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This answer got me thinking. Is it a legitimate answer to a worldbuilding question of the "how could X be true?" variety to say that it's not really true and certain characters who provide the viewpoint for a particular work of fiction incorrectly perceive it to be true?

It's a perfectly legitimate narrative technique and if this were writing.se I wouldn't question it. Here on worldbuilding.se though it seems like a trivial non-answer that could be applied to any "How could X be true?" question.

This is specifically about answers that say that what the question wants isn't true, but appears incorrectly to be true but not to:

  • Answers to questions that are about appearance or perception.
  • Answers using incorrect perception to explain real behavior.
  • Answers positing internally consistent virtual/simulated/embedded worlds.

Potentially the answer not a simple yes or no but depends on specifics like how widespread the delusion is.

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    $\begingroup$ This comment is not an answer: - It may just be - if such an answer is successful - an indication that the question is too opinion-based. I've seen successful frame-challenges, that is not one, it's too casual, lacking in detail and imprecisely written to be one. It speaks to me of a sloppy question that this answer "got away with it". $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. Jan 9 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ If it was a question that could have an actual definitive answer (which it isn't IMO), that should've been a comment. But it isn't, so it's fair game to add basically "Drugs." as an answer. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 10 at 0:45
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Generally, no. Worldbuilding.SE's stated purpose is to provide meaningful, logical answers to worldbuilding questions. Saying "it's a hallucination" is a cop-out.

That being said, if you really think that "Life is but a dream" would be a good answer, you might provide it as an alternate possibility, but make sure that you explore all non-illusory options first.

Finally, if the OP specifically says that "Life is but a dream" is a legitimate answer, you can use it as such, but please flesh it out. For example, instead of just saying, "Life is but a dream," you could instead say, "Life is but a dream, because of reasons a...z, and this has effects α...Ω upon your hypothetical world."

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  • $\begingroup$ It's not a cop-out, if hallucination is a meaningful, logical answer. That might be a hard ask, but it is hypothetically possible. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 10 at 1:51
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android Did you read the paragraphs 2-3 of my answer? $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Jan 10 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I did. Alas, I don't find them entirely convincing. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 14 at 5:18
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android If I might ask, what was your edit? I still see my answer in full. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Jan 14 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ Corrected one typographic error, replaced "it's" with the correct "its", and replaced "illusional" with "illusory". Nothing to sweat over. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 15 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android Thanks, I appreciate the edit. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Jan 15 at 3:08
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I'm the one who concluded that Alexander's reply didn't answer the question. 12 other people disagreed with me, so take this with the appropriate dose of (non-bath) salt!

The reason why I said what I did was because this was a cop-out answer. WB.SE exists for the sole purpose of providing legitimately useful answers to people who ask questions about building their fictional worlds & settings. It is, perhaps momentarily, funny to offer such a reply, but in the long run, it is simply not useful.

The query proposed a specific, factual scenario. The answer, unfortunately, just pretends that the scenario never happened. Myeh.

I'd still argue that Alexander's reply is not a legitimate answer. Technically, yes, it is an answer; but it actually does nothing more than deride the OP's scenario and does a great disservice to this forum: all of us who strive to provide good answers to those who ask.

The reason the answer is not legitimate is simple: every fictional world and ever scenario proposed here is not true. None of these places ever existed, none of these people ever did the things described. All the same, we respondents take for granted the existence of these people and places and answer accordingly, within their given contexts. This is why this forum exists.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would recommend you rework or expand the reasoning of your last paragraph. Because as it stands it provides a rationale to legitimate an answer you consider to be not legitimate. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 10 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android -- I will consider; however, I'm not convinced that the rationale actually supports giving a non-answer. It's simply true that fictional places don't exist outside their own contexts. I don't see how that gives leave to people to say, essentially, "it's not real, so why bother actually thinking about an answer?" I had thought (and I could be wrong!) that my last two sentences put paid to any question of supporting or encouraging non-answers. We accept at face value the worlds and scenarios of querents and answer accordingly. It's the sine qua non of WB. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jan 10 at 2:58
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The answer is fine. It isn't particularly detailed, but I think much more detail than it contained would stray too far into plot anyway.

