What Is Déjà Vu? Michio Kaku Wonders If It’s Triggered by Parallel Universes

I’ve spent the past week on a road trip across America, and, during it, experienced perhaps my most intense case of déjà vu ever. Rolling into Memphis for the first time in my life, I walked into the lobby of the hotel at which I’d reserved a room for the night and immediately felt, in every fiber of my being, that I’d walked into that lobby before. But I then realized exactly why: it followed the same floor plan, to the last detail — the same front desk, the same business center computers, the same café with the same chalkboard asking me to “Try Our Classic Oatmeal” — of the one I’d visited the previous day in Oklahoma City.

Should we chalk this up to generic American placemaking at its most efficient, or can we find a more interesting psychological phenomenon at work? Michio Kaku, though best known for his work with physics, has some ideas of his own about what we experience when we experience déjà vu. “There is a theory,” says Kaku in the Big Think video above,”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.”

But wait! “Is it ever possible on any scale,” he then tantalizingly asks, “to perhaps flip between different universes?” And does déjà vu tell us anything about our position in those universes, giving us signs of the others even as we reside in just one? Kaku quotes an analogy first made by physicist Steven Weinberg which frames the notion of a “multiverse” in terms of our vibrating atoms and the frequency of a radio’s signal: “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.” And sometimes, for whatever reason, we hear two signals on our radio at once.

Given that, then, maybe we feel déjà vu when the atoms of which we consist “no longer vibrate in unison with these other universes,” when “we have decoupled from them, we have decohered from them.” It may relieve you to know there won’t be an exam on all this. While Kaku ultimately grants that “déjà vu is probably simply a fragment of our brain eliciting memories and fragments of previous situations,” you may get a kick out of putting his multiverse idea in context with some more traditional explanations, such as the ones written about in venues no less dependable than Scientific American and Smithsonian. But in any case, I beg you, Marriott Courtyard hotels: change up your designs once in a while.

Related Content:

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Michio Kaku Explains the Physics Behind Absolutely Everything

Michio Kaku: We’re Born Scientists But Switch to Investment Banking (and More Culture Around the Web)

Michio Kaku Schools a Moon Landing-Conspiracy Believer on His Science Fantastic Podcast

Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (71)
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  • Joesixpack says:

    This is complete rubbish. Kaku has sold his soul. He’s run down the same rabbit hole as Depak Chopra to make money selling a belief in quantum magic.

  • PhysicsGenius99 says:

    This is true. If you think about it, all of this makes sense. Dr. Kaku has not sold his soul. If anything, you sold yours.

  • Jdee says:

    Brings Freud’s essay on the uncanny to mind (deja vu!)—that moment when the familiar becomes unfamiliar or the unfamiliar, eerily familiar. That disorienting moment makes you question yourself, whether you’re seeing things right, or whether you’re going out of your mind. It can be a moment of insight; it can be a moment of terror. In a universe of randomness it makes us believe in ghosts … and gods.

  • Nadine Robiczek-Raspil says:

    This is all so spooky in a wonderful way. I’m a fan. Lately, I’ve been going through chains of events, where something, like hearing a piece of music, or observing some pattern of shadow and light, kicks off a big emotional Deja Vu kind of feeling. Then there will be some kind of coincidence that feels like a meaningful synchronicity.

    I just read the article about why there may be ETs and they stay away from us and it’s so much like things that have popped into my imagination. Then, I saw this and it’s also like that.

    I had gotten to the point where I actually got images and info in my mind of a solar system with 2 suns and 12 planets. It got to the point where I was thinking, “What?!? I had a past life on another planet?!?” What do I do with such craziness? The answer: write fiction!

    I’m working on 2 novels now. One is a memoir, where everything in it actually occurred, but it can be interpreted as fantasy and the other is sci fi, where earthlings discover this solar system, with beings who have been observing them.

  • Glab says:

    This is clearly taken from the TV show “Fringe”… At least they could perhaps be acknowledged for suggesting this!

  • Y.Mi says:

    Sam Harris once said, in his book Freewill, “Our minds appear to be making decisions before we’re actually aware of them.” If that is the case, Kaku had access to it before the usual routine for some reason, perhaps he was high :)

  • Earl says:

    Ask Rupert Sheldrake, im sure he will have plenty of comment on the subject, as for me im opene minded on it, and have had some very strong glitches in my matrix too.

