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Can the past change?

The Mandela Effect has now been around long enough to see it hitting the mainstream. For anyone new to it, however, we're talking of the phenomenon where significant groups of people remember something for which there is little to no evidence available. Rather than accept their memory is faulty, these people claim the past has somehow changed for them. You can brush up more on it here, but right now it's time to explore in greater detail a few ideas regarding what could be behind this fascinating phenomenon.

We'll start with some history, then go over some of the possible explanations for it - no matter how weird and wonderful.

Somewhere between collective faulty memories and parallel universes

Fiona Broome 

Fiona Broome popularised the name "Mandela Effect" in 2010 after she met some people at Dragoncon 2009-10 who were sure that he'd died in the 1980's. The idea of group false memories had been around in various forms, however, and as it turns out the Mandela example had too. Although the term went viral and is the one familiar to everyone now, there is a scientific term for it: the Mass Memory Discrepancy Effect, or MMDE. This covers the ME as well as wider instances of group false memories, such as deliberate propaganda, mass "brainwashing" via advertising etc.

The earliest mass memory discrepancy reports

The Tiv people of Nigeria

One of the oldest documented MMDE instances was brought up by user Octillo on Reddit, and concerns the Tiv, an ethnic group from West Africa with a current population of around 6.5 million. The Tiv had a tradition of recording the settlement of significant events orally, such as land ownership disputes in court. When the British occupied them in 1906, they had their own written record of these events. In effect, the two systems were running in parallel.

After 40 years of this, it was noticed there were significant discrepancies between the two systems. It's covered in Walter J. Ong's "Orality and Literacy", page 47. The later Tiv people insisted the written records are wrong. The suggestion is "The integrity of the past was subordinate to the integrity of the present".

Confirmation bias: Princeton and Dartmouth, 1951

There's a well-known social psychology experiment from 1954, which studies the memories of 2 Ivy League school students from a particularly violent football game played 4 years earlier. Each set of fans remembers the other team being significantly more malicious in their game play then the other. There were many injuries on both sides, including a broken nose and leg.

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A film of the match, between Princeton and Dartmouth, was shown and afterwards each student given a survey to complete. All stated that both teams were playing "dirty", but with the reinforcement of 4 years worth of confirmation bias, plus the "evidence" in front of their eyes, each said their team was signicantly less guilty of this behaviour.

Bologna railway station clock

In the 1980's, a terrorist bomb at Bologna railway station in Italy briefly stopped the main station clock. It was repaired, and worked normally for many years, when it stopped due to ordinary mechanical failure. It was decided then to leave the clock broken, and set it's hands to the time the bomb exploded years earlier. What happened next is extraordinary - people who had been using the station for years, including staff, were then sure the clock had been stopped the entire time. A detailed study was conducted and it was found to be an early instance of collective false memory, or what would be called today an instance of the Mandela Effect.

Dollys braces

There's a Mandela Effect from the James Bond movie Moonraker when Jaws first meets his new love, Dolly. Many people remember her wearing braces, and say that's why they connected instantly.  When seen today, however, she isn't. It turns out the exact question was asked in 1999 on usenet:

Watched Moonraker the other day, which was more comedy than anything else.
I thought Jaws' girlfriend wore braces in her teeth, hence the attraction.
But this time, no braces! Am I misremembering?

There could well be isolated references to other "popular" Mandela Effects this way yet to be discovered. It seems the phenomenon only gained prominence with the emergence of the internet and the mass information search and processing abilities it gave rise to.

Art Bell's radio show: 2001

Art Bell ran the paranormal Coast to Coast AM radio show for many years, where fans of UFO's, ghosts, aliens etc were offered a forum, via his phone-in show, where their interests would be discussed seriously without fear of ridicule.

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In 2001 a caller used the example of people "misremembering" Nelson Mandela's death in prison in the 1980's when discussing time travel. This is the earliest documented example of Nelson Mandela being associated with the mass false memory phenomenon which came to be known as the Mandela Effect, or more generally the MMDE (Mass Memory Discrepancy Effect).

