Monday, June 23, 2014

On the Berenstein Bears Switcheroo

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."

from xkcd
Combined with my existential angst over the spelling  of the bears, I thought of an explanation.  It was probably the silliest, most outlandish thing I've put forward, but I put if out there.  For those not familiar with it, I claimed that two of these "universes" in the complex-dimensional spacetime have two different spellings of the name.  I will henceforth call these Universe A and Universe E.  In Universe A, they are spelled "Berenstain".  In Universe E, they are spelled "Berenstein".  Whatever else is true, we currently live in Universe A.  However, at some point, it seems that some of us once lived in Universe E.  Now here we are, inexplicably in Universe A, and completely befuddled.

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".

Despite the occasional weirdo in forum comments, and despite Mike Berenstain himself, there are hundreds of thousands of people (a conservative estimate, based just on people in the forums on the subject) who really do remember the books being spelled "Berenstein".  When I say that they really do remember, I mean that there exists somewhere in their brain a collection of neurons that truly does correspond to the books being spelled "Berenstein."  And these people have no such memories of "Berenstain".

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, 2006
However, 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
Someone on reddit posted this picture.  The picture is definitely photoshopped.  The person posting it has denied responsibility for the shop job; allegedly, he downloaded the picture from the internet years and years ago and had it saved in a folder and didn't think about it until the controversy sprung.  Photoshop diagnostics show exactly where the image has been altered.

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.
7) If you said "Bernstein" as a kid, then you're just plain wrong.

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:

Of course, these are just the ones that I can remember, and that have cited my blog, and that I have read through.  There are certainly plenty of other threads along these lines.  It might be worthwhile to check twitter for conversations there, as they have been one of the biggest sources of traffic.  If you, dear reader, find any more threads like this that you think are useful, please post them in the comments, and I will also probably add them to the list here.

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.

PPS Comments seem to be fixed.  Reopening them (2017/12/05)


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Unknown said...

i have heard it was spelled Berenstein on a arcade machine years ago but i have never seen the cabinet for The Berenstain Bears in Big Paw's Cave

Unknown said...

i have heard it was spelled Berenstein on a arcade machine years ago but i have never seen the cabinet for The Berenstain Bears in Big Paw's Cave

Anonymous said...

As someone who was read these books before they could read English, I always liked the look of cursive letters on the front of books and traced the letters with my finger on the cover before having it read to me at home or in pre-school. Although I always assumed the spelling was -stein just because of the varied pronunciations that people had when referring to the books, my visual memory of the front of the books remember a curvy "o" shaped letter rather than a swirly letter. Although the -stein spelling seems right when I think about it, the photoshopped covers look somewhat odd or out of place in comparison to the -stain spelling.

Anonymous said...

Reverse image search proves that to be a photoshop too.

Anonymous said...

I really like "superlicious"!

When I was very young, I had these crayons, and was talking to my Dad about one color, "Magneto" (I doubt I had been exposed to the X-Men at this point, I think I was 3 or 4). He corrected me, saying "It's pronounced 'magenta'." I said my version sounded a lot cooler. He then gave me the first lesson I can recall: "You can pronounce it any way you like, but people won't understand you."

I too am from the E universe.

Ken said...

I got here from Jim Stone, freelance journalist's mention of "Sex In the City" now being "Sex And the City". Both my wife and I remember the former, as well as "Interview With A Vampire" which is now "Interview With the Vampire" (mentioned there also).

I am from the E universe, and will be checking my parents' house tomorrow for the books, which I know from having read this thread will have an A in them. Not quite sure what to make of this.

I have recently been exposed to the flat earth theory and I completely agree with the observations. There's a lot of disinfo out there, though; if you are interested in researching this, a good start is, which is Eric Dubay's site; he has a book, "The Flat Earth Conspiracy" which has a wealth of information. Also, "Zetetic Astronomy" which was written over a century ago, and can be read in its entirety here:

Good luck in your search for the truth!

Leon said...

He has changed it now

Anonymous said...

I experience fairly intense synesthesia with numbers and letters. For example, 8 time 8 is 64 to me because it tastes like grape. 7 time 7 is 49 because it is crunchy. I have no real explanation for why this is true to me, but it is consistent and has always been part of my experience when thinking about these concepts. Similarly, certain food tastes evoke a strong sense of a shape. For example, orange Gatorade (my personal favorite) is a wide, horizontal oval. Yellow Gatorade is a point-up, equilateral triangle.

For the most part, this way of experiencing various concepts has little impact on my life other than being interesting to share with people, although it can be annoying when trying to express a sensation at the doctor's office. In this situation, however, as insane as this may sound, "Berenstein" tastes Completely different to me than "Berenstain." The E taste is rich and thick, while the A taste is thin and acidic. (Think coffee creamer vs lemon juice.) While this is possibly the farthest thing from scientific evidence that a person could offer, please know I am responding to this phenomenon is an especially visceral way which very much reinforces my confusion at the apparent change in spelling.

