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The Treachery of Images
Nor is this an image by Dan Piraro.

"You never disappoint me. If they ever hang you, you'll be arguing about whether the rope really exists until the last minute."
Hagbard, The Illuminatus! Trilogy

When someone wants to really blow your mind, they will show you something. It can be an ordinary object or a piece of music or anything really, as long as they can see or hear it. And then they say, "This does not exist." With this mantra, the falsity of the world is stripped away and perhaps the hidden mask of reality is revealed. This is often an indicator of a Mind Screw.

You are not seeing this page. There is no page. There are merely a series of HTTP messages sent as TCP segments twisted into a form resembling a page. Believe nothing. Can be dreadfully annoying and dull if it takes itself too seriously, or delightful and intellectually stimulating if it doesn't.

Beware of who you use this on. Depending on the person, they may just bluntly disagree and the whole thing might fall apart. A common retort might be "This fist is not real." *Pow!*

Needless to say, incredibly easy to parody.

2 + Torture = 5 is a darker version when someone forces you to see and believe things like these. Not related to Your Mind Makes It Real. Compare and contrast Clap Your Hands If You Believe & Willing Suspension of Disbelief. See also True Art Is Incomprehensible.


These are not Examples. They are only our descriptions of them:

    open/close all folders 

    There is No Anime & Manga Here 
  • Ditto in the anime and manga of Pokémon have much more advanced shapeshifting skills than in the video game, but aren't particularly bright. In one case, a Ditto was shown a picture of a Dratini in a book and told to turn into it...and the Ditto turned into a book.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ's theme song tells that the show is not Anime.

    Most Definitely Not Art 

    Neither Are These Comics 
  • Scott McCloud (of Zot! fame)'s Understanding Comics takes this to a thought-provoking Overly Long Gag extreme as part of his demonstration of just how much the reader of a comic is mentally filling in. Not only is it not a pipe, it's not even a painting of a pipe. Is it a drawing of a painting of a pipe? No, actually it's not even that — it's a printed copy of a drawing of a painting of a pipe. In fact, it's several printed copies, appearing in multiple panels, each one dependent on the reader to observe.
    "Do you hear what I'm saying? If you do, have your ears checked, because no one said a word."

    Certainly Not Film 
  • The Matrix: "Do not try to bend the spoon; that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth: There is no spoon. Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."
    • Which was actually inspired by Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, which you can see on Neo's shelf earlier.
    • In point of fact, once the kid hands the spoon over, it isn't even a real spoon...it's CGI.
  • Mulholland Dr.: "No hay banda! There is no band. Il n'y a pas d'orchestre. [...] And yet we hear a band." A subtle clue showing that the whole thing is Diane Selwyn's Dying Dream. Or is it?
    "It is a recording. It is a tape. It is an illusion."
  • A central theme of British Cult shocker The Last Horror Movie.
  • "There is no monster." One of the worst films of all time tried to have a Mind Screw ending: Monster A-Go Go was about an astronaut who crash landed and mutated into a giant monster and a scientist tries to save him. Except the end revealed that the astronaut actually landed safe someplace else and the monster - gasp! - wasn't real:
    "As if a switch had been turned, as if an eye had been blinked, as if some phantom force in the universe had made a move eons beyond our comprehension, suddenly, there was no trail! There was no giant, no monster, no thing called 'Douglas' to be followed. There was nothing in the tunnel but the puzzled men of courage, who suddenly found themselves alone with shadows and darkness! With the telegram, one cloud lifts, and another descends. Astronaut Frank Douglas, rescued, alive, well, and of normal size, some eight thousand miles away in a lifeboat, with no memory of where he has been, or how he was separated from his capsule! Then who, or what, has landed here? Is it here yet? Or has the cosmic switch been pulled? Case in point: The line between science fiction and science fact is microscopically thin! You have witnessed the line being shaved even thinner! But is the menace with us? Or is the monster gone?"
    Joel: Oh, the joke's on us!
    Tom Servo: Boooooo!
  • Lampshaded in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. At the beginning of the film, Jack Sparrow broke into and out of a fortress in order to obtain a drawing of the key to the eponymous Dead Man's Chest. Now all they have to do is find the chest, right? Wrong. First they have to find the actual key itself, because all they have so far is a drawing of the key.
  • Played with in the Mind Screw Vanilla Sky, at different levels :
    • David has built his dream upon memory caught from pictures of his youth. That's one of the reasons it becomes hard for him to leave it.
    • David is also accused of beating Julie Gianni. When seeing a picture of her, he declares that someone is "setting him up".
    David: "There is no murder. There.is.NO.MURDER! It never happened !".
  • "Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them."