Starfire Tor

Before Fiona Broome, Starfire Tor was also researching and publicising "THE TIME SHIFT EFFECT". As her site states:

I am the person who discovered Time Shifts, Time Line Edits, the Core Matrix, Co-Existing Time Lines, the workings of Time Travel, the origins of the cosmos and life on planet Earth, the Dark Matter Aberration - the source of all evil, and the Unified Field Theory of Psi - the foundation science/psience that explains everything paranormal and psychic. All of these discoveries are connected, and together they comprise the Holy Grail of hidden and forbidden knowledge.

In particular, Starfire Tor was describing "THE TIME SHIFT LIVING DEAD PHENOMENA" before it became popularised by an instance of it relating to Nelson Mandela. 

10 possible explanations for the Mandela Effect

1. Faulty memory

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The most common explanation

Many Mandela Effects seem to revolve around trivial spelling mistakes, misheard lyrics or dates of relatively unimportant events. The argument that these are all down to faulty memory seems plausible because it seems to be the details, rather than the essence, which change. The fact that that same change happens for groups just shows all our brains work the same way, the line goes. 

The counter argument is that the memories, to those who experience them, are as real as any others. You might as well try and tell them they ate a different breakfast this morning to the one they know they had. The fact there is a group saying this just serves to reinforce their stance. It's the specifics of the way the memory is wrong which causes the problem. For example, many people remember Sinbad in Shazaam. You'd have thought it enough just to remember the name of the movie which didn't exist, but why him and not Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor etc?

A well documented experiment was conducted where a photoshopped image of a subject, when they were a child, was shown in a hot air balloon. Knowing full well they had never been in one, they were asked to describe the day. Some could not remember, yet some also went into great detail, embellishing the supposed experience with convincing descriptions of the sounds, the smell, the height etc. Were these people knowingly lying, or did they really believe this?

Why none for sports, money etc?

There's been discussion related to the types of Mandela Effect which get reported, and in particular why none seem to relate to sports events and/or money. These may be connected, because of course many people gamble on sports results. A changing sports event result would usually cause a ripple effect, for example even goals scored in a soccer league table affects other teams, players histories etc. Money is the same too - a bank account changing means some other has to as well, and in turn the ones they are connected to. It seems some can cause so much disruption they are not performed at all. Or, if the disruption is total, it affects everybody so no-one can see it.

2. Time travellers

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Physicists will tell you the universe is governed ultimately by the laws of mathematics, and there's nothing in those laws preventing the arrow of time from going backwards. They talk of entropy always going from low to high, and talk of basic laws of themodynamics, yet the formulas allow for the motion of the fundamental particles either way in time. Therefore, goes the argument, if time travel is possible, then even if it's not been discovered today, it will be in the future and the changes some perceive in their timelines are as a result of this.

Rich man's toy

It's even been suggested that due to the amount of effort and money needed, if a time machine were to be built it could only be afforded by the wealthiest individuals, corporations or governments. Sound far fetched? Check out this article on myseriousuniverse.org, which talks of Donald Trump's uncle, John G. Trump, being in possession of Nikolas Tesla's time machine plans...

The small changes are tests

Here's an interesting thought experiment. Suppose you just invented a time machine. You'd want to know it worked, but wouldn't want to do anything massive like kill Hitler or whatever, because you'd risk changing the timeline so much you might not even exist any more. So you'd somehow make small changes in the past of little significance - "markers" if you like, as described by Starfire Tor, or Dr Who's "Bad Wolf" storyline. Then, as you leapt around amongst time, you'd see the changes and could use them as confirmation you did them. How exactly you get Darth to change his words in Star Wars, or any of the other well-known  Mandela Effects, isn't so clear, however. 


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Experiments with the fabric of space and time

It's been pointed out by many observers that the rise in the awareness of the Mandela Effect seem to coincide with the activation of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN. It might be just down to the ignorance of the masses, but the perception that this, and other experiments are creating alternate universes by tinkering with reality is prevalent amongst a significant group of those experiencing the ME. Stories of them creating black holes don't help, even if they are microscopic and evaporate almost instantly, because science fiction has told them they open doorways to parallel worlds or lead to ultimate doom and destruction.

