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Episode 155 - New Science: Evidence for the Mandela Effect?

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Recap: Magic mirror on the wall, when will reality shifts affect us all? A phenomenon known as the "Mandela Effect" has been making the rounds of paranormal shows for the last year or so, and it seems silly until they start to use real science to back it up. Then, I get mad, and you don't want to see me get mad. In this episode, we learn about our changing knowledge about the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy.

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Episode Summary

Claim: For those of you who do not travel - or at least hover around - fringe communities, you likely have absolutely no idea what I am talking about. Allow me to explain: There is an idea in paranormal circles that reality as we know it - or as many of us don't know it - is constantly being rewritten, but there are errors in that total re-write. Those errors most often manifest in completely random people who seem to be able to remember things the way they really happened in the old reality, but those memories do not match up with the new reality because, quite obviously, reality has changed. They sometimes claim physical evidence for those, like fuzzy pictures in old movies or patent applications but, more generally, just the idea that many other people, they claim, remember reality the way they do. It's often termed the "Mandela Effect" because of the prominent recollection by many people that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s when, in this reality, he died in 2013 of an illness.

My Introduction to This

I first heard of this idea when I was a guest on The Reality Check podcast, episode 363. I talked about Pluto and the New Horizons mission that flew past it just a month earlier. I was then paired with a segment by Adam who talked about the spelling of the popular childrens' book, the Berenstain Bears. People seem to think that it was always spelled with an "ein" at the end, but in this reality, it's spelled with an "ain."

Honestly, at the time, I was a little surprised that I was paired with such an utterly ridiculous segment.

But then, in the various shows I listen to to get ideas for the podcast, this phenomenon started to be talked about more. Things like, does the evil queen in Snow White say "Mirror, mirror on the wall?" or "Magic mirror on the wall?" Or, the very famous line from Star Wars of "Luke, I am your father," or "No, I am your father?"

I'm Not Debunking This

This is going to be a less detailed, in-depth, and lengthy episode than usual. Why? Because I'm not going to debunk this. It's simply not possible to argue a point with someone who believes that reality has been rewritten. In fact, the more I would argue about it, they would claim that is more evidence for their conspiracy because I simply have been rewritten as opposed to them who have not.

It's one of those cases where literally you cannot win, and the old line by Steven Novella definitely holds: "Evidence for the conspiracy is evidence for the conspiracy, and evidence against the conspiracy is evidence for the conspiracy."

My Mandela Effect

Instead, I'm going to give you three things. First is my own "Mandela Effect" situation. Before I was born, my mother was in an accident where she lost one of her legs below the hip but above the knee. I very, VERY distinctly remember asking her many years ago what happened, and she very clearly told me that she was in a parking lot, going to work, and someone hit her in the parking lot. She was a psychiatric nurse at the time.

However, years later, I was telling someone that and she thought I was crazy. She insisted she never told me that. What happened was she was a nurse and there was a car accident on the highway. She pulled over and got out of her car to see if she could help. A drunk driver in a truck hit her and she was flung against the guard rail which hit her in both legs. One could be saved, the other could not.

Those are very different stories. One in a parking lot, one on the highway. One involving a different accident, one not. At the time, we joked about switching realities but it was chalked up to just a false memory. And of course, it had nothing to do with me being much younger at the time of the first story.

Confabulation and False Memory

The second thing I want to talk about is Confabulation. Confabulation in psychiatry is a disturbance of one's memory. Any disturbance, really, such as producing false memories, distorted memories, or misinterpreted memories about the world or oneself without any conscious intention to do so. Because it's still their memory, they are often extremely confidence about that memory despite any contradictory evidence.

So, what could the Mandela Effect be? A psychiatric phenomenon where perhaps a single error in the retrieval of a long-term memory? Or, a massive distortion of the entire universe by maybe quantum computers to mess with the spelling of a popular brand of cereal that should be spelled "FRUIT" but is instead spelled "FROOT" because it doesn't actually contain any fruit?

I leave it to you, the audience, to decide.

Revised Science

The third thing I want to address here is what the Mandela Effect is NOT. It is not an excuse or SHOULD not BE an excuse for people to be lazy with their understanding of how science works. Here's a clip of Laurie McDonald giving what she claims is some evidence for the Mandela Effect: [Clip from Fade to Black Episode 581, starting 1 hour, 06 minutes, 35 seconds into the broadcast]

