams about real-life situations and locations, and that sometimes my actual experience coincides with a memory of one of those dreams, and b) sometimes I have one of those little brain sputters described in Sacks's article that makes me feel like I'm remembering a dream.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:21 AM on December 30, 2004

A deja vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.

(Sorry, I just had to say that. Thanks for the fascinating thread.)
posted by fletchmuy at 8:35 AM on December 30, 2004

you'll note that this is not a conscious act. Nobody walks around saying "I'm gonna predict the future soon, you just wait and see"--instead something always seems to trigger it and it just comes upon you.

that's exactly what is meant by confirmation bias. All those times when the things you didn't dream about happen, you don't think, gosh, I never dreamed this. Likewise, all the times when things you dreamed don't happen, you don't wonder when they're going to. It's only when the two coincide that it suddenly seems quite astonishing, but with enough events, they ought to coincide not uncommonly, given that your dream world is largely made of the same people and things as your waking world...

Anyway, I happened across a quite terrible little book in my grandfather's house on this topic, called "an experiment with time" by jw dunne, which makes the claim that dreams are extradimensional travels of some kind which allow us to travel up to two weeks into the future, or something like that. Due to anecdotal evidence, such as this thread, he set up a study, but it wasn't done scientifically, and about 3/4 of the participants got lazy and stopped keeping their journals [read: they weren't getting any interesting results], and then he backed up his claims based on the 1/4 left who had enough coincidences to seem intriguing, so it was pretty weak. but kinda fun in that way that sci-fi /pseudo sci from early 20th c. can be.

re: deja vu, I am always shocked when people say that the real explanation re: deja vu kills the magic. I think it's so much more exciting that our brains can skip ahead a beat than to imagine some vague platitude about past lives.
posted by mdn at 8:59 AM on December 30, 2004

Re Oliver Sacks, Waldo, Sidhedevil, etc:

No, I've had the dream happen, told someone about it, then had the event occur AFTER that.

Why are so many of you so close-minded about inexplicable phenomena? Do you think there's an explanation for everything in life that the rational, logical mind can comprehend? If so, how do deal with quantum physics?

Does strange phenomena make you feel out of control if it can't be easily explained away?

I'm not saying you should put on orange robes and chant in an airport, or go on a quest for the Loch Ness Monster or the Holy Grail. But I frankly find so much bland cynicism to simply be a form of mental conceit...
posted by Shane at 9:01 AM on December 30, 2004

Shane, I have had that exact experience, too, but when I've examined it, I've found that it seems more likely to be a case of having had a ton of dreams and experiencing a reality that coincides with one of them than of predicting the future.

That's my experience. It's an experience I've had frequently in my life, and it's one that has fascinated me, therefore I've thought quite a bit about it. Perhaps your experience is different; I don't know. I can't comment on it, because it's your experience and I don't know the details.

If you showed me objective evidence to support your claim, it might change my opinion of the situation in the abstract; simply hearing your subjective narrative of your experience does not. I don't think you're lying, or misguided, or silly; I just think that you and I have different explanations for similar experiences we have had, and I think that my explanation is more likely to be accurate than yours, while acknowledging that I have very limited information about your experience and thus cannot come to a definitive conclusion about it.

I'm not closed-minded about inexplicable phenomena, but I also know that many phenomena that at first seem inexplicable can actually be explained. If you read the Sacks article, you would see that Sacks is not trying to scorn or dismiss anyone's experiences, but rather bringing a set of information that most of us don't have to bear on it.

I know several advanced quantum physicists, by the way, and none of them believe that human beings can predict the future. Not one of them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:11 AM on December 30, 2004

I've had many like experiences and am open to the explanation that these are funny brain artifacts. In the past I've chalked them up to some kind of Jungian synchronicity event but that is based on my superficial and flawed understanding of Jung--something I've always intended to correct when my schedule allowed. Then again, I've found the metaphysics of Plato, Boethius, and Berkeley oddly compelling so am likely biased to the existence of an extra-physical realm or dimension.

