How do philosophers approach this difference? Is the question the same as asking 'what is the difference between real and imaginary'? What makes something real vs imitation? And, why it is so important for people to have the real thing?

So, in the short story Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick there are real, biological animals. A sheep for example. There are also fake animals(real androids). A real sheep will cost you thousands, & is a significant status symbol. A fake sheep will cost you hundreds, & you hope that no one will ever discover it is fake.

The dynamic reminds me a bit of something like a genuine Rolex watch. In this story, the dynamic also holds true for feelings. So, there are genuine feelings but, you can also dial a feeling in with the help of a device. Can this terminology be applied to emotion?

  • 3
    "But I consider that the matter of defining what is real — that is a serious topic, even a vital topic. And in there somewhere is the other topic, the definition of the authentic human. Because the bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans — as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides." P.K. Dick. See SEP on Authenticity and simulated reality.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 17:47
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    @ask_hole made some improvements to my post.
    – crgw8404
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 18:55
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    I tried to direct the thrust of the question into the value theoretic and ontological direction, and slimmed down the background. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the basis for the Blade Runner franchise of movies, so this is a very famous and cutting edge narrative with futurism and philosophical overtones. I'm putting on a bounty to see if we can't rustle up some interest.
    – J D
    Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 1:22
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    @TedWrigley is also a very productive and insightful contribuotr, crgw, so maybe he'll be enticed to take a stab at it.
    – J D
    Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 1:28
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    @crgw8404 GJ with the question, OP! Your work is superlative! :) ^^ :D 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻 Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 13:14

6 Answers 6


Meinong's Ontology would be a good starting place to research. I will try my best to explain, but my understanding is still shakey.

Meinong's Ontology divides up our system of being into three different classes: Absistence, Subsistence and Existence.

Absistence includes every possible object or idea you can think of. This would include unicorns, mythical beings and things that don't exist. ANYTHING you can think of.

Subsistence describes concepts that are real but do not physically exist. This includes numbers, math, shapes etc.

Existence includes everything that actually exists in the physical world.

When we talk to each other about the objects existing in the class of Absistence or Subsistence, we are creating a universe of discourse. An example of a universe of discourse would be a story like Harry Potter. Harry Potter does not exist in the class of existence (the physical world), so to say that he exists is not true. But to say Harry Potter has a scar on his forehead is a true statement in the universe of discourse we have created.

We can make sense*** of imaginary objects by saying that the universe of discourse can share some things in common with our world, but it has differences too. ..In the case of Harry Potter we can say that his story (absistence) teaches us to be brave, which we can apply to our world (existence).


One of the critiques of Meinong has been that Absistence creates non-ideal objects. An example of a non-ideal object would be batman. Can we learn morals to apply to our world from batman? yes. Should we wait for Batman to save us from a robbery? No. Another critique of Meinong is that linguistics can create objects in the world of absistence. The famous example is a square circle must exist in what philosophers deemed "Meinong's Jungle".

In short, we can learn from the class of absistence, but because there are non-ideal objects, we can not apply everything to the class of existence as this could be fatal. If I dream I can fly, it does not mean I should try to jump off my house.

footnote: *** I believe that there are probably points of contention here as to whether we can take some things as true and others as false from absistence. I do not know opposing perspectives from here on out.


In Dream and Existence Ludwig Binswanger (1881-1966) wrote: "According to Hegel, 'the knowledge of something of which only I am aware' is just dreaming, and the same is true of imagination ..."

"For Heraclitus, genuine awakeness is, negatively put, the awakening from private opinion (doxa) and subjective belief."

In this context, the real is arrived at by rational interaction with others. Binswanger was a pioneering existential psychologist who believed in taking us "beyond the world of one's own self to the world of we-hood." (ref.) Bringing the real out of the imaginary, into the Mitsein (Being-with).


