So, I was asking myself the question: if something will exist in the future, with almost absolute certainty, but has not come to existence yet, can one claim that it exists? And, can one claim that it is real? To me, those are two different questions.

For instance, imagine you are building a légo project. The final piece will come to exist only in the future, so only hypothetically. To me, it seems that the piece really doesn't exist (yet!). Nonetheless, I think the piece can be considered real, as it inscribes itself in the real world, in opposition to the fictional one.

Coming from the world of physics, this is my perspective. Something appears in a theory, and hence it makes it real, in the sense that it could make sense and is not fictional at all and, hypothetically, it might totally exist (ok, that's a bit of a stretch, there are notable exceptions, but I hope you see my point). Yet, we don't know if it exists or ever will, and therefore it doesn't until proven otherwise.

I seek highlights on that matter, as I cannot really put my finger on whether my point of view is valid or absolutely not, and if so, in what manner?

  • See this post for discussion regarding the "existence" of real vs fictional entity and that regrading abstarct entities (that exists forever, also when we do not know them) vs particular entities (like me, you and Napoleon) that exist now but not in the (far) future or that existed in the past but not noe (but are "real"). Jan 24 at 11:25
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    Does war exist?
    – RodolfoAP
    Jan 24 at 11:30
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    Whether they are 'real' is not a real question, it reduces to verbal conventions about using the word "real". I am guessing most people would not use "real" this way, and rather call such objects "physically possible" and such events "imminent", etc. But that is a hollow debate about words. You can look at the presentism/eternalism debate about future/past existence, which often comes dangerously close to a 'debate' about using tensed verbs.
    – Conifold
    Jan 24 at 13:53
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    looks like you are confusing the idea of the piece and the piece itself. The idea of the piece definitely exists, at the very least in your head, but the object piece itself does not exist until it has been manufactured.
    – armand
    Jan 25 at 2:36
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    @MauroALLEGRANZA "But the issue is:is Napoleon real? Of course" - Actually he is NOT real. He WAS real of course... His corpse might still exist in some form. Jan 25 at 14:03

7 Answers 7


Like so many before you, you ask a question that is fundamental to meta-ontological theory. You ask a specific version of, what does it mean to exist? Should all things that can be conceived exist? Is Pegasus that which exists? (Some say these have fictional existence (SEP).) What about things that might be? (Some say these have hypothetical existence.) What about things that are not physical, but are important for discourse and theory, like numbers? (Some say these have abstract existence and are abstract objects (SEP).) What about really big things that we can scarcely conceive, like the Milky Way and all of its parts and effects? (Some call these hyperobjects). Does gravity even exist? (Mathematically, yes for Newton. For Einstein, it's a fictive force that drops out of the equations given the curvature of time-space.) What should we use as a criterion for existence besides conceivability? (The classical empiricists argued empirical evidence). Is that adequate and how does it apply to abstractions and mental events?

Famous takes on ontological commitments include Meinong's, Carnap's, and Quine's. So there is no pat, canonical answer to your question. I think, however, it is reasonable to claim that things that are hypothetical are not thought to exist physically until they come into being. Thus, a cake only exists after it is baked. A car only exists when it is designed and built. An event only exists when it happens. This keeps two ideas tidy. One, we can have a representation about a future being, say the plans for a house. Two we can have the actual house that is built and exists in the world. So, a survey of most thinkers would probably reveal there is a consensus that a physical thing does not exist until it comes into being in a physical sense. This keeps us from running afoul of the precept wherein we recognize the map is not the territory. The question about the existence of mental things like numbers is far more contentious ranging from strongly realist things (numbers exist in a Realm of Forms and are eternal) to strongly anti-realist positions (numbers are mental constructs of language and have a useful fictional status in constructive mathematics).


Intuitively, there seems like there's a big difference between a statement like "there's a unicorn in my garden" (not real) and "I'm going to have coffee with my friend this afternoon" (seems real... but anything could happen between then and now... maybe there's a global coffee shortage).

Classically, logic captures the notion of hypotheticals with conditionals, but that doesn't give us any way of distinguishing "If there's a unicorn in my garden, then I will be happy" from "If I have coffee with my friend this afternoon, then I will be happy."