I don't think it would always be the case that an "illusion / delusion" answer would be okay: for example, a question about how some particular technology could be used to escape an awkward situation should not be answerable by saying "the protagonist wakes up and it was all a bad dream". That possibility isn't suggested by the question.

The questioner was asking for an explanation of the behaviour but the question was specifically phrased as "as soon as the explorer shows up, all these beings seem to immediately forget their own struggles; instead, they work together in an effort to kill the explorer".

That clause "seem to" I feel really opens up the answer space to the possibility that the way all these disparate enemies are teaming up on the protagonist is a matter of perception. Do they really gang up on the explorer, or do they just seem to?

So, specifically for this question and without wishing to suggest any wider precedent, I think the answer is perfectly reasonable. It might not be the one the questioner chooses to accept, but it does have basis in the wording of the question. It takes "seems to" and runs with it, suggesting that that is in fact the extent of the enemies' teamwork. That's a far cry from "it was all a dream" as it still leaves the fundamental structure of the world intact: the various races of humans, the elementals etc. are not questioned, they still exist and challenge the explorer but some additional component of the world is suggested (the explorer's delusion and its cause).

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WB.SE tends to be the most... forgiving... of the SE Sites. Namely because all questions are hypotheticals. All answers are therefor theories to answer the OP's Hypothesis. To be a legitimate answer, all a theory has to do is explain the observed pattern while abiding by the universes laws of cause and effect.

Illusion/Hallucination/Misunderstandings (hereby referred to as delusions) theories have a number of hurdles they must overcome before they are a legitimate answer. How hard they are to overcome usually depends on the parameters of the question.

  • What is causing the delusions?
  • How are the delusions being maintained? (Especially for longer period ones, how is their manifestation kept stable/predictable?)
  • If the characters are delusional, how does their perception of the world and the reality of the world interact with each other? (eg. why aren't observers calling the physic ward?)

I would also ignore "cop out" as a factor since that is a narrative issue, not a reality issue. The fact that a magic trick was done using paid filmed 'random people' may be a cop out, but nevertheless that is how the magic trick was done.

In short, if the answer solves the opening question, and doesn't introduce a whole new set of problems that need to be solved for the answer to work, then it is a valid answer. (Good depends on the amount of effort but into it)

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I would argue that it depends on whether or not it goes against the spirit of the question. I used the concept of an illusion in my answer about the Anatomically-Correct Banshee, and I think it was a legitimate answer - it shows how such a creature could be created under the constraints of the question given, and I think it could be meaningfully used in a story. Giving an answer to 'How could my protagonist experience X situation?' by saying 'It was an illusion' isn't a narratively satisfying answer. No one likes to read a story and have the author pull a 'actually none of it happened, it was a dream the whole time' gag.

Of course, the nature of this site is to kind of ignore the spirit of the question and attack the question directly, and perfectly acceptable answer can just dodge the question by claiming a faulty premise and explaining why a completely different solution can be used. But I think that illusions should be handled carefully, because the nature of addressing question directly are such that you're claiming the reality of the situation is wrong. Saying that everything is an illusion is something of a cop-out. If an illusion answers the intent of the question or there really is no other way to answer the question other than claiming illusion, then it should be fine. But aside from that, relying on illusion or delusion seem kind of contrary to this website, because as I've said early, there's no limits to what can happen so long as you're claiming illusions.

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The nature of the questions we get here mean that there are often multiple answers. One of those answers could well be that the whole thing is an illusion as long as the requirements of the question are fulfilled. It's almost a box tick answer for a lot of things.

However you have to consider whether it's a helpful answer to the question.

In this case illusion or hallucination is not unreasonable for someone getting off a ship after a long voyage, perhaps there was something in the water, or the ship's biscuits were contaminated. He's probably sick with scurvy anyway, or caught a local plague he has no immunity to. So in this case, hallucination, illusion, delusion, are valid with better explanation than I think has been actually given in this case.

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