LM: "But if we want to ask ourselves what timeline are we in, here's the question that'll really, uh, blow your mind: Um, astrophysicists have always said that we, in the universe, in the Milky Way, are specifically in the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way. But now, astrophysicists are saying that we're in the Orion Spur, which is a smaller arm -- sometimes some physicists [...] or astronomer[s] call it the Orion Arm - it's really only a spur, though. But that's where they're saying our consciousness is coming from. That, in fact, we are a reflection of our true self, or our higher self, or our highest consciousness is being imbued into this [...] specific avatar this— of humanity and that [...] somehow our consciousness has shifted perspective out of the Sagittarius Arm, and now our perspective is from the Orion Arm. Now, and if you were to look at the Milky Way, up into the sky, look at it now in terms of, say, an old record album. The— where you would put the needle to play the first song? That's where the Sagittarius Arm would be. The hole where you would drop the LP down on would be the center. The Orion Arm is on the other side of that, and we would've been moved about half-way through the record. So [...] can physically be moved like that? No! Can our consciousness be moved like that, and our alpha consciousness, higher-self perspective, be viewing reality now from that Orion Spur, and of all of the hypotheses and theories of what the Mandela Effect might be, the aspect of our consciousness shifting rings the truest to my heart."

JC: "Right right right right!"

Yeah, okay. I thought this was an anomaly, but when I heard it I noted it for a future episode. Then, serendipitously, Heather Wade had on her Midnight in the Desert program Roy Horne, and it came up again! The program was supposed to be talking about the Mandela Effect, but they got side-tracked when Roy announced he thought Earth was flat. Honestly, this was a difficult few hours to listen to due to the solid denial of reality and making up of all his information, but here's a two-minute clip that's relevant to this discussion: [Clip from Midnight in the Desert, 03 January 2017, Hour 3, starting 49:13]

HW: "But there is!"

RH: "I know what I've seen, but I don't know exactly—"

HW: "Well but we're right here, on the spiral arm of the outer edge of the Milky Way Galaxy, I can go— [Roy kept interrupting] I can go outside right now and look up at the sky and I can see the spiral arm of the Milky Way right across the sky! What-what is that?"

RH: "Well listen, Heather. The uh, you-you mentioned Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you pull up, uh, uh, you can go to YouTube and just search uh, 'Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sagittarius Arm,' and-and he'll say, in his uh show, 'Star Talk,' uh 'Manhattan, New York City, New York state, uh United States, North American continent, Earth, um, Solar System, Milky Way,' and then he'll say, 'Sagittarius Arm!' And that's what I remember, that long arm way out there in the— you know we're at the very end of it, the outskirts of this thing. And that's what Neil deGrasse Tyson says on his show, 'Star Talk.' Well this Earth has never ever been in the Sagittarius Arm. You can Google it right now, and this Earth is on the other side o the center of the Milky Way, uh, in um Orion Stub. Little stub of an arm called 'Orion.' When I go out now, the stars make no sense, [...] and I've followed the stars every night for, I do not know, 30 or 40 years. And I can't— they make no sense to me right now. But the way this Earth is supposedly - and I say 'supposedly' because I don't— I have no way of proving that I lived on Earth that was in the Sagittarius Arm - but that's what I remember. And this Earth is the Orion Stub. And it's not way out there on the end of an arm, it's about half-way between the center of the Milky Way and the outer edge on a little arm called uh, Orion, little stub of an arm. And uh—"

HW: "Well, I mean, we gotta— we gotta uh— we gotta take a break here right now ..."

I think it's important to note that when I have heard numerous persons interviewed about this, they sound about the same. I did not just choose two people that sound a bit, shall we say, crazy, in order to make this concept sound more silly.

With that disclaimer out of the way, what's going on here? The issue is that science continues, and it marches forward our knowledge about the universe.

For this discussion, I read up a lot on the history of observations of the Milky Way and what people thought of its structure. I'm going to skip forward to the 1900s after what is known as The Great Debate in astronomy, and we finally recognized that our galaxy, a collection of stars and gas and dust, is just one of many in the universe.

With that said, it had already been established that our galaxy was a rotating disk, meaning that instead of a spherical distribution of material, it's flattened in one direction, and all the material within it tends to orbit around the center in a direction perpendicular to that flattening. Pretty much literally like a spinning plate, though with a bit more subtlety in the details.

Important for this discussion is that we are embedded within that disk of material. That's why we see a band of stars across our sky: That band is us looking through the disk. The band, in reality, stretches 360° around us. BUT, it looks like it's only in half of that area because that's where it's brightest.

From that simple observation, we know that we're not in the middle of the galaxy. The reason it looks brighter in one direction is because that's the direction of most of the stars. If most of the stars in the galaxy are in one direction in our sky instead of even across the entire band, we know that we can't be in the center.

We also surmised a century ago that we were in a spiral galaxy rather than an elliptical or irregular -- and those are the only three types, pretty much, other than a transitional between elliptical and spiral. We knew we were in a spiral galaxy because we were a flattened disk AND because of the average color of the material in our galaxy. Elliptical galaxies tend to be older, have less dust, and so are redder than spiral galaxies. In comparison, spiral galaxies have lots of young, big blue stars and have lots of dust and gas to keep making those stars. Because of all the dust in our galaxy, because we were a flattened disk, and because of the overall color, we figured out that we were in that spiral type.

