Is It ‘Berenstein Bears’ Or ‘Berenstain’? Revisiting The Mandela Effect Internet Conspiracy Theory One Year Later

On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela, the great South African leader and activist, passed away. His death came after a life that saw him imprisoned for many years, only to become South Africa’s first elected president in 1994, four years after his release. This is the timeline, according to the biography posted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

But if Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, why do scores of people believe that he died in prison? It’s possible these individuals are simply confused. Another noted South African activist, Steven Biko, died in police custody in the late 1970s and was the subject of a hit song by Peter Gabriel in 1980, according to a Guardian report.

According to an internet theory that first became widely known this time last year, however, both versions of history are actually true. They exist in parallel universes, and those who remember things differently are not incorrect — they have just jumped from one timeline to another, or the parallel universes have simply merged.

Last summer, if you were trying to recall if you grew up reading The Berenstein Bears — or The Berenstain Bears — you were part of the passionate discussion of the conspiracy. As Vice wrote at the time, scores of people who remembered the books spelled with an “e,” not an “a,” after the series’ creators, found it hard to believe that their memories could be so off and for so long. The Mandela Effect gave them a reason to believe that maybe they were not crazy or had fading memories: they had simply jumped timelines.

Some journalists, like Russell Smith at the Globe and Mail, thought the controversy to be just another example of silly internet fixation. He questioned whether it was simply the case that people who thought they knew certain facts just weren’t up on their history.

“[M]aybe – and I know this is totally implausible – science bloggers just know a few dumb people who don’t follow the news very closely.

“The wonderful thing about the parallel-time-stream theory is that it laughs at attempts to fact-check history. It’s a new kind of conspiracy theory that does not even attempt to prove or disprove facts because facts are obviously changing in time.”

As Vice reported, the Mandela Effect can be traced back to Fiona Broome, who first put a name to the phenomenon a few years ago and maintains a website about her theory.

What if your memories aren’t flawed… not one of them?

— Mandela Effect (@MandelaEffect) September 15, 2012

Curiosity offered a more nuanced exploration of the phenomenon, including the fact that proponents of the theory say it’s proof of a multiverse, where different universes are existing at the same time. But the biological fact of memory means that memories are not always reliable and are constantly changing.

Vice spoke with Dr. Henry L. Roediger, who is an expert on false memories. The doctor dismissed the idea that different recollections of the Berenstain Bears spelling was proof of anything more than the name’s particular spelling is uncommon.

“I’m not sure that misremembering one letter in a long name is a major league false memory. My guess is that in this case that ‘stein’ is remembered because it is a common ending of many names—Einstein, Frankenstein, Goldstein, etc.”

One year later, there’s still discussion about this issue — one that’s been quietly passed around for a few years now but only reached a viral point last August — at least in this universe.

Conspiracy theory, scientific principle, or internet bunk? What do you think?

[Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images]