“No, it’s the Mengele Effect.” – X-Files
Remember when a wax Rocky Balboa knocked out President Gore after the Soviets invaded Pakistan? Me neither.
For me it started somewhere in my early thirties.
The Mrs. and I were watching the television one night and a show called “World’s Funniest Gameshow Moments” came on. We started to watch – it was narrated by Richard Dawson. Richard Dawson was the host of Family Feud® back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. On the celebrity scale he was higher than most – parts in two big feature films and almost two straight decades on television.
No big surprise that he’d be narrating a show about game shows, right? It even makes sense.
Except he was dead. And the dead are notoriously bad at calling back their agents to get roles narrating television shows. Except Bono®. He’ll do anything.
I clearly remember reading Dawson’s death notice in the paper on a winter morning almost a decade earlier from the time we were watching the show in year 2000. It was on the right hand of page 2 about two inches from the top. I was sitting in the back of a classroom. It was winter.
John Wilder: “Hey, this is Richard Dawson. But he died. Right?”
The Mrs.: “Yes, I certainly remember that he died. Wonder when they filmed this?”
I booted up my computer. I clicked on the network icon and connected to the Internet, via a nice 56k modem.
Yes, this was the sound of the Internet in the before time. Imagine watching Netflix – it would only take 6 or 7 days to download a non-HD movie.
After I logged in, I did a quick search, and I found out that . . . Richard Dawson was indeed alive (at that time – Richard Dawson is dead now, having passed away on June 2, 2012).
Ahhh, the sweet morning scent of piano cinnamon trees.
The Mrs. and I both had very specific memories of Dawson being dead. Very specific memories, and based on our recollection it was roughly in the same year. And the same cause – cancer. But we were wrong.
Now it’s understandable when one of us is wrong. People goof. But for us to have the same, specific detailed memory was spooky.
We brushed it off. But we never forgot it. It’s the sort of odd coincidence/occurrence that sticks pretty firmly in your mind. Not that I dwelled on it, but every so often it came back up. In one instance, I was travelling for work and thought that it might be the basis for a short story.
First, some background, from Wikipedia – stick with me, it’s worth it:
In Dublin in 1952 Erwin Schrödinger gave a lecture in which at one point he jocularly warned his audience that what he was about to say might “seem lunatic”. He went on to assert that when the equation that won him a Nobel prize seems to be describing several different histories, they are “not alternatives but all really happen simultaneously”. This is the earliest known reference to the many-worlds.
Catch that? When you flip a coin, does it land heads or tails? Schrödinger appears to be saying, “yes.”
Essentially, any time there’s a decision, the universe splits into two. One pops off and becomes another, nearby, nearly identical universe. Nobody remembers who won the coin flip to get the next beer, so these small changes that make universe splits go largely unnoticed. Heck, maybe they collapse back into themselves for not being sufficiently unique. It’s not like a big event like when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, right, or when we nuked Berlin? (I’m just kidding.)
As a side note: we have discovered parallel dimensions – check out this (LINK) for more amazing (not kidding) details.
The most common example of this theory is Schrödinger’s Cat, which is a pretty famous thought experiment at Schrödinger’s expense (rumor has it this made him kinda pissy after he heard about it). The really short version of this “experiment” is one takes a cat, and puts it in a box. There’s some mechanism that has a 50-50 chance of triggering, say, poison gas to be released with our kitty cat. Pretend it’s the radioactive decay of a cesium atom. Let’s say you set the cat-killing machine in motion, toss a cat in, and wander off. After a while, your Internet addled brain looks up from your MyFace© page and remembers you left a cat in the Death Machine again and should go and see how it’s doing.
This is funny if you like physics jokes. I like physics jokes.
Is it alive or dead? According to Schrödinger’s equation and Futurama, yes. It’s in a state of quantum superposition. And the quantum waveform collapses only after you observe it – and this isn’t some sort of made up thing – it has been proven through repeated experiments that observation (not interference) changes the pattern that light makes.
If light were a wave, it would make a pattern of alternating light and dark spots passing through the slits:
Source: Wikimedia, Fu-Kwun Hwang, CC BY-SA 3.0
Stay away from the light, Carol-Anne! The quantum collapse might put your eye out!
But if it’s a particle, it will make a dot on the back.
If you don’t check and see where the photon comes through, it makes the wave pattern.
If you check and count the photons going through (they have a way to do this) it just shows up like a dot.
Observation matters. There is some debate as to whether or not that observer has to be conscious or not – certainly Nobel® winning physicist Eugene Wigner thought that a conscious observer was required for quantum mechanics to work. And if quantum mechanics doesn’t work, the universe doesn’t exist. At all. At the heart of physics there is a (debatable) proposition that conscious observation is required to make the whole thing (you, me, PEZ®, a potential multiverse) even exist.
I wish I were making this up. I’m so not making it up – this is actual physics. You can check out this link for more background (LINK).
Back to my story idea:
The concept is there was a guy who began noticing things . . . like Richard Dawson’s death/not death. These were trackable events, but events so subtle you’d never notice them if you weren’t paying attention. Let’s say you could go back and forth between the universe where Richard Dawson died and the one where he didn’t. Not a lot of change? Probably not. But maybe, you could make yourself notice less . . . or make yourself believe you’d observed things you hadn’t. Maybe you could move to universes that were more and more different . . . and maybe you got unstuck in reality and started drifting through various universes.
Who knows? Maybe that’s what makes a certain category of insane people the way they are – they can actually observe and move through universes, or are maybe adrift – they don’t have a grip on reality, since reality keeps morphing around their consciousness.
Still haven’t figured out how to write that story. But I’m willing to bet you’re a bit creeped out right now, so I win, anyway.
Which brings us back to the Mandela Effect. It’s so named because one of the big examples is South African leader Nelson Mandela and his death in prison in the 1980’s. Except he didn’t die then – it was December 5, 2013. There are a bunch of other examples here at this great website (LINK) for your viewing pleasure. It’s like an Internet meme made of words. My addition is just Richard Dawson. And, no, I don’t remember Mandela dying before 2013. Just the Dawson story.
I had decided to do this article on the Mandala (or Dawson!) Effect prior to the X-Files doing the best episode of this season (so far) with their episode “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.” Just funny it surfaced right before I was going to do this one – and, yes, sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.
Or maybe another Mr. Wilder has it right: