The Mandela Effect


(I’ll get back to this).

Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s.   His funeral was a big occasion which provoked the end of the apartheid policy in South Africa and was attended by Lady Di.  Winnie became the first black president of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and was instrumental in bringing apartheid to an end through negotiations in the early 1990s, then served as president from 1994-99.  Winnie was found guilty of heading a criminal gang in 1988, then acquitted of all but one charge and had further legal problems later.  Although she was first lady of South Africa, she was never president.  Pursued by the paparazzi, Lady Di died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, many years before Mandela’s death from a respiratory infection in late 2013.

I see the second of these as the truth.  I remember Nelson Mandela being released from prison in 1990 and making a seemingly endless video recording of the event at my housemate’s behest until he finally appeared, and the party some friends of mine had, which I didn’t go to for some reason I don’t remember.  I was later sorely tempted to record over the earlier part of the video because nothing much happened in it, in which case that physical memory of Nelson Mandela’s release would have been erased and replaced by something else.  From my perspective, this is what seems to have happened to a lot of people.

The first of these is not just a fictional story.  It is an account of what thousands of people remember independently as having happened to Nelson Mandela, including those details, without having any contact with each other, and is a particularly prominent example of something known as the “Mandela Effect”.

If you look “Mandela Effect” up on Wikipedia, it will redirect you to an article on confabulation.  Since I did that rather than look up confabulation itself, I got this at the top of the page:


Confabulation is interesting in itself.  It’s the most establishment way of explaining the Mandela Effect.  People are just remembering it wrongly and get their memories mixed up.  Confabulation does happen, particularly in dementia, and unfortunately nowadays the existence of false memories is all too well-known.  I have a friend with a brain injury who confabulates, although I haven’t asked him about it.  I’m sure I confabulate too, but I probably don’t know what about.  That article seems to do quite a good job at describing confabulation, so I won’t bother to go into it more here except to say that the existence of such a process is quite disturbing.

Another notorious example of the Effect is the “Berenst#in Bears Problem“.  The Berenstain Bears was apparently an animated children’s series which some people remember as being spelt with an A and others with an E.  Those who remember it spelt one way can also see it as the source of their knowledge about how to spell or pronounce similar words such as the Yiddish and German surnames ending in “-stein”.  Therefore there even seems to be a causal connection between the spelling and the people’s current knowledge.  Rather than interpret this as a trick of the memory, some have chosen to see this as evidence of a parallel universe.

Here’s something even stranger:


This is from a still of the 1993 film Dazed And Confused, where an apparently unremarkable globe of the world is being spun by two teenagers.  As it’s being spun, however, it appears to show Lemuria, a mythical continent located in the Indian Ocean, believed in independently by theosophists in the West and found in Sri Lankan origin legends.  Lemuria’s existence was evoked to explain the presence of similar primates in Indonesia and Madagascar, hence the name “Lemur-ia”, and I’ve used it in my book Here Be Dragons.  There is nothing about the film, so far as I can remember, which suggests it’s in anything but a realistic setting and therefore no apparent reason why a school globe should show a mythical continent, so why is that there?

I personally think there is a perfectly boring explanation for this.  Here’s a picture of another globe:


The yellow thing you see in the southern Pacific Ocean is not a landmass but the logo of the company which made the globe.  I think the above film still probably merely depicts the land of Rand McNally, which is disappointing if true, but nevertheless the most likely explanation to me.

The only trouble is that in fact there are a number of people who remember New Zealand Aotearoa as being to the west of Australia and consisting of a single landmass, including some New Zealanders themselves.

