By Monish Chhabra ǀ October 12, 2018
When Nelson Mandela passed away in the year 2013, an unexpected controversy erupted.
Some people remembered him dying while he was in the prison in 1980s. They claimed they had seen news clips and TV coverage of his funeral. Multiple accounts from unrelated people gave similar details of their recollections of his death.
However, this is not what is known to have happened. What we know is that he was released from the prison and lived 30 long years after that, in between becoming the president of South Africa. Yet, hundreds and probably thousands of people, had an alternative memory of him dying much earlier.
False memories have been known as a phenomenon for a long time, however mostly in the context of individuals. This was something different; collective false memory for a large number of people. This was termed the ‘Mandela effect’.
Since then, this phenomenon is shown in other events as well; in each case a vast number of people claiming a different memory of a past event, quite detailed and consistent among them.
In 1957, Hugh Everett III, an American physicist, first proposed the ‘many-worlds interpretation’. This theory in quantum physics, suggests that all possible alternate histories and futures are real, each representing an actual world. Thus, different realities exist…but in separate, parallel universes.
Before the many-worlds theory, reality had always been viewed as a single unfolding history. Many-worlds, however, views historical reality as a many-branched tree.
Everett's mathematical model treats every possible quantum event as equally real and realized. He concludes that countless copies of every person and thing exist, in all possible configurations, spread over an infinity of universes; sort of a ‘universe of universes’.
Before that, Erwin Schrödinger, was the first one to allude to many-worlds theory, in a lecture in 1952. He was talking about his famous ‘Schrödinger equation’ that had earned him the Nobel prize in 1933, and had also established him as the father of quantum physics.
Schrödinger proclaimed during his lecture that the deductions from his equation, seem to be describing several different histories; not alternatives but all really happening simultaneously.
This was not the conventional wisdom of the time. Quantum science had accepted that multiple realities can co-exist, however the prevailing theory of ‘superposition’ was a bit different.
In 1935, Schrödinger himself had devised a famous thought experiment called ‘Schrödinger's cat’, in which a cat in a box was deemed both alive and dead, simultaneously.
This was considered possible, because a quantum system can simultaneously have many random subatomic events. This creates multiple states, corresponding to different possible outcomes. Such states are called ‘quantum superposition’.
The theory was that a quantum system remains in superposition until it is observed by the external world. Thus, everything happens in all possible ways, simultaneously, before it is observed by others. However, upon observation, various possibilities collapse into one of the possible states.
This is how the cat could exist in the box as both dead and alive, at the same time. However, during observation, at some point, quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other. That’s when we see the cat as either dead or alive, not both.
The inside game
Forming a memory and recalling it, have more to do with what happens inside of us, rather than outside.
A memory is formed when an event creates some sort of change in us; a change that is highly specific to each of us.
When we recall something, it is that change we remember – that very personal subjective change - not so much what actually caused the change.
Then, how about what really happened out there?
Nothing. It is a moot point.
Nothing definite exists. Nothing did, and nothing will.
We are filling up the whole scene right now…not just for 'now', but for all along the sequence of time.
What we fill into it now, creates our current memory of the past, the experience of the present and the idea of the future. The next moment, we would fill it all over again. And, in each moment after that.
Our collective fill is the generally accepted reality. Yet, our individual fill is the only world that each of us lives in. The two may not always or fully be in consensus.
Each of us, is in a different world. Each moment, is a different world.
There is nothing but this ‘moment’; trust its completeness. There is nothing but ‘harmony’, where this moment starts and when it ends; trust its fit.
Now let's go, play with the cat.
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