By Brent Swancer
One fascinating idea that has come to be a fixture of science fiction and fantasy is the idea of other universes and realities other than our own, new worlds existing side by side with us and even harboring other versions of ourselves. Yet is this all mere science fiction or is there something more to it? Since as long as the idea of a multiverse has been around there have been those who have sought to find some way to prove that these alternate realities exist, looking for clues and hints that they could indeed be real. Ranging from the surreal and the bizarre to the more scientifically plausible, these pieces of supposed evidence and the methods used to search for them cover a wide spectrum, and show that there is a strong desire for us to reach out into the unknown and make sense of the possible reality of alternate, parallel universes and realities. Let’s take a curious, intriguing, and often downright weird look at the quest to prove a multiverse.
One of the more bizarre and controversial pieces of supposed evidence put forward for the existence of alternate realities is a phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect, of which I have touched on here at Mysterious Universe before, which involves a mass misremembering of the same facts or details by a large number of people. The theory has its origins in 2010 with a paranormal researcher named Fiona Broome, when she found that a fact she clearly remembered seeing on the news, that Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s, was actually wrong and that he in fact was still alive at the time, indeed living until 2013, when he died from a respiratory illness at his home. This perplexed her, as she so vividly and clearly remembered his death in the 80s, and when she voiced this puzzlement online there was a deluge of others who seemed to share this memory of the same thing, claiming that they clearly recalled seeing it on the news, could envision the reports, and even that they had been taught about it at school.
Baffled, Broome went on to formulate the idea that this gap between reality and what was so strongly remembered by large groups of people who had these shared memories was perhaps caused by these people having somehow splintered off and shifted over between parallel dimensions brushing up against each other while keeping the memories of their old reality and timeline, which often did not completely line up with the way things are in the new one. Broome would go on to write numerous articles and books on the subject, until the Mandela Effect achieved its place in the lexicon of the world of the weird, and has often been used as a possible hint at alternate realities.
As far fetched as this all may sound, it is at the least odd, and there are a formidable number of instances of the supposed Mandela Effect in action that has been amassed over the years. Perhaps the most well-known is probably the strange fact that a vast number of people vividly remember the old series of children’s books and TV Shows, The Berenstain Bears as being spelled “Berenstein Bears.” With an “e.” There is also the eerie fact that many people adamantly remember the beloved cartoon series starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy, “The Looney Tunes,” as being spelled “Looney Toons.” Another spelling anomaly is that the popular American cereal “Froot Loops” is widely and vividly remembered by many people as being spelled “Fruit Loops,” which is not correct, at least in this reality. The weird thing is that these misremembered details are so strongly recalled that people can even see the titles and words in their head clear as day, and insist that the spelling they remember is the correct one even though it is not.
Details of movies and movie lines are a rich source of purported examples of the Mandela Effect, with many often cited in various lists on the matter. A common one is that many distinctly remember and quote Darth Vader’s famous line from Star Wars as “Luke, I am your father,” when in fact he says “No, I am your father.” In the movie Silence of the Lambs, the character Hannibal Lecter not once says “Hello, Clarice,” even though many people tend to think of that as one of the movie’s most iconic lines and can clearly remember it being said in the film. There is likewise the movie Casablanca, in which the line “Play it again, Sam” is never said, even though it is the most often quoted line from that movie. There are even whole movies that people distinctly remember that don’t actually exist, such as a comedy movie about a genie called Shazaam!, starring the comedian Sinbad. There are a large number of people that remember this film and even scenes from it, but the movie in fact does not exist.
There are other assorted commonly cited examples of the Mandela Effect as well. A famous one concerns the “Tank Man,” a protester at the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 who features in an iconic photo of defiantly standing in front of an incoming tank to block its way. While this actually did happen, the problem is that many people insist that, from the news and history classes that they remember, this man was actually run over by the tank, something which in fact did not happen. Yet these people can quite vividly recall it being in the news with footage of the whole thing and written of in textbooks that the man was actually run over and killed.
The list goes on and on. Do you remember the beloved children’s character Curious George with a tail? He never had one. The logo for the popular chocolate candy Kit Kat is commonly thought to have a dash in it, like “Kit-Kat,” but go look and you’ll see that there is no dash, and there never has been. Also frequently put forward is the logo for the car company Ford, which a vast number of people seem to remember differently than it actually looks, specifically they don’t recall it ever having that squiggly pig’s tail shape on the “F,” even though the logo has always looked like that. When faced with the actual logo it is often reported by these people that it looks somewhat jarringly off.
The actual Ford logo. Does it look off to you? If so, you could be from another dimension!
