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The Mandela effect is, depending on who you ask, either a weird phenomenon where large groups of people misremember the exact same given thing in the exact same way, or 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 proponents of the latter (the version this article focuses on; head over to TvTropes for the other version) believe that the Mandela effect is caused by unspecified persons accidental traveling between alternate universes, although some others propose that history has been deliberately altered after the fact - by malicious extradimensional beings within the same timeline, or by experiments at CERN.
The Mandela effect commemorates mis-memories of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), whom some people erroneously believed to have died in prison in the 1980s. (Compare Steve Biko (1946-1977), who did die in prison and even had a 1987 movie, Cry Freedom, made about him starring Denzel Washington. Keep in mind that anybody in the 1980s who was learning anything about apartheid always learned about both Mandela and Biko directly alongside each other. And also know that Cry Freedom was not an obscure or little-seen film, either, and instead scored Denzel Washington his first Academy Award nomination.) Another common false memory is thinking that the title of the children's book series The Berenstain Bears is spelled as The Berenstein Bears.
Mainstream, peer-reviewed publications have not explored the Mandela effect, and the claim that some false memories are caused by parallel dimensions going berserk is, shall we say, difficult to falsify.
To be fair, every single person on earth has, at times, had moments when they learned that they were not remembering something accurately, or had been misinformed, or made a simple mistake. Humans make mistakes (it's even written right into the job description), so the experience of misremembering something is not inherently pseudoscientific in and of itself. However, the ways in which people choose to explain their brain farts may be either rational (by chalking them up to the fallibility of human memory) or irrational (by reaching for explanations out of science-fiction). If your reaction to learning that you made a simple, unimportant mistake is to build up a complex conspiracy theory in which you were right all along and reality is lying to you, well, you're rationalizing at best.
Other supposed "changes"
Other apparent portals into our strange unreality may include:
- common, widely documented spelling errors for everyday words or celebrity names, which the Mandela effect victim is convinced were always right (they even checked the dictionary, they swear) until suddenly one day they were transported to the new parallel universe in which those spellings were suddenly wrong; even the long-documented phenomenon of people misspelling Barbra Streisand's first name as Barbara, which was so common that she actually once released an album titled My Name Is Barbra, has been implicated in this.
- geographic entities such as cities or countries shifting location or size or simply emerging out of thin air; the location and shape of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, South America and Gibraltar, the size of Cuba, and the basic existence of Mongolia and Svalbard seem to be particularly common topics of debate;
- alternate logos and corporate brands; especially instructive is the Froot Loops cereal brand, which has transformed from a straight Mandela effect debate about whether the brand was "Froot Loops" or "Fruit Loops", and into a metadebate about whether the debate itself has flipped back and forth between alternate universes: some people insist that even though we're currently in the "Froot Loops is right and Fruit Loops is wrong" universe, they distinctly remember the debate being exactly the opposite, thereby proving that we were in the Fruit Loops universe, just a few weeks ago;
- the timing of events which people are convinced happened days or years before they really did; even "9/11 was 9/10 in my universe" is actually a thing; Also known as the Dort(h)e effect in some circles.
- Bible verses, especially ones in the KJV, leading to a stopped clock moment within some fundamentalist Christian circles, with Chick Publications arguing that the Mandela effect is caused simply by misremembering;
- song lyrics that often hinge on whether the filler article in one line was really "a" or "the" in the other universe compared to this one;
- the configuration of the human body, such as:
- human skeletal structure,
- the position and shape of parts of the brain
- the presence of bone behind the eye
- the position, size, and number of organs such as the liver and the kidneys;
- the position of the heart, with most remembering it being on the far left side of the chest, and not more-or-less under the sternum with a small portion tilted to the left
- the number of bones in the body, or whether teeth count as bones.
- the number of ribs a person has, whether or not this number varies by gender, or if the Bible makes reference to such a supposed discrepancy
- the size of the Earth, with some claiming that the Earth has shrunken and time therefore seems to flow faster;
- the position of the Earth in the Milky Way, with some claiming that the Earth has moved from the Sagittarius Arm to the Orion Arm;
- the number of states in the United States;
- the prior deaths of celebrities or public figures who are either still alive or have only just recently died in reality; this can actually be attributed to a variety of causes, such as death hoax posts from the fake news industry that circulate on social media, the initial announcement that the person was ill, or the actual death of a different celebrity with a similar name (David Alan Grier vs. David Ogden Stiers) or career (Doris Roberts vs. Estelle Harris).
