What is reality?

There’s something called the Mandela Effect which is the phenomenon where masses of people believe that an event occurred when it didn’t. The term was first coined in 2009 after researcher Fiona Broome got talking to people at a conference about how she remembered Nelson Mandela’s death in a South African prison in the 1980s. Only that never happened. Mandela was released from prison in the 1990s, went on to become president, and didn’t pass away until 2013. Fascinated by the false memory, Broome began to talk to other people about the event and found that she wasn’t alone. Others had vivid memories of seeing news coverage of Mandela’s death on TV and hearing a speech by his widow in the 1980s. How can so many people remember an event that never took place?

Nelson Mandela’s death is not the only example of the effect. Masses of people recall the famous line from Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back as “Luke, I am your father” when it was in fact “No, I am your father.” Another movie line that’s remembered differently by millions of people comes from Snowwhite. Most likely you’ll remember the evil queen saying “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” when the line actually starts with “Magic mirror on the wall…”

The perhaps most famous example is in the beloved children’s book series about the Berenstain Bears which came out in the 1960s and became a TV series in the 1980s. It’s spelled Berenstain with an A, only masses of people swear that it was actually Berenstein with an E. The Berenstain conspiracy has triggered some wild suggestions with a theory that involves quantum physics. It suggests that sometime between 1986 and 2011, our universe, in which the bears were named Berenstein, merged with a near-identical parallel universe in which the family is named Berenstain. The event altered our history and left people perplexed as to what was going on with reality.

In quantum physics, the many-worlds-interpretation, aka the multiverse, deals with a branched reality where there are most likely an uncountable infinite number of universes. That also opens up the possibility of an infinite number of yous living vastly different lives. If you like this sort of idea, I’ve read two really good books in the past few weeks that I’d recommend. They’re Blake Crouch’s Recursion and Dark Matter which are both science fiction thrillers that keep you hooked to the page. I have a weak spot for the latter when it deals with the problematic scenario where multiple variants of you turn up in the same world – how do you deal with yourself? Recursion draws inspiration directly from the Mandela Effect and is set in a fictional New York where more and more people are presenting with False Memory Syndrome – that is, they’re remembering events that never took place. What’s causing the problem?

Whether we merged with a near-identical parallel universe at some point between 1986 and 2011 where the Berenstein Bear family got a new name is impossible to say. Because in an infinite universe, anything is possible.

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