What follows in response to this question will be framed as 'classical Metaphysics'. Even though this classification is considered dead and gone today, there are some who feel it is not clearly understood. This piece is not intended to convince but rather to demonstrate how a classic metaphysics response would appear. This particular piece refers to the system of Baruch Spinoza. For Spinoza the universe is not an illusion, nor are the planets, people, constellations, etc. Human life is a natural part of everything else and is interconnected, both physically and in reality. The air we breath the food we eat and the thoughts we think are all parts of what he called, 'Natura, naturata'. The Universe, which acts as 'causa sui' or cause of itself, he terms 'Natura, naturans', where 'Naturans' is nature in the act of creating the real, and 'Naturata' are all the 'products' of that creation, to include people. The two are inseparable and constitute, 'Deus sive Natura', or God or Nature (Substance). God is not a person, or a spirit, or something which exists outside of creation. Substance/god/nature, is the immanent cause of everything possible in macro and micro-evolution. Humans as Naturata, are authentic parts of the real but exist in a finite context.

CREATIVE UNITY- from Aeternitas- A Spinozistic Study' by, Harold Foster Hallett. (Oxford at The Clarendon Press, 1930) "Such a conception of the constitution of Natura as a whole of individual parts, reflecting itself in infinite degrees, obviously raises some difficulties. In particular it raises the difficulty as to how a being so constituted can remain a genuine and intimate unity. That it must do so, has already been shown, for if Natura itself is dissected, so also 'ex hypothesi' must all its real parts be dissected, and thus all unity would be lost, and we should be left with a mere dust of point-instants. Again and contrariwise, if all the parts equally and perfectly reflected the whole there would be but one part, and that the whole, and hence no part at all, nor any whole. Natura would be neither one nor many, but simply nothing. This particular problem affords a convenient opportunity of turning from the abstract consideration of the various modes of unity to the precise application which they receive, or may be conceived as receiving, in the metaphysical system of Spinoza. The special problem of the unity of Natura as a whole is met by Spinoza by use of the distinction between Natura naturata and Natura naturans. The exact significance of his application of this classical distinction has not always been understood because it has been supposed that at some period after writing the "Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-being", and the "Cogitata Metaphysica", and before preparing the final draft of the "Ethics", he definitely put aside the notion of creation which had figured largely in those earlier works. As opposed to this view, I shall assert, however, that this distinction between the two aspects of Natura, the active and the passive, is his final solution of the problem of creation. It is also his solution of the problem as to how Natura can be a single whole composed of individuals which are at once real and finite. This is so because the distinction of 'Natura naturans' and 'Natura naturata' is not a mere distinction of reason, but a real distinction implying an eternal act. Substance as 'Natura naturans', in expressing itself in the complete modal system, or 'Natura naturata', in the same eternal act recreates itself with infinite degrees of perfection, and thereby creates the nature which it expresses, and which expresses it. Natura naturans and Natura naturata cannot be separated: it is not the teaching of Spinoza, as so many superficial students of his philosophy have supposed, that Substance is real and the modes of Substance illusory. There is a real modal world standing in eternal relation with the genetic unity of Substance by which it is created and from which, therefore, it cannot be separated, and which constitutes the Real on its derivative side."

So much for, "What is Real"; as for "What is Imaginary"; Spinoza maintains that humans live as a complex admixture of the 'real' (the 'mind' and the 'body' to which it is united) and an 'aspect of eternity', which cannot be detailed in this limited space. Where the imaginary comes into play is the status of the imaginary thoughts which occupy a part of the mind which remains finite and essentially unformed or better yet, underinformed. For example, when we say, "The sunset was beautiful last night", if we actually believe that the sun actually dropped below the horizon, that is us 'imagining' something. Imagination involves ideas like the sunset, or believing that god hears our prayers or that there is a heaven or hell. This is the 'imaginary'. But it is most important to note that what is imaginary is decidedly not illusory. As with the sun example, once we understand the actual arrangement between the earth and the sun our idea is now adequate and part of the 'real'. We can still speak of the sun setting, but now we know what we are saying and why.

So that is a brief summary of the difference between real and imaginary in the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) author of "The Ethics Demonstrated in the Geometric Manner"


[You might find this answer to be somewhat intense/disturbing.

2020 was not a good year for many lads; and you truly deserve better than that.

You are an adult -- you have to decide whether to read my answer or not.]

We are in a curious position of having advanced technologies that stimulate entire virtual worlds. This is inclusive of but not limited to virtual reality technology.