- the definitions of words; some people, in particular, are quite convinced that the colours "chartreuse" and "puce" have exchanged names with each other between their place in the multiverse and this one. This is quite separate from the fact that people who don't believe in a giant Russian nesting doll of alternate realities have also been known to confuse these two unusual and semi-rhyming names for not widely-used colours; when it happens to these people, it's suddenly greater proof of a collapsing Mandelian multiverse than when it happens to anybody else who's not so invested in their own infallibility.
Although it's not entirely clear whether the person was serious or trolling, at least one Reddit poster has claimed that even the Mandela effect itself has been subject to the Mandela effect: according to this person's claims, in their "real" timeline Mandela really did die in prison, and the term "Mandela effect" existed to describe a small minority of people who somehow wrongly remembered him being released from prison and becoming president of South Africa and dying in 2013. How meta can you get?
One strange example of this phenomenon relates to a children's movie called Shazaam,[note 1] 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 1990s, 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. Some Shazaam believers, however, 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. Many insist that they're not confusing Shazaam with Kazaam, swearing instead that they clearly remember Kazaam, watched both films and have clear opinions about which one was a ripoff of the other. (Significantly, however, not everybody agrees on which film was released first.) Another famously confusing factor: Sinbad the comedian hosted a marathon of Sinbad the Sailor movies in 1994, dressed as Sinbad the Sailor, thereby possibly explaining at least some of the confused memories.
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 Shazaam theory has in fact been so persistent that in 2017 Sinbad participated in the making of an April Fool's video for CollegeHumor.com, formatted as a surviving clip from the missing film; the video also contains numerous Easter eggs alluding to other common Mandela effect beliefs, including a Berenstein Bears book and a newspaper headline about Mandela's death. Sadly, some Mandela hunters missed the fact that it was a joke, and have actually held the clip up as vindication of their memories.
Another common tenet of belief in the Mandela effect community is that some changes can "flip-flop". Sometime after the initial discovery of a discrepancy between a person's memory and the documented reality, the change will "flip" back so that the person now lives in a reality in which their original memory was correct all along, and then sometime after that it will "flop" back to our altered reality a second time. For example, people can start with a "Fruit Loops" to "Froot Loops" ME, but then distinctly recall it turning back into Fruit Loops again for a while, before flopping back to Froot Loops again.
Flip-flops are never actually documented during the flip so that anybody else can verify that reality has actually changed, but show up only after it has flopped back to the way it always was. Nobody ever posts a thread that actually documents the Froot Loops to Fruit Loops slide; people only post about this after they're back in the Froot Loops universe again. Typically, their only proof is their "memory" that a "Fruit Loops-->Froot Loops" discussion used to be a "Froot Loops-->Fruit Loops" discussion at some indeterminate point in the recent past, or what they report having seen in the grocery store on two separate trips. On that latter point, keep in mind that grocery stores also carry numerous imitation Froot Loop cereals, with brand names such as Fruity-O's, Fruit Rounds or Fruity Whirls.
Occam's razor, as always, suggests that these people are not correctly diagnosing the cause of their confusion.
The Lindbergh Baby
Another recurring staple in the Mandela effect community is the belief that reality has shifted on the question of whether Charles Lindbergh's missing son, Charles Jr., was ever found: inevitably, the person raising this issue used to live in a reality in which the baby was never found, and is astonished to discover that they now live in an altered reality in which the baby was found.
Needless to say, a shift between parallel universes is not what's actually happening here either.
The story of the Lindbergh baby has always been shrouded in conspiracy theorizing and conflicting interpretations of the events. It's beyond the scope of this particular article to delve too deeply into every minute detail of the Lindbergh kidnapping, but one key fact is important to understand: a dead baby was found by the police during their investigation of the case, and the police named it as the Lindbergh baby and closed the search. This fact is not actually disputed by either side of the argument. The two sides, instead, have conflicting interpretations of an entirely different question: was it really the Lindbergh baby, or did the police, scared by Lindbergh's political power, find some other dead baby and call it the Lindbergh baby to get the case closed quickly, while the real Lindbergh baby was still missing and possibly not even dead?
You don't need mysterious supernatural or science fiction forces to explain the difference between your memory and the historical record. A dead baby was found, but there have always been two different, coexisting interpretations of that fact: an official story in which it was the Lindbergh baby, and a conspiracy theory in which the New Jersey State Police falsified evidence in order to cover up their failure to find the real Lindbergh baby. You didn't slide between two parallel universes, and aliens haven't edited historical events to change them after the fact: you just knew more about the conspiracy theory than you did about the original facts that the conspiracy theory was responding to.