Philosophers have tried to do a better job at narrowing in on this in a rigorous manner--one of the best known attempts is David Lewis' concept of "possible worlds" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Lewis_(philosopher)). However, it's not clear that anyone has done so with any great success or utility.


Firstly, one can certainly claim whatever they believe to be truthful, regardless of whether it is recognized as true by majority, and whether such claims are in conflict with claims made by others. Ask any religious person or stock broker for example. But I'll assume that is not what you wanted to know, so let's settle of more colloquial use of "claim", meaning mostly "X being true".

You ask:

if something will exist in the future, with almost absolute certainty, but has not come to existence yet, can one claim that it exists?

and the answer to that is no. The reason is (at least) two-faceted:

  • future tense is not the same as present tense. The chocolate does not exist in my room at this moment in time. It might exist in the future (with almost absolute certainty, knowing myself!) -- but word "exists" means right now, which is different from will exist (which means at some point in the future). Since today is not the same as tomorrow, "exists" is not the same as "will exist" (even if chance of it happening was provably exactly 100%).
  • you've used qualifier "almost" before "absolute certainty". While common idiom in English, that oxymoron actually just means "with very high probability asymptotically approaching 1". As one cannot claim (in good conscience) that the asymptote is the same as a straight line, one also cannot claim that something will exist tomorrow, just because there is 99.99999999999999999999% (add any number of 9s as wanted) chance that it (maybe) might exist tomorrow.

And, can one claim that it is real? To me, those are two different questions.

Whether something is real vs. whether something exists is a good standalone question, but in your specific case as stated, you cannot claim that something is real right now just because there is very high probability of it becoming real in the future. (see above why)

Coming from the world of physics, this is my perspective. Something appears in a theory, and hence it makes it real, in the sense that it could make sense and is not fictional at all

You might want to recheck your physics training. Just because there exists physics theory of something, does not by automatism make the things that this theory predicts "real", because:

  • Firstly, scientific theory is just our educated guess which seems to be supported by most evidence that we've checked it against so far, so we haven't yet invalidated it. Many theories in the past have been shown wrong or inaccurate by today and replaced by better theories, and it is expected that all current theories will be obsoleted in the future and modified, limited or replaced by other theories too. If fact, it is basic goal of science to question, invalidate and refine previous theories, instead accepting them as dogmas. In other words, just become some physics theory predicts some outcome, does not make it a certainty.
  • Also, many theories (even by their inventors) are known to be fictional, but we use them as useful abstractions -- take for example the well known notion of "centrifugal force". It is completely fictional force, but it is quite useful for making physics predictions, so is a valid concept in physics theory of Newtonian mechanics. So it is not real, but it allows us to relatively accurately real predict behaviour of (past, current, or future) real objects in rotating frame of reference.
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    Jan 26 at 9:15

One can distinguish the real possibilities (those allowed by the laws of nature) from pure fantasies. For example, the asteroid missing the Earth 70 million years ago and humans evolving directly from dinosaurs (thus sporting more efficient avian brains) was a real possibility. But the Middle Earth, with its elves and magic, was not.

I think Gilles Deleuze, who coined the term "virtual reality", made that distinction.


Avoiding re-iterating JD's list of fascinating topics (in short: there are many different types or categories of "existence" and many different opinions about it - the SEP is a good entry point) I'd like to answer at least one of your examples directly, your modern-day variant of the Ship of Theseus:

For instance, imagine you are building a légo (sic) project. The final piece will come to exist only in the future, so only hypothetically. To me, it seems that the piece really doesn't exist (yet!).

And most people would probably agree.

The missing piece in this thought experiment is that you do not only need to look at the physical objects (i.e., the lego building blocks) but also their relationship to each other. This means the orientation and aspects of whether two blocks are "clicked" together and so on and forth.

The latter absolutely is a matter of physical space, quite obviously: we can see two blocks, we can measure their distance, we can prod them with our fingers and thusly decide whether they are clicked together or not.

