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.
There are a number of examples of counterfactual memories.
Some people remember a show called Taps about ghost hunters, which apparently never existed; the actual show was called Ghost Hunters.
Others remember New Zealand being located north of Australia; really, it's south.
Some people remember a portrait of King Henry VIII where he is standing in royal regalia, fluffy shoulder pads and all, about quarter turned, with a turkey leg in his hand; such a portrait has never existed (there aren't even pictures on the internet meeting that exact description).
A lot of people remember the word "dilemna", spelled with an "n"; it is actually spelled "dilemma", with two "m"s.
Some people say chartreuse used to be dark red: it's really a yellowish green or greenish yellow (think lemon-lime soda: that's chartreuse).
And of course, at least half a million people (that I know of) remember the Berenstein Bears, when really they're the Berenstain Bears, with an "a".
Do you (mis)remember any of those?
One of the factors of the Mandela Effect is that people are able to anchor the memories to specific interactions that they had. As an example, one person reported a memory of being at Thanksgiving dinner as a child when he held up a turkey leg in one hand and posed; his family all joked that he was just like King Henry VIII. But... King Henry VIII never posed with a turkey leg... so... why the comment? Another example, lots of people remember being confused about whether to pronounce "Bear-in-STEEN" or "Bear-in-STINE"... but... it's spelled "stAin" so... why the ambiguity?
The attachment to the counterfactual memories is so strong that many of these people have proposed an explanation in terms of alternate universes. The Mandela Effect people believe they have somehow transferred over to a parallel reality where things did not happen as they remember them happening. They didn't misremember, it's just that they correctly remember the wrong universe!
I am, of course, guilty of this.
I had never heard of the Mandela Effect, but I somehow stumbled upon a similar idea: The bears were called the Berenstein Bears; I didn't misremember, but I woke up in an alternate universe. Heck, someone else even thought of it two years before I did. I'd imagine even more people have had the same idea: things here aren't how I remember, I must be in a parallel universe.
Now, this right here points to something that I think is relevant to the Mandela Effect. A bunch of people who never talked to one another all somehow get the same idea about parallel universes when they misremember things. Somehow, this option readily lends itself to the imagination.
The reason is, of course, because science fiction stories abound with this idea of an alternate reality where things are only just different enough to be worrisome. Things are spelled kind of off, your parents are a little bit more successful, some huge world event didn't happen. We have stories of people time traveling and changing the past, or waking up day as their teenage selves, or cutting holes with a sub-Planck-length blade in the fabric of reality and traversing to another universal state in the multiversal quantum superposition. One of the most beloved children's books of the last century, spawning its own sub-genre, was the Chronicles of Narnia, about children who travel to a parallel universe full of talking animals. Also, alternate history, and especially the steam punk genre, are very popular, exploring the concept of how the world would be if, for example, the computer had developed in the steam age.
There's all of this cultural information floating around about alternate realities and parallel universes and how things might have been if they'd just been a little bit different. We are used to connecting the ideas of slight differences in things to parallel universes. So when you detect something about the world doesn't correspond with how you know it to be, parallel universes would be an idea that immediately suggests itself.
|The original artist on reddit|
apologizes for the
awful photoshop job
Now, this is a very rational explanation, but... no, I saw him with that flippin' turkey leg in his hand! I can even picture it! I know he was holding it in that portrait.
But again, that's how the Mandela Effect works. The memories formed aren't the kind that sufferers are able to let go of, even when they accept the reasonability of perfectly rational explanations. Hearing even my own explanation, I feel like someone is trying to brainwash me, or is otherwise playing with me, as though in some sort of psychological experiment.
Read reports from people who actually were brainwashed into holding false memories. My experience in coming to accept the BerenstAin Bears as the way they were always spelled all along feels (to me) very similar to their experience in accepting the false memories.
The Mandela Effect has started gaining some popularity on the internet, or at least some notice. What I want to provide here is something like a rational critique of the idea. It would be very easy to offer a dismissive and skeptical critique of it that just shrugs it off as craziness. I don't want to do that. I want to really stare this proposal right in the face, taking it seriously, to see if any amount of sense can be made of it.
And I have some questions.
My first question is: How many universes are there? Do all of the people who remember Mandela dying in the 80's come from the same universe? What about Steve, who remembers Mandela dying in the 80s and the BerenstEin Bears, versus: me, who remembers the BerenstEin Bears, but also that Morgan Freeman actually hung out with Mandela prior to his role in the movie. Are Steve and I from the same universe? If we are, then one of us must have just misremembered. So right here we have four universes. We have:
- The universe where Mandela died in the 80's and the BerenstEin Bears.
