For those of you who weren’t aware, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – former President of South Africa, ex-revolutionary in the fight against apartheid and renowned activist – died on December 5, 2013 after a long bout with respiratory illness. He was 95, and as far as most people were concerned, the Mandela Effect was how you felt when you heard the story of Mandela’s struggle. Something that inspired people to do well and achieve impossible things, like being the sign-language interpreter for a former head of state’s funeral when you don’t know how to do sign language. (Start at 01:40)

However, for a few select individuals, Nelson Mandela didn’t die on December 5, 2013. According to their memories, Madiba had been dead since some time during the late 1980’s, having never made it out of his prison cell in South Africa.

The Mandela Effect: What’s That?

My own personal experience with the Mandela Effect is limited, but the memory stuck with me when I came across this phenomenon again at a later date. A few friends and I were on a 12-hour car journey across Brazil and, as you can imagine, we needed to play a couple of games to keep the boredom from setting in. During a round of 20 Questions, a debate broke out as to whether Mandela was alive or dead – and more importantly, whether the winner of the round had in fact won legitimately. Everyone there was an otherwise rational human being, but both sides were absolutely sure in their conviction that Mandela was alive/dead. Nobody had a smartphone, and by the time we got to our destination the subject had passed, and I didn’t think about it again.

Then, some time later, I came across mandelaeffect.com, a website started by Fiona Broome. The site was put together to address the phenomenon that people were experiencing around the world: shared memories of events and situations that differed from the official reports and most people’s recollections. It has operated as a journal and community forum since 2010, allowing Fiona and hundreds of contributors to tell their stories. Overall, there are two main theories. Either many people are sliding between parallel/alternate universes all the time – thus experiencing alternate histories and present realities – or that we are living in a simulated reality that is experiencing glitches with regards to continuity.

sliders tv show alternate realities
Quinn is understandably skeptical.

Examples of the Mandela Effect

There are a number of shared memories that people have contributed to the site regarding differing takes on world history, current events, celebrities and popular culture. Some of the most notable and popular are:

  • The confusion over whether there are 51 or 52 states in the USA
  • A book series for children that either had the name Berenstein Bears or Berenstain Bears
  • Confusion regarding the exact date of the Challenger shuttle explosion
  • Whether the Lindbergh baby was ever found
  • Logos and logo colors for popular brands are remembered differently (e.g. Pepsi, Chevron)
  • Major changes with regards to geographical locations

There is a long list that continues on the website, and further discussion on the phenomenon taking place all the time over on r/mandelaeffect.

What’s Going On, Bruh?

It’s hard to say definitively one way or another whether the Mandela Effect is actually a real phenomenon or not. The only evidence to go on is the intangible memories of people who have come together under a common idea. Memory is a fickle thing, as has been proven many times over in scientific settings. Recollections of events and conversations can be altered by time, influence, expectation and bias. Criminal investigators and manipulative people have been using that fact to their advantage for a long time.

neo the matrix banana phone
Just like the banana phone scene from The Matrix. Y’all remember that, right?

With regards to this phenomenon, there doesn’t seem to be any malice behind it. However, it’s easy for detractors to dismiss many of these shared memories as confirmation bias and shoddy memory in action. Until somebody comes forward with physical evidence that the Mandela Effect is real and we’re living in a reality that has cracks or bugs in the code, it will have to stay in the ‘Unexplained’ pile.

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