CERN addresses the Mandela Effect in a video

Whether it was wise or not, CERN staff did actually appear in a video poking fun at the Mandela Effect. At one point, a staff member is seen holding a placard with "Bond #1" written on it, which fans will realise relates to the Climax Mystery Theatre episode featuring Barry Nelson as the first James Bond. Another placard underneath reads "Mandela"...

CERN puts a great deal of effort into disclosing what it does to the media in the form of many videos and press releases, yet the perception that they could be holding things back does seem to be fuelling the idea they are somehow behind it.

4. Holographic universe

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An AI controls The Matrix

With the advent of computer games and simulations of 3D worlds, there came the idea that as computers became more and more powerful, they might one day simulate reality itself. If that happened, and the AI behind it also reached a level way beyond anything we can create today, it might be the case that the simulations of the life forms within it reached awareness matching our own. In that case, how would they tell they are not real? Every test conducted would serve to reinforce the fact they are real, exactly as shown in The Matrix movie.

It's interesting to see "What if I told you...", the supposed line from The Matrix movie, is actually a Mandela Effect itself.

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Projections from a higher dimension

If you project light from an n-dimensional world to the one lower down, it appears in that lower one as if it had lost a dimension. For example, shining a torch at a 3D ball creates a circle shadow on a wall - the projection has gone from 3 dimensions to 2 (one lower). So what would a projection into our 3D world from a 4D one look like? Following the same logic, the maths shows it would appear as a solid object. Since we can't interact or be aware of a 4th dimension, just as inhabitants of "Flatland" can't interact with a third dimension. So it may be possible our 3D world is entirely made up from these higher dimensional projections.


A superpowered AI is still a machine, and subject to glitches. If there is an AI controlling reality, and it needs to make a correction, or an anomaly arises, sudden changes could be made which would seem very strange to those who witnessed them. "Glitch in The Matrix" has become a meme on the internet, and it's following the observation of how current computers handle such anomalies. If there is an AI controlling all this, which does make changes to the environment this way, the idea is that the simulated lifeforms within it are not all updated for whatever reason, and they become the anomalies which describe this experience as "The Mandela Effect".

Another proposed idea is that the singularity already happened, and what we call reality is in fact a simulation created by the AI in an attempt to reproduce life. 

5. We're evolving, and this is the next step

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The Ascension of human consciousness

Evolution shows humans evolved continuously from apes. The biggest change was in our mental abilities. The argument that we've not stopped evolving would therefore focus on the increased ability of the human mind, and in particular awareness of the environment we are in.

There are many articles which cover the natural evolution of human awareness. Could it be that this awareness eventually gives us an insight into a reality which has been present all along, involving multiple timelines caused by the collapsing wave functions which science describes, and it starting to manifest for a some people who are calling it The Mandela Effect?


An experiment was conducted where paranormal investigators sought answers using equipment designed to communicate with "those beyond". They specifically asked about The Mandela Effect, and conclude that the evolution argument is what's behind it. It makes interesting viewing:

There are more details on this experiment here.

Where are our memories stored?

Some theorise that human memories are not stored in the physical matter of the brain. They suggest there is a higher dimensional field surrounding it which we can't perceive. This field interacts with the matter in it's lower dimension to create memories. Roger Penrose famously argues consciousness is a quantum mechanical function, in which superposition plays an important role. Could this again involve interaction with a higher dimension which, crucially, remains unchanged when the lower ones do, and thus explain why the memories don't change when things in the 3D world do?

The concept of human memories existing outside our brains has its roots in religion. Buddhism subscribes to the idea of Akashic records, said to be a compendium of all human activity which have ever occurred in the past,present and future. Akasha is the Hindu word for "sky" or "heaven".