- The universe where Mandela died in the 80's and the BerenstAin Bears.
- The universe where Mandela died in the 10's and the BerenstEin Bears.
- The universe where Mandela died in the 10's and the BerenstAin Bears.
Since it seems like the universes bifurcate at these counterfactual memories, and since it seems like the counterfactual memories are all independent of each other, then there are 2^N universes out there, where N is the number of what I will call "Mandela events": that is, events that are different between the various universes.
The next question, then, is: How many Mandela events are there? Is it the case that every single time someone "misremembers" something, it's because they are actually correctly remembering an alternate universe? When my girlfriend complains that I left the toilet seat up, when I remember putting it down, is it the case that I did put it down, in another universe? At what point do we just tell people, "no, you're wrong"?
From the Mandela Effect website, and from the comments of Fiona Broome (the idea's originator), it seems there's a kind of a "don't disagree" policy. If someone says something used to be some other way, you have to believe it was in their original universe. So how many Mandela events are there? As many as there are people willing to insist things used to be different. That suggests a top cap at around 7 billion Mandela events (corresponding to each person having their own personal native universe that no one else is from), but the actual number is probably much less than that.
Another question: why are the Mandela events all seemingly independent? Why do Steve and I disagree about Mandela's date of death, yet agree about the BerenstEin Bears? Are there any reported counterfactual memories that are always correlated -- that is, where every one who remembers event X also remembers event Y? If not, then why not? You would expect more things to change between each universe than just a letter here, a Nobel laureate civil rights activist there.
Which raises another question: What else is different between this current universe and the universe where Mandela died? According to this counterfactual memory, there were riots across South Africa. What happened in the riots?
Did people die? The people who died: are they still dead in this world? And what universe do those people remember? Do any of them remember dying, then suddenly waking up twenty years later with their whole life having moved on?
Were stores destroyed in the riots? Were there fires? Did the fires release CO2 and Carbon Monoxide into the air, and did it damage the environment just that much more? Could the people from the universe where Nelson Mandela died in the 80's have detected a slight decrease in the global temperature if they had been paying attention at the time of the shift?
It seems that Mandela's death, despite being related to riots across an entire country, didn't actually leave any tangible mark on reality. And this is avery crucial point. The people who believed Mandela died back in the 80s tend to be Americans who only remember it as a news event. It was a thing they saw on TV. So far (to my knowledge anyway) no one who actually lived (or died) through the riots has come forward.
The same goes for pretty much all of the Mandela events. They are related to things that people saw on TV or in a book. Steve saw Mandela's death on the news and heard there were riots, but Steve wasn't in the riots. Joey saw New Zealand on a map and it was north of Australia, but Joey is not from the area. Sally saw a show called Taps about ghost hunters, but Sally was a passive audience of the show on TV. I read a children's book called the BerenstEin Bears, but I didn't actually know the authors.
Further question: Why is it only humans and their minds who can shift? This reeks of anthropocentrism. That is, the Mandela events are focused entirely on the things that humans focus on, and not on the things that the universes focuses on: things like energy, entropy, and the interactions of matter.
Why didn't any of the books from my childhood (the actual books, not their stAined copies) transfer over with me? Not even one book with the spelling "BerenstEin" has shifted to this reality. Why not? Especially given the amount of non-official writing with "BerenstEin" on it that has shifted over.
What about the maps showing New Zealand north of Australia? Why didn't any of these maps shift over with us?
What about that portrait of Henry VIII. I'm sure it was in a social studies book I read in high school, or something. Why didn't even one of those books transfer over? Or any copy of it, really. Why did no copy transfer over?
Howabout the buildings destroyed in the Mandela riots. Are there any stores in South Africa that suddenly and inexplicably found themselves in a demolished state around 2005 (when the Mandela Effect was first postulated), just on and off, because these buildings shifted over to this universe from the universe where they had been burnt down in the riots twenty years prior? Why are't there any newspaper articles from the 80s reporting on Mandela's death, or on the resultant riots? I know, it didn't happen in this universe; why didn't the newspaper archives shift over here when we did? Not even one little clipping about it.
And so now I have to ask: Why are there parallel universes in the first place? And why do we swap?
This question doesn't seem to get asked a lot, when really it should probably be the first one we ask. Why should there be a universe where Mandela lives, and another where Mandela dies? I'm not merely asking why there are Mandela events, but I'm also asking where all of these universes came from. Why more than one?
