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  Columnist: Edward Crabtree

Image credit: sxc.hu

A tale of two realities


Posted on Tuesday, 27 September, 2016 | 17 comments
Columnist: Edward Crabtree


'No! This is getting crazy!' The middle-aged guy's can of Miller Light drops to the floor of his trailer park, and his jaw almost follows suit. He is watching his favourite movie – E.T. The movie has just reached the classic sequence where the alien, donned in a wig, points out of the window with a crooked digit and intones...'E.T home phone' 'It was always E.T phone home! Not' home phone'! says the tearful man. The so-called Mandela Effect has just claimed another victim...

Of Silver legs and dilemmas.

The 'Mandela Effect', a new meme, denotes a situation wherein a collective memory seems to conflict with recorded truths. Like the Slender Man , the folkloric entity which some insist exists, this paranormal syndrome belongs, for the most part, to the internet world. It also revolves around American pop culture to a large extent.

The year was 2010 when Belmont born Fiona Broome noted how many people confirmed her own false memory of the death of Nelson Mandela in prison in the 1980s. Following the genuine passing of the great man at the age of 95 on December 5th 2013, the idea gained momentum. It seemed that there were quite a few Americans who shared Broome's recollections of Mandela's earlier demise.

A self-described 'unabashed geek', Broome works as a paranormal consultant with particular attention to ghost research, and has done so for 35 yeas. Interest in her 'Mandela Effect' musings has reached viral proportions to the extent that her website on this is groaning under the weight of all the traffic it has spawned.

The Effect is really an umbrella term which, apart from the life story of Mandela, concerns a lot of minutiae in the areas of historical, geography, culture and linguistics.

Was not 'dilemma' once spelt 'dilemna'? Was Australia always so close to Indonesia and did it not have more of a northern peninsula? What about Billy Graham? Did we not see his funeral on T.V. some time in the nineties? And since when did C3PO have a right shin made of silver rather than being gold all over?

In particular there are two riddles which seem to draw nods of agreement. Many Americans grew up with the companionship of story books featuring loveable bears called... well, that's just it. What were they called? Many know them as the Berenstein bears, but their current spelling seems to be Berenstain. (This has even given rise to a promotional T-shirt with the legend: BERENST*IN).

The other one is more substantial – and macabre. On June 3rd 1989 there was a military crackdown on widespread student protests in China, centered on Tianemmen Square. One brave young man, shopping bags in hand, stood in the path of an oncoming tank. He was seen to converse with the driver of the tank before being whisked back into the crowds by unidentified onlookers. The fate of the man, dubbed 'tank boy' has never been determined. Except that some in the West swear that they recall the citizen being crushed to death by the onrushing tank...

If you find it pleasant to be discombobulated in this way then there is much more of tit where this came from. You can find coach loads of perplexed queries at https://www.reddit.com/r/Mandela Effect.

If quibbles over spellings, logos and maps seem somewhat lame then over at You tube you can watch a man showing you how his old Thesaurus has sprouted new pages and another who maintains that his three children have vanished into non-existence. Then there is the woman who was reared in Galveston Texas. Having been a frequent visitor to the waterfront there she is adamant that Pelican Island was just a very small rock, not the large built up island, which it now is.

Worlds in Collision

The internet thrums with talk of these 'Mandelas'. It seems that it is a theory designed for our times. It is even framed in terms of two huge contemporary talking points: conspiracies and alternate realities.

'They' are manipulating the media, tampering with films using digital wizardry, altering time-honoured logos, and airbrushing historical events out of existence. Perhaps this is all in aid of some diabolical experiment being played out on us (Anyone who has read the post-Soviet novels of Victor Pelevin – such as Babylon (1999) will already be acquainted with this trope).

A more resonant hypothesis involves parallel universes. Berenstein bears and the horrific death of 'tank-boy' were both real, but within a different time stream. Exponents of this approach are able to refer to established scientific thought. In 1957 the American quantum physicist Hugh Everett III propounded the 'relative state formulation'. In this model of the universe, with each new event reality bifurcates into alternate possible outcomes.

The high strangeness of quantum physics has been a boon to speculative authors. Alternate histories have long been a staple sub genre within science fiction. Nor can mainstream writers resist its lure. A Catholic Britain for which the Reformation never occurred is what we are invited to imagine in Kingsley Amis's The Alteration (1976). In more recent times, the British-American film directed by Peter Howitt and starring Gwyneth Paltrow – Sliding Doors (1998) draws on the parallel universe conceit as the basis for a romantic comedy.