When a flatworm regrows it's decapitated head, it's memories return

There is real evidence that memories can exist outside the brain. Scientists decapitated flatworms which has been trained to seek light, by placing food there. When the heads grew back, they continued with this behaviour whilst new ones introduced to the test had to learn from scratch. The experiment suggests that these memories are stored outside the brain, and the scientists behind it admit they have no idea where.

After organ transplant, some personality traits of donor appear

It's also well-known that recipients of organ donations often take on the traits of the person they received the organ from. Many examples exists, such as David Waters who, after a heart transplant developed an insatiable appetite for a very specific kind of potato crisp, only to later find the donor ate the "Burger Rings" crisps daily. Other reports of people speaking new languages, picking up a taste for highbrow literature, music or theatre abound. These memories have been somehow passed on, and they cannot have been from the donors brain alone.

6. Government/corporate social engineering

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Control the masses

The rise of online social networks has not gone un-noticed amongst those who seek to influence the masses. They want to do this for ideological, commercial or political reasons. Fake news is endemic, and there are concerns that those behind it are serious players. 

If, for some reason, there was an almighty conspiracy whereby the current records of events could all really be manipulated to show alternate versions, it would be much easier if all those records were in digital format - i.e. on the internet. Following on from this idea, it would also mean those keepers of the internet, i.e. the websites where most of this information is stored in the form of images, videos and text, would need to collaborate in order to rewrite the past such that it appeared the way they wanted.

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The reasons for the "trivial" changes, such as spellings or song lyrics, could be as a test to monitor how well these manipulations are proceeding. That is, the larger changes are so huge, and affect so many people, that we literally don't know they've been made, as in the movie Dark City

Your browser says it's 1984

State manipulation of all available records of the past, in order to promote brainwashing, is of course the main theme of Orwell's 1984. Today, "Google" is a verb. In 1984, some would cynically say it was "The Ministry of Truth". What cannot be denied is that once all the information exists solely on the internet, and past records have been destroyed, Fahrenheit 451 style, people would have nowhere to go for information apart from these controlled sources. Some of those people's memories would become at variance with the recorded facts, which sounds exactly like the Mandela Effect.

7. Mental states and the human desire for answers

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Is it driving you crazy?

It's an uncomfortable thought for those experiencing the Mandela Effect, but could it turn out to be that they are, to put it politely, kidding themselves? The need to understand what is beyond our immediate perception can be traced back to cavemen's wall paintings. Many conspiracy theories have been fuelled by the burning desire to understand the true nature of the universe. Some even went as far as developing mental illnesses, convinced they were not paranoid and everyone really was out to get them, or whatever.

The need for order

You don't have to try too hard to find conspiracy theories on the internet. The moon landings, 9/11, UFO's, Kennedy ... where did these originate? Once started, these seem to gain a life of their own. The Mandela Effect, as an idea, has been around way before the term - to become popular, it just needed the creation of a snazzy name so people could discuss it in a meaningful way.

Once the seeds of a conspiracy theory are planted, they sometimes cannot be shaken off and just grow, religious-fanatic style, until it is seen to affect "the whole world". There are also many inexplicable events which may well have a quite ordinary explanation, but the conspiracy theory is more exciting and so that's the one certain people go for. With the Mandela Effect in particular, it seems anyone can "contribute" to the pool by just posting on the internet how they "thought" something used to be. As soon as someone else says "me too", a wave is started and before you can spell Berenstain, it's now an accepted instance which gets quoted from then on.

Look at this question from Quora:

I have been questioning existence. My memories do not seem like my own. Time and everyday objects also seem strange. Any thoughts what this could be?

The advice is to see a doctor, as a precaution, but then if that gets the all clear it is because the brain is "tired and healing". This kind of question, however, is ripe for the conspiracy theorists to jump on with whichever particular one they are subscribed to, even though, as we just saw, it could actually be a normal heathy response to the overload of daily life.

Memory distrust syndrome

in 1982 Gísli Guðjónsson and James MacKeith identified a condition where an individual did not believe the accuracy of their own memory, even through there was strong objective evidence the events took place. They termed this the "Memory distrust syndrome". This is important work, because it has legal implications when memories alone are used in court cases.