BTW, I have really enjoyed this thread.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:38 AM on December 30, 2004

...based on my superficial and flawed understanding of Jung...

Your understanding of Jung may not be so flawed. Jung was pretty well out there, especially towards the end of his career.
posted by Shane at 9:44 AM on December 30, 2004

Why are so many of you so close-minded about inexplicable phenomena? Do you think there's an explanation for everything in life that the rational, logical mind can comprehend?

why is this a bad place to start from? An explanation is just a description of what happens. If we can see or otherwise deduce what happens, we have an explanation for how it happens. It's possible we have blind spots we'll never be able to get around, but it certainly makes no sense to begin with the assumption that that's the case. The harder we work to figure things out, the more we seem to figure out.

If so, how do deal with quantum physics?

Not yet understanding something does not equal its being fundamentally incomprehensible. The copenhagen interpretation is one way to look at quantum physics. There are a number of other thinkers out there offering alternate views. David Bohm's holistic approach is pretty neat, in my opinion. multiverse theories are interesting but a big far-fetched for me. But there are plenty of possible ways to try to understand strange phenomena without resorting to "it's magic".

Does strange phenomena make you feel out of control if it can't be easily explained away?

This is the part that bothers me. These explanations don't "explain away" things for me. They make the world richer and more exciting. I think it's utterly fascinating that the brain can understand time on multiple levels, for instance - that doesn't take the magic out for me: that puts it in.

As I said above, that Dunne book made the claim that dreams take place in an expanded timespace so you can travel back and forth a few weeks or so. But look at it objectively: if this were the case, then major world events should coincide in dreams much more commonly. If say 20 million people were quite directly and traumatically impacted by 9/11, then some portion of them should have had premonitory dreams about it - even a very small percentage would have meant a very large number of people sure of something bad on the horizon. But it wasn't like that at all. Undoubtedly, out of 20 million, by sheer chance there must have been some people who had airplane/building crash nightmares the night before. They probably think they had premonitory dreams. But given the large numbers of people involved, it would be more surprising if no one happened to have such dreams that night.

The thing with confirmation bias is that all the other people who had airplane crash nightmares in march forgot all about them, but the ones who had very similar nightmares the week before the event felt certain they'd experienced something psychic.

Why are all the premonitory dreams mundane things like people tying shoelaces or crossing rooms? Because those things happen all the time. It's not strange to dream about them, and it's not strange for them to occur in real life, so it really isn't strange that they would happen in both from time to time.
posted by mdn at 9:45 AM on December 30, 2004

anastasiav wrote I honestly believe that its a pretty common, though totally useless, talent -- and one that can be honed if you pay attention to it but that ultimately never yields any useful information

Uh, except real evidence of abilities previously thought impossible by science that could drive revolutionary research into causality and the nature of time and improve all our lives in unimaginable ways. (Hey, I wonder if anyone living on the shores of the Indian Ocean dreamed about a giant wave last week?) That is, if you (or Shane et al) can just produce a single person to whom you described one of these dreams before it came true.

Shane wrote Why are so many of you so close-minded about inexplicable phenomena? Do you think there's an explanation for everything in life that the rational, logical mind can comprehend? If so, how do deal with quantum physics?

Do you understand that there is copious rigorous experimentation that supports the quantum theories? And that until there was an well-tested body of evidence showing that those theories explain and predict reproducible results of physical processes better than any other proposed theory, scientists were very skeptical of them?
posted by nicwolff at 10:06 AM on December 30, 2004

"Let's have a really good red wine tonight."

-Carl Gustav Jung's last recorded words.
posted by Shane at 10:10 AM on December 30, 2004

Do you understand that there is copious rigorous experimentation that supports the quantum theories? And that until there was an well-tested body of evidence showing that those theories explain and predict reproducible results of physical processes better than any other proposed theory, scientists were very skeptical of them?