  • John says:

    I thought it was the matrix making a correction..

  • John says:

    Has Kaku lost his soul? Absolutely not. But we lost our old beloved Kaku to another universe. Now we have this parallel Kaku instead.

  • Max load says:

    We all have experienced deja vu mine are in dreams far before it ever happens. I think it’s our pineal gland working how it’s supposed to

  • Leon says:

    Anyone who dismisses Deja Vu as a figment of imagination or related to misplaced memories has never experienced Deja vu to its fullest.

  • Ankit says:

    I definitely agree with you , the feeling of Deja vu seems that it just occurred in past, but not in real past it was just milliseconds ago. and our brain feels it was past.

  • Sunny V says:

    It’s my understanding from Anthony Peake, that it’s our higher SELF, that knows all, giving us a glimpse to our future.
    Read hid book “,Is there life after death”
    Fascinating read

  • John Robinson says:

    From my earliest recollection from

  • Sunil Madhukar Jagtap says:

    Dr Kaku is the only person who makes sense to
    common people.

  • Donna Birdsong says:

    I studied with the Rosecrucians & they believe in reincarnation. Before you are born, you view a sort of overview of the life you will experience. And that explains these feelings of Deja vu

  • shelly kogan says:

    When we go to sleep..our soul gets free to the the one, and during that period of time our soul can travel not only in earth in the entire infinity where past present future are mixed to one time, our soul can travel and experiance at any time and any place and that advanture remain in our unconcious…that memory can appear when we return to aplace we have been before…even if it was only with our soul…in the kabalah it is well known that our souls are traveling in the infinity space, thats why we thank the one for opening our eyes after sleeping everyday…we do not take this for granted…

  • LORI says:

    Well said Genious. These other people trashing Dr. KAKU are just showing their ignorance.

  • The Daleks says:

    Whenever I’m not sure if I’m in a parallel universe or not, I check to see if Mr. Spock has a beard.

  • Jackk says:

    heres a question that got stuck in my brain…. unless we reborn in another paralel uniververse when we die, how the hell we got memories of anthing else??

  • Jeff says:

    I have often wondered the same thing about ghosts. If 2 strands of time cross, the arc containing the past bleeds through instead of a dead relative, you are seeing an actual person from another dimension.

  • caolan says:

    Such utter BS! Everyone knows it’s caused by a glitch in the matrix!

  • Mike B says:

    I thought Deja Vu was really this

  • freeyourmind says:

    Souls, so ya believe in a god.which one, there are about 20 on this planet.

  • Elliott says:

    Or Fringe was based on science? You can’t have works of fiction claim to be the originator of science.

  • Becci says:

    Dejavu has been theorized to be minute localized seizures. Whereas you have the experience, have the seizure, the memory is “rewound” and it feels like a new memory. It would be nearly impossible to have two exact experiences in two different multiverses.

  • JUAN RUFFIER says:


  • Rick says:

    Funny, I’ve had the same theory for years. Long before I ever heard of Michio Kaku or Fringe for that matter. I formulated my theory based on some life experiences with Deja Vu.
    I may be one of the few people that think Kaku hasn’t gone off the reservation, but I have my own very personal reasons for thinking that.

  • Scott says:

    Well, I believe it is physics, and I would love to share my hypothesis with him. I suspect he would be interested. Too bad I don’t know how to reach him. He’d likely enjoy my thoughts on this, and perhaps politely tell me I’m being silly.

  • Ridi J says:

    No. It’s a filing error. Immediate sensory stimulation bypasses short term memory buffer in the brain. What you sense matches long term memories because it’s simultaneously storing and retrieving from there.

  • Sulaiman S. says:

    Hi mon Professeur Micho
    I have experienced more dimensions to time that you have not mentioned, and these effects are experienced by a group in an area of space in a moment in time….. (1) Time viscosity, where you feel everything drags and things take longer, while everyone else see you move normally at a fast pace , you find out you have done significantly less than any other instant when time was less viscous.
    (2) a ride for the same distance , the same place takes longer , about a few minutes longer , and the effect is felt by all those with you …. I haven’t clocked it because its spontaneous and unpredictable.
    (3) You are told by a form of apprehension , whether a vision of a whisper of things that will happen in a short while or years thereafter.
    This no joke or making fun of anyone , I am damn right serious , and I used it to my advantage, time like any other dimension has the same Physical properties , or would it be Mathematical properties !!! Cheers and all the best.

