Two years ago, I wrote a post about one of the icons of my childhood, the Berenstein Bears. Except, as I learned, they aren't called the Berenstein Bears. As it turns out, they're the Berenstain Bears.
BerenstAin. With an "A".
My mind was blown. I had very distinct memories of the bears. I grew up reading their books and watching them on TV in school, and remember how it used to be spelled. I tried to figure out when the name had changed.
As it turns out, the name has never changed. They have always been the Berenstain Bears. Every physical book I had ever seen had said "Berenstain Bears". I have always been wrong. Every scrap of physical evidence proves me wrong.
I was really struggling with this for days. Solid days. I felt crushed. I remember how the name was spelled, in almost the same way that I know what cut grass smells like. I went on about this for days, in particular to one very patient friend of mine, and how it made no sense and I can't tell what is true or not anymore.
At nearly the same time, I was taking a class in quantum field theory, and happened to learn the concept of Euclidean spacetime in that context. The idea of complex dimensions lead me to think of a world split into 16 distinct "universes."
Since writing that post, it has been linked to on dozens of forums, by people every bit as bewildered and confused as I was. As of today it has received over 100,000 page views, and at one point some 20,000 page views in a span of five minutes when it hit twitter.
Plenty of people have contributed their own experiences and added their own theories, so I thought that I would make this post to comment on everything that I have learned about the Berenstain Bears, time shifts, alternate realities, false memories, and the old books. This is mostly meant to posterity, so that the next wave of people to discover this can see what else has been said about it.
1) Some people remember the spelling "Berenstain".
On almost every forum I have seen so far, there has been at least one person to comment to the effect of, "You are all idiots, I remember it said '-stain' from when I was a kid, I noticed it hundreds of times and never knew why people kept mispronouncing it." They usually say it in just that way, too. They have memories of asking why the name was spelled with an "A" as a child, or being corrected on the pronunciation as a child, or some actual, tangible memory that anchors the spelling as always being with an "A".
This doesn't really disprove my hypothesis. All it means is that those people are from Universe A. I still have definite memories of Universe E.
And while it restores a certain amount of sanity (maybe I was wrong), it was also kind of jarring that people apparently remember the spelling with an A. I expected some people to shrug, accept the new spelling, move on, and tell everyone else to get over it (such people are also common on forums). But I didn't expect anyone, at all, to ever remember the bears as spelled with an "A".
To be perfectly honest, I fully expected that if it were ever possible to get in touch with Jan and Stan Berenstain, lately deceased, and ask them how to spell their name, that they would both begin detailing, in a rambled tone as sweat begins to pool on their brows, that their entire lives -- their entire lives -- they had thought that they had been writing their name "Berenstein"... but now they go, and they look at their old journals, their old letters, checks and documents they've signed... they see what they've written... and they've written their name wrong. They've been writing it "Berenstain" all this time, and they thought they were writing "Berenstein". Their own handwriting is lying to them.
However, as they had both passed away, there was no way to ask them. Maybe this was some cruel trick, that they'd be forever unavailable for comment the moment it was most critical to me? Which bring me to my next point.
2) The Berenstains themselves insist the name has always been spelled "Berenstain".
Very shortly after I published my blog post, I received a comment signed by Mike Berenstain. I will reproduce the comment below:
I normally don't comment on blogs about our family name but yours was so unusual and imaginative that I thought it only appropriate to add my thoughts. "Berenstain" according to our family lore was an attempt by an unknown imigration officer sometime in the late 1800s to reproduce phonetically a highly accented version of the tradtional Jewish name "Bernstein" as pronounced by my Father's grandparents when they came to America from the Ukraine. In that linguistic region, the name tended to come out sounding something like, "Ber'nsheytn". Since that's how the name was originally documented, it has always been spelled that way by our family and it has always been misread and mispronounced by nearly everyone. It has always been "The BerenstAin Bears". Your parallel reality theory is very resourceful but, unfortunately, by applying Occam's razor, we arrive at the explanation that most people have just misread the name.Mike Berenstain (Son of Stan and Jan)The comment was technically anonymous, but was signed. I don't know that it was really Mike Berenstain, but I also have no reason to doubt it and good reasons to believe it.
At the time the post was published, my blog was very small and private. I received, at most, five hits a day, most of them from malware sites. Most of my traffic was a handful of friends. Mike's comment is actually the first comment ever made on this blog - before that, my friends would just message me on facebook if they had anything to say about a post. So there's no way that it's just someone who stumbled on the post and wanted to play a joke.
The comment was also made just three hours after the post went up. What seems likely is that Mike Berenstain has a Google Alert set up to notify him when websites mention his family's books.
Also, the comment gives a pretty detailed and plausible account. It checks out. It seems like a real explanation, and not just something someone made up.
Some people in some threads have pointed out that it is suspicious (and one of my early readers did too) that the son of Stan and Jan Berenst*in would just happen to find my blog the day it was published and comment on it. With the Google alert, it makes sense. Maybe it was one of my friends? None of them have ever owned up to it, and my friends aren't the sort who play pranks on me. I can also promise that I didn't write that comment. While I don't know that it was Mike Berenstain, that is the most plausible explanation.
This has apparently been the first time that Mike Berenstain has ever commented publicly about the name, and it has undoubtedly been due to his comment that my post received so much attention, so I would like to thank him for bringing this clarification.
Of course, technically all this proves is that Mr. Berenstain is from Universe A. Which is reassuring. It would be terrifying if his recollection of things had gone the way I initially suspected.
There is also an interview with Mike and Jan Berenstain available here, where they talk about the development of the series. You can hear them pronounce their name, and they pronounce it "BerenstAin".
It's also kind of sweet to hear Jan Berenstain singing the theme song for the show. She must have been a very nice lady.
Edit: There is also an interview at National Post, where Mike Berenst*in discusses the spelling of his name. Misspellings and mispronunciations have apparently always been a problem for Mike.
3) There are thousands of people who really do remember "Berenstein".
More than that, there are people who have memories of incidents involving the spelling. For instance, there are people with the last name Berenstein who were teased as children for their name being identical. But if their name wasn't identical, surely they would have said something? And there are people who have puzzled over why it is pronounced "-steen" and not "-stine".
One of the more common is people actually making the mnemonic as a kid to a "stein" of beer, imagining Papa Bear drinking a mug of beer. Clearly that'd make no sense if the name was spelled "-stain". Other people remember making constant potty-jokes about the word "stain" with their friends and siblings, and can't understand how they'd have missed "stain" in the name of the bears.
You are not alone. Almost everyone, when they first learn about this, is extremely confused. It isn't just that you were wrong. You can accept being wrong. It isn't just that you misremembered something. You can accept misremembering something. It is that your brain refuses to accept the spelling "Berenstain". You are not crazy, at least not in the technical sense, as plenty of other people feel the same way.
4) All physical evidence says "Berenstain." Your old books in your mom's attic say "Berenstain." They have always said "Berenstain."
At no point have the bears ever been called the "Berenstein Bears." The name never changed, ever. The entire time you were growing up and reading the books and watching the show, they were called the "Berenstain Bears". Every cover stated "The Berenstain Bears." The authors were always named Stan and Jan Berenstain. They didn't change their names for any reason. Those were always their names.
Since this post going up, and since it being discovered on other forums, plenty of people have posted pictures of their old books. The books say "Berenstain". They all do. They all say Berenstain and they have always said Berenstain.
The old kids show? It says Berenstain. They pronounce it as "Beren-steen", but it has always been spelled "Berenstain".
Some people have left cryptic comments on other forums, saying they're going to go to their parents' house and get to the bottom of it. For instance, one comment that gets cited a lot is by someone named Selena in the wikitalk page. She claims:
Actually, throughout my childhood, it was always "Berenstein" Bears. At some point in the mid 90's, it looks like they changed it to "Berenstain" with an A. I found some old books with the original spelling, so I know I'm not crazy. Anyone know when/why it was changed? I'm just curious, since I noticed that Stan's recent obituary had the "Berenstain" spelling. Salena 22:27, January 1, 2006However, she never cites her proof. Does she have an "unchanged" book in her possession? Or did she just never check? Did she make that comment assuming, as we all did, that the books in her possession said what she always thought they said?
Numerous people have made similar claims and promised to go home and check that night. Either they were never heard from again, or they reported back with pictures of their books saying "Berenstain". They have gone up in to their parents' attics, pulled out dusty old cardboard boxes, and there, in their hands, were the books from their childhood... except they've been changed somehow and now say "Berenstain."
Every scrap of physical evidence in existence says "Berenstain", and always has said "Berenstain."
They were never changed. Here in Universe A, the universe we live in (now at least), they have always been called the Berenstain Bears.
And this, really, is what makes it so creepy.
5) Lots of people list books on Ebay, Amazon, and Newspaper Ads calling them the "Berenstein Bears", but the physical products themselves still say "Berenstain Bears" on the cover.
Many people, looking for photographic evidence of the "original" spelling, have turned up listings on amazon and ebay and old newspapers that have the "Berenstein" spelling. However, close inspection shows that the product actually being sold has "Berenstain" on the cover. This is clearly an example of people being mistaken and not double checking when making their listings.
6) There are some images photoshopped to say "Berenstein".
|It looks so right... but it's so wrong|
But looking at it... suddenly, everything seems so right. That's what the name used to look like, back in Universe E. That is the name that was on the books. That's what the books should say.
Another photoshopped image was posted on my blog, from imgur, here.
Some people have tried to do photoshop diagnostics on it, like with the above, but nothing has come up in those. However, it is clearly a photoshopped version of this images, which was posted in a reddit thread that I linked to.
|The edited version|
|The original version|
The second fake photo (above)put a great deal of sanity back in to my life. Maybe they were called the "Berenstain Bears", but the book club was the "Berenstein Bear Club" and that's how everyone made the mistake. I could come to terms with that. But... nope. Nothing related to the Berenstain Bears has ever been called Berenstein anything. They have always and only have been the Berenstain Bears.
Any official image or cover saying "Berenstein" is photoshopped. Not one single cover has transferred with us from Universe E. There's no point in looking. Go ahead and look, but you will find the same thing as everyone else.
Edit: Another fake picture has been making rounds. The perpetrator apologizes for any mental stress or trauma he may have caused. It may have been part of raising Alzheimer's awareness.
|This photo is also a fake. The editor has confessed.|
Sorry. It is Berenst*in, in every possible universe. Bernstein is a pretty common spelling that comes up in forums sometimes, and it is just wrong. I'm sorry that I'm so dismissive of it, considering how ardently I insist on Berenstein. But "Bernstein Bears" sounds a thousand times more wrong than Berenstain Bears. The only reason, arguably, that the books were about anthropomorphic bears and not rabbits is because the authors' name is pronounced like "Bear-en-steen". "Bern-steen" is a completely different vowel pronunciation and everything. I'm sorry. It cant possibly be right. You just weren't paying attention. Sorry.
8) No one really cares about my theory, and no one understands my theory.
People frequently cite my blog post as supporting alternative timelines. Or alterations to the timeline due to time travel. Or the many worlds hypothesis. I've written extensively about time travel, where I outright deny the possibility of altering the past. I even denied it in the post in question, when addressing another blog on the same subject (definitely worth a check for the curious).
I don't believe in alternate timelines, and I don't believe the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Neither of those explanations would make any sense, here, either. Timelines are a completely unphysical concept that fly in the face of our current understand of general relativity (as explained by me here). The many-worlds interpretation is at least supposed to explain a physical phenomenon, but the "universes" in this interpretation can never be re-combined. The many-worlds interpretation is a scientific theory, and the claims it makes about "alternate universes" are very specific and take a very specific form, and they take a form that is at odds with the idea of jumping universes. If Universe A were in fact a separate "universe" in the many-worlds sense, then we can't cross to it from Universe E.
To me, the neatest part of the whole post was the idea of 4D complex Euclidean spacetime, and how it so naturally included the possibility of switching. Such a cool theory! I keep meaning to take it somewhere. Maybe it needs someone smarter than me to really work out its potential. But I don't think anyone else really got it, or cared. Which is kind of sad. To me, anyway.
So, for the record, my blog post has nothing to do with alternative timelines, and nothing to do with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. You can still believe those things if you want to, I guess. But I don't believe them.
9) I don't really believe we switched universes.
Obviously, with my rational mind, I understand that the most reasonable explanation is that I misremembered. Occam's Razor and all that. Probably the biggest piece of evidence along these lines is the fact that handwriting from the 80's still says "Berenstein", even though the books say "Berenstain". One striking example was a man on reddit who claimed he found a old VHS tape that said "Berenstein." But then he played the video, and was wrong. He wrote "Berenstein" on the label, but the video intro said "Berenstain."
Yet, with a more visceral part of my mind, I refuse to accept that. I refuse to accept the "Berenstain" spelling. It won't go in my mind. That wasn't what they were called. That isn't right. The memories are so clear and so vidid, and so widespread.
I have been wrong about many, many things in the past, and misremembered many, many things. All of these things, I have shrugged off and owned up to. I cannot shrug off "Berenstain".
For the rest of my life, I will continue having the memory and the belief that the bears were once spelled "Berenstein". I can accept the logic that I just made a mistake, but I really can't get the rest of my brain to admit it. I never made a mistake, because they were never the Berenstain Bears.
That said, I don't really believe that we switched universes. While my theory was certainly intriguing to me (and apparently no one else), I don't actually believe it. I don't know if my theory describes the universe we live in. Even if it did, I'd doubt we shifted. The blog post was me having fun in a way only physics PhDs can, which is rationalizing totally irrational behavior with hyper-rational mathematical analysis.
I feel like a magician explaining to his audience that magic isn't real, but not everyone got the point that I was kidding. I'm not kidding about being totally weirded out about the A/E switch, but I am kidding about alternative timelines. Mostly, anyway.
I still don't know what exactly happened. Way, way too many people have made this same mistake. And it causes me way too much cognitive dissonance to think I was reading the "Berenstain Bears" books when I was a child. But unless 4-D complex Euclidean spacetime can be worked in to a real theoretical framework that makes real and testable predictions that come true, I'm not going to seriously believe we swapped universes.
10) There's a lot of other stuff like this.
Plenty of people have brought up the Mandela Effect. Depending on your take on things, this is when huge groups of people all have similar false memories. Alternately, this is when some people shift to a different timeline and notice that their transplanted memories no longer accord with official history. The name comes from an apparently widespread belief that Nelson Mandela died in the 80's, which resulted in massive riots throughout Africa.
The Berenstein/Berenstain confusion is included on their list of common memories. Also included are things like a portrait of Henry VIII eating a turkey leg, or New Zealand once being located north of Australia.
Frankly, I think it's kind of silly. If you had asked me five years ago if Nelson Mandela was dead, I'd have probably said "yes", but I never pay attention to Nelson Mandela. No one from South Africa seems to report believing he had died.
I thought New Zealand was north of Australia, and at first was kind of scared when I heard this. But looking at a map, I was relieved that there it was, right where I always knew it was. Except that it's called Papau New Guinea. So, I was just misidentifying one island nation for another. No one from New Zealand has made this mistake, nor anyone from Australia, and plenty of kiwis have commented on this to explain that they've never moved.
The picture of Henry VIII I am more clear about. I have seen a picture of Henry VIII eating a turkey leg. He's standing up, and the drumstick is in his hand with a bite taken out of it. I don't remember it being a portrait, however. I just remember seeing an image of him eating a turkey leg. It turns out this is a very popular depiction of him (see links in that forum), just not in any official portraiture.