No offense, but I'm not sure what your point is. Here's my point, illustrated by a randomly Googled quote about electrons:
It used to be believed that electrons orbited protons like planets around a sun. This is not the case as we belive today. More recently evidence has been found that electrons travel in clouds around a hollow sphere with the proton at the core and can move to any place on the surface of that sphere. Also it appears that electrons can move to any point on the sphere whithout crossing the intervening space. This means that they can go anywhere on the sphere instantly no matter how far away.
Are you telling me that your conscious, rational, analytical mind, your left-brain, thinks it understands how an electron can not only move instantaneously, that is with no time taking place for the movement to occur, but can be in two places at once?

What IS an electron? Is it a particle, the "idea" of a particle, is it motion itself?

What IS matter, anyway?

My point is, there are some things you can only "understand" intuitively. Sometimes that really ticks off your left-brain.

That's all.

There's a BRILLIANT quote in Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything in which a major scientist says something to the effect that the problem is not that the theories explaining these things are weird, but that they're not even weird enough, heh. I'll look it up later if I have time. (I may not. Have time, that is.)

"Let's have a really good red wine tonight."
posted by Shane at 10:29 AM on December 30, 2004

When I was in grade school and junior high, I had recurring dreams about a certain amusement park. Different things happened in the dream, but it was always the same park and back then I probably could have given a layout of exactly where everything was, it was so vivid. (It was a small park, a Kiddieland type place, not a Six Flags theme park or anything) This was not a park I remembered going to and I just figured it was the stuff of dreams. Then in eighth grade my class went on a field trip and we were stopped at a light. Out the window I saw the amusement park I dreamed about so many times...down to the last detail. I about fainted. I couldn't tell you what park it was, but after that I stopped having those dreams.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:39 AM on December 30, 2004

Shane, your assertions are orthogonal to this matter in any case.

I have an explanation for my own experiences, arrived upon by careful thought and research. I think that a similar explanation is probably likely for yours and Sister Havana's, but since I have limited information on these experiences, I can hardly say that definitively.

If I were conducting a scientific investigation of these experiences, I would ask lots of searching questions, and we could go back and forth until we had arrived at some approximation of "objective truth" (and, of course, it's always an approximation, but it's close enough for government work in my book). You might be right, and I might be right. We might both be convinced of the same explanations, or not.

In any case, since we're having a conversation instead, all I can say is, "I understand that that's your opinion; my opinion differs from yours for a number of reasons I have already outlined."
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:17 AM on December 30, 2004

I (a complete skeptic and rationalist) have had a couple of experiences that I can't explain: knowing exactly what the radio was going to play, that sort of thing. And I've heard and read enough examples of deja vu and predictive dreams to wonder if it really is all confirmation bias and brain glitches; for one thing, if you write down your dream and it later comes true, you can't explain it away that way.

Which brings us to An Experiment with Time by Dunne, which I think is a remarkable and fascinating book -- is it "terrible" because you don't agree with his conclusions? I urge anyone interested in predictive dreams to find a copy and see for themselves. His explanation is kooky and doubtless wrong, but the examples do make you think.
posted by languagehat at 11:30 AM on December 30, 2004

is it "terrible" because you don't agree with his conclusions?

I just remember it being somewhat pompous, not at all well founded, and generally not that insightful. But I did read the whole thing, so it must have had interesting moments. If you found it interesting, perhaps I'm judging it more harshly in retrospect than I actually did at the time.

However, it did not convince me in the slightest that its theory had any validity. There may have been some enjoyable philosophical ruminations, but the science was 100% pseudo.
posted by mdn at 11:56 AM on December 30, 2004

"Let's have a really good red wine tonight."

Well, I can't argue with that.

But I can keep arguing with your suggestion that quantum physics is like prophetic dreaming in some "woo woo we can't understand either so let's not be skeptical" way.

The mechanisms of quantum phenomena are presently unknown; I can comfortably allow that they might even be somehow unknowable; they might operate on some scale that other physical laws prevent our perceiving even indirectly.

But the phenomena themselves are not imaginary; they are easily reproducible in any university physics lab. There's no issue of subjectivity or trustworthiness in the data we have about the phenomena we're trying to explain (even when subjectivity and observer involvement are the phenomena we're trying to explain).

