So, in the movie SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run, Patrick states that:

"Two people cannot have the same dream, let alone be in that same dream at the same time. This is philosophically untenable."

To which SpongeBob replies:

"Indeed, you proffer a metaphysical conundrum."

Could this also have been called an "ontological conundrum" by the "smart-person-talking" dream-world SpongeBob?

Although every ontological question is said to be metaphysical, I would've said ontological myself. I think so because the question sets up the way people and 'Being' (Patrick says "have", or to experience, as well as to "be" on a mental plane) as entities/concepts is/are as the proposition, not dreams itself (although this is the object). As such, the subject is people, and reality is the implication...?

Am I on the right lines? Also, does the nature of dream experience usually fall under metaphysics or the subfield of ontology?

  • 1
    Nitpick: Two people sharing a dream is only a problem if you're a physicalist or (maybe) a property dualist. If you're a substance dualist, it can be made to work, and if you're an idealist, it's basically your standard description of how the world actually works.
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 2:43
  • You've kinda touched upon an answer to my question in that this be an issue of ontology. Property dualism is a category of positions in the philosophy of mind, which is an ontological branch. Where would you say Patrick's view probably belongs to in this case? Just some details: he says it in a haughty and assured manner, and both characters talk in formal tones. Patrick is wearing glasses and SpongeBob is smoking a pipe while reading a book. It's just a throwaway scene that makes fun of pretension, but I still wanted to be specific.
    – SpongeBen
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 3:11
  • Welcome to SE Philosophy! Thanks for your contribution. Please take a quick moment to take the tour or find help. You can perform searches here or seek additional clarification at the meta site. Don't forget, when someone has answered your question, you can click on the arrow to reward the contributor and the checkmark to select what you feel is the best answer.
    – J D
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


Metaphysics has come to mean what can be known about the first principles of things through introspection, in the way mathematical idealists consider mathematics to be. Ontology, the nature of being, coming to be, and change, has always been a central metaphysical topic.

Dreams have been a topic for philosophy since Zuangzhi in the 4th C. BC, who wondered if there is a meaningful distinction between dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of being a man. And Buddha characterised life on the wheel of becoming as dream-like, and understanding the true nature of things as waking up; his first statement about what he was and had attained under the boddhi tree was to say 'I am awake'. Descartes used dreaming as part of his scepticism, to try to determine what can be known even if we are currently dreaming. Robert Nozick's Experience Machine is a modern iteration of understanding what difference we make between the 'personal' reality without consequences for others of a dream-like state, and taking part in a collective experience we call 'real'.

The simulation hypothesis casts an interesting light on the distinction between metaphysics and ontology in this context

"David Chalmers has argued that we should consider the 'simulation hypothesis' not as a skeptical hypothesis that threatens our having knowledge of the external world but as a metaphysical hypothesis regarding what our world is actually made of." - from: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/flickers_of_freedom/2014/08/the-case-for-libertarian-compatibilism-a-brief-overview.html

Buddhist thought take's this approach too, framing desiring things as part of dream-like consciousness, that our conventional selves and world are 'made of' dreams, and waking experience is on a spectrum with them. So these are ontological, and as the simulation hypothesis shows, it can potential be in a non-metaphysical context. The Yogacara 'mind only' school of Buddhism arguably goes on to a metaphysical stance, of a kind of pantheism, and the doctrine of the dharmakaya is arguably a kind of panentheism. Descartes uses the 'realness' of dreams to gonthe other way, to make universal metaphysical claims.

In a post-science world, where information, minds & thoughts have intrinsic physical consequences, metaphysics has become and increasingly unpopular category, linked to not taking evidence from the world seriously. Tegmark among others still advocate a kind of mathematical idealism, that the world is 'made of' mathematics in some way, so there are mainstream modern advocates of this kind of thing. Lucid dreamers can help determine if they are in a dream by looking at digital clocks, or flicking lightswitches, we might also expect they could by attempting to do mathematics.

Is there a useful distinction to be made? It's probably more that metaphysics is an unfashionable term, and ontology points to a narrower focus. Spongebob & Patrick meet the sage in the dream, who accompanies them afterwards, which they don't reflect on at all, so we could say they aren't really doing either. We distinguish between other minds & philosophical zombies, by applying our own impromptu Turing Tests all the time, and they encounter this other mind which passes, as well as sharing consistent memories afterwards - so it was more of a vision; and the shared memories suggest either rapid cognitive bias to agree narratives after waking up, or shared triggers like pre-hypnotic suggestions or parallel stimuli.

Dreaming is a topic we have discussed often, if you are interested in it: https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/49945/30474 Have any thinkers applied empiricism to the dreaming and deep sleep states? Infinite Sleep vs Death

  • This was such a great comment, and I know next-to-nothing about philosophy, but I'll give my two cents. In the context of the film and watching the scene again, it is certainly not a dream. He somehow transported the duo into his hometown and endowed them with temporary philosophical intellect, as shown in this scene. This is why they don't reflect upon how he is able to accompany them when back in the material world, because they are back to their usual non-cerebral selves. He says it's "more of a vision" and there are multiple visual hints and implications I can't believe I forgot about.
    – SpongeBen
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 2:17
  • On the philosophical side, I won't question your ethos and clearly veritable knowledge. However, I will say that ontology is also listed as the study of "reality" on its Wikipedia page. But thanks to your detailed info, I could interpret Patrick's proposition as ontological. This is because, as you pointed out, metaphysics is increasingly seen as deducing the fabric of reality without reverence. However, Patrick seems to initially deduce the nature of the reality from the philosophy and psychology of mind - sleeping states & his dismissal of the possibility of subjective realities connecting.
    – SpongeBen
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 2:20
  • Side note: Isn't ontology also about knowing the central principles of things through introspection, just like metaphysics? The distinction is rather confusing. I read that all ontological points have metaphysical implications, but not the inverse, in a highly rated comment on this site. Then, I saw a highly rated comment on Quora stating the reverse - every metaphysical point has an ontological implication, but not vice versa.
    – SpongeBen
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 2:24
  • I'm just spitballing here while tired. I'll just say that I was kinda disappointed when Sponge didn't say "ontological" instead of "metaphysical". I think he said that because, as you point out, metaphysics is a more far-reaching field. It's also the word "metaphysical" is much more familiar and understandable than "ontological". This way, younger or less philosophically inclined people will be more likely to get the joke. I had an interest in metaphysics at the age of 17 when I watched Birdman. Although, I would now consider that an ontological movie, as opposed to something like The Matrix.
    – SpongeBen
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 2:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .