Wednesday, August 5, 2015
There are at least hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of people around the world who were shocked to hear that Nelson Mandela died recently. Their shock wasn't that a world-famous civil rights advocate had passed away. They were shocked because they thought
the man had died thirty years ago!
According to an impressively large number of people, Nelson Mandela originally died back in the 80s when he was in prison. They remember seeing it on the news and hearing about riots that broke out all across South Africa. It's a very specific memory, and a lot of people share it. It didn't happen (apparently, anyway), but thousands and thousands of people insist on remembering Mandela's death in prison and the resultant riots, and their accounts are fairly uniform (as uniform as memories ever are, anyway).
Now, people misremember things all the time. And usually, people can be pretty stubborn about what they remember, especially when it's two memories against each other. But when presented with something like every single newspaper ever printed that contradicts their claims, most people relent and admit that they're wrong. With Nelson Mandela's death, the people who swear he died earlier believe this memory so strongly that they will not let go of it, despite being contradicted by every relevant fact in existence. It isn't because they're just that stubborn, or that stupid. The memory has a certain quality to it. For whatever reason, their brain refuses to discard it.
This sort of phenomenon has become known (for better or worse) as the Mandela Effect. It is when a large number of people share and insist on a fairly cohesive counterfactual memory.