  • jill says:

    I asked my mother once about this. She told me that God lnew you before you were born thus it surly must mean that ypu are where the Lord said you would be. I sort of like her reasoning better.

  • Andy H says:

    “Lately, I’ve been going through chains of events, where something, like hearing a piece of music, or observing some pattern of shadow and light, kicks off a big emotional Deja Vu kind of feeling. ”

    Wow! I’ve been getting that a lot over the last few years! Little things, maybe just the colour of the sky at a certain time of day gives me a strong sense of Deja Vu. It’s as though I’m experiencing the faint echo of something I’ve seen before, familiar and very comforting but annoying because it only lasts a few seconds. I took to thinking of it as a sign that maybe I’m on the right path. I don’t know, perhaps it’s just a trick of the mind but it feels much more that that sometimes.

  • Tara says:

    The deja vus I get in the past were very detailed down to street signs and road names speed signs with the speed limit to people whom were with me
    Places I had never been before…..
    I knew what the people around me would do next and say to each other….
    I still haven’t found a logical explanation…but would love theories
    I have written down dreams or thoughts and told them to people in the past
    And they were witness to things happening that I had described years or months later.

  • Stuart CRAWFORD says:

    Whether it nonsense or sense this theory exists and existing is the phenomenon taking place while we expect other happenings to occur. Now I will watch the video.

  • Eric allen says:

    You really can’t say it’s BS unless you never thought deja vu wasn’t outwardly or said you never experienced it.

  • dakeyras says:

    The article below the video is completely misinterpreting what he is saying.

  • Sulaiman S. says:

    Thank you Mon proffesseur for reaching out to other people’s experiences and thanks for including us through these threads , you are awesome

  • David W. says:

    I knew a doctor once who thought the experience might be caused by small seizures.

    I know that precognition is possible (I and many others I know have experienced it repeatedly) and I believe (but don’t understand) that time is an illusion.

    The most mind-blowing possible explanation I ever read is found in A Course In Miracles: “Time is a trick, a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic. Yet there is a plan behind appearances that does not change. The script is written. When experience will come to end your doubting has been set. For we but see the journey from the point at which it ended, looking back on it, imagining we make it once again, reviewing mentally what has gone by.”

  • Tim says:

    This was an idea I came up with about a year and a half ago, wonderful to see these kinds of ideas making it into serious discussion. I wonder if my messages on facebook proliferated the discussion and brought it to his ears. Nice fantasy I suppose ^_^

  • Anthony Peake says:

    One of the central “Moody Traits” of the Near-Death Experience is known as the “panoramic life review.” This is the classic “I saw my life flash before my eyes.” Imagine a scenario whereby in the last milliseconds of our lives we experience our whole life in a literal minute-by-minute reconstruction from birth to death. This takes place in subjective time and as such a whole life can be experienced. In that second life we suffer from a form of amnesias in that we do not know we are living this life again. Indeed the ancient Greeks termed this the “drinking of the waters of the Lethe.” However sometimes the recollections of the previous life leak through and are perceived as deja vu sensations (actually deja vecu, but let’s not get too technical. The “memories” that create this “life simulation” are equivalent to the programmed scenarios in a first person RPG game such as “Tomb Raider.” As such the outcomes of all decisions are accommodated within the program. Therefore the second life need not be a literal re-creation of the first. Subtle changes can be made …. in the way “Conners” does in the movie “Groundhog Day.” At the end of that second life there will be another NDE scenario and another life-review is entered. Indeed many lives with subtle or major changes can be experienced. As such, if you experience deja vecu it is likely you are living in a simulation of your life …. this is not as far fetched as it seems. The “simulation argument” using known factors of quantum mechanics has long been suggested, together with the idea that it is not matter that is the basic constituent of the universe but digital information which, by its very nature, is non-physical (c.f. the work of Professor Nick Bostrom and Professor Vlatko Vedral). I know this may also sound like “new age” waffle but if you are in any way interested in this suggestion check out my books ….

  • A. Bellflower says:

    Yes to ACIM quote! I further sate, we are now in ‘this life time’ experience, playing the most sophisticated VIRTUAL REALITY GAME ever. (of course it isn’t a game).

