There may be a name for it, but if there is I don’t know it. Like the more well-known Mandela Effect, it’s a strange memory issue, only it affects the individual. The Mandela Effect is a collective false memory, often involving the death of someone famous. Many people—sometime very many—think, for example, that someone famous has died. The death, or other false memory, is posted in the past and people who don’t know each other all agree that it happened, only it hasn’t. Instead, what I’m talking about happens to me once in a while and perhaps it happens to others. Most recently I was listening to The Proclaimers’ song “I’m Gonna Be,” also known as “500 Miles.” It’s got a catchy chorus and I was thinking it was an oldie, so I looked it up.
First of all, I didn’t know The Proclaimers were a set of twins from Edinburgh. Second of all, I didn’t know they were (only) my age. Third of all, I was sure I knew and heard the song from when I was growing up, but it came out in 1988, the year my wife and I moved to Scotland. I was just stunned by this. I was sure I’d heard the song, for instance, when I was in college and that it was an oldie even then. I didn’t and it wasn’t. In fact, the very year I could’ve first heard it I was busy making plans for an international move, getting married, and starting a doctorate. This kind of time distortion can be very disorienting, and it says something about memory.
Our lives are the stories we tell about ourselves. Memory, in an evolutionary way, serves some basic functions such as recalling which other people you can trust, where good food sources are, and where the saber-tooths tend to hang out. Those with better memories survive longer and procreate more and over time the trait becomes common. Memory isn’t intended to recall specific dates. I often wonder if something like the Mandela Effect isn’t behind Trump’s unaccountable popularity. A kind of memory that refuses to believe the song came out in 1988 although clearly it did. Believing false memories is the stuff of drama, of course. That drama can take in whole societies because we misremember that we knew all about propaganda because we learned that in high school, but now we fall for it. Or it may be a lonely moment when a song comes to mind and we think we’ve known it far longer than we have.