I really enjoyed reading this blog and the many comments. Thanks so much.

Jared said...

I have read a couple of other titles that make me scratch my head such as:

I remember "Sex IN the City", not "Sex AND the City" or
I really liked the movie "Interview with A Vampire", not "Interview with THE Vampire".

Anybody else on these two?

Thanks for the list of links, author!

Niki Harrison said...

Ha! :)

Unknown said...

I also feel like another form of the mandala effect or this parallel realities theory is the sound made in mortal combat. the "toasty" sound.. many people claim it's toasty. when I've always hears "whoopsies".. always remember my friends yelling whoopsies at each other when the game did that... but now people tell me it's toasty

Eagle Eye said...

Wow. I must be from Universe Z, because I've never heard of these bears. Seriously. Never.

Daekon19 said...

I have a photographic memory and i see the ein image clearly in my mind. The ain looks offensive to me. on a similar note i remember around 2007 watching the movie lakeview terrace with a friend of mine. then 10 months later we saw adds for this movie as coming soon to theatres. I watched the movie before it came out and i lived in a totally different location when it was released. I have experienced many such events. It is the curse of remembering everything i see.

Daekon19 said...

I have a photographic memory and i see the ein image clearly in my mind. The ain looks offensive to me. on a similar note i remember around 2007 watching the movie lakeview terrace with a friend of mine. then 10 months later we saw adds for this movie as coming soon to theatres. I watched the movie before it came out and i lived in a totally different location when it was released. I have experienced many such events. It is the curse of remembering everything i see.

sjordan2000 said...

I was pulled out of class in 1st grade to teach another student...peer... How to read. Never liked the books.; too babyish and unrealistic family in my mind. I had a boo hoo childhood..and who cares. Point is I could read ...VERY WELL.... I had to ask if ei was pronounced long e or long I. Ai would have been a no brainer. Longevity of this particular topic speaks for itself. Would have been 1971-72. Also, this is when kids knew how to read and do math in 1st grade, not like now where they are stuck on place value and ridiculous, slower, and hence inaccurate multiplication practices repeated grade after grade after grade. Check out what your grand children / nieces & own kids... are learning. It's appalling and disturbing. They're making our children ignorant and stupid. , not bitter; Disgusted. That's 3 syllables... Current 5th grade homework.... 5TH GRADE! "Federal" standards in CT REALLY? Outrageous! I can see it now.... I die and the one mystery revealed to me is a dumb @55 gets a time machine and changes ei to Ai because it always bugged him, that and loved base 10 blocks. The sheer numbers involved in this debate of ei vs ai are staggering. Pay attention!

M Girl said...

My friends and I along with my mom also debated the pronunciation of Berenstein! I can't believe that so many literate children and adults would mistake "stain" for "stein". My mom dug out my old books recently and they indeed said "stain". I'm so confused! This is such a mind f*ck!

Avergon Diamond said...

That doesn't prove much of anything by itself. It could mean only that the person who created the website learned sometime between April and August 2001 that he or she had been misspelling the name and then corrected it. It would be interesting, though, to find and interview that person and find out what prompted the initial spelling and how (and based on what information) the change came about.

Avergon Diamond said...

[PART 1 OF 3]

Very interesting discussion. You may be interested in seeing the play "Underneath the Lintel," which by its end raises some relevant themes.

I'm 55 and a Ph.D. trained in Cognitive Social Psychology, though since then I became a lawyer. I did not have my own kids or others around me in an age where I might read them books or watch shows with them about the Berenst&in Bears. I was vaguely aware of them (Bears, not kids) by the mid-'80s or '90s, but only secondhand, such as seeing references to them or perhaps books on friends' bookshelves. (The same goes for other cartoons of the era like He-Man and She-Ra -- or whatever they were.)

Nevertheless, I am confidant that my own experience was firmly in the E-camp. Here's why.

I am Jewish, with lots of Steins and Steens among my acquaintances, And when I first came upon the phrase "Berenst&in Bears," I originally thought that it was "Bernstein." This struck me as strange, because: Jewish bears? I then looked more closely and realized that it was "Berenstein." That seemed weird -- I'd never seen the name before -- but still a plausible surname.

Had it been "Berenstain," though, I would not have considered it a likely misspelling of "Bernstein." I would not even have paid attention to the first half of the name. My attention would have been captured by "-stain." That's the unusual, attention-getting part of it. "Stain"? It certainly would not have evoked "Bernstein" -- and I've never heard of a "Bernstain."