  • wallace anderson says:

    where do you think fringe got the idea ? sci fi son I read this stuff from azimov , bear, niven,etc… back in the late 70s was fringe around then on tv?

  • saddimalik says:

    Yes, Sir Kaku is true Ι also believe in deja vu. Yes it exist and I am observing it from my very early childhood …….thank you kaku

  • Prophet says:

    Interesting theory, but I’d rather go with the nature of time. Quantum physics perceive time rather as a solid, one-piece ‘ribbon’, complete with it’s beginning and it’s hypothetical end. From quantum physics’ perspective it’s not yet entirely explained why we can only perceive the current moment and just remember past moments, and we can’t see time as a whole. In short – why don’t we constantly see the whole ‘past’ and every possible ‘future’. Maybe deja vu is this split second moment in which your subconscious familiarity with the specific moment becomes somewhat more apparent to your conscious mind, even though, that from the rational point of view it should have been actually happening right now for the first time so it shouldn’t feel familiar.

    Or, you know, it may just be a false experience, a trick played on us by our own imperfection, just like optical illusions.

  • Shelley says:

    Deja Vu (and Jamais Vu, it’s opposite, where the familiar is experienced as the unfamiliar) is activity in the memory center of the brain, where seizure activity occurs. Find yourself a good epileptologist, please.

  • Julius says:

    I just feel that if re-incarnation is real, maybe is possible to re-incarnate into the same life again (a kind of cycle), since when we die, we go to a fifth dimension (where no time exist, and all times co-exist), is just possible to re-live our lifes many times, perhaps because we need to learn something and deja-vus hint on if we’re doing the right thing or not.

  • sara Haley says:

    The notion of parallel universes enchant me. sometimes, I tell my other selves who might be having a better time of it than me in this universe, to get on it and lend me a hand somehow. find a way to break through and help guide me during a dark time. and I tell you, it is wonderfully peaceful to think some entity out there is somehow looking out for me. It must be the way people feel about god. I like it. I like the fact that it is me and my alternate entities somehow trying to enhance the life of me right here right now. I know about the psychology of it all, but it is not just “getting in touch with myself” to gain personal insight. It is more like getting in touch with my other universe selves to enhance all of ourselves. I like it…I am my own god…to myself and for myself.

  • Manuel says:

    I agree with you Shara, I experienced deja vu only with my dealings with other people and eventually to people who never expect; never in situations without interaction with people … I ask, you’ve read the book “reconnection” Dr. Eric Pearl?

  • Larry says:

    I’ve had a few episodes of déjà vu that ‘blew my mind’. One of them is when walking home from high school with a friend, and all of the sudden, as we were right in the middle of crossing a street, I had a strange feeling come over me. We had never taken that particular route on our walk from school before. But it ‘felt’ like we had, and also at that very moment, I found myself thinking each word my friend was going to say prior to him saying it. And it was word for word lasting several sentences worth. Then the feeling went away, and I no longer was able to know what he was going to say anymore. That entire event freaked me out.

    Also, not long after that déjà vu event, it happened once again and at the same place and time, and with the same words. And sometime after that déjà vu event, it happened yet again! So, this was double déjà vu.

    And I had another double déjà vu event at another place. Same place, same people, same words, and same actions such as so and so will now come into view as he turns the corner, and will say the same words that I knew he was going to say to another person.

    And in the second déjà vu events in both accounts, I knew what was happening by that point, and so was prepared to focus in on it, and ‘ride’ with it and to try to figure out how this was happening. But I’ve never been able to explain it.

  • Larry says:

    Was it actually two separate triple déjà vu events that I had, and not double as I had written above? I’m not sure. But nevertheless, those events still boggle my mind.

  • mezhumayru says:

    looks like a funny trolling tag line :)

    pretty funny version to chop up the silly folks bandwidtch.

    is he serious at all?

    i am not sure, as we sift through our own realities it isn’t definition that we look for its being open.

  • mezhumayru says:

    love this response:)

  • mezhumayru says:

    … how are parralel universes related to depak chopra?

    anyway it seems to me like this is a pretty silly equation to look at, and a way to decipher elements of past future and present beyond regular dimensions.

    anyway whats up:)

  • mezhumayru says:

    dont think so ….. how are parralel universes related to depak chopra?

    anyway it seems to me like this is a pretty silly equation to look at, and a way to decipher elements of past future and present beyond regular dimensions.

    anyway whats up:)

  • The Order of the Cockscomb says:

    What about just a crossed wire circuit in the brain that triggers memory recall apperception when it shouldn’t> The circuit says “I remember that from before” whereas it’s actually getting information from the neural processing of the first/only phenomenal experience. Presumably the parallel universe might be time synchronised due to branching on the Everett model, so there would be no memory established anyway.