The question of whether Richard Hauptmann, who was convicted of murdering the Lindbergh baby and executed, was actually guilty or not is a whole other conspiracy rabbit hole of its own, but is not directly relevant to the question of whether Nelson Mandela had anything to do with any of this.
Invariably, the possessor of any given bit of cognitive dissonance considers themselves to be a uniquely qualified expert in the very field their confusion relates to. (See also: Dunning-Kruger effect.) If it's the spelling of a word, then they were naturally a childhood spelling bee champion whose memory of how to spell words is infallible; if it's a geography problem, they're invariably a certified map geek with a special personal fascination with (but never actual citizenship or residency of) the very country that's suddenly moved several thousand miles from where it used to be. If chartreuse is supposed to be maroon and puce is supposed to be green, then naturally they either are or have a parent who is a talented artist who knows their colour theory inside out (or at the very least they once owned a box of Crayola crayons, as if everybody else didn't as well.) If it hinges on something readily verifiable, like the title of a book, then they absolutely have a copy somewhere to prove it (but haven't attempted to actually locate it to provide said proof; their memory of what they say they have is itself the evidence).
Miscontextualizations of things that really did happen, but just not for the reasons or to the people the universe-slider thinks, are common. Mandela's death, for example, was commemorated by a giant public concert, entirely indistinguishable from the 1988 concert that really did happen to celebrate his birthday. And the new democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994 was still named Mandela, but it was Winnie instead of Nelson. (Of course, in any reality in which Nelson Mandela died in prison and Steve Biko didn't, the post-apartheid presidency would most likely have gone to Biko. But, of course, that would require the slider to know about Biko in the first place, and if they knew about Biko there wouldn't be a Mandela effect anymore.) And no, Jane Goodall wasn't murdered by poachers in 1985, either: that was Dian Fossey.
Total ignorance of linguistics is also common: both the Berenstein/Berenstain argument, and a similar argument about whether the lunch meat brand was Oscar Mayer or Oscar Meyer before Nelson Mandela scrambled the pillars of reality, hinge in part on the way the names are pronounced, with no hint of awareness that the pronunciations aren't actually in any conflict with, and thus don't inherently disprove, the properly documented spellings. Yes, both Mayer and Berenstain can actually be pronounced that way, but don't expect the Mandela-hunter to realize that. Also expect arguments about the etymological necessity of -stein in German, but don't expect them to listen when you explain that among Eastern European Jews from Slavic countries, like the Berenstain family, -stein quite commonly turns into either -stain or -shtain because the -stein family in question had to start spelling their names in Cyrillic.
What truly distinguishes a Mandela effect from a run of the mill error is that the discovery of this particular error was so profoundly disrupting to the person's basic sense of life, liberty and the pursuit of tentacle porn on the internet that it triggered a panic attack. Apart from the trope namer himself, however, a Mandela effect is very rarely experienced over any divergence significant enough to actually alter the course of human history if it were true: parallel universes exist over the spelling of Berenstain and the puceness of chartreuse and whether the Staples logo actually has that little folded staple on the L or not, but parallel universes never exist in which Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or Mitt Romney was the real President of the United States when the slider went to bed last night, or in which 9/11 never actually happened at all. In fact, at least among those who believe that Mandela effects result from active manipulation by our alien overlords, it's an article of faith that the puppetmasters only change trivial things most people wouldn't notice, so that their manipulations remain undetected. Conveniently, this logic also means that each person who successfully catches a Pokemandela is the freedom-fighting Neo of their own personal Matrix sequel. Unexplained, however, is why the Matrix Manipulators would go to all the trouble of editing all prior history, eliminating any evidence that the Mandela effect ever used to be the truth, over details as inconsequential and unimportant as whether Curious George had a tail or not, or whether Fred and Wilma's last name was Flintstone or Flinstone.
A core rule in some parts of the Mandela Effect community is that you're not allowed to correct someone, even if their "Mandela effect" is a straightforward, easily explained error: you must support their conviction that alternate universes have collided and they've been stranded in the wrong reality. As well, if the person is explaining their ME in terms of an individual slide between parallel universes rather than malicious manipulation of a shared reality, then their ME is virtually impossible to correct at all: anybody who remembers things being the way they actually are simply wasn't affected by the slide, and thus nothing they can say proves that the slider's memory of an alternate universe is wrong. That is, if you remember Berenstain, then that just means you were always from the Berenstain universe to begin with, and isn't proof that the other person didn't get transported from a Berenstein universe. And besides, if you remember things the way they really are instead of the ME way, you might just be one of the sheeple who just accept what you're programmed to believe instead of digging for the truth.
