Nelson Mandela, who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, died at home in Johannesburg in December 2013 at the age of 95. This is not disputed. Yet people around the world vividly remembered news reports of the death of the anti-apartheid leader in the 1980s as a political prisoner. How could so many different people share the same false memories? This became known, quite aptly, as the Mandela Effect.
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Why do so many people believe that Nelson Mandela died in prison decades ago? Because they remember how it was.
How did the Mandela effect get its name?
The term “Mandela Effect” was coined by paranormal researcher Fiona Broom, who in 2009 shared her memories of learning that Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s. She even remembered watching and reading the news of his death. It wasn’t some vague memory or incident: “Wait, did that happen?” As for Broome – at least until she finds out otherwise – Mandela It was died.
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This alone would be quite understandable. Human memory is surprisingly error prone, and eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable. As Scientific American According to reports, each of us experiences what can rightly be called memory illusions. These are inaccurate memories of real events, co-opted memories of events that we did not directly experience, or even completely fictional memories.
What struck me about the false memories of Mandela’s death was that Broom was not the only person who had them. Dozens of other people also “remembered” Mandela’s death in custody in the 1980s. How is it possible that many unrelated people share the same “memories” of an event that didn’t happen? Is this evidence of a multiverse? Did Mandela really die in prison in the 1980s in one reality, while the rest continued to live in another timeline?
Probably no. So what’s the deal?
Why the Mandela Effect Proves the Power of Coincidence
As far as we know, there is no parallel universe – at least not one that is a separate branch of our own reality. If you look at “multiverse” you will always see “theoretical” in the definition. For example, the entry in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary reads: “a theoretical reality involving a possibly infinite number of parallel universes.”
Now, instead, search for “coincidence” and you will see the following entry as one of its main definitions: “the occurrence of events that occur at the same time by chance, but seem to have some connection.”
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Think about the random coincidences you experienced that seemed almost unreal. They could be so amazing that something out of the ordinary seemed to be happening. Maybe you thought of an old friend for the first time in years, only to have him text you a moment later. You may have been listening to a song on the radio and an hour later you heard someone humming it in the office.
These events may seem unbelievable, but think about it this way: if you weren’t thinking about this old friend, their text would just be a pleasant surprise. If you hadn’t heard this song on the radio, you probably wouldn’t even notice what your colleague is humming. (Also, maybe you and your friend saw the same post on a social network that gave you an idea and their text. And maybe your colleague also heard the song on the radio on the way to the office.)
The thing is, many people with false memories are nothing special when those memories are kept separate, and when the false memories are about someone as important as Nelson Mandela, they’re not even all that surprising. Sharing similar inaccurate memories makes them almost cosmic in nature, but it’s really just a coincidence.
Examples of the Mandela effect
We all have our own false or inaccurate memories. Dramatic examples include remembering exactly where we were and what we were doing during major events such as the 9/11 attacks or the news of the death of a beloved celebrity.
Ironically, the more often the memory occurs, the less accurate the memories become. By reliving and sharing them, we mix up the details and add new elements. In these cases, we know exactly where the possible inaccuracies come from: our own mind. False, or altered, memory begins in the brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, and has since been stored in this region of the temporal lobe.
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When it comes to events that are collectively misunderstood, such as Mandela’s death in the 1980s, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the false impressions originated. However, we know many examples of collective false memory.
Picture Man-Monopolist, aka Rich Uncle Pennybags, the mascot of the board game Monopoly. In particular, depict his face. Beneath his signature top hat, he has a wide white mustache, a button-down nose, and a monocle, right? Wrong. The monopolist has no points and never has.
Further, what is the name of the classic series of animated shorts featuring characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig? Looney Toons, Correctly? Look and you will see that the second word is spelled “Tunes”. However, most people consider the double O to be the correct spelling.
Now imagine the late Ed McMahon delivering a large check from Publishers Clearing House to an enthusiastic American family. You can probably picture it, but you’ll never find a picture from It. That’s because McMahon never represented the Publishers Clearinghouse and never handed out checks for new releases. (However, he served as a spokesman for rival American Family Publishers.) However, many people seem to remember McMahon as a member of the PCH Prize Patrol. False memories originated somewhere, and somehow they—and many more—were spread.