According to legend, Cassandra, the princess of Troy, was cursed to speak true prophecies that no one ever believed. If you’ve ever felt like you predicted something in a dream, you might have felt it wise to keep that feeling to yourself so that others don’t think you’re as out-there as an ancient oracle. Well, good news: you don’t need to be so secretive about your psychic dreams. They’re actually a well-documented phenomenon called déjà rêvé — but they don’t actually mean you can see the future.
Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?
Some people call déjà rêvé (French for “already dreamed”) the opposite of déjà vu (“already seen”). But to us, it seems more like the opposite of lucid dreaming. Basically, it’s the feeling you get when you’re in a situation in the real world that makes you feel that you dreamed that you would be there, or that you somehow foresaw your circumstances. It doesn’t have to be a matter of having dreamt your surroundings last night, or even in the past week. Some people who experience déjà rêvé feel that their prophetic dreams came to them years ago. We already told you about how scientists triggered déjà vu in the lab and proved that the feeling doesn’t actually grant you any precognitive abilities. Similarly, the feeling of déjà rêvé doesn’t mean that you really dreamed what you think you dreamed.
According to a new study that looked back on the medical reports of epileptic patients from 1958 to 2015, déjà rêvé experiences are common after electric brain stimulation, a pretty standard treatment method for epileptic symptoms. It suggests that the “already dreamed” feeling is the result of something happening physiologically in the brain, and that in turn could point to a better understanding of how dreams work. Scientists today are learning a lot they didn’t know about dreams — for example, did you know you even dream during non-REM sleep? — and any new way to discover how dreams live in the brain could open a whole new set of doors.
Flavor of Rêvé
It’s not just about feeling like you’ve dreamed your current circumstances before. It’s also about feeling like you might be dreaming at the moment. Actually, participants in the study described their experiences in three distinct ways, which the researchers cataloged like researchers do.
- Episodic: Many times, the people experiencing déjà rêvé could pinpoint an exact or approximate day that they had their prophetic dream. It was often quite a while ago — we’re talking months or even years.
- Familiarity-like: These people experience that hazy, dreamy sort of memory regarding their prophecies that you might recognize the morning after a dream. Their brains conjured up hazy, half-remembered scenes that echoed their current circumstances.
- Dreamy-state: The final group of participants didn’t have the same recalled-dream experience as the others. Instead, they felt that the experience itself was strange and dream-like (or even nightmarish).
If you experience déjà rêvé, take comfort in knowing that it’s totally normal — the feeling is just a harmless quirk of your brain. In fact, this topic got our office talking so much about how we each experience déjà vu that our editor took a Twitter poll. It’s small and informal, but it suggests that while most people experience true déjà vu — the feeling of actually having experienced an event — a sizeable minority experience déjà rêvé more often.
For scientists, however, the ability to trigger the feeling with brain stimulation could answer a lot of questions about dreams. “Understanding why some dreams can be remembered and decoding the mental content of dreams are great challenges,” the authors write in the study. Triggering these dream states and then analyzing people’s brainwaves could be a new way to “catch” these dreams.