Cynthia Sue Larson has been on the lookout since July 5, when CERN turned the world's most powerful particle collider back on for a third time. Larson is looking for "reality shifts and Mandela Effects," or evidence of multiple universes, timelines, rips in the space-time continuum, or other evidence that reality as we know it has been distorted by the Large Hadron Collider.

"I've been paying attention to see whether reports of Mandela Effects might increase, now that CERN's Large Hadron Collider fired back up again," Larson, the author of Reality Shifts and Quantum Jumps, told Motherboard. "So far I've not yet noticed large-scale reports of new Mandela Effects in the past day or so, though it does seem there is a large and growing interest in the Mandela Effect."

CERN has noticed.

"I've seen a lot of videos go viral making claims about CERN, and when I see that it tells me we need to communicate even further, because they're getting informed by the conspiracy theories they hear," Clara Nellist, a particle physicist who works on CERN's ATLAS, a Large Hadron Collider experiment seeking to learn more about the basic building blocks of matter, the fundamental forces of nature, and what dark matter is made of told Motherboard. Nellist posts on TikTok as @ParticleClara about the Large Hadron Collider and, sometimes, about CERN conspiracy theories. A recent stitch of hers plays out like this:

"Since when does 'Double STUFFED' Oreos," a TikToker says, gesturing to a package that says "Double Stuf" Oreos.

"Look, bro, just because you misremembered something does not mean CERN is going around changing your Oreos," Nellist cuts in. "There are much higher energy particle collisions happening in our atmosphere all the time. What CERN is doing is tiny in comparison. I can promise you we're not going around changing the labels on your food."

The Mandela Effect, in which large numbers of people all misremember the same thing about pop culture (it's always been "Double Stuf" Oreos), is a highly interesting conspiracy theory, in part because it is verifiably real. Scientists at the University of Chicago recently described it as "an internet phenomenon describing shared and consistent false memories for specific icons in popular culture." Their paper described an empirically observable phenomenon that persisted across people with no clear explanation. Where things get difficult is when people suggest that CERN — an organization that studies physics phenomena — is cast as potentially causing those phenomena.

A mix of conspiracy theorists, researchers like Larson, and regular people have been searching for an explanation for this collective cognitive dissonance and false memory for decades. The International Mandela Effect Conference (IMEC) is a group that broadly studies the phenomenon and held conferences in 2019 and 2020 for people who swear that the "Berenstain Bears" were actually the "Berenstein Bears," that the Monopoly Man wore a monocle (he doesn't and never has), that there was a movie called "Shazaam" that featured Sinbad as a genie, and, of course, that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s (he didn't).

The current leading theory among a subset of true believers is that Mandela Effects are evidence of multiple timelines, universes, ripping of spacetime, or another physics phenomenon. The thinking here is that there actually was a movie called Shazaam for a specific subset of the population who lived in one universe or version of reality, and those people have somehow either collectively switched realities, or reality itself has shifted, and a certain subset of the population has a collective memory of what things were like in the before times, when it was "Looney Toons" instead of "Looney Tunes," for example.

"I've had the great good fortune to witness thousands of reality shifts and Mandela Effects, including some that have 'flip-flopped,' or gone first one way, and then another — which has led me to contemplate that as physicists Leonard Susskind and Raphael Bousso suggested, 'the many-worlds interpretation and the multiverse of eternal inflation are one and the same thing,'" Larson said.

The thought among at least some in this space is that CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which has helped us discover and verify an astounding amount of new or theorized information about subatomic particles, physics, and the nature of the universe, is somehow causing these reality shifts (particle physicists who understand how the LHC works are not promoting this view, of course).

This theory is particularly popular on TikTok, where a supposed whistleblower account called "cernopeningparalleldimen" has repeatedly gone viral, claiming to millions of people that, for example, the "particle collider is changing the weather around the planet," or that "CERN is opening parallel dimensions that ... causes the change in the climate." Dozens of other accounts, with millions upon millions of views, have posted conspiracy theories about how the Large Hadron Collider was set to open "wormholes," "portals," "mirror dimensions," "alternate dimensions," and so-on and so-forth. On the r/conspiracy subreddit, a popular post states "Let the Mandela Effects begin ... CERN was successful with the Large Hadron Collider run3. Let's start archiving possible changes in our 'new' reality."

There is no actual evidence that CERN has anything to do with the Mandela Effect, of course. While Larson and the International Mandela Effect Conference board of directors are open to the theory that CERN is responsible for some Mandela Effects, neither believes it can explain the entirety of the Mandela Effects they have experienced.

"The CERN topic has definitely been a major topic of discussion lately," the IMEC Board of Directors, which includes Larson, Jerry "Darkwolf" Hicks, Christopher Anatra ("The Quantum Businessman"), and Shane Robinson, who runs the website "Unbiased on the Fence," told Motherboard in an email. "At IMEC we are very interested in what could be causing this incredible phenomena. We have looked at a variety of possible causes including the CERN theory. CERN is just as valid of a theory as any other at this point, though we cannot officially say for certain that it is the main contributing factor to the Mandela Effect." Larson separately told Motherboard that the "earliest Mandela Effects were happening long before CERN's LHC fired up, so clearly the LHC is not the only factor to consider with the Mandela Effect."

ERN's Nellist says she understands where people are coming from.

"I completely get the curiosity and trying to understand the Mandela Effects — people have a strong memory of what they think something was, and then to see a contrast with that memory can be quite jarring ... I think we should [to some extent] be honored and happy that we're capturing the imagination of people because we're at the forefront of science. People are interested in what we're doing."