I'm not denying that these people have these memories. I definitely have memories of the Berenstein Bears, so I know what they're going through. But I don't buy in to the Mandela Effect stuff.
It is an important distinction to note, with the other Mandela Effect instances, the people reporting the false memories have little direct contact with the issue in question; I never paid much attention to South African politics or to Southeastern geography. It's easy to explain how I messed up, especially since no South Africans or New Zealanders have reported the same confusion. With the Berenst*in Bears, people who read the books and watched the shows everyday -- some who even wrote books reports or even defended their copyrights legally -- have the same memory of Berenstein. Exposure to the books and the spelling of the name has no bearing on whether you remember stAin or stEin.
Conclusion and Some Outside Links
All told, I still don't really know what's going on. I'm a pretty staid guy. I don't go in for pseudoscience or the paranormal. I can't even stand pseudoscience in science fiction books. I've never seen the show "Sliders", mostly because I think its premise is dumb. But the Berenstein Bears Switcheroo is still the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me. Apparently, it's also the weirdest thing to happen to hundreds of regular, normal, non-paranormal and non-paranoid people.
I have made serious efforts to link to many of the discussions I have found on this subject, for the sake of the curious. I hope to include more links as they come. Here is a small sampling of those that have come up in the past two years:
- A post written before mine, that I originally cited, offering up a Ray-Bradbury-Sound-of-Thunder explanation
- A thread on above top secret citing my post
- A thread on reddit, originally about the Henry VIII turkey leg picture, that also brings up the Berenst*in Bears.
- Thread on reddit, offering alleged photographic proof of the original name
- Thread on r/conspiracy
- Another thread on r/conspiracy
- Thread on r/AskReddit about incorrect facts people mistakenly believed. The spelling of the Berenst*in Bears is cited
- Thread on r/AskReddit about biggest mindf#s. The spelling of Berenst*in Bears is cited.
- Smaller thread on r/TIL about Michael Cera being the voice of Brother Bear. Some comments.
- Thread on r/books asking about the original spelling
- One of the first reddit threads to link to my post, on r/books, commemorating Jan Berenstain's passing away.
- Comment made on an apparently quite active live journal account, after a video about ghosts at a soccer game, mentioning the Berenst*in Bears shift. (I think this is one of the few people who understands my theory the way that I do.)
- Thread on r/TIL aout the Mandela Effect, where someone mentions the Berenst*in Bears.
- Thread from r/AskReddit, tagged as serious, asking what conspiracy theories people seriously give credence.
Website for a lawyer in copyright and trademark law, who reports (as of 06/24/2014) handling cases for the BerenstEin Bears. (He'll likely change this once he's aware of it, please let me know if he does)
- One of the Mandela Effect pages on the Berenst*in Bears. Lists come user comments.
- Blog article, with its own partial list of other reddit threads (some not included here)
- This post at strangerdimensions.
- Internet kingmaker George Takei posted a conversation about it.
- Interview on National Post with Mike Berenst*in on the spelling of his name
- Clip from old CD-i commercial with a BerenstAin game. They say "stAin" multiple times.
I would like to end by saying thank you to all of the people who linked to my blog. I don't host ads, so it's not like you made me rich, but you did give me the satisfaction of having my ideas read by total strangers around the world, which is definitely something. And thank you, again, to Mike Berenstain, for his helpful comment, explaining how, in Universe A, his family name came to be spelled as it is, without which I doubt that anyone would have paid any attention to me.
To everyone else, welcome to Universe A. You'll get used to it before long.
P.S. Like the last post, this post has reached Blogger's limit for visible comments. I sincerely apologize and I'm looking to change my hosting situation to prevent this from happening. I am shutting down comments on this post to prevent further frustration to readers. If you would like, you can leave comments on my follow-up piece on the Mandela Effect.