There are quite a lot of these memories, which if they just affected one or two people could be brushed off as an interesting and slightly disturbing fact about the fallibility of memory.  Two aspects of this make it harder to brush off in this way.  One is that these memories don’t carry any impression at all of being false.  They are both vivid and seem to be causally linked to other events in people’s lives, such as learning the pronunciation of “-stein”, or in my case discovering that there were such things as flypapers and pot hot water bottles from a non-existent Alice book, which is why I’m harping on about this.  Everyone around me also accepted the existence of three Alice books as fact, then a few years later they didn’t.  Paranoid people might feel a sense of betrayal there and I wonder if sometimes paranoia can result from this issue.  The other aspect is that the memories are not isolated.  They are shared by other people with no contact, have details which do not appear to be closely related to them, and are reported as having the same details before they’re discussed.  Those details, moreover, don’t seem to be likely to be misremembered either, at least in association with the events.  Hence whether or not these memories are real, there is something mysterious about them which doesn’t seem to be amenable to an obvious explanation.

Here’s that picture again:


The colour of the arrow and circle is chartreuse.  Not to me it isn’t though.  To me, and many other people including Sarada, the colour of the text is chartreuse:


This is an understandable confusion of course, because chartreuse is an alcoholic beverage.  This colour wheel can been used to help people describe their version of chartreuse:


To me it’s about 270 but the official definition is close to 90.  I produced the chartreuse above in the paper of the text and the globe picture by typing the word “chartreuse” into the image editor.

Some other examples of popular memories which disagree with apparent reality are (my agreement with the apparently false memory is in bold):

  • Billy Graham is dead.
  • The Challenger explosion took place before 1986
  • There are fifty-two states in the US, including Puerto Rico and some say Cuba.
  • The character Curious George has a tail.
  • The Lindbergh Baby was lost forever.
  • Events which occur on 22nd or 23rd September are often transposed, but not on any other dates which might be thought to be similar otherwise such as the vernal equinox.
  • Agatha Christie disappeared permanently in 1926 and did not appear again.
  • David Soul is dead.
  • Reba McEntire’s name is spelt like mine (which is also a slightly unusual spelling for a Scot).
  • Sri Lanka is further to the southeast.
  • Andorra has a completely different name!  This one is a gateway to a whole plethora of oddness.
  • There is an extra episode of Star Trek Voyager which can be dated and placed in the right order of the series, and which has continuity with the rest of the series, involving the temporary death of a major character.
  • Shirley Temple died a long time ago.
  • Thanksgiving is on the third Thursday in November.

In case you were wondering, people do occasionally report differences in the Alice books too, but I don’t have much information about it.  Another, minor “false” memory of mine is that the original cinematic release of Brazil does not have the “bow” scene.

Around a decade ago, I discovered that a number of aberrant memories of mine of the late 1970s were shared with at least one other person who had had no contact with me at that time and with whom I hadn’t discussed them until that point.  Spurious correlation point here:  she’s related to a McIntyre by blood!  These are mainly about minor world events.

Some of these I think are merely popular misconceptions, for instance the chartreuse issue.  Some of them are overinterpretations of easily explained things like the globe logo, although the association with people who actually live there, if it’s New Zealand, is harder to account for.  Some of them, though, are hardcore beliefs which it’s hard to see any explanation for because people often find that they share the same set of beliefs, which are apparently completely unconnected, but the sets differ between different groups of people.  If it were merely down to misconceptions or confabulation, the simplest account for this would appear to be that people might tend to have the same misconceptions, but that they wouldn’t occur together, unless there is some other feature they share.  If there is such a feature, it doesn’t seem amenable to conceivability by the conscious mind, and that’s pretty earth-shattering on its own.

The “fringe” explanations are of two kinds.  One is that information leaks between timelines in parallel universes in some way.  The other is that our reality is a giant simulation and that it’s being edited or has bugs of some kind which lead to discrepancies between people’s life histories.  Both of these have the merit of being calmative in some way, although equally the idea that the world is not real is not particularly reassuring to me.  The simulation idea is extremely old and descends from gnosticism in the early Christian era.  I dislike it because it feels fanciful and overthought.  It does have the appeal that some of the features described are more like simulation-type anomalies than parallel universe type ones.  For instance, New Zealand being a continent to the west of Australia is not something which could happen easily without it having dramatic consequences for the geological, evolutionary and human history of the planet, although New Zealand is geologically a failed continent and there is in this reality a sunken landmass of some kind under the Indian Ocean.  It wouldn’t be called New Zealand, it would have different flora and fauna, a different climate and it would mean the shapes of other continents would be different too.  If we are living in a simulation, these problems disappear, though at the expense of putting us all into Tinky Winky Land (as opposed to Po Land).

