The Mandela Effect: because it’s easier to assume alternate universes than faulty memories

One of the things I love the internet for is its conspiracy theories. My absolute favourite is this one, where James Cameron’s career is interpreted in the light of his role as a key weapon in the battle between good and evil Masons (but why are there good and evil Masons? That requires the theory to take us all the way back to Atlantis…)

In our universe, this definitely happened.
In our universe, this definitely happened.
So, when someone earlier today on Twitter linked to the Mandela Effect website, I was naturally intrigued. The Mandela Effect falls into that confused territory between conspiracy theory and weird belief system that you often find in these corners of the internet. It’s named after some people’s belief that they have memories about how Nelson Mandela died in prison, so never got to be President of South Africa and everything else that happened after his release. They believe that either history was changed, or that they slipped into a parallel universe where that event happened before coming back to ours where they were confused to find that it hadn’t.

It’s an interesting science fictional idea, and one used in many time travel stories from Bring the Jubilee onwards – just who might remember the original timeline when history is changed? – but for me it doesn’t work in reality for two key reasons.

First, look at the list of ‘wrong’ memories people have reported on the site and notice how many of them are related to pop culture (and how few are major world events like the early death of Mandela). Assuming we’re in a world where William of Ockham existed, the simplest answer – that people often misremember news about relatively unimportant things, but don’t like to be told they’re wrong – seems a better explanation than ‘mysterious forces are changing history and/or playing with our memories’.

Second, all these changes in history seem to have had no effect on the people recalling these memories. One of my favourite books is Lisa Tuttle’s Lost Futures which is about a woman who finds herself experiencing parallel realities, first in her dreams and then actually living through them. Similar to Kim Newman’s Life’s Lottery, it’s about how the choices we make shape the person we turn out to be. In Tuttle’s novel, the lead character finds while the universe stays relatively similar, her life is radically different depending on the choices she made, right down to her name. People are much more likely to remember the details of their own life than what they may have heard on the news a few years ago (how many times have you done a quick Google to check if Celebrity X is alive or dead?) and yet the evidence they’re claiming for random experiences from parallel universes isn’t ‘I was living in a different city, with a different partner and job, and oh yeah, Nelson Mandela died in the 80s’ but a somehow unchanging sense of self amidst an ever changing history.

Like any conspiracy theory, the Mandela Effect is interesting for what it reveals about those who believe in it. We want to believe our memories are perfect records of our histories because they’re an important part of what we are, so when we discover that we’ve been remembering something wrongly, we can either admit our fallibility, or adopt the position that the universe must be fallible instead. Mind you, when you live in a world where Donald Trump appears to be a credible Presidential candidate, there is always the temptation to believe you’ve missed the turn at Albuquerque that’ll take you back to your own universe.

Who is (or was) Balustrade Lanyard?


Many people come here seeking the truth about Balustrade Lanyard – the man, the myth, the lanyard – but thanks to a quirk of Google, they’re merely landing on a page that tells them next to nothing of one of the most important political figures of our generation. Should you wish to know more, it can be found by clicking here.

Clare Balding, Duchess of Cambridge

The Radio Times have discovered some shocking news about the Royal Family. In the Christmas issue during the interview with Miranda Hart, they casually drop this bombshell:
Text from Radio Times, including line 'where Clare Balding was head girl (and later, Kate Middleton)'
Yes, unbeknownst to all of us, Clare Balding’s career was even more remarkable than we imagined. On top of all her other work, she also manages to be Kate Middleton. Who knew?

Bad Tory electoral ideas, numbers 23 and 24

It’s a well-documented phenomenon in British politics that the Conservative Party Conference is where some of the oddest ideas in British politics go to get an airing. As Political Scrapbook points out, there are many made ideas getting out into the open this week, but I wanted to highlight a couple.

First up, we have Tony Baldry MP, who has clearly discovered the history of the National Liberals and seems to think it would be a good idea to resurrect them. And just as the National Liberals were eventually subsumed into the Tories, so would their new version – in exchange for Tory candidates standing down, they’d have to agree to support the Conservatives in Parliament. In other words, they’d be Tories under another banner, but this is a good idea for Baldry because he believes “The country has been trying to manage three Parties, in a House of Commons and an electoral system essentially designed for two.”

It’s nice that a Tory MP admits that our electoral system doesn’t work well when there are multiple parties competing, but his solution to that problem is somewhat odd. In effect, if the people have the temerity to have a wide range of views that need a wide range of parties to represent them, they should learn better and only expect to have two parties. If they dare to vote for multiple parties, well, those extraneous ones will have to be removed to stop people like Tony Baldry being confused. After all, how can you have an orderly Parliament when there are people there who don’t automatically vote with the Conservatives or Labour?

In other news, Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has been complaining about councillors, saying that they’re ‘mediocre people’. The fact that Ipswich was run by a Conservative-led coalition that lost seats and power to Labour may have something to do with his comments, but I wouldn’t want to ascribe all of his comments to that. No, when he starts advocating the return of the business vote and talking about the Corporation of London as a model for other local government, it’s clear that he’s motivated by other factors too, such as a contempt for democracy.

