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What is the Mandela Effect?

Mandela Effect audio

The Mandela Effect is the phenomenon of people’s collective misremembering of specific facts or events. It is what happens when someone has a clear “memory” of something that never actually happened. The Mandela Effect is often linked to bizarre conspiracy theories involving parallel universes, colliding alternate realities, and time travel. One tenet of these theories is that history is actually being changed, which explains why we remember something but history doesn’t record it. Others go so far as to say changes are being made in the Holy Scriptures, too.

The term Mandela Effect was coined by Fiona Broome, a writer and paranormal consultant, in 2010. Ms. Broome explains the Mandela Effect on her website: “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 the history books, newspaper archives, and so on.” The term is a reference to South African leader Nelson Mandela. It seems that a group of people had a false memory of Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s (he actually died in December 2013). Conspiracy theorists hypothesize that, whenever a significant number of people share a similar false memory, then the event is related to “alternate history” or “parallel realities.” In the case of Mandela, the theorists would say he did die in the 1980s (in one universe), and he did die in 2013 (in another universe). People have memories of both because they’ve been “sliding” back and forth between the two realities without knowing it. As ridiculous as these theories may sound, Ms. Broome has gained a solid following online, writing articles and books and giving speeches on related subjects.

The Mandela Effect and its resulting conspiracy theory gained traction when boxing legend Muhammad Ali died in June of 2016 at age 74. Many people said they remembered his having died several years earlier. There are other examples of the Mandela Effect, such as the belief that Hurricane Katrina did not strike the Gulf Coast in August 2005 but rather four months earlier.

Another common example of the Mandela Effect involves the “Tank Man”—the iconic image of a young man blocking a tank at Tiananmen Square in China in 1989. Many people today claim the protester who stood in front of the tanks was run over by the tanks. They say they were taught this in school, read it in their textbooks, watched the footage, and can still visualize it perfectly according to their memory. In reality, the man was never run over.

Here are some other, less dramatic examples of the Mandela Effect:

– Most of us remember the evil queen in Disney’s version of Snow White saying, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” In reality, the queen says, “Magic mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

– The imperative “Play it again, Sam” is never spoken in the classic film Casablanca, although that movie “quote” is a familiar one in most people’s minds.

– In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader doesn’t say, “Luke, I am your father,” as many of us recall. Actually, he says, “No, I am your father.”

– The Statue of Liberty is not and never has been on Ellis Island.

Psychiatrists have offered an explanation for the Mandela Effect—the misinformation effect. Citing a 30-year study on the malleability of the memory, an article in the scientific journal Learning and Memory attributes what others call the Mandela Effect to “the impairment in memory for the past that arises after exposure to misleading information” (Loftus, E. F. “Planting Misinformation in the Human Mind: A 30-year Investigation of the Malleability of Memory.” Learning and Memory. 2005; 12:361–366). If you haven’t paid close attention to something, the details of it can become blurred in your mind at the suggestion of others. In some cases, the misinformation can actually overwrite your original memory, especially if it’s presented in a way that makes it seem more plausible.

In examining the Mandela Effect, we must remember that information passed on by others, whether it’s seen, read, or heard, isn’t always factual. If we are exposed to intrusive or contradictory information over time, our memories can change or become distorted. Repeat a lie often enough, and people will believe it. This “misinformation effect” is one reason why courtroom workers try to preserve the integrity of a witness’s testimony and seek jurors who are not influenced by outside reports and speculation.

Instances of the Mandela Effect are proof that humans spread misinformation and that we all have faulty memories. The Mandela Effect has nothing to do with a multiverse or parallel realities. The truth is that some people would rather believe the entire universe to be flawed than admit themselves at fault.

We live in an age of “fake news” as incorrect information is widely circulated and shared by unsuspecting (or maybe not-so-innocent) people. Of course, being human, we will at times inadvertently misperceive, misread, misinterpret, or misunderstand things. We need discernment and true biblical wisdom to inhibit the effects of the daily bombardment of distortions and half-truths. Followers of Jesus are to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16).

Remarkably enough, there are some who cite the Mandela Effect theory to claim that changes are being made to the Bible. For example, many people will think they recognize the statement “The lion will lie down with the lamb” as being from Scripture, but it’s not. Isaiah 11:6 actually says, “The wolf will live with the lamb, / the leopard will lie down with the goat, / the calf and the lion and the yearling together.” Some claim that the Bible used to describe the lion lying down with the lamb, but someone changed it—either that, or we slipped into an alternate universe. A better explanation is that people don’t know the Bible as well as they think they do and they have allowed artwork and other people’s misquotations to color their memories. There is no reason to believe the Bible is being altered by a nefarious time-traveler or that we are slipping between parallel realities.

Christians should dispense with the far-fetched theories based on the Mandela Effect along with anything else that “promote[s] controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022