    Not The Literature You Are Looking For 
  • In Mark Twain's story The Mysterious Stranger, after the *ahem* friendly angel has wrought death, madness and devastation on the community, he tells the young boy/narrator that the boy is the only real thing in the universe, and that everything else - including the angel - is a figment of his imagination. Twain was not in a happy place when he wrote this.
  • In Dave Barry Hits Below The Beltway, Dave Barry wonders how lawyers become "people who refuse to make a simple, understandable statement about anything," and imagines a scene in law school, with a law professor holding up a spoon, and turns on the electrodes attached to his students each time they say that it looks like a spoon. This is apparently the kind of response the professor wants to hear:
    Student: In certain purely superficial respects, it may resemble what is sometimes called a spoon, depending of course on the definition of "spoon"; however, we intend to present expert testimony showing that there are a number of other plausible explanations, such that it cannot be determined beyond a reasonable doubt that this is a spoon, or, for that matter, not a spoon, per se, depending on who is paying us three hundred dollars an hour plus expenses. Nor have we established that, legally, that is your hand.
    Law Professor: Correct. (He presses the button again anyway.)
  • The novel 1984 uses this trope endlessly and is one of the most basic functions of the party. A relevant part of O'Brien's conversation with Winston revolves around whether the Party could, pragmatically speaking, change reality itself, with the torturer arguing that he could "float like a soap bubble" if he wanted to. After all, if Winston perceives (forcibly) such a thing, and it is on record, in what sense is it untrue? Also, it is never revealed whether Goldstein or Big Brother are real, but it is suggested that, sociologically speaking, for all intents and purposes, they are real.
    "Does BIG BROTHER exist?"
    "Of course he exists. The Party exists. BIG BROTHER is the embodiment of the Party."
    "Does he exist in the same way as I exist?"
    "You do not exist," said O'Brien.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Thief of Time, Susan Sto Helit becomes a school teacher. We see her holding up a cardboard clock and asking the kids what it is. Susan is mildly impressed when one of the kids eventually guesses it's "all cardboard, made to look like a clock". One of the lessons Miss Susan drills into her students is "Always see what's really there."
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach plays with both the concept and the painting, including a character taking the pipe from the painting and smoking it.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce the blessed former apostate finally gives up on trying to reason with his damned apostate friend not very long after the damned soul has gone so far off the deep end in his pseudo-intellectual diatribe that he ends up complaining about how the blessed man is talking "as if there some hard, fixed reality where things are, so to speak, 'there'."
  • In several Robert A. Heinlein books, Fair Witnesses will reply to 'What color is that house' with 'It appears to be white on this side', as they have not seen the other side, and even if they were to walk over there and look, they could not be sure that someone had not repainted it as soon as it was out of their sight. This extends so far that they will even look over at the house before answering, just to make sure. Note that in the case of this example, the house in question was the property next door to the one the woman lived at, and that she was probably very familiar with it. But her training was such that she was unable to assume anything.
  • A variation in one of the quotes from Kozma Prutkov, a pen name used by several Russian writers in the mid-19th century: "If you see a 'buffalo' sign on an elephant's cage, do not trust your eyes." Now go ahead, try to figure out what he/they meant by this (i.e. should you not trust that you see an elephant or that what you're reading is wrong).

