What The Mandela Effect Teaches Us

If you follow Buzzfeed, you’ve probably read an article about something known as The Mandela Effect. This occurs when large groups of people misremember events or create entirely fabricated memories. Examples include “Looney Tunes,” which most people actually spell “Looney Toons,” or a Sinbad Genie movie from the 90s that huge numbers of people claim to have watched despite the fact that it does not, in fact, exist. Studies, such as one by a psychologist named Elizabeth Loftus, have confirmed that this effect is entirely real, and is caused when recently received information corrupts older memories.

There’s something deeply disturbing about this. After all,  our understanding of the world comes largely from our memories of it. Ask yourself how you know just about anything, and if you push far enough into the source of that knowledge you'll eventually be forced to simply say “I remember it.” Memory, when we accept it, is taken to be a largely infallible experience of the world. The existence of the Mandela Effect makes us wonder whether the faith we put in it is warranted, and thus whether the world is truly as we know it to be. If our memories are so fragile that they can be distorted by any new information, if we can deceive ourselves so thoroughly, then how much of our own experience or knowledge can we trust?

On the other hand, though, is there anything that we can’t create? Huge numbers of people fabricated an entire movie in their heads, a movie founded on nothing more than the conviction that they’d seen it before. People can conjure up, in their heads, picture-perfect images in exquisite detail that never existed in the real world. We can create endings to songs such as "We Are The Champions" in all their complex entirety, knowing nothing but that other people believe they exist. It seems that there’s no experience too real or too complex to be simulated perfectly by our retroactive memory and imagination, and what word do we have for that kind of ability but amazing?

We will alway be the victims of misinformation and confusion. The power of false news articles this election cycle shows just how easy to fool we are, and the Mandela Effect shows us just how much we can be fooled about. Reality isn’t as easy to define or defend as we might wish it to be. But it is incredibly easy to create, and it’s always been our ability to create reality in our own heads that sets humans apart. Every last one of us is capable of inventing incredibly deep and complex fantasies. Whether those are used to invent fantastical lands or change our own world or even just push us to keep to resolutions we set for this coming new year, we are always able to create them. What could we call that but inspiring?

With excitement and optimism,