Morris: Déjà Vu or a Full Brain?

October 24, 2022

by Leo Morris

Most of you have undoubtedly experienced déjà vu, that eerie sense that something you have never encountered before is nonetheless somehow familiar.

Most of you have undoubtedly experienced déjà vu, that eerie sense that something you have never encountered before is nonetheless somehow familiar.

My apologies. I know that was just a cheap joke, but I couldn’t resist.

Humor provides a needed escape valve when we are overwhelmed with the dreary “Groundhog Day” feeling of living through the same events again and again, as happens every election campaign season. Isn’t that Republican candidate saying the same thing another Republican said four years ago, and isn’t that Democratic talking point awfully familiar?

Different politicians with fresher faces, but saying the same old things about the same old issues.  It’s déjà vu, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, over and over.

It can generate a spooky mind set, but with an annoying, shrug-it-off kind of low energy that quickly dissipates.

Not so jamais vu, the opposite of déjà vu, which means “never seen” instead of “already seen.” It’s that sense of unfamiliarity with something that we should know very well.

I was going to work one very ordinary day several years ago when I suddenly didn’t recognize the area I was driving through and had no idea why I was there. My confusion was fleeting, but for just that moment I was absolutely terrified. Was this the first sign of dementia?

It gave me a new appreciation of what my Aunt Edna had been going through in her bout with Alzheimer’s. There was one particular family gathering when people were talking casually and making jokes. She laughed at every one, but just a beat behind everybody else, pretending she could follow what was going on but not quite pulling it off. How often every day was she terrified as she felt her mind slipping away a little piece at a time?

Happily for me, that brief lapse of cognitive ability was a one-time thing and not a preview of coming subtractions.

That does not mean, however, that I am always firing on full synaptic cylinders.

I have reached the age when my brain is constantly under siege by presque vu, the weird cousin of déjà vu and jamais vu, and which means “almost seen.” That’s when you know something but you can’t quite call it up at the moment. You know, it’s on the tip of your tongue but will go no further.

Some people call them “senior moments,” “brain freezes” or, more vulgarly, “brain f—s” (imagine explosive bodily sound here).

I call them Jeopardy Chokes.

There was one episode of “Jeopardy!” when the final correct response was, “Who is Sidney Poitier?” I knew it, could see his face and even have named you some of his top movies. But I could not think of the man’s name. On another occasion, the proper response was, “Who is Stevie Nicks?” Again, I could have told you she was in Fleetwood Mac, even sung the first lines of some of her solo hits, but could not say her name if my life depended on it.

Here’s what I think happens.

Your brain can hold only so much stuff. When you reach a certain age, it’s full, and for every new thing you learn you have to get rid of something that’s already there. It’s that simple. Go ahead and tell me your birthday, but I’ll probably forget your name in the process.

You’d think this would be self-regulating, with a boost from the aforementioned déjà vu. You hear candidate Flopsy say something stupid, and it crowds out the fact that you heard the same stupid thing from candidates Mopsy and Cottontail. But that’s not the way it works. You hear Gov. Beavis make the same empty promise made by Gov. Butthead two administrations ago, and it makes you forget the four-digit ATM PIN you’ve been using for 20 years.

Thank goodness for Google. Because I know how to look stuff up, I don’t actually have to remember anything new and risk losing some of the mental flotsam and jetsam already circling around in there.

How lucky the younger generations are. They came of age at a time when they could find anything online and have been able to go through their whole lives without actually knowing a single thing.

There’s probably a vu for that, but I really don’t have room for it.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at


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