Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Ahmed from Edmonton. Ahmed Wonders, “What is the Mandela Effect?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Ahmed!

Do you trust your own memories? We know our memories get a little weaker over time. Many people even lose memories because of illnesses. But did you know some people have memories that are completely false? They remember things that never happened. Sometimes, many people have the same false memory. When this happens, it’s blamed on the Mandela Effect.

People first noticed the Mandela Effect in 2013. That year, civil rights leader Nelson Mandela passed away. However, thousands of people remembered him dying in the 1980s. They described watching his funeral on TV. But in our reality, Mandela lived to be 95 years old.

Still, thousands of people claimed Mandela died in the 1980s while imprisoned by the South African government. They described similar stories of his funeral, which they said they watched on TV. How could that be? How could so many people have the same false memory?

Some people say the Mandela Effect happens because we live in a multiverse. In the multiverse, other universes exist next to ours. Those other worlds look like ours but are different. Major world events turned out differently or never happened at all. In some other universe, the Industrial Revolution never happened. In another, dinosaurs still live. Somewhere else, the Beatles were a complete failure. In another world, America lost its revolution.

There would even be a place in the multiverse where South Africa never released Nelson Mandela from prison. He never became the first South African president. Instead, he died in the 1980s. In that universe, people around the world watched his funeral on TV.

Then, thousands of people from that universe somehow came to ours. Here, they watched his funeral again in 2013. How did this happen? There’s no explanation, and that’s why many people don’t believe this theory.

Most experts explain the Mandela Effect using brain science. When we make memories, our brains keep them in groups. Each group contains memories that are similar to each other. Sometimes, our brains mess up. They mix two similar memories together. That’s why people thought Nelson Mandela died in the 1980s. They knew he was imprisoned during the 1980s. For some reason, they confused his imprisonment with his death.  

That would explain why so many people in 2013 thought Nelson Mandela was already dead. But would it explain why all those people give similar descriptions of his funeral? Could all those people have mixed up the same two memories?

There are many other examples of the Mandela Effect. Have you ever seen the Mona Lisa? Many people remember the woman in the painting with a frown. Others say she was straight-faced. If you look at the Mona Lisa today, she’s smiling. Did you ever read a series of children’s books about The Berenstein Bears? No, you didn’t. In our reality, the books are about The Berenstain Bears, spelled with an “a” instead of an “e.” Still, thousands of people swear they remember the name spelled differently.

Are these false memories the result of confused memories, or is there another explanation? Is there another universe where another Mona Lisa smiles? Or one where Pluto is still a planet? Without proof, we can’t say for sure! 

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.3, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.SL.1

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