There are those who join the dots between skulduggery and parallel worlds. To some 'Mandela Effect' advocates, CERN is a sort of Masonic sect which seeks to silence those who know about the results of their nefarious experiments. Indeed, with its Swiss location, international network and futuristic undertakings CERN is the very stuff of which thrillers are made. The European Organisation for Nuclear research has been utilising a particle accelerator – a Large Haldron Collider – for eight years now, and their remit does indeed include looking in to 'extra dimensions'.( You can read all about what they say they are doing right here : home.cern/topics/large-haldron-collider). Could, however, all this speculation been nothing more than the use of a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

A few minor adjustments

If these alternate universes are parallel then how do we account for dual memories where some people can recall two versions of something at once? Does Curious George have a tail or not? Some claim to remember him both with a tail and without. (For the benefit of fellow non-Americans, Curious George is a fictional brown African monkey, drawn by Hans Augustus and Margaret Ray, who has been enthralling American children for 75 years). In fact, in order to make him look like a human child, he had no tail. Monkeys, though, ought to have tails – so many have added them on in their minds eyes, while still retaining a recall of what they could really see.

So we make our own deductions from the information we receive and this can lead us creating mistaken impressions. To get back to Mandela: whilst he never died in prison he underwent surgery for an enlarged prostrate whilst still incarcerated in 1985 and contracted tuberculosis in 1988. That same latter year there ensued a live concert in Wembley stadium to celebrate the leader's 70th birthday. Might these disconnected facts have been moulded together to form a 'funeral'?

In an experiment to test how this could happen, some college students were shown identical shots of two cars colliding. They were nevertheless given different descriptions of what had happened: one that the cars 'hit' each other the other that they 'smashed into' one another. A week later these students were asked if they had seen any broken glass at the site of the accident. . A third of those in the 'smashed into' sample recalled broken glass being present, even though this was not in the film (Alter, p-45-46).

This is likewise in the case of Dolly's braces. In the Bond film Moonraker (1979) the character of Jaws, an assassin with metal teeth, falls in love at first sight with a dorky girl called Dolly. In a comedy sequence he smiles at her, and she smiles back – revealing braces. Contrary to the Mandela myth these have not since disappeared. They are still there, but are on her bottom teeth only. To a big screen audience this would have been enough of a suggestion to trigger an impression of a full mouth of braces.

A further factor is something known as 'Cognitive fluency'. Burkeman describes Cognitive fluency thus: 'If something is easy to think about then we are more likely to think it preferable, or more important or true' (P-152, Burkeman). Who can deny that it is easier to think of Berenstein bears (reminding us, as it does, of Goldstein, Frankenstein et al) than Berenstain?

Common misconceptions play a part also. In 'my time stream', until quite recent times that is, pineapples grew on trees! No doubt for the rest of you they had always grown on the ground! In the same way, some Mandela Effect faddists have expressed surprise over the fact that bats are not 'now' blind. (The idiom 'blind as a bat' notwithstanding, bats were never blind: they just use sound echoes to get around when it is dark).

As for those lines in movies, these are often adapted, even improved on, as a form of folk-art, in the process of being made iconic. Did Holmes ever say: 'Elementary, my dear Watson'? Or Captain Kirk: 'Beam me up, Scotty?'

Things aint what they used to be

The Mandel Effect craze speaks to our sense of unease at this age of information overload when the very ground beneath us seems to shift. It embodies a nostalgia for a simpler age when the sun shone yellow, logos were never given makeovers, journalists never made typos, there were no internet obituary hoaxes, and there was only one version of recorded popular songs.

Why make a quantum leap and drag alternate realities into this.? One of the very men who has done much to bring quantum physics into public awareness is Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist from New York University. In Physics of the Impossible he has this to say about the intertwining of parallel worlds. It would, he says, 'be an exceedingly rare event' and, furthermore, one 'you would have to wait for longer than the lifetime of the universe for such an event to happen' (Kaku, p-248).

Broome has hit a seam of gold with her coinage of the 'Mandela effect' (even if the title trivialises a great humanitarian, and highlights one of their most dubious claims). She is right not to give up her ghost-hunting day job though: in the long term this may just turn out to be this era's passing cult, like the 'pyramid power' of the nineteen seventies, ( which had people placing blunt razors in small pyramids in the hope that this would sharpen them).

Meanwhile it provokes thought, and is educational to boot. Nor can I deny that it does spook me at times. How about this item: say the word King Henry Eighth to me, and, along with many others of my generation, an image of a portrait pops into my mind where he is pictured holding a chicken drumstick.

No such portrait is in existence.

Edward Crabtree.

References:

Alter, Adam Drunk Tank Pink: The Subconscious Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel and Behave (UK: Oneworld Publications, 2013)

Burkeman, Oliver Help! (UK: Canongate Books Limited, 2010)

Kaku, Michio The Physics of the Impossible (UK: Penguin books, 2008)

Article Copyright© Edward Crabtree - reproduced with permission.



 
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