A Facebook post by arts, culture and news site VICE.com caught my attention last week and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Apparently there is a conspiracy theory surrounding the Berenstain Bears. Yes, the anthropomorphic family of bears created in the early ‘60s as a series of childrens’ books who later appear in a TV series and in movies. The controversy is over the spelling of the name and it has some readers convinced it proves the existence of parallel universes.
Ridiculous, right? That’s what I thought as I clicked the link and expected to spend about 30 seconds figuring out what all the fuss was about.
But it’s still on my mind.
The site suggests the way you remember the spelling of the Bears’ surname determines if you are from the “A” universe or the “E” universe. My first thought was, “Of course it’s spelled with an E! They are the BerenstEin Bears.” A quick Google search proved otherwise.
So they must have changed it at some point right? Nope, they have always been the BerenstAin Bears. Created by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
No big deal, so I was wrong. Later that day I showed my wife a photo (sans logo) of the bears in question on my phone and asked, “What are these bears called?” She immediately responded, “The BerenstEin Bears!” I asked her to spell it and she was incorrect.
She then texted two of her cousins who are also around our age with the same results. We all remembered and pronounced the name with an E. We were not alone, there must be a glitch in the Matrix.
Another arts and entertainment website, avclub.com, posted a similar story on the same day. It linked the shared mis-remembering to a phenomenon labeled “The Mandela Effect.”
The Mandela Effect derives its name from the fact that many people seem to remember former South African president Nelson Mandela dying in prison along with related media coverage. Mandela was actually released from prison in 1990 and passed away in 2013.
So why so many shared false memories? Some individuals suggest the discrepancy proves the existence of parallel universes and vindicates certain quantum-psychics related theories.
Andrew S. Friedman, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers a simpler explanation. Friedman argues that the effect is really caused by fallible human memories.
Still sites such as mandelaeffect.com and a thread on Reddit.com are dedicated to users sharing their own false memories of events as trivial as alternate movie scenes and as serious as the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Could Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who was suspended — and eventually re-assigned — for misrepresenting his experiences in Iraq, be the first high-profile case of the effect?
I think the most likely explanation of the “Bears” is we were kids who weren’t paying close attention. We are used to seeing names like Einstein and Frankenstein but rarely names that end in “stain.” They were also on the periphery of our culture. The bears weren’t as popular as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny and everyone knows how to spell Looney Tunes.
Or is it “Toons?”