Given how recent virtual reality is, would it be possible to even have a solution? Is it possible to have a clean solution?

History of VR - Virtual Speech

Augmented reality, anything from advanced-transhumanist augmentation; to Google Glass; to simply Pokémon Go, is another example of hyper-reality.

My contention is that virtual reality is literally a new form of logic in-of-itself. One approach is to simply classify these new states as "hyper-realities:--"


"In addition, there are conceptual and philosophical considerations and implications associated with the use of virtual reality. What the phrase 'virtual reality' means or refers to can be ambiguous. Mychilo S. Cline argued in 2005 that through virtual reality, techniques will be developed to influence human behavior, interpersonal communication, and cognition." – Wikipedia contributors. "Virtual reality." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Sep. 2020. Web. 19 Sep. 2020.

This is less "controversial," and more simply "inconclusive" because of how recent virtual reality is.

Jean Baudrillard has written on the nature of hyper-reality in the form of information being created through corruption and self-reflexivity.

Wikipedia's explanation, here, happens to be unusually concise:--

"Simulacra and Simulation delineates the sign-order into four stages:

The first stage is a faithful image/copy, where we believe, and it may even be correct, that a sign is a 'reflection of a profound reality' (pg 6), this is a good appearance, in what Baudrillard called 'the sacramental order'.

The second stage is perversion of reality, this is where we come to believe the sign to be an unfaithful copy, which 'masks and denatures' reality as an 'evil appearance—it is of the order of maleficence'. Here, signs and images do not faithfully reveal reality to us, but can hint at the existence of an obscure reality which the sign itself is incapable of encapsulating.

The third stage masks the absence of a profound reality, where the sign pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original. Signs and images claim to represent something real, but no representation is taking place and arbitrary images are merely suggested as things which they have no relationship to. Baudrillard calls this the 'order of sorcery', a regime of semantic algebra where all human meaning is conjured artificially to appear as a reference to the (increasingly) hermetic truth.

The fourth stage is pure simulacrum, in which the simulacrum has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. Here, signs merely reflect other signs and any claim to reality on the part of images or signs is only of the order of other such claims. This is a regime of total equivalency, where cultural products need no longer even pretend to be real in a naïve sense, because the experiences of consumers' lives are so predominantly artificial that even claims to reality are expected to be phrased in artificial, 'hyperreal' terms. Any naïve pretension to reality as such is perceived as bereft of critical self-awareness, and thus as oversentimental."

– Wikipedia contributors. "Simulacra and Simulation." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Jul. 2020. Web. 19 Sep. 2020.

[Note: Emphasis and line-spacing have been added by me to increase readability. It is mine and not from the original text.]

  • The four stages somehow don't include the obvious version where we come to believe the sign to be a faithful copy, which 'masks and denatures' a far less palatable reality. 1984 would be an example of this type of hyperreality. Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 10:32
  • Okay. Then write an answer about 1984. Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 12:23
  • I prefer Black Mirror and Idiocracy, myself. Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 12:26
  • @ChrisDegnen May you become the person your family and your Mother wants you to be. I'm not entering extended discussion, except for improvements towards the answer. Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 12:36

For those SEP members who prefer symbolic representation, what follows is the same content from above, but set out in symbolic form.

