What you’re remembering is wrong, though it seems so right.
When did Nelson Mandela die? Is it Berenstein Bears or Berenstain Bears? And how the hell is FROOT Loops spelled?
These are the types of questions that have people getting cutty in comment sections and questioning what they know to be reality—for good reason too. When the mind is either playing a trick on you or someone else, it’s easy to lose faith in your memory and the truth you’ve had in your consciousness forever. This phenomenon is called The Mandela Effect, and honestly, it will fuck you up.
The Mandela Effect isn’t just some Creepypasta spread around the internet to mess with people and cause some type of Slenderman-esque hysteria, no, but it is something that has affected damn near everyone in the world, and it all started with South African philanthropist and political leader Nelson Mandela. According to Fiona Broome and one of the original researched Mandela Effect websites—dating back to 2009 mind you, meaning this is in no way new—the Mandela Effect started with the belief that Nelson Mandela died in the infamous South African jail cell he was imprisoned in during the 1980s and NOT during his actual death date in early December 2013.
Since then, there have been numerous other flubs and “glitches in the system,” like whether or not Curious George has a tail, if Sinbad starred in an early ‘90s genie movie called Shazaam, and if the Ghostbusters of odor Febreze is spelled with one ‘e’ or two—apparently, it’s with one. There are two beliefs as to what causes the Mandela Effect, and both of them are considerable doozies.
The first one is one that is highly believed in, and may or may not have any validity—the Simulation Theory. Essentially, the Simulation Theory posits that existence is one big friggin’ simulation a la The Matrix, where instances of remembering things as one way when they are presently believed to be another way are simply glitches in it. Who controls this computerized simulation varies, with some saying it’s aliens—cue Giorgio Tsoukalos—or the powerful beings who seem to run the world, as well as other potential controllers.
Another belief regarding the Mandela Effect is backed by mind scientists who say these occurrences are simply cases of remembering things incorrectly. It was first researched by neurologist Sigmund Freud and psychologist Pierre Janet back in the ‘70s, but what doesn’t seem to fall into this explanation is how so many people are collectively remembering the wrong thing.
Is it possible for thousands of people to recall the wrong information without coordinating their wrongness? Or, was The Matrix a tell-all about how the universe works, subversed in Keanu Reeves’ terrible acting and Lawrence Fishburne’s bald head? We may never really know, but what you think is right is most likely wrong, or at least that’s what you’ll be told.
Cervanté Pope is a music and culture journalist whose work has been included in various publications around Portland including Willamette Week, the Portland Mercury and the Portland Observer, as well as a couple of creative nonfiction anthologies. When she's not tackling a giant mountain of deadlines she can be found headbanging at a metal show, advocating for animal rights or trying to scheme a way to get on Family Feud.