If you’re looking for a simple answer, I wish I had one.
There is no single, universal explanation for all the alternate memories people have shared.
The term “Mandela Effect” describes the phenomenon, not an explanation of it. When a reporter or blogger claims the Mandela Effect is a “theory,” they haven’t done their homework.
Yes, some odd memories can be explained as “false memories.” With a little research, you may be able to find where the mistake happened.
(If it’s a false memory, it’s not the Mandela Effect; it’s a false memory.)
But many people’s first-person stories about the Mandela Effect aren’t so easy to dismiss.
What’s not the Mandela Effect
Everyone has had a moment (or two or three) where they said, “Wait… I really believed [something] was real.”
That “something” could be a small incident, or it might be something big and troubling.
For example, an early, possibly traumatic moment may have been discovering that Santa Claus doesn’t deliver gifts on Christmas Eve, after all.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the frustration of thinking you left your car keys or the TV/streaming remote in a certain location… but it’s not there when you look.
Those aren’t the kinds of beliefs and memories we’d describe as the Mandela Effect.
Likewise, there are assorted other reasonable explanations for some conflicts between what a person remembers and what actually happened.
They include faulty news reporting, jokes taken seriously, hyperbole by those who like to stir up drama, and what some scientists term “broken telephone effect,” referencing a party game (sometimes just called “telephone”).
Those are just part of everyday life. When we find a reasonable explanation for our “different” memory, we’re unlikely to think about it again.
In other words, if there’s a clear answer to our past confusion or misunderstanding, and it makes sense, it’s not the Mandela Effect.
Here’s what seems to be the Mandela Effect
In contrast with lost keys, or that item you thought you’d picked up at the grocery store (but apparently didn’t) there are bigger alternate memories.
They make us pause and wonder how we got the wrong idea, especially if it’s a topic we’re absolutely certain about?
Like where New Zealand is, relative to Australia. (Many people are sure it’s north of Australia. It isn’t.)
Or whether Darth Vader ever said, “Luke, I am your father.” (He didn’t.)
(Trivia: In the 20th century, people were similarly jolted to find out that, in the film Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.”)
Or if, in the Disney movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Evil Queen said, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…”. (Once again, no. She said “magic mirror.” Click here for the IMDb text from the original script.)
Or if your favorite childhood books were about the Berenstein Bears. (No again, they were the Berenstain Bears. Different name. Different pronunciation.)
Are they all just “false memories,” as some try to suggest?
For many of us, that simple explanation is not the one-size-fits-all answer that the media suggests.
But before leaping to extreme Mandela Effect answers, it’s smart to do some fact-checking, just in case.
The Mandela Effect: Some real-world explanations
- Perhaps hasty news reporting – like “Dewey Defeats Truman” and pre-written obituaries, published by mistake – led some people astray. (Perhaps one person saw a mistaken news report and told two people… who told two people, and so on.)
- In some cases, rumors and wishful thinking achieve headline status. In the past, Elvis sightings were an example of this.
- Sometimes, fiction and fact are confused. That happened with The War of the Worlds 1938 radio broadcast. (Some people took it seriously.)
- Memories can be flawed. Ask any divorced couple why they broke up, and you’re likely to hear two conflicting stories, apparently believed by the respective party. The more they tell their version of the tale, the truer it seems to become – to them, anyway.
Other websites (and doctors and textbooks) cover those topics far better than I ever could.
However, those nice, tidy, logical explanations don’t work for every alternate memory.
That’s when we call it the Mandela Effect.
The lighter side of Mandela Effect explanations
While the Sliders concept makes the most sense to me, I also like the holodeck concept presented in Star Trek’s episodes with Professor Moriarty.
If you want more nuts-and-bolts science, consider Dr. Fred Alan Wolf’s theories.
In this excerpt from a 2010 interview, Dr. Wolf talks about reality and dreaming. Though his most relevant dream theories start at about the 6:36 point, to understand the concepts best, watch this entire YouTube video.
To learn more about some of Dr. Wolf’s theories and their connection with science, see his paper, The Dreaming Universe – Q&A
And, to delve more deeply into the quantum theories related to this, see his early, simple thesis, Dreaming Universe Paper.
Some suggest we’re time travelers, but – perhaps due to “doorway effect” – we don’t realize it.
Physicist Fred Alan Wolf suggested that in his book, The Yoga of Time Travel.
In the Introduction of that book, he reminds us, “… a scientific basis for time travel was established more than a hundred years ago… Albert Einstein and Hermann Minkowski showed how it was theoretically possible in 1905 and 1908.”
“…let me tell you a secret: Some of the remarkable people you meet in life are time travelers. A few of these people know it; the others time travel without realizing it, but they do it just the same. These are the people who appear older than their years or, yes, often enough considerably younger.” [Emphasis added.]
Many Interacting Worlds
If you want to delve deep into geek territory – as I do – there are Many Interacting Worlds theories. (This “jargon-free” explanation from MIT is still pretty daunting, even for someone – like me – who’s been studying this for decades.)
Basically, scientists speculate that there are an infinite number of parallel realities, and versions of ourselves are in many (most? all?) of them. If you’ve heard of Schrödinger’s Cat, it’s like that.
The old TV series, Sliders, was based on that idea, too. That may be the simplest way to understand the tangle of Many Worlds theory. (You can watch that series free on Peacock.)
Personally, I kind of love the idea that – somewhere – there is a Harry Potter universe. I’m not alone with that idea, and maybe it does exist. (Or maybe not. Mostly, it’s fun to think about.)
How readers explained the Mandela Effect
I compiled it from all 500+ comments – some of them very long and detailed.
A few suggestions were preposterous or even silly.
But many were science-based and well explained by scientists working in related fields.
The Mandela Effect – Theories and Explanations is so long – and sometimes technical – I plan to re-release it in paperback.
Meanwhile, it’s FREE to read in Kindle Unlimited.
Take the Mandela Effect with a grain of salt…?
In general, I think Mandela Effect discussions should light and fun.
For many of us, this website was the most fun when it was in the “what if…?” phase of whimsical speculation.
Yes, it’s real, but we don’t need to let the Mandela Effect take over our thoughts.
In fact, if you start taking the Mandela Effect too seriously or – worse – start thinking it’s a conspiracy, or that you’re losing your mind, talk with a professional about it.
The Mandela Effect still intrigues me. Now and then, I stumble onto an alternate memory that astonishes me.
I urge you to treat this topic lightly.
I believe the future is far more interesting than endlessly dissecting the past… whatever did or didn’t happen.
Look to the future. That’s where we’re going. The rear-view mirror is fine as a reference, but to get where you want to be, keep looking forward.