The people who experience these seemingly false memories are typically often very sure of what they remember, and insist that it is real, expressing bafflement that the reality does not match up with what they so unmistakably recall. What’s more, a large number of people experience these same memories with the same wrong details, and this has led to the spreading idea that it is evidence of mass shifts through dimensions, with the ones experiencing these anomalous memories being the travelers and those who remember correctly being the ones remaining in their home reality. Making things even weirder is the notion that while we have these collective false memories, in another reality there are those who have the opposite incorrect memories. So for instance while we may be wondering why it is not the Berenstein Bears with an “e” as we remember, the denizens of another alternate universe are stumped as to why it is not the Berenstain Bears with an “a” instead of Berenstein Bears. Even weirder still is the idea that that this could also be indicative of someone tampering with reality itself somehow, retroactively changing things ever so slightly with their activities ad hoc while we retain the memories of reality before it was changed.
Of course, with such a bizarre and out-there idea there are most certainly skeptics who say that this is all merely the result of misinformation mixed with the faulty nature of human memory and the human brain in the first place. In other words, these are just basically memory glitches. It could also be a combination of this and the power of suggestion, which was perhaps most famously demonstrated in 1978 by the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who found that memories can be warped and twisted, often quite dramatically, by additional misleading information or suggestion, a phenomenon she called “The Misinformation Effect.” Essentially, it shows that if one is presented with false information on a detail that someone never really noticed before, then that person may be inclined to believe it and remember it that way if it sounds convincing enough, to the point that it can totally usurp the original memory altogether.
This can all be made even worse by the phenomenon of “cognitive dissonance,” in which an individual’s refusal to accept something contradictory to the way they’d like to remember a thing or a strong, deep-set belief. These can be very beloved memories that the person is hesitant to let go of, even though they may be faulty or wrong. So for instance if someone fondly remembers the “Loony Toons,” even though that spelling is wrong, they basically create the memory of it being so, hold onto it, and thus are unwilling to believe that it could have ever possibly been a different spelling.
Not Looney Toons
So what is going on with the Mandela Effect? Is this all tricks of the mind and mental glitches that can be rationally explained away with psychological phenomena, or is it indicative of something even stranger than the human mind? Could it be a hint of other alternate realities bumping up against and entangling our own or our travels between them? Whatever the case may be, the many supposed instances of the Mandela Effect in action are entertaining and odd nevertheless.
Other perhaps even more bizarre proposed evidence for the existence of alternate realities include the idea that sightings of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena are caused by other realities sort of bleeding over into our own. In this case, these “dead” people are no such thing, but rather the denizens of this parallel dimension going about their daily business. If you see the ghost of someone that really lived and then died, then perhaps you are merely catching a glimpse of them in an alternate reality where they never died at all. This is totally impossible to prove at this point but rather fascinating in its own far-out way.
Related to the Mandela Effect is also the inclusion of various other “mental glitches” to point to the possible existence of parallel realities. In particular, déjà vu, in which there is a strange, uncanny sensation of having been somewhere or experienced something before, is often mentioned as such, as well as similar phenomena such as déjà vecu, wherein you instinctively know what is going to happen next, and alter vu, when one feels like their entire history has been altered somewhat, with certain memories not meshing completely with reality. Déjà vu and déjà vecu have been proposed as being memories bleeding over from an alternate self, while alter vu is seen to be indicative of being transferred to a new universe and timeline altogether while retaining the memories of the other.
As ridiculous as this all may seem to some, it is important to remember that the notion of alternate realities or universes itself is not some sort of mere paranormal mumbo jumbo, and far from being merely the realm of science fiction, the idea of parallel universes has become more acceptable among scientists. Indeed it has actually been taken quite seriously by a number of physicists, many of whom are attempting more scientific methods to gain concrete evidence of the existence of such alternate universes. One proposed idea that shows scientific promise is the notion of what is called the “inflationary multiverse.” This theory is based upon the Big Bang, that cosmic event that spawned our universe billions of years ago when it expanded outwards faster than the speed of light in a process called “inflation.” This rapid expansion abruptly stopped within a fraction of a second, but according to this theory it actually continued on into parallel universes, creating more realities as it went in an endless inflation, perhaps infinitely, which all exist as a sort of archipelago of cosmic islands which form the multiverse, of which ours is only one of many.
One avenue of research connected to this is based on the idea that if these parallel universes do exist then it is predicted they likely push up against our own, or even collide or overlap with it. It is often likened to a row of bubbles, with each bubble a different universe, all lying side by side all sharing the multiverse while sometimes bumping up against and interacting with the others. If this is true, then the trick is to somehow find some measurable and observable quality of this in action in our universe to serve as evidence.