At the very same time, the two pieces also clearly are still separate entities. We can at any time take them apart and throw them around, and remove any relationship they had.

This is a structural property of the blocks, an association if you like. Does this property exist? No matter where you fall with that answer, it is clear that this type of property is somehow different from other properties that are firmly attached to the lego block (i.e. its color or the number of its nubs). Do you call it "real"? For sure - there is nothing imaginative about it, it is not lying in the future or past, it is easily visible, measurable, and quite scientifically confirmable or deniable.

When you build your final Lego Deathstar piece, you have (hopefully!) not changed any of the individual blocks in any way whatsoever (ignoring that individual atoms get likely redistributed or knocked off whenever you click two blocks together or rip them apart - let's just gloss over that for now, but we'll come back later). What you did do, clearly, was to change the associations or relationships or the inter-block structure between all blocks. This set of structural information is what your Lego Deathstar is, in a sense. When comparing two Lego Pieces, if they (trivially) contain all the same blocks, and most importantly, those are oriented towards each other in the very same manner, then you would call the two pieces "Deathstars".

So to answer your quoted sentences: the blocks exist at the start and the finish of your building project. The physical ordering of the blocks does not - you are bringing it into existence while you are working. There is nothing particularly difficult or even paradoxical about that - we are quite used to everything changing and mutating all the time, the universe is not a static thing (unless you are living in Block Time, but let's not do that right now).

Now comes the plot twist: imagine that you are watching the universe through a lens with an infinitely adjustable scale. Look at your lego blocks. Now fiddle around with your scale dial, and zoom down. Once a single block wholly fills your display, you will see that everything becomes very boring: you see the more or less fixed atoms which make up your specific lego block, in some kind of grid structure, and nothing much is going on. Lego blocks are famous for being nigh indestructible.

When you zoom further down, you will probably notice that each atom jitters around a bit - that would be the brownian motion we call "heat".

If you zoom further in, you would probably notice that each atom was just an abstraction, and there is not actually anything much there. You might "see" (by switching to the raster electron mode of your device) that what you thought were little billiard balls are in fact just areas of empty space where a near infinitesimally small "core" (nucleus) sits within nothingness, with a cloud of electrons whizzing around them. (In fact, by the outdated Bohr model, a hydrogen atom would be roughly 1^-10m in diameter, while the nucleus would be about 1^-15m, or 5 orders of magnitude smaller! By the time you can "see" the whole atom, you cannot even make out the core - it's all just empty space. But do not tell this your physics friend, this is just a thought experiment.)

Zooming in further you would notice that when you try to pin-point an electron (by activating the anti-Heisenberg-function of your device), you would see that you can't - according to most theories, an electron is a point particle. It has nothing to see. You only notice it through its physical effects (like charge and such).

If you zoom into the nucleus, you would notice that the core itself is basically... nothingness filled by some point particles (i.e., neutrons, protons).

Zooming into those shows that they are not actually there - they are just empty bits of space where other point particles (quarks) are zooming around in some universal dance.

To get to my point: the whole thought you had about lego blocks and pieces you can now transfer straight to those quarks. The quarks themselves are also for all practical purposes (ignoring places like CERN and the inside of stars or black holes) immutable, just as Lego Blocks. They rearrange their relationship to each other more or less freely; granted, doing so takes somewhat more energy than snapping together or apart some lego blocks, but nevertheless; we can watch inside CERN and see those tiny bits and pieces flying around when liberated via large enough energies. Conceptionally, that's just the same as your lego piece.

So to come back to reality, TLDR: The building blocks are (depending on which scale you are looking up) fixed in reality. They are, in the strongest sense, what exists. The dynamic relationship between them is what makes life and the universe interesting; this is changing freely all the time. It is still a physical property (you can measure and see it) and is totally "real", but not quite the same as talking about the "existence" of a physical object. Whether you view a piece as a "base object" or a "aggregate structural assembly of other objects" is up to your (relatively arbitrary) scale, preference and practicality. Whether future blocks or assemblies "exist" is trivially a matter of definition of the term "to exist" and possibly related to your definition of the word "time" (which is a whole other bag of worms).


Somethings which mind thinks about like scenarios or hypothesis or theories etc materialise and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes mind shapes the reality and sometimes reality shapes the mind. Nothing exists intrinsically. All things exists conditionally. If conditions are met things materialize and if conditions are not met things do not materialise to become real whether in past , present or future.


The various views on existence began with Rene De Cartes, who proclaimed, I think. Therefore I am.The Roman Catholic Church started the University system during the middle ages, and developed a policy that scientific fact must be from observations of controlled, repeatable experiments; a concept known today as scientific method.

Cambridge was the first university to break away from Mother Churxh, because The Church greatly embraced mechanized printing using type setting and a press.

Cambridge refused to permit machine printed books in its livraries, because the University leaders claimed it was a passing fad, and people would return to hand transcribing books one at a time very soon.

As a consequence of academic institutions desiring to break away from Church control, graduate degrees were added, and many of the instructors were not consecrated religious.

From this point forward, philosophers began looking after their their own wealth, the source of which was original material. That sold books.

The problem was these self-styled intellectuals had little to say, so they had to generate filler material in order to make a whole book.

Existence can be summed up in that it is an act of reason based on faith in the soundness of one's sensory and cognitive faculties. Previous to scientific method, there was a shared fear among people of suddenly going insane.

In truth, almost everything anyone knows is known by faith. No one has ever directly observed the core of a star, or the inside of a black hole. We believe by faith in physicists. And it is from these types that we get, "I may, or may not, exist."

Or, "Nothing is something. It kills you if you eat too much of it. It looks like a cat, flies like a bat, brays like a donkey, and plays lile a monkey. What is it? It's nothing.

A hypothesis implies the possibility of concrete proof. Otherwise it's an idea. Hypotheses develop into theories, which can be experimentally proved if they are sound.

Galileo believed the sun is stationary. He had no proof to back up his theories, so they were not accepted as scientific fact. Nor was he permitted to teach theory as fact.

That's the reason he was fired from his teaching position, and put under house arrest. As long as he didn't make trouble, his house arrest was purely symbolic, and was at liberty in his daily movements.

Copernicus taught heliocentrism as a theory 500 years before Galileo, and received not the slightest persecution. Galileo essentially copied the work of Copernicus, called it his own, and proclaimed it as scientific fact.

The first prerequisite for existence is proof. If I teach that the Universe is actually an image on a giant computer monitor that recreates it 60 times per second, but since man evolved under that condition,no one notices, that would be a hypothesis.

There was a race of hyperintelligent 6-dimensional humanoids who built a great computer to calculate the answer to existence. The program ran for 10 million years. When the foremost thinkers generations later approached the computer for the answer, the computer gave an answer of 42.

So, it depends on one's fundamental view of reality, which is always a way to make sense of their experience while at the same time explaining their emotional suffering.

It is the need to make our suffering valuable which twists reality into something that truly can be questioned. If you lurk on occult message boards, you can witness the decline into madness these people suffer.

One tarot reader wrote that he took out the trash. But the next morning it was back in the house. Another member claimed while he was asleep, someone broke in and sprayed the freon out of his refrigerator onto his carpeting.

Then, they replaced the freon, so he wouldn't be able to tell. He added that he would need an ambulance the coming weekend. If one pays attention to who is who, by observing nicks on the board, the decline into madness is swift, and then they post no more.

"The Divided Self" is a philosophical work that examines the process of going mad, and likens it to opening one's eyes and experiencing true reality for the first time. He is one of the most famous psychiatrists of all time, and his book has been in print since the 1960s.

Existence is realized by perception and contrast to non-existence. In 2200 BC, the men of God explained reality that there is a dome above the world, with water above it, and stars are tiny lights affixed to the dome.

God opens doors in the dome to allow rain to fall. Atheists of the time were in full agreement except they contended the doors opened by themselves. God has nothing to do with it.

All this time atheists believe they disbelieve the existence of God. If that were true, they would disbelieve the existence of nothing, which makes much more sense. But since they continue to disbelieve the existence of God, God essentially must exist, or He wouldn't be available to have His existence questioned!

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