Symbolic Deduction- Symbolic representation of Creative Unity from "Aeternitas" "Such being the relations existing within the creative unity of Deus sive Natura, let me next attempt to indicate symbolically the place and significance of the lower types of unity among the subordinate parts of Natura, and their relation to the eternal whole. I begin from the constitution of Natura naturata. This must be represented as an infinite whole composed of infinitely many parts ranging from highest to lowest, each in its special degree reflecting the whole. Let these parts be P 1, P 2, P 3, . . . . P ”, .... P°°. No one of these will completely reflect Natura naturata, but each will do so in some degree. They will vary, therefore, in activity from a maximum to a minimum, and hence in passivity from a minimum to a maximum. In other words, there will be not only reflection of the whole by each, but also that failure to reflect the whole which implies interaction or transiency as between the parts. The most perfect of these immediate parts of Natura naturata will suffer least from transiency; the least perfect will suffer it most. Thus each part will be constituted on a general plan which may thus be symbolized: (i) P n includes P np1, P ”p2, P npz, . . . . P npn, . . . . P np <x, where P ”p2 is that part of P n which is due to the immanency of P 2 in P ” . This series represents the activity of P n, or its adequate reflection of the whole. But the passivity corresponding to the interaction of all the other parts of Natura naturata may also be symbolized; for these other parts are inadequately reflected in the imperfect nature of P n. It is important to remember that the imperfection of any part is its partialitas, and is therefore essential to it, and mediately essential to the whole. Thus: (2) P n includes Pnb1, P nb2, P nbz, .... P nbn, .... P n600, where P nb1 is that part of P n which is due to the transiency of P 2 on P ”. This series represents the passivity of P n, or its inadequate reflection of the whole. Combining the two sets of parts we have: Pn = Pn (pi, b1), Pn (p\ b% Pn (p\ bz), __ P n{pn,b n ),___ P ” (p“ ,6°°). Similar expressions may be used to symbolize the constitution of all the infinite immediate parts of Natura naturata. I may notice here that if it were assumed that all the immediate parts of Natura naturata exactly reflected the whole, the single general expression for such parts would be: Pn = Pn p i, Pn pa, pn p 3}__ p npn, ___P« P°°, 1 T he term ‘reflect’ is now used in preference to ‘reproduce’ (which has elsewhere been employed, and is in many ways a more suitable term, especially where transiency is involved), in order to avoid confusion between real production (i.e. expression or creation), and its mere reflection in finite existence. AETERNITAS M O D E S OF U N I T Y 211 which is the arrangement supposed by McTaggart under a system of ‘determining correspondence’.1 The objection to such a system is its tacit assumption that all the parts can equally reproduce or reflect the whole, and yet maintain their partialitas. Now Spinoza saw quite clearly that such an arrangement is impossible. If the whole is to have parts, those parts must be distinguishable. Their distinctness and their partialitas are one and the same. Further, the whole must have parts if it is to possess content, and thus be a whole.1 2 His conclusion therefore is, as I have indicated, that there are infinite parts of all degrees of perfection ‘from highest to lowest’, each in its degree reflecting the whole, and each in proportion to its partialitas being subject to the transiency of all the other parts. From this arises, as I have contended, the distinction and confusion of eternity and duration. According to the analysis set forth, each immediate part of Natura naturata is partly an adequate reflection of the whole through the immanency of the whole in the part, and partly an inadequate reflection of it. That inadequacy is the obverse of the transiency of the other parts in so far as they are not fully reflected, for the spirit of the whole urges to that full and infinite expression of which it must distributively deprive itself in order to maintain its fullness of content. Failing to achieve full expression in the part while maintaining its perfection in the whole, there is of necessity that pressing-in upon the part by all the other parts in so far as they have failed to find adequate expression in it. Thus the eternal Kevcaais gives birth to time, and imperfection to transiency; and thus also for each part the whole is partly transparent and partly opaque; it is partly understood and partly imagined; it is partly eternal and partly durational, i.e. sempiternal. So the stability of the eternal whole is maintained, and its unity is expressed in, and constituted by, its infinite multiplicity. I have argued that Deus sive Natura is an eternal creative unity; that Natura naturata conceived per se is a unity which, since each part in its measure reflects the whole but cannot wholly reproduce it, may be called, in that restricted sense, a self-reflecting unity." Thus the parts of the part P ” (pn, bn) will be: [P 0 ", ”)] \Pn (l>\ b1), ^ (p\ &1)], [P» (pn, bn)\ \pn ( f , IP), i (p\ IP)), .... [Pn (pn, bn)) [pn (pn, bn), Jn (pn, bn)), ....{Pn(pn, bn)) \pn (p«>, i ” ), 6»(p“ , »)], of which the part [Pn (p», bn)) [pn (pn, bn), bn (pn, b»)) is the reflection in itself of P n (pn, bn).


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a NOVEL, not a short story published in 1968. It has a question mark at the end of the title. This makes the novel one potential answer to the title's query. It is a LOT more involved than the two movies very loosely based on it. Explores in a variety of philosophical ways whether or not Nexus 6 androids are more human than human.

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