This is the point at which you might expect me to evoke something about quantum physics.  There is a problem with that though.  Although the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics is absolutely fine by me and I do think it means there are infinite time lines, I don’t think it means anything goes in them because on the whole, things seem to be determined, well, deterministically.  For instance, pangolins and armadillos are not closely related but their similar lifestyles and ecological roles means they are physically similar, as are dolphins and ichthyosaurs.  Similarly, the filament light bulb is said to have been invented separately on opposite sides of the herring pond, although people do steal inventions.  There are plenty of less dodgy examples though, such as the plot similarities between The Hermes Fall and Lucifer’s Hammerand those on the Halfbakery will be aware that sometimes ideas are just floating slightly out of reach and can occur to multiple people simultaneously.  Therefore, in order for there to be a Point Of Divergence (POD) where history takes a different turn, on the whole there would have to have been a difference in that timeline since the beginning of time, and since I don’t believe time has a beginning, I can’t really allow myself to think that.  Nevertheless, there may sometimes be quantum-influenced events which genuinely cause forks in timelines, but they would have to follow from something happening on that level.  If human consciousness or free will depends on quantum events, which I feel uncomfortable with, there would be many different timelines with alternate histories in the human sense.

The McEntire example is a possibility here.  The story of names being changed at Ellis Island is not true , but changes in name spellings are things which can happen due to glitches in the human mind, and consequently there is a parallel universe where there is someone called Reba McIntyre, although whether she’s famous or not is another matter.  Hence it’s not that far-fetched to suppose that someone crossing over from a parallel universe would know her name as Reba McIntyre rather than the odd spelling I perceive it has in Our Time Line (OTL).  The highly plausible proposition that there is a timeline in which Reba McIntyre’s name is spelt that way is probably a fact – I think there is such a parallel universe.  Whether anyone in it has crossed over to this one, which I’m going to call the Gordon Timeline, is another matter.

It might in a sense not be that important though.  On the whole, a belief can be seen as knowledge if there’s a causal connection between the fact and the belief, so my belief that my parents are who they say they are is the result of a chain of cause and effect which begins with that fact.  If it turned out I was accidentally correct, for instance if I’d crossed over from a parallel universe where they were so I was in a sense misidentifying them, it would be correct and justified to believe that, provided cross-world identity is a thing, but not genuine knowledge.  The philosopher David Hume once said that all there was to cause and effect was the events being next to each other in time and space and them always occurring together, and posited that the extra idea that there was a logical connection between the two was spurious because it couldn’t be observed.  If this is accepted, there is no causal connection between me and my parents in that sense anyway, and the mere fact that they are simulacra from a parallel universe doesn’t really matter.

I don’t feel unusual in saying that I think it would matter if this were so, and that I link to the idea that we are in some sense beings to which quantum events are in fact relevant.  I say this because there’s a thing I mentioned before on this blog called the No-Cloning Theorem, which holds that it’s impossible to create a copy of an unobserved quantum state.  This to me corresponds to this scenario:

The love of your life has died and you are devastated.  Their memories and personalities have been backed up perfectly right up to the moment of their death, and a perfect copy of them is created.  That person, however, is not emotionally speaking an adequate substitute for you.

I think this is intuitively true, and consequently that it means there is at least a conceptual connection between how we think of consciousness and identity and quantum physics.  I suspect that this in fact means that there is a genuine and very significant quantum element in consciousness and identity.  This would mean also that if the Mandela Effect is really about alternate realities, it really does matter, and it would also mean that the kinds of shifts we see are often McEntirely plausible as glimpses of parallel universes.


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