    Not Television, Not Live, By No Means Contains Action 
  • In the surrealist Jim Henson-directed teleplay The Cube, one of the many odd characters the protagonist meets is a professor. The professor argues that none of the man's experiences is true, as reality itself is an illusion, and he is merely a character on TV. To illustrate, he picks up a hammer and explains that if you could look closer and closer at it you would see that it is made up of molecules, which are made up of atoms, which are made of energy and none of those items is "anything you could call a real thing". The man exclaims "You're right, it isn't real!". Whereupon the professor says "Then how do you explain this?" and hurls the hammer at the wall, leaving a hole.
  • Babylon 5: The episode "And the Sky Full of Stars" plays with this. Sinclair is locked inside a virtual reality cybernet, which provides a realistic simulation to Sinclair's mind and senses. The villain ("Knight Two" in the credits) shoots a sim-copy of Garibaldi "dead", then brings him back to "life" with no effort. There are, however, elements that are real, or at least grounded in reality: Sinclair, Knight Two, and pain. Later in the episode, Sinclair, frustrated with Knight Two's insinuations of him being a traitor, punches him out from within the simulation. Two, caught by surprise, is knocked out of the simulation.
  • There's an interesting contrast in Firefly in "Objects in Space" between River and the villain of the week, Jubal Early. Both, one by accident, the other through upbringing and lifestyle, take an absurdist view of the universe - we ascribe meaning, but those meanings are flexible. The difference is that River searches for the meanings that everyone else ascribes to through the flood of information her damaged brain provides, while Early chooses the most pessimistic, destructive interpretation of everything to justify his bounty hunting lifestyle.
  • "That which holds the image of an angel becomes itself an angel." So...inverted? Still sort of played straight, though, since messing with this trope is basically the Weeping Angels' hat. Also played with a bit in Day of the Doctor — Time Lord paintings are bigger on the inside, so a painting of the Fall of Arcadia actually is the Fall of Arcadia, or at least part of it. /spoiler

    Not Music, No Matter Your Tastes 
  • This is Not a Song, it's a Sandwich, by Psychostick.
  • Probably "This is Not a Photograph" by Mission Of Burma, although—in keeping with their commitment to obscurity—you can't really tell whether the song is a Shout-Out to Magritte, or something else entirely. Their tribute to "Max Ernst" is somewhat more straightforward, ending with a repeated "Dada" chant.
  • This is Not a Love Song, by Public Image Ltd..
  • The Lonely Island's "Threw It On The Ground" : the guy is handed given a cell phone, and told that it's his dad. He says, "man, this ain't my dad. This is a cell phone." (So he threw it on the ground.)
  • "Jazz is the notes you *don't* play." (Old adage, sometimes credited to Miles Davis.)
    • Played with in The Simpsons. In one episode, Lisa is at the Jazz Hole, enjoying the performance of a female electric violinist:
    Guy: [Unimpressed] Hmph, sounds like she's hitting a baby with a cat.
    Lisa: You have to listen to the notes she's NOT playing.
    Guy: [Still unimpressed] Pssh, I can do that at home.

    No Newspapers, Especially Comic Containing Ones 
  • In one Dilbert comic, Dogbert was trying to get someone to invest in his latest "Give more money to Dogbert" fund. His argument consisted of handing a photo of a mansion to the very, very stupid client and saying, "If you invest in the Dogbert Deferred Earnings Fund, one day this could be yours!"
    "I could own a mansion?"
    "You could own a photograph."
  • The comic Zogonia in Dragon Magazine once featured a character buying an incredibly realistic illusion of a pipe. Disbelief, somehow, failed to get rid of it, indicating it may have been a pipe all along.
    Domato: What's going on?
    Dindil: Kev is not holding a pipe, and I'm watching him.
    Kev: Strange...I am holding a pipe.
    Dindil: You are?
    Domato: Whatever you guys are smoking, throw it away.

    Decidedly Un-Radio 
  • Parodied in The Goon Show, in which photographs of something are the same as the real thing.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the Man in the Shack, who claims not to rule the universe, also claims to be unconvinced that anything he experiences is real. Another episode mentions a man who claimed that nothing was true, though he was later discovered to be lying.
    The Man in the Shack: How do I know the past isn't a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate surroundings and my state of mind?
  • In The Burkiss Way there's a sketch where a man is in a travel agency trying to decide on his holiday destination:
    Customer What about that poster on the wall?
    Travel agent: It's a bit papery, sir.