"In my opinion, some of the things being misremembered make more sense as what they should have been," she said. "I can see how more people remember the spelling of something in a certain way because it's more intuitive." This is a popular theory for why people remember "Berenstein Bears" vs "Berenstain Bears" — it just makes more sense as "Berenstein," because Berenstein is a somewhat common name.

Nellist said that, while the science CERN is doing at the LHC is groundbreaking, they are simply recreating "collisions that happen in our atmosphere all the time" in a controlled environment. "For billions of years this has been happening in our universe," she said.

The questions that theoretical physicists are trying to answer are in some ways related to the questions that conspiracy theorists and hobby researchers are trying to answer, though they are obviously going about it in wildly different ways. Legitimate scientists, quantum physicists, and theoretical physicists have hypothesized multiple universes, wormholes, teleportation, the idea that reality is a simulation, additional dimensions, and so-on and so forth. Learning more about basic physics to fill in gaps in knowledge and understand how some of these phenomena may work is part of CERN's mission, but that doesn't mean CERN is causing these things to happen.

"People hear interesting theories about multiple dimensions and timelines and there are misconceptions — in science, the language we use can be confusing, like, we talk about links between particles and looking for extraspatial dimensions and portals, and people hear these words and they think that that's what's being developed [at CERN]."

IMEC clearly sees this as a scientific problem to be solved. Larson told Motherboard that "quantum mechanics keeps blowing our minds with such matter-of-fact truths of quantum physics as: entanglement (what Einstein called 'spooky action at a distance'); quantum teleportation; quantum superposition of states; quantum retrocausality (influencing current events with decisions made in the future); and quantum tunneling," and added that "it seems fair to agree that quantum mechanics alone may not explain the Mandela Effect and the nature of reality, in much the same way that quantum physics does not provide the foundational best basis to understand the building blocks of spacetime." IMEC is an organization that researches the "Mandela Effect," but also calls it the "Quantum Effect."

The search for an answer has led at least some people to dark places, as often happens with conspiracy theories. Posts about CERN's supposed involvement in causing the Mandela Effect have ended up on far-right Telegram groups, while some speakers at the IMEC conference have posted videos on YouTube about the Mandela Effect, but also about COVID as a conspiracy, whether medical masks are a "sign of slavery," and "false flags."

Comment: They had to lump them together didn't they.

People who experience the Mandela Effect tend to obsess over it (this is well-demonstrated in an episode of How to By John Wilson, which focused on IMEC's 2019 West Coast Mandela Effect Conference in Ketchum, Idaho). One speaker at an IMEC conference a YouTuber who goes by "MoneyBags73" and has radically shifted the content of his channel over the last few years: "This channel was originally about purchasing precious metals to protect our wealth from a hidden tax called inflation and from the U.S. dollar that is on the road to destruction," he wrote on his channel description. "However, In March 2016 I was hit with the Mandela Effect like a ton of bricks and have devoted thousands of hours of research and over 100 videos to this incredible phenomenon. The Mandela Effect is one of the most incredible things to ever happen in human history and I don't anticipate a return to financial issues anytime soon."

Jerry "Darkwolf" Hicks told attendees of the 2019 IMEC conference that "we've lost family, friends, coworkers, businesses, wives, husbands. All of us have dealt with somehow in the Mandela Effect. We all know exactly what it feels like for just believing our memories and not giving into the reality that we're presented with."

Larson, too, described her research to Motherboard as a "decades-long quest to get to the foundation of why reality shifts has brought me to the unsettling realization that even within quantum physics, where we might expect that scientists would have some kind of agreement by now about how to interpret what is going on, we have many interpretations, with little agreement."

The University of Chicago paper, published as a preprint in PsyArXiv, attempts to find an explanation for the Mandela Effect that doesn't involve the ripping of the fabric of spacetime or alternate dimensions.

In their research, psychologists Wilma Bainbridge and Deepasri Prasad asked volunteers to identify famous logos or characters based on their memories. They showed volunteers the real logo or character in a lineup of slightly manipulated images, for example, versions of the Monopoly Man with and without a monocle. They then asked participants to rate the confidence they had in whether their specific memory of that logo or character was correct.

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Their research is fascinating, because it demonstrates that the Mandela Effect is real — that is, random people have a collective false memory of popular brands, logos, characters, etc. They found that people consistently had the same false memory, meaning that people consistently selected the wrong image as the one they "remembered."

In another experiment, the scientists showed participants only the correct version of the image, then asked them to draw the image from memory later. People repeatedly inserted the same wrong characteristics from their own memory:

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The scientists found that "there are certain images that elicit a specific false memory, despite high familiarity and confidence." They specifically demonstrated that "seven familiar images from popular iconography have low memory accuracy, with a specific incorrect version consistently remembered across people," suggesting that something about the logos was being misremembered by large numbers of people for unknown reasons.

Frustratingly, they do not have a solid theory for why this is happening, though they hypothesize that people's minds are filling in the blanks from what they expect an image to look like, or perhaps have been exposed to the "wrong" version somewhere and have remembered this. The scientists do not consider whether this might be the result of alternate dimensions. Instead, they suggest that "there might not be a universal explanation for why the Visual Mandela Effect occurs." People made these errors even when they reported having "high familiarity" with the logo — for example, misremembering what Pikachu looks like even though they had seen many episodes of the Pokémon TV show.

Nellist said she tries to fight misconceptions about CERN on TikTok and has had some success. But misinformation continually goes viral on TikTok and elsewhere, while TikToks debunking misinformation coming from the scientists themselves doesn't necessarily go as viral. "I have to keep reintroducing myself and validating my experience, and then I get insulted on TikTok because people say I'm just a PR person," Nellist said. "But I'm a physicist talking about our research."