TIMES All Possible Worlds: The Mandela Effect

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             art by Garrett Falke

In “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker has to face the gut wrenching realization of his lineage when Darth Vader utters the infamous words, “Luke, I am your father.” Or at least that’s what the majority of the global population remembers. To the shock of fans everywhere, Vader actually says “No, I am your father.”

If that was enough to shock you, you should sit down for this: if you are one of the many who adamantly remember hearing “Luke, I am your father,” you may be from an alternate dimension. At least, according to thousands of Reddit and message board users online.

In psychology, this phenomenon is referred to as false memory syndrome, which is the recollection of a memory that never actually happened. It was initially studied by Sigmund Freud in cases of childhood abuse. This misremembering can be a collective memory shared by many people, as is the case with the Mandela Effect.

Blogger Fiona Broome coined the term Mandela Effect in reference to the supposed death of former South African President Nelson Mandela. Some people believe that he died in prison in the ‘80s, and they cite vivid memories of a televised funeral as proof, when he actually died not long ago in 2013.

Since Broome put a name to the theory, it has sent the internet into a frenzy, and more and more false memories have been unearthed. YouTuber Shane Dawson brought more attention to the theory, creating five videos on the subject and each garnered over 3 million views. One of the first and most famous Mandela Effects was the Berenstein Bears, the characters in the children’s books about a cartoon bear family. Turns out they are actually the Berenstain Bears.

Avid believers swear they remember books and VHS tapes that said Berenstein on the cover. Evidence even surfaced on Reddit of an old VHS tape that said Berenstein on one side and Berenstain on the other, only increasing traction of the theory.

Countless household items are actually spelled entirely different than people remember. Oscar Meyer is Oscar Mayer in reality, and Sex in the City has been Sex and the City all along. Or what about brands like Kit-Kat, Fruit Loops, and Febreeze? You may want to check those labels again. They’re actually spelled KitKat, Froot Loops, and Febreze.

Other pop culture Mandela Effects include classic movie lines and song lyrics. If you’ve seen Silence of the Lambs, you may remember Hannibal Lecter’s classic line, “Hello, Clarice,” a line the famous cannibal never actually said. The Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also never said, “Mirror mirror on the wall,” but really said, “Magic mirror on the wall.” Forrest Gump didn’t say “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but “Life was like a box of chocolates.”

Some have said even the geography of the world is different from what they remember. The North Pole was never an ice cap, and there is no actual land there, just ocean. Australia has moved too far north, and South America seems to be much further east. Alaska is too close to Russia, Greenland is too close to Canada, and Sri Lanka used to be directly south of India, rather than southeast.

The misinterpretation of memories or the fact that they didn’t occur at all is driving people crazy, prompting them to seek out some sort of explanation. Some people have turned to theories of alternate realities, dimensions, and time travel, while others rely on psychological conjecture.

According to Broome and many others, this memory is evidence of events from an alternate reality slipping into this one. Some say those who share these false memories are from alternate realities themselves and somehow managed to slip into this reality.

Linda Fitak, author of The Mandela Effect: Confabulation or Fact? experienced her first Mandela Effect about 10 years ago when she noticed a sign at Cal State Northridge that she remembered as “Botanical Garden” actually read “Botanic Garden.”

“We figured it was probably that way all the time, and I remarked that at least, at UCLA, where I studied, they knew it should be ‘Botanical Garden,’” she says. “But when I went back to UCLA, it said ‘Botanic Garden,’”

After she discovered more and more instances of the Mandela Effect in her own life, she began to research the theory, studying books on quantum physics and the multiverse theory, and eventually wrote her book, published in 2016.

“My own theory is that there are multiple universes, and that over the past 10 years or so, something has been happening globally to move the earth’s propulsion into different universes,” Fitak says. “We all move from one universe to another all the time, but most of the time, we are unaware of it, because the universe we move into is almost completely identical to the one we are in now.”

The multiverse theory, or many-worlds interpretation, uses quantum physics to explain the possibility that there is more than one universe out there. Developed by Erwin Schrodinger in the ‘50s, this interpretation asserts that all possible events, histories, and futures are real, and each exists within its own universe.

Based on this theory, the memories were never misinterpreted or remembered incorrectly, but the event itself really did change. For example, those who remember Berenstain Bears as Berenstein are simply from one of the infinite parallel universes out there in which they really were known as the Berenstein Bears. While the multiverse theory is the most popular explanation of the phenomenon, others see it as an occurrence that can be easily explained psychologically.

“I believe in the effect of the Mandela Effect, as it’s clearly a social phenomenon and I experience it myself,” says Reddit user drath. “However, I have not seen any credible evidence to support that parallel universes or alternate dimensions are at play.”

Drath has one of the top five highest rated posts in the r/MandelaEffect subreddit titled “Am I in the minority of people that believe this is a psychological effect rather than a supernatural/pseudo-scientific one?” Clearly he isn’t, considering the post has over 600 upvotes and has held its second place spot for a year.

The popularity of the post led him to create Debunkingmandelaeffects.com, a website dedicated to “dissect[ing]the possible causes and solutions for this perplexing phenomenon with a scientific, rational approach.”

The website lists the misinformation effect, confirmation bias, misattribution of memory, and cryptomnesia as explanations for the Mandela Effect, along with the more widely spread explanations of confabulation and false memory.

Confabulation is the disturbance of memory, when an occurrence creates a fabricated or distorted memory in someone’s mind. If you have ever told a story multiple times and the plotline seems to become more grand every time you tell it, you may have been subject to confabulation. It’s never intentional but happens to people all the time.

“Through my research on individual topics, I can usually find several factors that may or in some cases do definitively influence these effects and memories without involving parallel universes or alternate dimensions,” drath says.

In fact, some Mandela Effects have been solved, and not by verifying the existence of a parallel universe. For example, while the Disney version of Snow White does say, “magic mirror on the wall,” the Brothers Grimm fairytale says “mirror, mirror on the wall.” The shift of countries on the map can be accounted for by the use of Mercator map projections on virtual maps compared to the different styles used by printed maps.

Those who are skeptical of the theory cite confabulation and false memory as explanations all the time. They believe this collective mismemory is like a game of telephone, with information being passed from person to person until it is completely different from the original fact.

“It’s valid theory. I think this is probably the reason for the Berenstein confusion. It got confused in many people’s memory,” says Alexx Bollen, author of The Mandela Effect. “However, the fact that many people remember the same date for Mandela’s death seems to go beyond simple misremembering. That points towards remember something that was once real, but no longer is, at least in this reality.”

With every Mandela Effect that is solved, a new one surfaces from the depths of the internet. Whether these theories are evidence of an alternate dimension or just a false memory, we may never know, but the internet may go up in flames trying to figure it out, at least in this universe.