Super-human ability to stick myself in others shoes?
July 11, 2006 9:55 PM   Subscribe

If I stare at something and "zone out," after a while a little switch in by brain flips and I suddenly feel as if I am seeing that something for the first time, as someone with a very limited knowledge of that thing. Is that weird? Has anyone else experienced this before?

That question isn't very good, so here's a specific example. When I was driving home from work the other day, I was zoning out (probably not good while driving, but hey, I was paying attention to the road!) and the framilierity of the neighborhood that I have grown up in was suddenly gone. I felt as though I had voluntarily started to view the area as if I had just flown in from Europe for the first time, seeing the trees, landscaping, roads, and houses for the first time.

This is not the first time this has happened, and the other times that it has happened it has been extremely interesting and thought-provoking to be able to put myself in someone else's shoes so readily.

To be sure, I don't think of this as a mental problem, I'm curious as to what other's experiences are.

Has this type of experience happened to anyone else?
posted by yellowbkpk to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's called 'imagination'.
posted by cellphone at 10:00 PM on July 11, 2006

I have no concrete help, mine is only anecdotal but this happens to me sometimes. Much more common for me is this effect but with words.
I'll stare at a word and after a while my brain "switches off" and the world looks completely strange and I am sure it's spelled incorrectly or something. Then I'll try to pronounce it and it sounds strange in my head, like a foreign word I've never heard before. And this has happened with 'crayon' or 'happened', not 'mamihlapinatapai' or a word that is especially difficult or weird
posted by shokod at 10:02 PM on July 11, 2006

It's called "jamais vu" and is mentioned in the deja vu entry in Wikipedia.
posted by zadcat at 10:08 PM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sounds kind of like and acid flash back
posted by 0bvious at 10:20 PM on July 11, 2006

I get this with words too, but less with reading and more with speaking. Saying some ordinary word over and over and over and pretty soon it seems to lose all meaning and even the constructs of how to pronounce it correctly. It's like I don't even know the word, just some vague memory of it. After a couple seconds, it is normal in my head again.
posted by chrisroberts at 10:40 PM on July 11, 2006

Definitely has happened to me with words. Not so often with things.
posted by limeonaire at 10:55 PM on July 11, 2006

This has happened to me. I find certain mindsets allow me to do this more easily...while other times I'm so caught up "getting things done" or whatever that I'd never let my mind wander to the point where it can happen.

I've also had experiences where I could distinctly picture myself or my situation from another person's perspective, or at least truly attempt to forget myself and see things from their perspective. When I say this I mean much more then what people traditionally mean when they talk about having empathy and trying to picture things from others' perspective. It was really an incredible feeling and quite unsettling.
posted by rsanheim at 11:17 PM on July 11, 2006

This is the reason that aspiring artists are told to stare at things for extended amounts of time, occasionally, or told to draw them upside-down. It is a recognized phenomenon, and can be quite useful if one knows how to trigger it at will, as most of being a great artist is knowing how to see, rather than how to draw/paint/sculpt/etc.

zadcat is correct in saying this is jamais vu, the feeling that everything is unfamiliar when it should be familiar. However, jamais vu is the -feeling-, whereas there is no word that I know of for the visual experience itself, which is slightly separate.

Me, I get this once every three months or so, also generally when I'm relaxed and/or zoning out. The words becoming completely alien thing, though, at least once every two days (I can actually do it to any word in the English language simply by staring at it and/or repeating it verbally or on paper for five minutes. Works -every- time.).

I used to find it offputting and strange, but I enjoy it, mostly, these days - especially if you're in a mostly unchanging environment, and don't often go anywhere, it's nice to be able to -feel- as though you're somewhere you've never been now and again.
posted by po at 11:17 PM on July 11, 2006

Yes, jamais vu. It is a function of the anterior temporal lobe; some of my patients have it as a component of their seizure aura, but it can be normal.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:01 AM on July 12, 2006

I can usually induce jamais vu with words when playing in Photoshop. Take any word and start applying different font styles to it in rapid succession. The word quickly loses its meaning and becomes just abstract symbols without association. For me at least. YMMV.

Thanks for the term jamais vu. Had not heard that before.
posted by squink at 6:00 AM on July 12, 2006

do this deliberately and after reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and using the techniques recommended there, I believe there are similarities. I think it is a matter of point of view. On a topic or a landscape, you can try to see it as if for the first time. With drawing it, you aim to draw negative space so you're not distracted by how things are supposed to look, or how you're used to seeing things.

With the unfamiliar vision, I also get the wonder and freshness of seeing something for a first time. It's a fun thing to do. Sometimes I use my lazy eye's vision for assistance in transitioning
posted by b33j at 6:01 AM on July 12, 2006

oh, I mean, what Po said.
posted by b33j at 6:02 AM on July 12, 2006

This used to happen to me as a child with some regularity and still does now on occasion. As a kid, I had no idea what the feeling was but I appreciated the hell out of it. I remember trying to describe it my friends at the time and getting mostly blank stares and comments like, "Whatever. Let's go play He-Man."
posted by MrToad at 6:08 AM on July 12, 2006

Want to creep yourself out? If you stare at yourself in a mirror long enough, you can get mild jamais vu on your own face.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:20 AM on July 12, 2006

With words, I always called the "Pepsodent" syndrome, since that was the first word I noticed it happening to me with.

Being a Spider Robinson fan, I wonder if this is in anyway connected to the Beginner's Mind he likes to reference, his wife being a Zen Buddhist...
posted by baylink at 8:21 AM on July 12, 2006

I experience this every once in a while... I had a strong case of it a while back while I was in a drawing class. All of a sudden, I just had this all-encompassing sense of looking at my own life from an outsider's point of view, thinking how strange it was that all decisions I had ever made had led up to my being in that specific place at that moment in time.

CunningLinguist mentioned experiencing this with your own face; the other day, I was watching some stuff on an old videotape and found a segment where Katie Couric interviewed Michael Richards from Seinfeld. While I was watching him talk, it struck me that in all the years I've seen him on TV, I've sort of generalized his face in my mind; when I looked at him and tried to imagine that I was seeing this man for the first time, I was just sort of amazed by how he looked.... just like a guy, instead of some idea of "Kramer."

This may not make any sense. I don't know how better to explain it.
posted by Nedroid at 9:51 AM on July 12, 2006

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