There might be two or more writers, who are also the characters in another writer's story. That is, A is a character in B's story, and B is a character in C's story, ... finally X is a character in A's story, forming a loop. The only thing we need is a meta-writer Z who can be a real person, and wrote a story containing all the other writers. (I remembered this in the book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid years ago.)

From Chris Sunami's answer, I agree that they are in the same level of reality, and this can be simplified to be only one writer A writing about his own world, and the meta-writer Z writing about A. If it is made possible by Z, it is in fact Z creating the story but making A write exactly what is happening in the world.

If we don't know who the writer can be, but assume he can only be a common person on the earth, can we tell there is no such a writer A in our world potentially writing exactly everything happening in our own world (so our world is not a strange story by such a meta-writer Z)? This should be done by a common person with any advanced tools and scientific knowledges, but not by an evil government who tries to eliminate the humanity to prevent anyone to start writing.

I'm assuming we can't tell we are not brains in a vat and looking for whether similar arguments like the brain in a vat can apply.

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    Star Trek Next Generation had a wonderful episode exploring this theme once. curious and even mind-blowing, but i doubt i'm a brain in a vat or even an AI in a vat or a server or whatever. i think it's most likely we are what we appear to be. Apr 13, 2015 at 1:42
  • @robertbristow-johnson Not quite, as the simulated one isn't exactly the same like the real one. Of course I don't believe we are any of those, just to see whether there are any logical differences.
    – user23013
    Apr 13, 2015 at 3:38
  • that simulated sonuvabitch thought he was as real as anyone. got the captain's access codes and took control of the ship. in the context of the story, that's pretty real. (i guess the materialists would say that the ship's computer just went berzerk and withdrew access to the captain's control code because of an internal flaw in the program.) Apr 13, 2015 at 4:00
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    Proof lies in the assertion - not in the negation. There are an infinite number of possible 'what if' scenarios. Without proof, they remain always 'what ifs'. Apr 13, 2015 at 6:50
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    Mere words written on paper do not have any sort of actual mind so a fictional character in this sense would never be aware of anything. An artificial mind that can perfectly mimic a living human mind would be evaluated on the basis of Searle's Chinese Room: plato.stanford.edu/entries/chinese-room
    – polcott
    Mar 23, 2021 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


I would argue that I can, at a minimum, establish that if I am a fictional character, the writer must exist at some deeper level of reality, not at the same level of reality in which I exist. If the writer and the fiction are at the same level of reality, then the concepts of reality and fiction become meaningless, and paradoxes of causation are introduced. In addition, I can compare the experience of reading a book with living my life. The fictional world may be powerfully immersive and vivid, but I can still distinguish it as less real than my experience of my own life. In additional, a book that contained the level of detail of real life would need to be impossibly long and dense. (I use the pronoun "I" since I can't independently verify that you actually experience life as I do, see Descartes.)

None of these objections, however, necessarily apply in the case where the writer's reality is in some way deeper than our own. So, if we allow that the "meta-writer" Z is at a deeper level of reality, could that meta-writer create a closed loop of writers all at the same level of reality? I would say yes, but that level of reality could not be identical with the one which we actually inhabit, for the reasons above.

True, the meta-writer could simulate the effect of a writer existing in the same world as her creation, by arranging the events of A's life to echo the plot of character B's book about character A*, but that, in my opinion, is not the same as B actually creating A. If we allow that B's agency can be conceptualized as a subset of Z's agency, then we might grant that Z could in fact create a character B actually capable of creating a character A, but that character would either need to exist in a level of reality lesser than that of character B, or both B and A would need to exist in a reality whose nature would be quite different than the (apparent) nature of our own reality.


There is an Archbishop lying in the grass, asleep. He is dreaming of a grasshopper sitting on his chest. Or is he? Perhaps it is the grasshopper that is asleep, dreaming of sitting on a Archbishop's chest.

So which is real? The archbishop or the grasshopper?

Your premise #1 says anything outside our simulated world is unprovable, so no, you cannot prove we are not fictional characters.*

  • No I'm not asking about that. Premise #4 and #5 is already saying we can't prove we are not normal fictional characters. I'm asking whether we can prove we are not fictional characters written by an strange loop of writers, where one of them lives in our world and didn't publish his work yet.
    – user23013
    Apr 13, 2015 at 1:13
  • Ahh, that's a tricky one. I have seen that question answered many different ways, depending on which version of timetravel or hyponsis you want to play with on that day. However, as the case may be, the term "fictional" may get really complicated in a hurry. (Interestingly enough, the movie Neverending Story played with ideas like this. Or if you want an author to beat the stuffing out of it, Heinlein's "All You Zombies" is about as brutal as it gets)
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 13, 2015 at 1:41
  • For timetravel, etc, are there any links?
    – user23013
    Apr 13, 2015 at 3:36
  • Links? Hundreds, if not thousands. Starting your research from Wikipedia's article on Time Travel may be a good start. It also has nearly a hundred links to references on the topic.
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 13, 2015 at 4:58
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    Baking out the bit about writers and fictional characters (which I've only seen in a Dr. Who episode... 3rd doctor I believe), the general pattern is the age old question of free-will versus predestination. The trick with giving you a single related question is that every author tries to handle that balance differently, so there are dozens if not hundreds of opinions. I can tell you that I am a fan of the Novikov self-consistency principle, which covers the sorts of issues you are looking at, but that's just my preference on how to deal with time travel, not a hard and fast rule.
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 13, 2015 at 14:35

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