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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, although some others propose that history has been deliberately altered after the fact by malicious extradimensional beings within the same timeline.
It was named after Nelson Mandela, whom some people erroneously believed to have died in prison in the 1980s. (Instead see Steve Biko, who did die in prison and even had a movie made about him starring Denzel Washington.) Another common false memory is thinking the title of the children's book series The Berenstain Bears is spelled as The Berenstein Bears.
Other apparent portals into our strange unreality may include:
- common, widely documented spelling errors for everyday words, which the Mandela effect victim is convinced were always right (they even checked the dictionary!) until suddenly one day they were transported to the new parallel universe in which those spellings were suddenly wrong;
- geographic entities such as cities or countries shifting location or size or simply emerging out of thin air; the locations of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, 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;
- 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 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.
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.
Invariably, the possessor of any given bit of cognitive dissonance is 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 them to realize that. Also expect arguments about the etymological necessity of -stein in German, but don't expect to see anyone who is actually aware that among Eastern European Jews from Slavic countries, like the Berenstain family, -stein quite routinely turns into either -stain or -shtain.
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 the overlords of The Matrix, 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
On the other hand, the phenomenon of human memory being unreliable is well-documented and researched. Cognitive science professor Elizabeth Loftus has been able to plant false memories with ease, and research has shown eyewitness reports to be unreliable. Application of Occam's razor suggests this is the much more likely explanation.
Some others 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.
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.
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. Many insist that they're not confusing Shazaam with Kazaam, swearing instead that they clearly remember Kazaam, watched both and had clear opinions about which one was a ripoff of the other.
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 Effects, including a Berenstein Bears book and a newspaper headline about Mandela's death.
- 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