Society’s Collective Illusion — The Mandela Effect
Do you remember watching your Saturday morning cartoons with the right or left intro?
What’s your memory of Shaggy? Is he showing Adam’s Apple in the show or not?
Let me tell you that if you’ve selected the images on the left you’ve fallen into the Mandela Effect. Sadly, none of those are true images.
“But how’s that possible, Pavle?” you would ask. “I remember very clearly that the guy had a monocle. You’re kidding me, right? The show was called Looney TOONS, not Tunes. Shaggy without Adam’s Apple? Come on, stop fooling around! Let me get my old VHS and prove it to you. Let’s see. Here it is, here’s the show and see how it says…oh god! How?”
And now all your memories are shattered into a thousand confused pieces.
What’s the Mandela Effect?
It’s basically a collective false memory.
People that have shared an experience, like watching the same cartoons, mistakenly recall certain elements that never happened.
We might either recall events that didn’t happen, like thinking Mandela died in jail, or distort existing memories, like the examples you’ve seen before. A massive amount of people believe something happened in a certain way when it didn’t.
This effect was coined by Fiona Broome in 2009 when she launched a website discussing memories that couldn’t be matched to documented history.
She thought Mandela had died in prison in the 80s and while discussing it with other people attending a conference, she found out that many shared her belief. However, Mandela passed away in 2013, and strangely enough, even South Africans have acquired this memory despite him being their president in the 90s.
How could people just forget that?
But they didn’t just forget it, they completely distorted it. Many people had vivid images of Mandela’s wife giving a speech at his funeral.
What’s more interesting is that so many people remembered the same event with such detail when it never really happened.
The same might’ve happened to you after selecting the images from the left.
Weird, isn’t it?
So we could all be sharing a false memory, why is that?
The most obvious reason is that either someone has gone back in time and changed the timeline so we’re seeing the ripple effects of it, or that we’ve entered into a parallel universe where things are slightly different.
Now, a more likely explanation tells us that we’ve developed false memories. These can take the following forms:
- Confabulation: the art of filling the gaps in your memory with distorted information. When we’re confabulating we’re erroneously replacing memories with something we’ve imagined to be true. For instance, think of the South Africans that somehow remembered Mandela’s widow giving a speech at his non-existent funeral.
- Priming: the influence of variables leading up to an event to the later recollection of that event. You could also call it suggestibility. For instance, the way someone asks a question can change our answer on that subject.
If people are asked how was the famous protester at Tiananmen Square (“the Tank Boy”) harmed when confronting the tank, the question implies he was injured so people answer accordingly: “Yeah, it was a bloodbath after that tank run over him. My God, what a horrific scene!”
- Memory reconstruction with post-event information: changing your memory after you’ve learned something new about that specific event. This happens when an eye witness is presented with new information about the subject they’ve seen doing something (“he has got multiple charges to account for”) and describe it much worse than it really was (“not only did he run the red light but he almost hit that poor lady”).
Our memory is fragile, you see, and it can change over time. We shouldn’t assume our memories are completely accurate and rely too much on them.
So when you get outraged by some facts that don’t coincide with your memories, be open to a new perspective on it. Don’t shut yourself in denial as a spoiled kid would do.
There’s room for error in our minds. Accept it.
How does it become a collective experience?
The term has just recently been coined and we haven’t traced it back in history. However, from what we know today, we can blame the Internet for massifying these false memories.
Your memories could’ve been distorted once the Internet became popular. The spread of information has never in history been so easy but so does misinformation. People might even create communities based on these misconceptions and suddenly things become factual.
A recent study at MIT found that false news are 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories. And this is not based on bots doing the work but actual human beings, verified accounts, spreading false information. The news becomes factual by just repeating it over and over and people modify their memories with this new information in mind.
Plus, being part of these online communities can also reinforce people’s distorted memories since others seem to share the same memory as yours. It can’t be false if more people remember the same thing, right?
If you’re like me now, baffled by learning that some of your memories have been distorted, I apologize for being the bearer of bad news.
Trust me, I’m still baffled by C-3PO not being entirely golden, but rather having one leg painted in silver. That’s not the C-3PO I remember!
Our memories are fragile and prone to change over time. And thanks to the Internet, some of these distorted memories have infected thousands of people.
Either through the confabulation, priming, or memories that have been reconstructed from additional information, we’ve acquired memories with tiny twists. Details that we thought were clear as day are now questioned when confronted by actual evidence.
I’ll just let you have your moment of confusion and then we should move on.
Accept that our memories are not exact copies of reality and realize they’re changing over time.
So next time you remember something, don’t be so hard on yourself if you find out that it’s not exactly what really happened. We’re imperfect beings, but that’s just life.
Having the Mandella Effect or not, hold onto the good times and let the bad ones fade away.
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