I know that the word "multiverse" is one that people are used to seeing on PBS specials. So it seems that scientists have proven - through quantum mechanics or string theory or the Big Bang - that there truly are more than one universe.
|Many-Worlds Interpretation of Schrodinger's Cat|
|Artisic depiction of Bubble Universes|
All this to say, when we want to talk about parallel universes, we need to be more specific about what it is we're even talking about. The notion of a "parallel universe" isn't even a universally agreed-upon one. (Max Tegmark puts them in four categories.)
So within the Mandela Effect, what are the parallel universes exactly? Why do they exist?
These can't be the Bubble Universes, because the laws of physics in the world where Mandela died in the 80's are the same as the laws of physics in the world where Mandela died in the 10's.
As it is popularly understood, Everett's model seems more like what the Mandela Effect is describing. They both revolve around these worlds of counterfactuals. However, at a deeper level, Everett's model isn't like the Mandela Effect at all. Everett's model deals with quantum mechanical events. The death of Nelson Mandela is not a quantum event, and seeing his death on TV is not a quantum observation. The numbers are also hugely different. The Mandela Effect's universes focus on some specific key memories; they don't even realize the entire space of anthropocentric counterfactuals (where is the universe where Plato never met Socrates?), but just a few specific Mandela events. On the other hand, Everett's universe splitting occurs essentially every time two or more particles are made to interact to a certain extent; this is way, way, way massively more universes than we can even begin to really fathom.
So the Mandela Effect is not drawing on the Many-Worlds Hypothesis from quantum mechanics. Therefore, we need to find an independent answer to the question of why these universes exist and where they come from, in order to make the Mandela Effect theory work.
The theory that most people involved with the Mandela Effect seem to prefer is related to time travel and the popular notion of alternate timelines. Something to do with time machines which are able to change the past, and we faintly remember the events as they occurred in the original timeline.
If you've read A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, there is the scene at the end where they return to their original time, but the words are just slightly misspelled. The two main characters remember the world that used to be, and are broken up. This seems to be the closest to how most of the Mandela Effect people understand things.
Of course, this can't be exactly what happens, because the man in the changed shop when they return doesn't notice anything strange at all. No one seems to know that anything changed -- only the travelers are able to recall the way things used to be.
Which then brings us to the notion of Alter-vús, a notion apparently invented by self-avowed time-traveler John Titor. It is that some non-travelers can remember how things used to be and so maintain two sets of memories after things are changed in the past.
My biggest objection to this idea of time travel is that, to be perfectly honest, it doesn't really make any sense.
What is an alternate timeline? It's something like a second copy of our universe where things go largely the same, up to the point where the time-traveler from the future arrives.
Where do the alternate timelines come from? As near as I can tell, they are created by the time machine. Which... think about that. The time machine has to be able to create an entire universe. Do you have any idea how much energy that takes? I do. It takes about the total energy output of every sun in the entire universe.
I usually just dismiss the alternate timeline idea out-of-hand, but here I'm not: I'm saying that interpreted in the way that makes the most sense, the alternate timeline theory requires a time machine to effectively destroy this entire universe in order to power the machine. Sorry John Titor, no government on Earth is going to invent that in the next few decades. (There are of course other, more precise ways to envision time travel, but they don't lead to these paradoxes.)
Further, let's think about Alter-vús. What does it mean for me to remember how things were before the time traveler changed things? What does before mean here? If the traveler goes from 2036 to the 1890's and changes Mike Berenstain's great-grandfather's last name at Ellis Island, then in 2037 the only before the change is 1889. When the traveler returns to the future, he's returning to the future of a different timeline, and in this timeline they never were the Berenstein Bears to begin with. So how could anyone from this timeline remember anything different?
After much deliberation with a friend of mine in nuclear engineering, we were able to come up with a rough draft of an experimental model. The intention of this model isn't to propose any actual study, or provide any kind of credence to the alternate universe theory. It is instead mostly meant to put people in the right direction in thinking about the problems inherent in these ideas of true memories of alternate histories.
Let's settle on N as the total number of Mandela events. This leads to something like 2^N universes. We could take these N Mandela events and make a survey that we send to some suitably large sample of the world's population (say... everyone). In the survey, we ask people how they remember the various N Mandela events. Based on how they remember the various Mandela events unfolding, this separates out the sample population into bins, where all of the people in each bin are natives to the same universe.
Very important here is going to be the number of natives to this universe. How many people remember that Mandela survived the 80s, that they were the BerenstAin Bears, that New Zealand is south of Australia, that King Henry VIII was never portrayed with a turkey leg, etc. etc.? That is, in a scenario where people can slide in and out of parallel universe, how many people do we expect to not slide?
Very simply, what we have at the moment is something resembling a multivariate hypergeometric distribution. That's a big word, but it describes a really simple concept: You have a jar full of blue, green, red, and black marbles; if you draw out 10 marbles, what's the probability of drawing 7 red marbles? This isn't really exactly what we have, but it's fairly close.
