Imagine a world like the movie The Matrix where everything people experience is controlled by a massive computer. Let us assume that in this virtual world, there are ogres but no gorillas. Consider the following conversation between a woman named Bernice and her child:

child: Uncle Joe told me I should check for gorillas under the bed!
mother: Gorillas aren't real.   (B1)
child: He also said ogres aren't real; they are just men in suits.
mother: Ogres are real.         (B2)

However, someone outside the virtual world, let's call him Angel, might observe this conversation and comment on it:

Angel: Gorillas are real.       (~B1)
Angel: Ogres are not real.      (~B2)

My intuition is that all four statements are true despite that each statement is contradicted by another statement. Bernice, after all, isn't a philosopher; she's a mother who wants to make her child understand the world in which she lives--the only world she or her child will ever have access to. In this world there are objects of perception called ogres, and there are no objects of perception corresponding to gorillas. She is telling her child about what he might possibly encounter as he goes through life, and how to react if he thinks he sees an ogre or thinks he sees a gorilla.

The alternative is to put some metaphysical meaning on the word real, such that a thing is real only if it is real in some abstract metaphysical sense, but that has the odd implication that if your metaphysics happens to be wrong then no one has ever used the word correctly.

  • 2
    All four statements are true simply because "real" is used in a context dependent way. The meaning of any word used this way will, by design, depend on "perspective". The more cogent question should factor out semantic variation of "real". The implication that our presumed metaphysics could be wrong is not odd at all, it is just another way of saying that all human knowledge is fallible, which is a platitude. Although it is unlikely that all of it is wrong.
    – Conifold
    Sep 18, 2022 at 0:47
  • Gorillas exist on one small planet. Supernovas exist everywhere. Which is more real? Is one person real?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 18, 2022 at 0:47
  • @conifold, the point about metaphysics was not that the metaphysics could be wrong, but that if the metaphysics is wrong then everything everyone says about what is real could wrong. That is not a plausible take on the issue. Sep 18, 2022 at 0:52
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    docs.oracle.com/cd/E19957-01/805-4939/6j4m0vn6m/index.html Gorilas are real unless declared integer. So are Ogres.
    – BillOnne
    Sep 18, 2022 at 1:41
  • @BillOnne what if they they are enumerations?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 18, 2022 at 1:43

1 Answer 1


It's like the problems with the Justified True Belief picture.

And with Frege's sense of reference and Russell's denoting.

Consider instead Bayesian reasoning. Assuming the mother's priors were our world and she wasn't aware of the transition to the digital world, her experiences regarding real gorillas and fictional ogres, would be very reasonable. If there are ogres in her current social space, inc if a game or virtual world, presumably people are encountering them, and talking about those encounters, maybe sharing media of them, and she would update her priors.

We could start calling gorillas ogres. They could start calling ogres gorillas. The real issue is, what are we indicating, through our social practices? What lump of phenomena in contact with our intersubjective space? There is no universal abstract true and not-true, lasting forever outside human minds - or, if there is, we cannot hope to talk about it. Which is what the labels true and false are, ways of talking that arrange us towards experiences.

See Why is a measured true value “TRUE”?

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