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The Mandela effect is the pseudoscientific belief that some differences between one's memories and the real world are caused by changes to past events in the timeline. Many Mandela effect believers believe it is caused by accidental travel between alternate universes.
It was named after Nelson Mandela, whom some people erroneously believed to have died in prison in the 1980s. Another common false memory is thinking the title of the children's book series The Berenstain Bears is spelled as The Berenstein Bears.
The Mandela effect has not been explored by mainstream, peer-reviewed publications, and the claim that some false memories are caused by parallel dimensions going berserk is, shall we say, difficult to falsify.
The Mandela effect hypothesis relies on many untestable or difficult-to-test assumptions. On the other hand, the phenomenon of human memory being unreliable is well-documented and researched.
Application of Occam's razor suggests the latter is the much more likely explanation. The idea of the Mandela effect is mostly pushed by people who like to think the whole world revolves around themselves, so obviously if they remember anything differently from others then the world must be wrong, not their memory.
One strange example of this phenomenon relates to a children's movie called Shazaam, supposedly made in the early 1990s and starring the stand-up comedian Sinbad as an incompetent genie. In fact, no such movie was ever made (or at least there is no verifiable evidence that it was), but many people claim to have vivid memories of watching it repeatedly during the 90s, especially Reddit users on the Mandela Effect subreddit.
Some of these accounts may be explainable as a confused memory of Kazaam, a 1996 movie with a similar premise, starring basketball player Shaquille O'Neal as a genie. Meanwhile, some Shazaam believers favour a Mandela effect explanation with alternate timelines in parallel universes, or even a simulated reality hypothesis in which the world we experience is a complex simulation created by an advanced civilization. It is unclear why a cheesy 90s family movie should be a departure point between conflicting realities or programmed memories in either of these scenarios.
Other Shazaam truthers suggest a conspiracy theory in which the film has been intentionally memory holed by its creators due to embarrassment or legal reasons. This is remarkably implausible, given the number of people and organisations involved in making and distributing a movie who would need to be sworn to secrecy, and the various private and public records which would need to be altered or destroyed to effectively erase all trace of it. It would also be a spectacularly Orwellian feat to convince the public that a commercial film (which was previously widely available) had never actually existed, and again: why go to some bizarre lengths for a lousy movie about a genie granting wishes (only to leave a similar lousy movie with the same premise in its place)?
- The Berenst(E)ain Bears Conspiracy Theory That Has Convinced the Internet There Are Parallel Universes by Mack Lamoureux (August 10, 2015) Vice.
- Berenstein or Berenstain Bears? by Fiona Broome (25 June 14) Mandela Effect: Alternate Memories / Alternate Realities.
- "Good, you identified the suspect": Feedback to eyewitnesses distorts their reports of the witnessing experience. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 83(3), Jun 1998, 360-376.
- New Statesman, "The movie that doesn’t exist and the Redditors who think it does", 21 December 2016.
- Mandela Effect on Reddit