The Mandela Effect is almost the reverse - the facts today are wrong, rather than the past memory - yet it illustrates the problems faced in both situations.

8. Parallel universes colliding

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Many worlds theory

Science shows particles can exist in multiple locations before being observed, when they collapse into what that observer calls "reality". Many people have pointed to this idea as the explanation for the Mandela Effect. It's name is the "many worlds" theory, and the argument is that each is almost identical to the others apart from one tiny detail. When the universes somehow collide, or cross over, it's that detail which moves from one to the other, and only a few people see this change as having affected their past.

In an infinite universe, all possibilities must occur. So there would be an infinite number or worlds, an infinite number of "you"'s. That's not what's being described here though, since that is describing one universe. The many worlds theory says the universe we perceive as reality is finite, but the matter which makes it up is superimposed many, or possibly an infinite number of times.

It's as though at any point in time, the fundamental particles which make up our reality exist because immediately prior to this, they were made up of "waves" of possibilities, and will do so instantly after they have collapsed into this particular reality. Our entire concept of "now" is merely a hard snapshot resulting in the position these waves were in at that moment. If these waves were able to continue side by side with minor differences, it might be that somehow people do move from one "arrangement" to another, whilst retaining their memories of the original. It can even happen many times. For them, the past seems to have changed, but for others unaffected it has not. 

9. The nature of reality

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We've a great deal more to learn

Quantum physics shows particles can exist in many places at once until their "wave function collapses" down into what we perceive as reality. It could be possible this isn't the full picture, and we just don't know enough about how nature works. If somehow this is happening all the time, and what we perceive as past events can be superimposed on each other in a way some people are aware of them, to those observers it might seem a past event is different. This might happen rarely, but just enough times for a group notice.

Lord Kelvin achieved notoriety in 1900 when he said:

There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

Science has continuously shown that one discovery merely leads to a new layer of mystery, and no self-respecting scientist today would ever repeat that mistake.

Humans are capable of asking questions regarding the nature of reality precisely because they have evolved to learn as much as they can about their environment. They were forced to , because their survival depended on it. Our ancestral cavemen needed to know what was causing that rustle in the bushes - is it something they can eat, or something about to eat them?

The suggestion here is that the Mandela Effect is actually a normal part of reality which we don't yet understand. We therefore impose some kind of supernatural aura over it, the way those cavemen would have done to us had they seen us talking on mobile phones. This idea here is that it's not necessarily parallel worlds or time travel, but something we cannot yet even conceive of, and possibly never will.

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I philosophize, therefore I am 

There are countless theories regarding the nature of reality. For example. Solipsism goes as far as to say nothing is real outside of your mind, and the reality we see all around is a kind of dream, or mental projection. Clearly, there is also room for the Mandela Effect to exist within these scenarios. Gorgian (c.483-375 BC) said:

Nothing exists. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it. Even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others. 

And you can't get much deeper than that.

10. Future humans

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The side effects of small observations

Suppose humanity evolves far beyond the way we see it today, to the point at which an understanding of the universe allows future humans to see the past, but that act is never in isolation - something is always disturbed. If this were the case, these "visitations", intended to merely observe, would be set up so that any changes are minimal to avoid a butterfly effect through time. 

In Frank Herbert's Dune series, some humans took the spice drug across generations which caused them to mutate into extremely powerful entities capable of warping space and time using their minds alone. If they were able to observe the past, but never without some small disturbance, perhaps these side effects would need to be intentionally minimal.

Chaos theory

So-called from the idea a butterfly flapping it's wings could end up causing a tornado, chaos theory has described the way seemingly trivial events can ultimately cause major ones. When considering time travel, the repercussions could be disastrous.

Consciousness controls matter

"Mind over matter" is a well-know phrase, but how about "mind controls matter"?  Science tells us space and time are both parts of the fabric of reality, and you can't have one without the other. Dean Radin has conducted experiments which he claims show this:

So if these future humans are making observations from their past, are they affecting it, and therefore ours, in what appear to be insignificant but noticable ways?