Unexpectedly, however, the Reddit sub does permit some debunking, but it will unfortunately still challenge your will to live in other ways: novice Mandela hunters routinely report every locatable example of any discrepancy between memory and reality at all, including simple typos and misattributions of songs to the wrong band on YouTube, and the "no debunking" proponents will still sometimes push back against rational explanations, demand that skeptics stop polluting their sandbox with pesky facts, and/or try to recruit people to another parallel sub where your memory is always right and debunking is forbidden.
No evidence besides their own memories is required, although you can bet that if somebody can find any evidence of anyone else sharing the same mistaken belief they'll provide it as evidence of their collapsing multiverse. For added bonus, remember that we live in an age when it's unbelievably easy to Photoshop corroborating proof, though that's still not required: the only evidence you truly need to show is your own personal memory of how the word that shattered your world used to be spelled.
It is also extremely common for proponents of the ME to be bitterly offended that Wikipedia (which, for all its faults, does at least try to be rational) simply redirects "Mandela effect" to its article on false memory rather than maintaining an unsourceable and non-neutral article espousing their science fiction theories. Needless to say, the fact that objectivity means "allegiance to the facts", not "allegiance to the middle position between any two possible opinions", is lost on these people.
The Mandela effect hypothesis relies on many untestable or difficult-to-test assumptions. One particularly common, although not universal, theory is that the activity of the Large Hadron Collider opened the temporal rifts that caused people to start sliding between the Berenstein and Berenstain universes, while another is that the butterfly effect can account for the spelling difference between universes.
One subset of the fandom hews to the belief that the Hadron Collider had the effect of permanently transposing September 22 and 23: historical events which are remembered as having happened on September 22, before the collider was turned on, are now recorded by history as having happened on September 23, and vice versa. How this could possibly happen, however, goes unexplained.
One of the most common arguments against rational explanations in the ME community is that it's implausible that two or more people could ever independently make the same error. This is in fact not implausible at all, as most people's brains work in more or less the same way and are vulnerable to the same kinds of errors. For instance, if a person's name is spelled in a counterintuitive or unusual way, then a significant number of people are likely to "remember" the name the expected way instead of the real way.
The flawed nature of human memory is well-documented in research. Cognitive science professor Elizabeth Loftus has been able to plant false memories with ease, and research has shown that eyewitness reports can be manipulated. Application of Occam's razor suggests that the fallibility of memory is the much more likely explanation.
Some Mandela effect claims are quite easily explained as cultural memory, propagated by the same memetic processes of repetition and peer reinforcement that underlie virtually any documentably common misquote or spelling error. For example, pop culture sometimes memes movie quotes in a slightly altered form to clarify their context; in The Empire Strikes Back, for example, Darth Vader says "No, I am your father" to Luke Skywalker, but pop culture memed the line in the form "Luke, I am your father" so that it would be clearer that the line was an allusion to the movie rather than a real-life invitation to go on Maury Povich for a paternity test. But now, some people expect the real movie line to be "Luke", and are convinced that Nelson Mandela magically edited the original movie sometime when the rest of us weren't looking.
On a similar note, many misquotes also depend on what source the person is looking at. The original Snow White novel does say "Mirror, Mirror", even though the Disney movie changed it to "Magic Mirror." The real-life astronauts aboard Apollo 13 said "Houston, we've had a problem," but the biopic changes it to "Houston, we have a problem," leading many to believe the quote "flip-flops" when in reality, it's two different quotes.
Many brand name Mandelas are the result of rebranding. Cup Noodles were indeed sold as "Cup O' Noodles" in the US until 1993, and people born after that may have picked the term up from older family members. Unlike most products, food packaging is designed to be thrown out, so few people will get their hands on an American instant ramen cup that says "Cup O' Noodles," and the change was so inconsequential that many might not notice or care. Similarly, Wal-Mart is now Walmart, but some stores in rural areas haven't updated their signage, and the removal of the hyphen was hardly a major change for shoppers (especially in the middle of the 2008 Great Recession).