However, this doesn't prove the rotated, alternate, or parallel universe theories. I seem to remember the first time when I noticed the existence of the B-Bears was in some popular magazine -- Time? Newsweek? People? -- that was discussing them as a cultural phenomenon. And -- given the ease with which one can follow the mental path to the familiar "stein" ending -- there is a decent chance that they misspelled it.

Those misspellings in popular media, which I suspect are prevalent, are what you would want to research. If "Berenstain" were misspelled as "Berenstein" early and often enough, that would become the *common* spelling, despite its being an *inaccurate* spelling. And the more that people would spell it wrong, without reference to the actual spelling on the books (or on the TV show), then the more we non-experts would live in an "E-universe" despite that the Official Record in the archives would show that it was really an "A-universe."

You mentioned George Takei, whose name rhymes with "gay"; it wasn't until he participated in the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner that he came out as gay and corrected people who had until then been pronouncing his name to rhyme with "my." Takei lived in the "rhymes with 'gay' universe" -- and the official record (video of his pronouncing his own name would reflect the correct sound), but we his fans lived in a "rhymes with 'my' universe." It was simply a prevalent misconception, reinforced by others' usage, much like Americans (at least those who don't speak Spanish) omitting the first "r" in "February" in both written and oral speech.

Once the preconception of what the word was became locked in, we would tend to overlook deviations from what we thought was the correct spelling, a process known as "assimilation." If we did notice a discrepancy -- a "stain" spelling -- we would either gloss over it withing noticing or (if we did notice) just presume that it was an error on the author's part. Its when we get to *that* point -- not before that -- that we begin to process the word we read as a chunk without bothering to look carefully all the way to the end.

Avergon Diamond said...

[PART 2 OF 3]

Why did things eventually change?  Because the B-Bears became less popular!  People were less surrounded by the error made by those around them and could pay more attention to the actual stimulus, the word on the page, without having been "trained" by others in their environment to see it wrongly.  Also, it's plausible (putting on my lawyer's hat) that once the brand lessened in popularity, there was both more opportunity (due to less pushback), less cost (to sales), and more motivation (to the authors' affronted dignity) to set the record straight.  And if "setting the record straight" also meant cleaning up the Internet -- getting people to change their references, and such, with the added benefit of returning the B-Bears at least a little closer to the limelight -- then that would explain why we now see a more overwhelming "-stain" world even *outside* of the original products.

Each of those assertions in the previous paragraph could -- at a pretty fair expense -- be checked by people looking into physical archives.  For example, were there *not* efforts to correct people's spelling coming from the publisher and such until the end of the 90s, but then *lots of* records of such communications beginning at about 2000?  As for uses of the fateful word itself: archival scholars shouldn't be looking at the *original* products -- as you note, we know what happened to them -- but at the *secondary* mentions of them that would tend to reach people from their peers.

(Going back to my analogy, don't seek out audio records of *George* pronouncing "Takei"; seek out records of how his *fans* pronounced Takei.  Another example -- do you know, as students of a certain prominent technical university in Pittsburgh, and Andrew Carnegie didn't pronounce his last name as "CAR-neh-Gee," with the same stress as "luxury," but as "car-NEG-Gee" with the same stress as "obey me"?  No, you probably didn't, unless you were exposed to lots of people who pronounced it the right -- and far more awkward and cumbersome -- way.  "CAR-neh-Gee" rolls off the tongue; "car-NEG-Gee" bruises it.)

That said, I'm not ready to toss out the multiple universe theory just yet.  Occam's Razor cuts both ways: the proposition that SO many people were misreading something that was in some cases in front of their faces every day and NOBODY HAD EVER BROUGHT IT UP until the past decade is rough and rocky enough to pit that razor rapidly and dramatically.  Yes, it *possible* that all of the people above were fooled by secondary sources and just discounted the primary sources in front of their noses every day, in some cases -- but it really isn't that likely.  Unlike "Takei" and "Carnegie," people could *see* the words in front of them, not just hear them (and discount others' accents and quirks in doing so.)  Personally, I'm not so desperate to rebut Hamlet's assertion that "there are more things in heaven and earth ... than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy" that I'm going to impugn what seems like a healthy majority of the population just to ward off the mystical and magical.

Avergon Diamond said...

[PART 3 OF 3]

But the idea that the A-universe and E-universe can *coincide* within one physical universe, because *the mental universe in which we live is a social one composed largely by the communications of those around us* and *our social universes thereby bestow upon us different experiences of the world*, should not be overlooked.  I'll offer the main thing that bothers me about my counter-theory here, which at least one of your commenters has mentioned: "How easy is it to overlook the word 'stain' in the name 'Berenstain'?"  Shouldn't there have been jokes about it?  Shouldn't there be records of *references* to its oddity?  (And, one might add, to the fact that everyone gets the name wrong?)  It's the *absence* of references to "stain" when the B-Bears were hottest -- and here we're hobbled by the absence of the Internet during that period, although UseNet and AOL were up and would probably be among the best places to look for such -- that makes me doubt that we went at least 15 years with the B-Bears in social prominent without someone generating a public stain upon their honor.