If Tom Young had logged into some antique telegraph-based Metafilter and tapped out "hey, I shined coherent light from a point source through these two slits, and it made a wave pattern on a photosensitive card! I showed it to my friend, and he was amazed! But it only works sometimes, and I didn't keep the card. Isn't that spooky?" the science-minded members of that community would been a lot more interested in the details of the experiment and why it wasn't reproducible than in discussing its implications.

Are you telling me that your conscious, rational, analytical mind, your left-brain, thinks it understands how an electron can not only move instantaneously, that is with no time taking place for the movement to occur, but can be in two places at once?

Sure, and not just two. Any particle's location is defined probabilistically by its wave function; as long as its velocity is partially known its location has to be smeared out and indeterminate. I've known that since I was ten or twelve. If you grew up thinking they were like little rocks, that's a shame but 1926 was a long time ago; if gullible anti-skeptic nitwits didn't keep making us fight to teach kids Darwin maybe we'd have gotten Schrödinger and Heisenberg into the public schools.

If your point is that I don't know by what underlying mechanism wave mechanics operates, you're right and so what? That gives me no reason to be skeptical about quantum mechanics; I know from personal experience that quantum phenomena are real, and I know that other skeptical people have been similarly convinced.

Whereas when we ask those who claim to have repeated prophetic dreams to test the veracity of their memory - just to show that something other than common déjà vu is happening - we are told they don't feel like it; they don't want to seem "geeky". So I think skepticism is natural and proper.

languagehat: is it "terrible" because you don't agree with his conclusions?

No, Dunne's Experiment is terrible because his methods are risible; after reading that I don't care about his conclusions.
posted by nicwolff at 12:08 PM on December 30, 2004

I get this too, just had it at Christmas, I remember the dream from last year, when I was living in a different country and had never heard of the place I'm currently living. I've had Deja Vu and people are right, it does feel different from that.

Maybe we should all get together and fight crime, we can call ourselves the Dream Team.
posted by Navek Rednam at 12:19 PM on December 30, 2004

As nicwolff says, the problem with An Experiment in Time is that it isn't an "experiment" at all.

If Dunne had called it "an anecdotal inquiry in time, with some self-reported experiences," I would be less sanguine about it. He was an engineer himself and certainly knew the difference.

It's a sweet book, IMO, and much better-written than the stuff about proving the existence of God through geometry.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:31 PM on December 30, 2004

for "less sanguine" read "more sanguine" above
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:32 PM on December 30, 2004

I've had this happen twice:

1) I was 12 or 13 and had a dream about being in the car with my mum and younger brother. Mum decides to take a shortcut through an empty field and gets stuck in the mud. We have to call a tow truck, etc. A month or so later we're in this exact situation. To be sure of my dream, I don't say anything. It all happens as I dreamt it. I told my mum after it happened and she was well and truly pissed off at me for not warning her. The tow cost her a lot of money when she didn't have much.

2) I was 27 and working in SoCal. I had a dream of being in an office and talking with several people. I saw several faces I didn't recognize, didn't recognize the workspace, etc. Two months later I was transferred to Texas. There was the office and the people I had dreamt of.

It's not happened since. I don't know what to call except precognitive dreaming.
posted by deborah at 10:17 PM on December 30, 2004

This thread's dead, but...

Why are so many of you so close-minded about inexplicable phenomena? Do you think there's an explanation for everything in life that the rational, logical mind can comprehend?

I find that with respect to phenomena that could possibly be explained as paranormal, most people are actually close minded about things like trying to apply skeptical logic or known facts about how memory work as a first resort. This thread, I think, illustrates this point very well. As far as I can tell, most of the explanations that have been given that don't involve something like 10 people for every 1000 (estimate, based on sample in this thread) having precognitive dreams on a regular basis, have simply been ignored.
posted by advil at 8:57 AM on January 1, 2005

I have temporal lobe epilepsy. The experiences described on this thread are exactly what I experience when I have an ictal event. I would suggest that anyone experiencing these symptoms go see a neurologist, especially if they are accompanied by dizziness or a tingling sensation. Your life may depend upon it.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:23 PM on January 20, 2005

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