The Mandela Effect

By Beth Hyduke

"The Mandela Effect" is the name given to apparent anomalies in which people's memories of some particular historical fact, person(s), event, or occurrence corroborate with each other but diverge from reality. In an attempt to explain this phenomena, writer and "paranormal consultant" Fiona Broome coined the term which refers to a false memory of a group of people who insist that they vividly remember Nelson Mandela dying in a prison cell in the 1980's. (Mandela actually died in 2013 at his home in Johannesburg.) Broome theorizes that such anomalies are evidence that alternate, parallel universes exist in a state of continuous flux, frequently causing our timeline and reality to converge with alternate timelines and realities. The Mandela Effect hypothesizes that whenever a significant number of people all share a similar false memory it indicates that the event is "related to alternate history and parallel realities."

One anomaly Broome lists on her website is that many people recall a series of children's books called "The Berenstein Bears," and are disturbed to learn that the Bear Family is not "The Berensteins" as they seem to remember, but instead "The Berenstains." Because so many people remember the Berenstein Bears but few remember the alternative spelling of their names as Berenstain, Broome's theory hypothesizes that the discrepancy is proof of an alternate reality in which the Berenstain Bears have replaced the former Berenstein Bears that most of us knew and loved.

Before we even get to moral ramifications of multiple, parallel universes (covered here in GQ's article "What Is the Multiverse Theory?"), common sense should raise some red flags with Broome's theories on alternate memories being apparent indicators of alternate realities. There are, in fact, many reasonable explanations for the phenomena of groups of people mistakenly remembering something a certain way only to later learn that the reality is different from what they remembered. Exposed to interfering or conflicting information, memories can change or become distorted over time. Understanding this, police and prosecutors go to great lengths to keep the integrity of a witness' testimony intact and free from corruption and influence by outside reports, information, and speculation.

One of the inherent flaws of the Mandela Effect is that information passed on by other human beings, whether it's seen or read or told to us, is not always true, factual, or credible. In fact, it frequently isn't. A few weeks ago, I was watching the 5 o'clock news on our local news station which was following a breaking story about a police officer who had been injured in the line of duty. Eager to disseminate the details, the local station first reported that though he had been shot at while questioning a suspect, the officer was alive and being treated for minor injuries at the hospital. During the 6 o'clock news, the story had changed to report that the officer had, in fact, been shot multiple times while serving a warrant and was in critical condition. Later that evening, when the chief of police gave his press briefing at 8 pm, the accurate details finally and tragically emerged. The police officer had been shot twice as he was in pursuit of a suspect, and he had succumbed to his injuries and died at the scene.

If someone had tuned in at 5 o'clock and only caught the first round of reporting on this story, they would have come away assuming a very different (and happier) outcome than the person who followed the story through its third revision. Both of these viewers would have a very different memory of the same event in reality, not because the reality was tampered with but because the handling and coverage of it contained conflicting inaccuracies. In this instance, there were multiple versions of a story that purported all along to be factual and credible, but there was only one account that actually was factual and credible. Five o'clock viewers, basing their information on the only report they saw, would collectively and legitimately recall that the officer survived his injuries while 8 o'clock viewers would collectively and legitimately recall that he had died from them. But conflicting memories of this single event from a significant number of viewers do not indicate the existence of alternate histories and parallel realities as Broome has suggested. What it indicates is bad reporting.

Sometimes we're given information that is incorrect or inaccurate. At the time, we might assume that it is true. If it turns out later that what we thought we knew was true isn't true at all, and if enough people have received the same misinformation, it is possible that multiple people would be quite flabbergasted upon learning that a memory — even a long-held memory, even a cherished childhood memory — could be entirely fictitious.

In the case of the Berenstein — I mean Berenstain Bears — a plausible explanation is as simple as common word association and spelling conventions. Berenstain is an unusual and awkward name, whereas a child's mind would immediately gravitate towards Berenstein, associating it with other common and familiar "stein" names like Einstein, Ben Stein, and Frankenstein. Additionally, in my experience, teachers, librarians, and parents around the world tend to universally pronounce the name incorrectly, and that mispronunciation by trusted authority figures reinforces the mistaken belief that the Bears are eins not ains. Furthermore, as adults, we tend to autocorrect words we interpret as misspelled. Cognitive neuroscientists studying how we interpret written words have found that it doesn't matter what order letters take within a given word as long as the first and last letter of the word remain intact and in the respective places. So, in our minds, as we read a bedtime story, Berenstain gets autocorrected to the preferable, and more familiar, Berenstein before we even notice the spelling discrepancy, and so until someone points it out, the error is perpetuated. Consequently, it is a perfectly reasonable assumption to suggest that the Bears have been The Berenstains since 1962 when Stan and Jan Berenstain created them, and that our umbrage is simply a product of the firing and misfiring of our finite brains, our incomplete know ledge, and memories which are faulty and prone to inaccuracy. In the end analysis, the Mandela Effect is proof not that other realities exist but that in our reality, we would often prefer to believe that the entire universe must be wrong rather than admit that we ourselves are massively capable of, and prone to, error.

Image Credit: James Morrison; "Cameo Mirrors"; Creative Commons

TagsControversial-Issues  |  False-Teaching  |  Science-Creation

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Published 9-19-16