However, while it’s a silly comment being made a fringe meeting, I’ve seen other comments by Conservatives nationally decrying councils as somehow blocking prosperity – much of the thinking behind the National Planning Policy Framework is based on the principle, and Nick Boles was playing the mood music for it a couple of years ago. While the coalition has said there’ll be no local government rearrangement in this Parliament, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some form of local government reform being promised in the next Tory manifesto (probably alongside promises that it would ‘unleash growth’ and ‘promote efficiency’) with the intention being to gerrymander as much as possible into large shire county unitaries where the urban votes are drowned out by the rural ones. And if that doesn’t work, start giving people who are likely to vote Tory multiple votes and eliminate any of those pesky small parties who might confuse the issue.

The perfect script

Here’s some movie news:

Atlanta Nights, by Travis Tea, has been optioned for a film. The book was created in 2004 as part of a sting operation by members of SFWA against the publisher PublishAmerica. After the book was accepted the the hoax revealed, PublishAmerica canceled the contract.

Well, you think, maybe they just got a good book and used it as part of the sting. Nothing wrong with that getting optioned. But there’s more…

Each chapter of the work was written by a different author with no regard for plot, continuity, spelling, or grammar.

I’m hearing that Michael Bay is going to direct it.

(OK, the option is actually for a documentary about what happened, but when do I resist the obvious joke?)

(via Paul McAuley on Twitter)

An odd turn of events

From what I can tell, this is how it happened:

First, someone working at ITV News forgets that they’re logged into the work Twitter account, rather than their personal one, and tweets: “Nigella Lawson is nowhere near as attractive as she thinks she is”

This is spotted, and retweeted, by Andy Reeves. A short while after that, Andy finds that his Twitter account is suspended (and at the time of writing this post, it still is).

Any explanations?

(Via Jennie)

Emperor Norton

Emperor Norton

“Everybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Hermann Hesse. Hardly anybody understands Einstein. And nobody understands Emperor Norton.”
(Principia Discordia)

A conversation last weekend reminded me that not many people know the story of Emperor Norton, even though many of you will have seen him regularly as I use a picture of him (larger version to the right) as my avatar on Twitter and some other forums.

Joshua Norton was the first – and to my knowledge, only – Emperor of the United States of America (and Protector of Mexico). Now, you might quibble over that description, given that the Constitution of the USA doesn’t mention an Emperor amongst all its clauses and amendements and you’d be right. Unromantic, but definitely correct. You see, while other Emperors waited around for Popes and assemblies to crown them, Norton took a much more can-do attitude to life and simply declared himself Emperor one day. You would expect nothing less from an American Emperor, simply embodying the declarative pioneering spirit of his nation by going ahead and just doing it, then waiting for everyone to catch up.

The punchline, of course, is that eventually people did catch up. Norton’s reign lasted for over twenty years from his proclamation in 1859 to his death in 1880 and he received the sort of attention you’d expect a ‘genuine’ Emperor to get – free meals in San Francisco’s finest restaurants, his decrees and declarations published in all the city’s newspapers, police officers saluting when he passed them on the street and the respect and admiration of his fellow citizens/subjects. A tale is told of him preventing a mob from lynching Chinese workers by standing between the two groups and praying, with no one daring to cross the space he’d created.

As I argued in a post I wrote for The Sharpener a few years ago, Norton was a man who saw a gap in the market for a monarch and filled it. His is a story that reminds us that however often we might fantasise about power and the ways to achieve it, in the end it all comes down to consent – a man can only be your Emperor if you want him to, and if you do feel like having an Emperor, then there are many worse options than one who “shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country”.

The rise of the real nutters

For us politics junkies, The Thick Of It is essential watching and one of the treats of this election campaign has been Jesse Armstrong’s Malcolm Tucker columns for the Guardian (warning: contains language liable to offend the offendable).

And while it’s amusing to imagine just how the real-life Malcolms are dealing with the election, it’s a bit disturbing to discover they’re thinking on the same lines as the rest of us. Rebecca Front (the actress who plays Nicola Murray in The Thick Of It) tweeted this morning:

A very nice man approached me in the st & asked if I wanted to be in a Labour party broadcast. They want Nicola Murray in a ppb? …

Followed by this response from Armando Ianucci, the creator and director of the series:

@RebeccaFront. Saatchis contacted me and asked if I wanted to shoot the Tory Hung Parliament ppb. Offal heads.

At this point, life is no longer imitating art, it’s given up, stuck itself in a frame and demanded to be painted over. How long till someone attempts to get Chris Morris to direct a broadcast for them?

UPDATE: Turns out that they also attempted to get Charlie Brooker to appear in the Tory election broadcast. Satire may not be dead, but there’s someone out there trying to slaughter it in the most horrible ways imaginable. (thanks to James Graham for pointing it out)

In other news, the White House is now located in Wisconsin

This is real:

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, co-wrote an academic article entitled “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures,” in which he argued that the government should stealthily infiltrate groups that pose alternative theories on historical events via “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine” those groups

This is The Onion:

I’d introduce the two of you, but it seems you’ve already met.

(Original link via Stuart Sharpe)