One way to do this would be to measure anomalies in what is called the cosmic background radiation (CMB), which is a residue of radiation that has lingered across the universe since the Big Bang. It is more or less a sort of snapshot of our universe as it existed around 380,000 years after its creation, the oldest form of light that lingers today bouncing about in the background through the fabric of our reality. Since this glow has been around since more or less when the universe began, strange shifts or spots in this radiation could theoretically indicate that our universe is being intruded upon by a parallel one, and there have actually been scientists who claim to have detected just that.
Astrophysicist Ranga-Ram Chary, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, believes that he has found possible evidence of a parallel universe brushing up against and seeping into our own by analyzing fluctuations in this cosmic radiation background. By using images and models from the powerful Planck Telescope operated by the European Space Agency to create a map of this radiation, Chary observed that there were several areas of the universe that had cosmic microwave signatures that were far brighter than normal, up to 4,500 times brighter than what the signature of the usual CMB is predicted to be in those regions with current theory. Dr. Chary believes that this could be indicative of an alternate universe that was expanding along with our own around 13.8 billion years ago and ended up bumping into us to leave behind these radiation impressions on the surface, sort of like cosmic “bruises” left behind from the collisions. Chary also has explained that these universes could be vastly different from our own in many respects, with even their own laws of physics. Talking about these theoretical universes, Chary explained:
The fine tuning of parameters in the early universe required to reproduce our present day universe suggests that our universe may simply be a region within an eternally inflating super-region. Many other regions beyond our observable universe would exist with each such region governed by a different set of physical parameters than the ones we have measured for our universe.
Chary’s potentially groundbreaking research was featured in a study in the Astrophysical Journal and immediate caught the excitement of astronomers, cosmologists, and astrophysicists , who see it as a promising and possibly earth shattering discovery. As exciting as this all is, it is tempered somewhat by the fact that the Planck Telescope simply cannot collect enough data to more deeply study the phenomena, and even Chary himself has warned that this is a theory that is complicated to prove, and that it could have other explanations as well, with much further study needed to verify it. Perhaps with the development of our tools and technology to study these findings we will gain a further understanding of what is going on here, but for now it nevertheless remains a fascinating possibility of scientific confirmation of multiple parallel universes.
Another theory on the existence of alternate realities has to do with quantum mechanics, and there have been other teams of scientists who have observed what they believe to be possible evidence of a multiverse as well by using the observation of quantum states. First, it is important to understand how quantum mechanics pertains to all of this. Ho boy, it is almost impossible to explain this in simple terms, but basically quantum particles exist at the subatomic level, the smallest particles known to exist. These quantum particles act extremely strangely, seeming to exist in a sort of “superposition state” in which they can spin in two directions simultaneously or even exist in two different places at once, a sort of standby state, and the spookiest thing is that they do not take on a particular state of reality until they are actually observed, after which they set into a form. Are you with me so far?
When these quantum particles are not being observed they exist in this stand-by state, simultaneously taking on every possible position and configuration, with many potential probable states, indeed every possible state that they could take on, and when they are observed they take one of these multiple possibilities and make that into reality, adopting that outcome and possibly spawning a large number of alternate timelines in the process. It is all very complex and of course there is much more to it than I possibly have space to go into here, but the gist is that this means that since there are multiple options for the forms these quantum particles can take, there could theoretically be realities that branch off from each other representing these other options, thus creating multiple, infinite alternate versions of the reality we know, representing every possible combination of outcomes and factors. If you don’t fully understand it, don’t worry, it stumps most physicists as well and is still poorly understood, yet the phenomenon of these shifting quantum states and the effects of observation upon them have been shown to be quite real. This is not really in dispute. Whether this really causes splinter realities is what is unknown, and that is what some scientists have been looking into.
In 2007, scientists at Oxford, led by a led by Dr David Deutsch, made an unusual mathematical discovery when researching these quantum mechanics. They found that there were suggestions that the branching of the universe splitting could be shown mathematically, and that these equations could be used to explain “the probabilistic nature of quantum outcomes.” It all has to be verified of course, but the findings were exciting enough for a Dr Andy Albrecht, a physicist at the University of California at Davis, to proclaim “This work will go down as one of the most important developments in the history of science.”
The leader of the team, Dr. Deutsch, even went so far as to say his findings could explain how such quantum alternate versions of reality could make time travel possible, as it could eliminate the presence of paradoxes. If one were to go back in time and change something, rather than causing a paradox it would merely create an alternate timeline in another universe. So if you were to, say, go back into time to prevent Hitler from being born, the evil dictator would continue to exist in the present timeline but in the new one you have altered he would be gone. Likewise if you went back in time to kill your grandfather, you would still exist because there would have been a branching off of realities and your grandfather would merely be dead in the one you have changed but not in the one you actually came from. In this way, time travel would be more like sidestepping time by shifting and hopping to alternate timelines. Deutsch has said of his work on this:
Many sci-fi authors suggested time travel paradoxes would be solved by parallel universes but in my work, that conclusion is deduced from quantum theory itself.
