How a Wild Theory About Nelson Mandela Proves the Existence of Parallel Universes

How Nelson Mandela, quantum mechanics, and the Internet combined to provide evidence of parallel universes. 

Nelson Mandela and alternate worlds
Credit: Gareth Davies/Getty Images and Pixabay.


What does Nelson Mandela, the defiant revolutionary who led the people of South Africa from under apartheid, has to do with alternate realities? The answer is a conspiracy of conspiracies which has, of course, struck a strong chord on the Internet.

On December 5th, 2013, when President Mandela died, a large number of people around the world found themselves thinking they were sure he died much earlier, while in prison in the 1980s. These people found each other online and the Mandela Effect was born. 

What if there are certain events in our collective memories that some people remember one way and others remember completely differently? The Mandela Effect theory says that both groups are actually remembering correctly. The difference is that one group lived in one timeline or reality and the other group experienced a different timeline in their past.

Nelson Mandela leaves the InterContinental Hotel after a photoshoot with celebrity photographer Terry O'Neil on June 26, 2008 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Fiona Broome, author and self-described “paranormal researcher,” who coined the term “the Mandela Effect” described her memories of his death this way:

“See, I thought Nelson Mandela died in prison,” wrote Broome. “I thought I remembered it clearly, complete with news clips of his funeral, the mourning in South Africa, some rioting in cities, and the heartfelt speech by his widow.”

She didn’t necessarily think much of this at the time but in a few years met people who shared the same exact memories. She realized soon that “perhaps thousands” of people have similar “false” memories. They have supported each other online and identified many more collective mis-rememberings.

For her own take on what is happening, Broome invokes quantum mechanics, seeing the collective false memories from a “multiverse” perspective. She and others may be having shared memories from parallel realities.

In 2012, another blogger caused a Mandela Effect splash over the spelling of the titles in the children’s books “The Berenstain Bears”. She remembered it vividly from her childhood to be “The Bernstein Bears” - complete with how the letters on the cover looked. It turned out that many people had this same memory as well.


Certainly, as one looks at the kind of memories people seem to misremember, many of them revolve around cultural memes. Another popular memory involves many folks remembering the logo for the cartoon series “Looney Tunes” being spelled “Looney Toons”.

Celebrity deaths are also a popular shared mis-remembrance. People recall vividly the death of the legendary evangelist Billy Graham. He is, as of the writing of this article, very much still alive, having recently celebrated his 99th birthday.


Another popular memory involves a film by the comic Sinbad. Whole online communities sprang up sharing details of a film he supposedly produced in the 1990s called “Shazaam!” People even remember how the poster looked. The only issue with that - there was no such movie ever made.  

A faked cover for the film that spread online.

In 2017, the Mandela Effect was invoked by people who thought the CERN supercollider created a rip in reality and we are now living in one where Donald Trump is President. How much you believe that may depend on your politics.

Of course, it may also feel like a stretch that these internet phenomena are evidence of alternate timelines. What does science have to say about collective false memories? 

Psychologists describe the disconnect between our memories and realities as a confabulation.  The term describes a disturbance of memory, which can result in the production of fabricated or misinterpreted memories, even despite contradictory evidence. It may not even be intentionally happening and can be related to brain damage.

Another explanation for the Mandela Effect, as proposed by neuroscientist Caitlin Aamodt, may be suggestibility - our tendency to want to believe what others are suggesting to be true. Especially, in the petri dish of the internet, it’s not surprising if supposed instances of the Mandela Effect spread like memes. I certainly wouldn’t be the first to point out how truth of an event or fact is often not revenant to its dissemination online.

Dr. John Paul Garrison, a clinical and forensic psychologist, described this effect in an email interview with Forbes:

“I suspect that some memories are spontaneously created when we read certain Mandela Effect news,” wrote Garrison. “However, once that new memory is in there, it might seem like it has been there forever.” 

For more on the Mandela Effect, check out this video:

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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