Friday, 31 August 2012

Deja vu anyone?

Hi all!

Hope everyone is having a great Summer!

A friend of mine at work said to me the other day that she was feeling a real sense of deja vu during our conversation. She asked me if I knew what deju vu was all about, and so I thought what better way than to look into this for my monthly post.

We've all been there!
Most of us have had that funny feeling that we've been somewhere before, or that we're experiencing  a situation for the second time. This gut feeling is deja vu (meaning "already seen" in French).

There are quite a few different theories as to why deja vu happens, for instance is it an act of precognition or prophecy? Or does it reflect our past dreams? Or maybe its something more scientific?

The most compelling (and probably the most accurate) reason for deja vu is that is is an anomaly of memory, which gives a false impression of an experience being a recall.  

So basically events and episodes which we experience are stored in our memory as individual elements or fragments of that event. Deja vu may occur when specific aspects of a current situation resemble certain aspects of previously occurring situations; if there is a lot of overlap between the elements of the new and old situations, we get a strong feeling of familiarity.

One of the ways our brain tricks itself into deja vu is through a mismatch between its long term and short term memory pathways. The current stimuli, instead of being stored in short term memory and then transferred to long term memory (if needed) gets dumped straight into long term memory, immediately causing that stimuli to feel as if it is an experience that you are pulling from your past.

This phenomenon is pretty common with as much as 70% of people having experienced some sort of deja vu, and interestingly its more experienced by people of 15 to 25 years old. I wonder whether this is because younger people's memories are more malleable and active and so the chances of memory overlap or disfunction is higher.  

More controversial explanations of deja vu have been put forward by parapsychologists who say that some cases might be representations of past lives, so in effect déjà vu experiences occur as people are living their lives not for the first time but at least the second.

Several psychoanalysts attribute déjà vu to simple fantasy or wish fulfilment, so the experience is made to seem like a past experience, but with a more positive outcome.

Jung, a fellow deja vu sufferer
Looking into my psychotherapy training, I discover that Carl Jung himself wrote briefly about deja vu. He described a instance during his 1925 trip to Mombasa where he viewed a slim,black man with a spear looking at him from his train. Jung really captured the feeling of deja vu when he wrote "it was a picture of something utterly alien and outside of my experience , but on the other hand a most intense "sentiment du deja vu". I had the feeling that I had already experienced this moment and had always known this world which was separated from me only by distance in time. It was as if I were this moment returning to the land of my youth, and as if I knew that dark-skinned man who had been waiting for me for five thousand years." 

So looking at the different theories it seems deja vu is just our memory getting a tad confused and not unfortunately something a little bit more intriguing like psychic activity.  Sorry folks!

Till next month!



Friday, 3 August 2012

The Denver Shooter - a question of sanity?

I wanted to write this month about the tragic shooting in Denver during a screening of the new Batman film. For me, this horrible, horrible incident has thrown up some interesting issues worthy of closer investigation. 

Currently the case is awaiting to trial and the key matter will be whether the suspect, James Holmes  (24) was sane when he committed this act. If he is proved insane, then he'll serve life imprisonment and avoid the death penalty. 

What I have found when looking into this, is that in the search for answers, I seem to only find more questions. So here are just some thoughts to ponder...

Psychological profiling

One of the key questions being asked is what may have drove Holmes, someone described as previously quiet, pleasant and introverted to commit such an horrific crime? And what kind of psychological profile does Holmes fit? According to experts, mass murderers fit one of three profiles

  • A psychopath in the clinical sense, meaning no empathy, no remorse, no feeling for others (like Ed Harris of the Columbine school shootings):
  • A deep-suicidally depressed individual (like Dylan Klebold of the Columbine school shootings); and
  • A delusional, out of touch with reality, deeply mentally ill individual (like Seung-Hui Cho of the Virginia Tech shootings).
Current thinking from psychologists is that Holmes was likely living a world of an alternate reality, suffering from delusions of threats and making plans to make right things that he perceived were wrong. So Holmes fits the third category of the list above.

Studies have shown that in most cases of mass murderers,  a staggering 98% had suffered what they considered either a major failure or loss in the time leading up to the killings. One wonders what loss Holmes could have suffered which would have been the final trigger to commit this horrendous crime? Could it be connected to him dropping out of his studies, failing his exams or moving away from his home town?  This picture is still very unclear especially given that Holmes appears to have begun planning his attack months before.

An alternate reality

This idea that Holmes could have been living in some kind of alternate reality would certainly explain some of Holmes strange behaviour. For example his declaration to the police officiers who arrested him that he was "The Joker, obviously the enemy of Batman." This identification as the Joker may also explain Holmes recently dyed red hair. Plus reports that he asked a prison worker "Did you see the movie?" "How does it end?" suggests that he is still living in his fantasy world. It is said that the judge banned cameras from Holmes' second hearing so not to excarcerbate Holmes' belief that he is in some kind of film.

There are conflicting reports about what kind of social media presence Holmes had. Apparently, contrary to the majority of his generation, he didn't have a Facebook or Twitter account. This matches Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, and supports the idea that Holmes fits the out of touch, delusion profile. However we do know that he had recently created a profile on an adult dating site before the shootings plus one of his classmates said that he used role playing games on the internet. Involvement in such types of games does suggests a potential break from reality into fantasy, again supporting his delusional profile. 

Holmes' psychiatrist

It has now been discovered that Holmes had been seeing a psychiatrist at the college, Lynne Fenton, and that he had sent her a notebook just before the shootings which was seized by the police on 23 July.  It is likely Fenton's evidence will become key to the trial especially regarding Holmes state of mind at the time of the murders. It will also be interesting to see if the notebook will be admissable evidence as opposed to being privileged under the doctor/patient relationship.

This whole case pivots on the question as to whether Holmes was sane when he committed the attack. It could be suggested that carrying out such a viscious, mindless crime is surely insane in itself but counter that with the meticulous planning which appears to have been involved, it's certainly not a straightforward case to prove. I can only anticpate that the evidence from Holmes' psychiatrist will prove invaluable.

We will just to wait and see how this one plays out. It will take months to get ready for trial, which I think is a positive thing, as it will give the local community much needed time to grieve and rebuild from this horrible tragedy.

Till next month