Some claim that certain common false memories are evidence for alternate realities.
Ever have one of those moments where you watch an old movie or pick up an old book, and hear a quote or see something that stands in stark contrast to what you thought you remembered? We all have. But what about a special case, where the exact same broken memory is shared by a large number of people? At first glance, it seems like this must be something different. It’s no surprise that any of us individually might remember something wrong; but for a whole group to share an identical false memory seems to suggest that there might be a new phenomenon at work. It’s been called the Mandela Effect.
The Mandela Effect is named for one of its most famous examples, that of Nelson Mandela, whose funeral some people remembered after he supposedly died in prison. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison in South Africa, but he survived it and was released in 1990. He was President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and some of those same people said “Wait, he died in prison, I watched the funeral on TV.” He didn’t actually die until 2013; and every time his name came up, these same people said “Wait a minute, I thought he was dead.”
Now, this group who erroneously remembered that Mandela had died did not include me, but I’m sure some people thought he had. One who did was psychic ghost hunter Fiona Broome, who writes that she discovered that some people she knew also thought that Mandela had died. Seeking an explanation for what she described as an “emerging phenomenon”, she turned not to social science, but to some nebulous concept of alternate realities. In her own words:
The “Mandela Effect” is what happens when someone has a clear memory of something that never happened in this reality. Many of us — mostly total strangers — remember the exact same events with the exact same details. However, our memories are different from what’s in history books, newspaper archives, and so on. This isn’t a conspiracy, and we’re not talking about “false memories.” Many of us speculate that parallel realities exist, and we’ve been “sliding” between them without realizing it. (Others favor the idea that we’re each enjoying holodeck experiences, possibly with some programming glitches. In my opinion, these aren’t mutually exclusive.)
Is a lot of people remembering something wrong evidence for alternate realities? Not really.
We are a story our brain tells itself. And our brains are habitual liars.
Take a moment to think of a cherished childhood memory. Try to recall it in detail. Think of where you were, who you were with, the sights, the smells, the tastes. Recall the sounds, like the wind in the trees, and how you felt. Were you happy? Anxious? Laughing? Crying?
We would all like to think that our memory is like a camera that records a scene, tucks it away in a corner of our brain, and retrieves it for playback when we want to relive that birthday ice cream or feel a long lost summer breeze on our cheeks. In a large sense we are what we remember, so memories are an integral part of who we are.
Unfortunately memory isn’t even remotely like a record/playback device. As neurologist and renowned skeptic Dr. Steven Novella puts it,
When someone looks at me and earnestly says, “I know what I saw,” I am fond of replying, “No you don’t.” You have a distorted and constructed memory of a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative your brain is operating under.
As I like to say, we are a story our brain tells itself, and our brains are motivated, skilled, pathological liars.
Lets take a look at memory, get a rough idea of how it works, and learn when and why we need to be cautious about trusting it. Functionally, the three parts of memory are encoding, storage, and retrieval.
As Dr. Novella points out, the problems begin with encoding, even before a memory has been stored. Our brain is constantly filtering information, and constructing its own reality. We are surrounded by detail. Take a moment right now to be aware of every distant sound around you, of all the leaves on the trees, fibers in the carpet, your breathing, and the sensations on your skin — all of it. Imagine dealing with all of that all of the time! Our brains evolved to construct a narrative of what’s going on, lending attention to what matters most. That thing over there that might be a predator is a more pressing matter than the sensation of every individual blade of grass you’re standing on. But just as things get lost, distorted, or added when your favorite book becomes a movie, the running story your brain puts together isn’t a faithful rendition. In fact, sometimes the circuitry in your brain that distinguishes what’s currently happening from a memory gets confused. This is the most likely explanation for déja vu. It’s a glitch in your own brain’s matrix.
And the first thing your brain does with most information is forget it.
In 1999 one of the best (and perhaps strangest) science fiction films premiered in theaters. That film of course is The Matrix.
The film itself was visually stunning, it’s fight screens were so awesome that other films have duplicated the same style in their fight scenes, and it had that was really unique story line… and made anyone who watched the film not sleep for a few days.
The film itself also had multiple concepts in it that many conspiracy theorists tend to use in their beliefs.
In fact many concepts from the film have either inspired conspiracy theorists in their and terminology and their beliefs, or were inspired by conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists, such as:
The world as we know it is a lie.
The first concept in “The Matrix” that many conspiracy theorists hold near and dear to them is that the world as we know it is just one giant lie, and that everything we know is fake and intentionally constructed in order to fool the masses.
In the movie Neo is told that the world is a lie, and is eventually shown that the whole world that he knew is a computer generated simulation. While most conspiracy theorist don’t go as far to say that our world is a computer generated simulation (although some do) many do think that everything we know is just one well constructed lie, and that all of our history has been guided and constructed by some force that we don’t know about.
Only people who “wake up” can know the “truth”.
In the movie Neo is told that in order to know the truth about the world that he would basically have to “wake up”, which is something that conspiracy theorists tell people all the time that they need to do (especially when they express doubt in the conspiracy theorist’s claims).
Whether the concept of “waking up” came from the movie or not, anytime one argues with a conspiracy theorist (especially on the internet) often the conspiracy theorist will tell the person to WAKE UP to the “truth” (whatever that may be for the conspiracy theorist).
People must choose if they are to “wake up” or not.
Half way through the movie Neo is given a choice about whether he wants to find out what the Matrix is in the infamous “blue pill, red pill” screen. In the screen Neo is given the choice of taking a blue pill and continuing life as he knows it, or taking the red pill and finding out the truth about the world.
This screen is so infamous that many conspiracy theorists now commonly reference to the blue pill and red pill when trying to convince someone that the conspiracy theory that they are promoting is real, and that the only way that the average person can learn about what is really going on in the world (at least from the conspiracy theorist perspective) is that they must “choose” to “take the red pill”, or that they must choose to “wake up”.
- Why do people lie about their belief in a Conspiracy Theory? (illuminutti.com)
- Like Sandy Hook, the Washington Navy Yard Shooting Will Soon Be Co-opted By Conspiracy Theorists (illuminutti.com)
- 5 Conspiracy Theories that would be easy to prove (illuminutti.com)
- Charlie Veitch, the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Who Realized He Was Duped (illuminutti.com)
- Nope, It Was Always Already Wrong (illuminutti.com)
- 5 Things I’ve noticed about… 9/11 Conspiracy Theories (illuminutti.com)
- Are conspiracy theories becoming too popular? (lunaticoutpost.com)