Medical Mandelas are often the result of poor medical communication combined with common misconceptions. One's pulse might feel strongest immediately above the left breast area, but that's because the aorta passes through there. Kidneys supposedly being in the lower abdomen may stem from a misconception about kidney transplant surgery – the recipient usually receives the new organ in the stomach, since it is easier to work with an abdominal incision. The original kidneys are generally left in place in the lower ribcage – they are only replaced if absolutely necessary. Some people do have kidneys in their lower abdomen, but never their original kidneys. Skulls are usually depicted with black holes for eye sockets, so the presence of bone behind the eyes might not immediately be obvious. And most people have 12 pairs of ribs, regardless of gender – and the Bible doesn't mention it. Even if we were to go with the literal story of Adam losing his rib, he wouldn't have lost the gene for it. Lamarck was wrong, and so was your Sunday School teacher. (Less than 1% of the population does have extra ribs, but such a trait isn't sex-linked)
World map MEs, meanwhile, can often be attributed to the Risk game board, or to very crude and inaccurate representations of the world map in cartoons such as The Simpsons or Family Guy.
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. It's apparently easier to believe that multiple parallel realities have imploded into each other than to simply admit they made a trivial and entirely unimportant mistake. Occam's razor again applies, of course.
To be fair some of the memories are real... but just not in the way people think. For example, in the promotional material Forrest Gump does indeed say "Life is like a box of chocolates" despite the line being "Life was like a box of chocolates" in the actual movie. Similarly, typographical errors are not uncommon; news articles can be found where the journalist wrote "Captain Crunch" rather than Cap'n Crunch, or "Fruit Loops" rather than Froot Loops, that weren't caught by the editor prior to print. In fact, at least one USPTO legal proceeding record lists Stanley Berenstein and Jan Berenstein rather than Stanley and Jan Berenstain as the potential plaintiffs, due to a legal aide's mistake (the original filing included in the record has the correct spellings of the surname). Unauthorized knockoff Berenstain Bears merchandise has also been produced with the Berenstein spelling; one Reddit poster even uncovered a Berenstain Bears videotape that had both spellings on it simultaneously, saying "Berenstein" on the spine and "Berenstain" on the front.
Some alleged Mandela effect changes involve the Bible or other religious beliefs or texts. For example, Isaiah 11:6 is sometimes remembered as stating "the lion shall lay down with the lamb" (it, in fact, states "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb".) Others are claimed to fulfill certain prophecies, such as the supposed "speeding up" of time being linked to Matthew 24:22, which states that "for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" during the end times. (Note that the speeding up of time, in this example, was "proven" by the poster using a stopwatch to time how long it took them to personally count to ten in "one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi" format...a method which, shall we say, lacks a certain scientific precision, and can be very easily manipulated to produce the desired result just by talking faster or slower.)
Mainstream religious groups, including fundamentalists, that have addressed this issue have rightly dismissed the Mandela effect as untrue. The Mandela effect sounds too similar to the new age gobblygook that competes with mainstream religion. Also, if all copies of the Bible, and all manuscripts and writings related to it, had really been tampered with supernaturally or by CERN, it would undermine millennia of established theology and topple basically all branches of Christianity. Got Questions engaged in a fairly reasonable takedown of the theory, citing the aforementioned study by Elizabeth Loftus to argue that flawed human memory is to blame. Even Chick Publications, known for possessing certain unusual views such as the KJV-only ideology, joined in on the fun, providing reasonable explanations like weaknesses in human memory, pop-culture reinforcement, and a lack of understanding on the subject. We're not making this up.
A few pastors, however, have expressed that the Mandela effect is evidence that something is not right or that the end times are near. One pastor advised that people should trust their memories and their pastor even if said memories contradict our (supposedly changed) reality. One wonders whether this could lead to the creation of a cult in which the Bible says whatever the pastor says it does since "that was how it read in the last reality!"
- Mandela Effect: Fiona Broome's original site
- Reality Shifting - Mandela Effect Examples
- Mandela Effect: Alternate Memories / MMDE
- The Mandela Effect on Snopes
- See the Wikipedia article on Wordplay (The Twilight Zone)., Twilight Zone episode based on a similar concept
- Not to be confused with the 2019 film Shazam!
- 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.
- Daniels, David (September 22, 2017). "The Mandela conCERN".
- New Statesman, "The movie that doesn’t exist and the Redditors who think it does", 21 December 2016.
- Mandela effect on Reddit
- "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.
- Forrest Gump does say "life IS like a box of chocolates"
- Forrest Gump - "Life is like a box of chocolate"
- "Tempted by Surgery Cereal, McCook Daily Gazette - Jul 6, 1999]
- Herald-Journal - Mar 8, 1995 "Cereal" (continued from page 1) Herald-Journal - Mar 8, 1995]
- Trademark Trial Appeal Board Proceeding No. 76245191, Extension of Time to Oppose, USPTO TTABVUE. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
- "What is the Mandela Effect?". Got Questions Ministries.