  • Lior says:

    Me in another universe is absurd, if you think about it, if my grandfather in another universe married another woman, I wouldn’t even be there – explain this paradox Kaku

  • Mikiel says:

    As an amateur natural scientist and psychologist I would like an explanation of the difference between creative imagination (and it’s product, science fiction) and the “theory” of parallel universes. Once you buy into the idealism that there is no objective reality independent all varieties of observation and philosophy… that everything depends on how you look at it and think about it, then you can claim whatever suits your fancy as a “possible reality.” That is what Kaku does, and it passes for science because of his physics credentials. Speculation is the creative wing of science but evidence is required to distinguish it from pure imaginative fiction.

  • Stuart says:

    same as “Max load” see what i need to see, not what i want to see. Talk to people who don’t get it, they don’t understand, think you are insane. I don’t know why i’m like this or why others are not. When i was little i thought everyone was the same, when i was enlightened to the fact they are not, i didn’t talk about it, with anyone, till i was over 40. Always the ‎vaguest part is time, when will this happen. Also you are a spectator, if you change something there is always an unexpected and undesirable outcome. So a pretty shit gift.

  • John says:

    Yes, decoherent, I get that but their are aspects of quantum coherence in the macro world. Lasers, phase conjugate mirrors and invisibility cloaks, superconductivity and superfluidity. If we are talking about mind that could possibly exist in superpositional states of deep coherence – then yes. Trouble is, I have never found Deja’s vu to be such a state of deep awareness and beyond my intent. But maybe . . . What is mind? Is t an emergent property of the brain or something larger?

  • Maria says:

    I have been experiencing persistent Deja vu for the past 8 years. I’ve seen neurologist, gotten eeg’s and mri’s done and still there isn’t any explanation for why I am experiencing this every day from the moment I wake to the moment I sleep. Even dreams and thoughts seem like Deja vu many times…

  • Gearóid Ó Fathaigh says:

    Sorry to disappoint folks – but deja vu is exactly the misfiring of neurons (min-seizures) in the memory part of the brain. I had them as a teenager, and they returned for four months before a full-blown TLE pair of seizures. Surely it has to do with recognising new experiences as old or old experiences as unfamiliar (jamais vu). Nothing complicated conceptual-wise!

  • alan drobnak says:

    He may have strolled into a Motel 6 for his deja mojo. We all know they are exactly alike across the USofA. Wonder how he’ll feel next time he heads into a McDonalds. Just can’t wait for his next dispatch on that experience.

  • alan drobnak says:

    I read about this recently also.

  • Benjamin says:

    Actually, déjà-vu is actually what one has already experienced as real in one’s dreams and the déjà-vu refers back to that partial memory from one’s dream. So sorry, I have to disagree with Dr Kaku to the extent that dreams do not have any discernible connection to parallel universes, or do they??

  • Kristine Henley says:

    It has to do with your brain. Small seizures. DUH!! Dudes just trying to get money and have people believe stuff.

  • Hejnal says:

    The fact of deja vu:
    In this world everything becomes fix before it happens. Something becomes fix before a second, something before 1 minute, something before some years and so on. Some people see and feel before some months, some before some years. Human mind is capable to see the future. And some future we can see just a second before it happens in reality. This is the deja vu. The concept of parallel universe is 100% wrong. I am not a scientist but I know many universal secret which Science has not figure out.

  • allan anderson says:

    i had a moment last weekend was lookin at the sunset have never been to this particular place in my life but as the sun set i had a moment of wow i have seen this and have had same conversation on where the sun would set on the horizon i live in the yukon we have magnificent scenery and that sunset was nothing short of amazing for obvious reason

  • allan anderson says:

    have astro travelled as a kid seen a ufo and now this dejavu moment wtf i know there are other worlds than this 4sure

  • Atherworld says:

    The best explanation I heard was a brain glitch that results in your reading a memory you just finished writing a split second ago. So you instantly remember what you’re currently doing.

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