The point isn't the exact statistical model, the point is that sorting things into bins is the kind of thing we can model with statistics. We could model this statistically, and then test if our actual collected data is anywhere near what the model looks like.
To model this better, we need some more specifics.
First we need to know, does it become less likely to swap with a universe that is more different than yours?
Let me name eight universes:
- 000 - Mandela survived the 80s, BerenstAin, New Zealand SOUTH
- 001 - Mandela survived the 80s, BerenstAin, New Zealand NORTH
- 010 - Mandela survived the 80s, BerenstEin, New Zealand SOUTH
- 011 - Mandela survived the 80s, BerenstEin, New Zealand NORTH
- 100 - Mandela died in the 80s, BerenstAin, New Zealand SOUTH
I differ from Universe-000 in just a single Mandela event.
Steve differs from Universe-000 in two Mandela events.
Is it more likely to swap from 010 to 000 (my "native" universe to current) than to swap from 110 to 000 (Steve's "native" universe to current)? Or are the two equally likely? How do these probabilities decrease as we look at increasingly different universes?
This makes a difference in how we model this situation, so we have to know.
Next, are there people who have swapped more than once? And is swapping an on-going event? This is important, as it determines whether we need some sort of balance equation for this system of interacting universes.
At first glance, it doesn't appear that anyone swaps more than once. If they did (and if there were a balance), then they'd have to eventually swap back to their original universe. I'd have to eventually get back to Universe E, where the books of my childhood were the BerenstEin Bears.
Consider this. Mary begins in Universe-010. Then she swaps to Universe-011. Then to Universe-111. Can she swap to Universe-110? That is, can she get back to a universe where New Zealand is SOUTH of Australia
If she can, can she also make the next step back to Universe-010?
No one has yet reported anything like this. There are lots of false memories listed on the Mandela Effect page, but no one (yet) has a false memory of having a false memory.
This breaks anything like detailed balance in our model. The swaps can only go one way, and can never be reversed. Given this strange situation with swaps, it seems more plausible to me (given people's experiences) that people swap universes only once.
|A simplified path, swapping one bit at a time, where the slider arrives at his original universe.|
Something like this should be possible if swapping can occur multiple times.
If people only swap once, this greatly reduces the complexity of things because we don't need to use Markov chains.
Supposing we had concluded whether it's more likely to swap to a more similar universe (and what that probability is), and that you only swap once. Suppose we also know there are N Mandela events and 2^N universes. Then we can use all of this to predict how many people we expect for their to be from each universe.
If the number of people we find in our bins after the survey, resembles the number of people we predict from each universe, then we have produced at least something in the way of evidence for people swapping between multiple universes.
Now we come to a problem of interpreting the evidence. Assuming we had made reasonable assumptions for all of the above and produced actual numerical predictions, collected actual data, and found a close match. The question is: are we really modeling people swapping from parallel universes, or are we just modeling people misremembering things?
Apparently, the data could be pointing to either one.
To distinguish these two theories, we need to make a second model. This is the model of what we would expect the bins to look like assuming that people simply misremembered, no universes involved. Then we make predictions for the bins with the universe-swapping model and the memories-are-fallible model, and compare. The prediction that matches closest to the survey results is the best model of what is happening with the Mandela Effect.
And here's is the supreme problem.
How do we model people simply misremembering things?
How do we find out how likely someone is to misremember an event of history as separate and distinct from the Mandela Effect?
What measurement could we perform to assess people's rate of misremembering, and in any meaningful way separate it from people swapping parallel universes in such a way as to use it to compare the two?
I have no idea. If you have any ideas, feel free to share.
Since there is no way to distinguish the models on the basis of their measured predictions, the issue of whether people are just misremembering things or if they are sliding to parallel worlds is (sadly but unsurprisingly) an untestable, non-falsifiable theory.
Now, falsifiability isn't everything, but it is what distinguishes and sets apart modern science. So, at least at this point, there's pretty much no chance of the Mandela Effect ever being taken seriously on any kind of scientific level.
Even when wrapped in terminology about the Many-Worlds hypothesis, Bubble Universes, quantum mechanics, wave function collapse, etc., the Mandela theory doesn't gain any scientific credibility, because it still remains unfalsifiable and indistinguishable from non-supernatural explanations. Thus it still remains unscientific. (Again, that doesn't make it false, it just puts it outside the realm of modern science.)
I apologize for the length of this post, but I had many ideas and I wanted to get them all out in one post. I hope you enjoyed reading, and if you have any ideas for improving the model, please let me know in the comments below.