Making more detailed observations is hard because of dust. In effect, dust is really good at blocking the main kind of light that we like to look in, the visible light. That's why if you look towards the center of the galaxy, it's not uniform brightness, but it has bands and splotches of areas that appear darker. That's dust between us and the stars behind it.

But, we can look in other wavelengths of light in order to see through the dust. Using microwave telescopes in the 1950s, astronomers were able to map out the motion of hydrogen gas towards or away from us within the galaxy, and the light from this was not blocked by other stuff at those microwave wavelengths. Building up a map of the motions of the gas, astronomers were able to revise the shape of our galaxy from a simple spiral to a barred spiral. This was later confirmed with more observations and with radio telescopes of gas in the galaxy. A barred spiral means that instead of a spherical distribution of stars in the core of the galaxy, the core is elongated into a bar shape.

So, we went from thinking we were the entire universe, to an island of stars, that we're a flattened, rotating disk, that's spiral shaped, and then revised to a barred spiral.

Every spiral galaxy has arms. That's kinda one of the core definitions. But, these arms are not simple. If you look at pictures of regular or barred spiral galaxies, you'll see that if you squint your eyes, you do see reasonably distinct spiral arms. But, those arms are not solid features, and they're not simple in that it's just an arm of material and that's that. Instead, the arms have sub-arms, like branches of a tree, that we often refer to as spurs.

So the simple picture of even just a barred spiral galaxy with a few arms off of the center is now complicated further because those arms can have branches, and those branches can appear to be a bridge between arms.

In other words, nature isn't necessarily as simple as we may like to imagine it is.

But more than that, as we make better and more detailed observations over the years, we can refine our knowledge about the way things are. I already took you through that process with the very basic shape of our galaxy as a whole.

But nearby, that's in the details. Over the years we have made those more detailed observations to try to understand better the structure of our galaxy. We went from, when I was in grade school, being taught that the Milky Way had about five spiral arms and us being in one of them, to now what we think is that we're in a spur of an arm between two of the main ones.

And here's where I need to be clear about something: Our position in the galaxy has not changed appreciably in the last 100 years. Despite what the people in those clips stated. What has changed is simply our understanding of the distribution of stars, gas, and dust that's around us out to a few thousand light-years. In a galaxy that's 100,000 light-years across, we're really looking at the nitty-gritty details.


And that's really all it is. I can't find the ages of the individuals I played clips of, but just based on the references and basic population statistics, I would suspect that they are older than I am. If they went to school in the 1950s, 60s, or even 70s, they were likely taught the basic structure of the galaxy was a simple spiral with about five main arms and we're in the Sagittarius arm, or maybe the Orion arm.

Even when I was in grade school in the 1990s, I remember the books in the library at school showing the Milky Way as a simple spiral galaxy, with a specific picture of the Andromeda Galaxy as saying that's what we probably look like, though smaller. And that was several decades after astronomers knew we were a barred spiral galaxy, but it hadn't yet trickled down to the grade school level and the books that the school libraries had.

Believe it or not, but some books can be wrong. Some of what you're taught in school may be wrong. Sometimes scientists will simplify things and are willing to be only, say, 95% correct in their explanation in order to make it much, MUCH more understandable to their audience. Going back over 10 episodes now, remember: Earth is a sphere. Almost a perfect sphere. But if you want to be MORE correct, it bulges in the middle by 1 part in 300, so there's about a 0.3% deviation from a sphere. And if you want to be even more detailed and more correct, on top of that 0.3% deviation are more, much smaller deviations.

The same thing goes for using this particular claim as evidence for the Mandela Effect. Just because what you remember - correctly or incorrectly - that you were taught in school isn't quite what is being discussed in scientific circles today does not mean that the entirety of reality has been rewritten, that what you think you remember is exactly how things were in your previous reality, and that exactly what's being discussed today as you think you're understanding it is proof that you are now in a different one.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 2. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

Mike   Wisconsin

2:27pm on Thursday, June 29th, 2017 

I was definitely moved here from Sagittarius arm the only time I've ever heard of the orion spur was a few months ago and I alwa**tay up to date on space info. Maybe people here have trouble seeing others points of view because there bones behind there eyes that is actually pretty cool to have here.

Newton Bleck   NY

5:50pm on Saturday, January 28th, 2017 

For me, Occam's Razor cuts thru their explanation very quickly. Science isn't fixed; it learns and updates its understanding. To dismiss this and instead claim that the world has been 'rewritten' or 'moved' completely ignores the no doubt astronomical amount of energy either change would require -and how it could possibly be applied without being noticed. Don't schools teach _any_ basic science courses anymore?

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