With this interpretation of quantum mechanics, an idea referred to as “Many Worlds Interpretation,” every possible outcome exists in a parallel realm, making it possible that there are infinite versions our universe, and by extension an infinite number of you, all overlapping each other and existing simultaneously. Some of these would be practically identical to our own, with maybe the color of your t-shirt being the only thing different, whereas others could be vastly different, such as a reality in which dinosaurs never went extinct. There could be a universe where you are no longer alive, one in which the Earth was hit by an asteroid, or merely one in which you slept an hour later than usual, every potential outcome realized as surely as the reality you know. In this theory, every single one of these myriad parallel universe is just as real as our own, with none of them being the truth or any sort of inferior copy. There is no “real one,” or “better one,” they are all equal but different. This notion is much different than the hypothesis of pocket universes created by inflation, because whereas those are vastly different from our own, with possibly even their own physics, these alternate quantum worlds would be different versions of our own, “daughter universes” so to speak, with the only differences being the combinations of outcomes that spawned them.
One scientist, Howard Wiseman of Griffith University in Australia, has been leading a team of researchers that believe they have found numerous examples of possible evidence that this is all real, and that these multiple universes could even be interacting with each other on a quantum level. They have published a paper on the matter in the journal Physical Review X, in which they lay down some of the scientific groundwork for how this effect is feasible, and believe that they have managed to nail down some of the mechanics and logistics that would be involved in mathematical terms, as well as expressing that this phenomenon can be possibly conclusively verified through experiments. Wiseman said of his work:
The beauty of our approach is that if there is just one world our theory reduces to Newtonian mechanics, while if there is a gigantic number of worlds it reproduces quantum mechanics. In between it predicts something new that is neither Newton’s theory nor quantum theory. We also believe that, in providing a new mental picture of quantum effects, it will be useful in planning experiments to test and exploit quantum phenomena.
The problem inevitably encountered by those who study the possibility of alternate universes is that this is a phenomena that is very difficult to adequately test and do experiments upon, making gathering empirical data difficult and dooming this all to the limbo of theoretical speculation and philosophical thought experiments. One of the problems is that we can’t even agree on what form these proposed multiple universes take. Are they separate cosmic “islands” or “bubbles” created by an infinitely expanding Big Bang? Are they offshoots of ours propelled by quantum particles taking different forms, in which every possible outcome has materialized into its own reality? No one really knows, and this makes it hard to mount any concrete experimentation into the phenomenon.
Another formidable obstacle is the sheer difficulty in adequately testing these hypotheses. We just don’t have the technology we need to do so, and in many cases don’t even know what we are looking for in the first place, leaving us unable to either prove or disprove any of this. This creates an environment in which a lot of scientists are sitting around thinking up really cool and wild ideas and hypotheses that could be real based on current knowledge, but which end up unvalidated and mere speculation in the absence of any real way to test them out. This holds the danger of this theorizing spinning out of control, with little to differentiate potential reality from random guesses in the absence of hard data, creating a sort of no-man’s-land of swirling, untested speculation and crossing dangerously over the line between science and daydreaming. One physicist named Carlo Rovelli, of the Center for Theoretical Physics in Luminy, France, has warned of this by saying:
It is easy to write theories. It is hard to write theories that survive the proof of reality. Few survive. By means of this filter, we have been able to develop modern science, a technological society, to cure illness, to feed billions. All this works thanks to a simple idea: Do not trust your fancies. Keep only the ideas that can be tested. If we stop doing so, we go back to the style of thinking of the Middle Ages. Physics advances in two manners. Either physicists see something they don’t understand and develop a new hypothesis to explain it, or they expand on existing hypotheses that are in good working order. Today many physicists are wasting time following a third way: trying to guess arbitrarily. This has never worked in the past and is not working now.
These are the challenges that face scientists who would pursue trying to prove the existence of a multiverse, and although perhaps not insurmountable it certainly means that we are probably a long way from finding out the truth, instead merely presented with intriguing hints as to the possibilities. It is a process that may take years, even centuries, and even then we may not ever fully understand the truth behind multiple alternate universes or realities, if they even exist at all. Yet, it seems that people will always be fascinated by the idea, and will likely not give up trying to find evidence that our universe is not the only one. It is an alluring dream and fascination that seems unlikely to ever die, and there will probably always people who look for signs that it is reality, ranging from the bizarre to the plausible. Perhaps someday we will know the answers. In the meantime, maybe in another reality we already do.
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