(On the other hand, it wouldn't be all *that* shocking that so many people missed something like that.  Our culture is pretty tuned into the presence of obscenities, but how many people read about the "Norfolk Country Music Festival" and are aghast that people can use that sort of language in public?  We overlook things all of the time; maybe we did just collectively overlook the stain in the bears' name.)

One last thought: some of this is very amenable to cognitive and social-cognitive studies.  Many of the theories presented here suggest that people are likely to perceive (or to misperceive) words and parts of words in different ways.  Not only can that be checked on an individual level, but the social influence effects that I suggest might be driving the phenomenon could be experimentally woven into such a study as well.  (This cries out for an update of the famous Asch experiments!)  If we think that elementary school-age children are (or are not) likely to misperceive "stain" and "stein" -- well, children still exist and that likelihood would presumably be as strong in the 2010s as it would have been 20 or 30 years ago.

This whole puzzle makes for a wonderful story.  If people are willing to throw some intellectual muscle at it, there's a fair chance that the mystery could be solved -- or, by contrast, bolstered! -- in field experiments with grammar school children having access to stories and cartoons, and with a small army of researchers combing through informal network archives.  If we really care about the result, it's worth a try!

And if, by the way, this suggests to those technically oriented readers from the “hard” sciences how the “soft” sciences may hold answers to significant in ways that you might not expect, then I'm all the more glad to have offered my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Unknown said...

Could the two universes you speak of merged together and some things have changed for some of us and stayed the same for others? I remember Bernstein being the correct spelling and can't budge from it

Euclides Montes said...

I hope you don't mind me contacting you out of the blue. I'm a UK-based writer, currently working on an article on the Mandela Effect, which is part of a series of articles I'm writing on so-called Alternative/ Fringe Beliefs and Conspiracy Theories.

I would love to be able to maybe shoot a few questions in your direction as I have found your posts on the topic fascinating.

Is there any chance you can drop me a line on euclidesmonteswrites AT - I know it's a cheeky ask but you reference my most famous namesake in this post so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Thanks a lot.


Anonymous said...

it's my grandmother's fault. i was a toddler and was unsure of repetitive or consecutive vowels, so instead of settling for "benstin bers" i directly asked her. perhaps she was biased by something but was very insistant on the "-een" sound. looking at the letters available and being very sure she was deliberately dropping something, i thought this was one of those 'don't question it' words and accepted the _intent_ of the word _over_ the spelling. if nobody else has experienced this then i would like a new universe initialled in my grandmother's honour.

Rachel R. said...

The thing that gets me is that I remember trying to determine whether Berenstein should be pronounced -steen or -stain. I have to wonder if there was, perhaps, a single misprinted printing somewhere along the way (although, if so, I think someone "in the know" would remember THAT).

Roberto Masioni said...

I think it's one of those things that are so unimportant at the time, that one just goes along with what everyone else says. Most children don't know any better and will just accept it. Those who know it's wrong don't see any point in arguing about it.

Either that, or you are just another despicable E-Universe self-hating traitor.

Musehere said...

When I was younger, I had a terrible time keeping my i's and e's from getting mixed up. I learned the rule "except for c" and took the books about the bears to my mother, to ask her why it was 'wrong' according to the rule I learned. She told me that it was because Jan and Stan were Jews who had escaped the Holocaust and the German spelling mixed up the letters. We had a long talk about the Jews, the Holocaust and the spelling of their name. Now, according to everything I can find online about the authors; they were Americans. Except, if they were Americans, why do the characters in their books drive on the European side of the street instead of the right side like all the other Americans? Why has no one mentioned this whole Jewish/Holocaust bit? My mother's family fled from Germany, so that is why she knew about them. I've often wondered if Meyer/Mayer had a similar noon remembered connection. I first learned about berenstain when my teenage daughter asked me how to spell their name and I told her I always got the e and I mixed up. And she was like, wait, there's an a. I had to Google it to prove her wrong and was shocked to find I was the one in error. This still gives me goosebumps to think about.

Travis said...

I enjoyed your Euclidean spacetime analysis in 16 sub-spaces. I have difficulty imagining the meaning of the imaginary spaces, but I do know the value of stored energy versus delivered energy with imaginary numbers. Phasers can explain a wave throughout time in a simple form. We see that light travels through objects with variable attenuation, so is it possible that multiple things could occupy the same space? Yes. Is it also then possible that multiple things could occupy the same time? Perhaps?

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