    Something That Resembles Video Games But Isn't 
  • This is parodied in Kingdom of Loathing with the Not-a-pipe: "You do not light the not-a-pipe, and you proceed to do something with it that is not smoking. Whatever it is, it's very refreshing, and gives you the feeling that your head has been replaced with either a window or a giant apple."
  • Another parody is the Lemmings 2 level "Ceci n'est pas une pipe", which looks like a water pipe. The Bilingual Bonus is that pipe is correct French for a smoking pipe, but not a plumbing pipe (conduit) or the other kind of water pipe (houka), so it really "n'est pas une pipe".
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, a Nobody sent to recover Roxas is baffled by photos of Roxas. The photos are also not real; Roxas is trapped in a virtual reality program.
  • Most of the more esoteric Elder Scrolls lore is pretty much made of this trope. For example: gods basically only exist because people believe in them. And if different cultures have different interpretations of the same god, it splits into separate entities. Sort of. The Thalmor endgame is basically to "unmake" the universe and become/return to being gods by eroding the worship of Talos, who helps to hold the world together, and make it so that the universe was never created. And that's not even getting into Dragon Breaks...

    Variably Visual Non-Novels 
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, the only reason Battler has anything remotely resembling a chance is that most of what we "see" is Beatrice's explanation of what happened. In the third arc in particular, she tries to distract him with shiny, epic magical fight scenes, but Virgilia points out that he could always deny that it reflected reality, since no objective evidence was left. She also states that since Rokkenjima is now a Closed Circle, multiple truths can exist alongside one another until they're disproven. Later on, this trope becomes very important to the plot when in EP7 we find out that at least three characters are all the same person.

    There Are No Webcomics Here, Move Along 

    This Is Not The Original Of What Was Found On The Web (That Itself Doesn't Exist) 
  • As part of Vi Hart's video about how she makes videos about how she makes videos about... she begins making the distinction between the her who's writing the script, the her in the video part, and the her as the voice over. This leads to her writing on her hand "This is me!", correcting it to "This is (a video of) me!", which eventually (after a lot of crossing out) becomes "This is your screen!"
  • The Onion's parody atlas Our Dumb World claims that René Magritte made a second painting entitled "Now This — This Is a Pipe."
  • Carlos and the Night Vale Science Team are plagued by this. They've spent over a year studying the house that doesn't actually exist, despite everyone seeing it, and it being between two other, identical, actually-existing houses. But Carlos and his scientists are pretty sure that, after making many complex measurements and calculations, it isn't really there.

    This Is Anything But Western Animation 
  • In one Family Guy scene, Peter bids on what he believes is a boat. It turns out he bid on a picture of a boat. Then the next item for sale is revealed to be an actual boat.
  • Similarly played with in SpongeBob SquarePants, where Mr. Krabs offers Squidward and Spongebob an incentive for learning the names of customers by showing them a brochure of an exotic tropical cruise. (Never mind how one can have a boat cruise underwater). After Squidward goes to ridiculous extremes to earn the cruise and ending up being thrown in prison, Mr. Krabs visits the incarcerated squid and gives him his prize... the brochure. "It was takin' up too much space in me drawer!"
  • Home Movies - at the Medieval Faire, Mr. Lynch (who's really into the thing) spots Mc Guirk (who's working there because he needs the money) talking on his cell phone. Lynch tells him to get rid of it:
    Lynch: It doesn't exist!
    Mc Guirk: Lynch, I don't wanna have a philosophical discussion with you, okay?
  • Dan Vs.: In the episode "Dan Vs. Art", Dan and Chris are trying to find the headquarters of Art Artstein (he's an artist), which they've just learned are a converted toy factory. Chris remarks that this information doesn't help them narrow down their search, because the city has lots of abandoned toy factories. Dan points out a factory whose exterior bears a giant painting of a sign, with the text "THIS IS NOT A SIGN". Sure enough, Art Artstein is there.

    You Can't Honestly Call This Real Life 
  • Also, "The map is not the territory."
    • The phrase is also a military aphorism to remind commanders that all the vaunted map reading (and later, satellite imagery, UAV recon, intercepted traffic, etc) is no substitute for a boots-on-ground view.
  • The Xbox 360 was in low supply at the time and some crafty hoaxers at eBay managed to sell pictures of the actual console by hiding "This auction is not for a Xbox 360 game system, but instead a picture of one" within a lot of specs and praise for the console.
    • Another guy did the same thing selling pictures of a mobile phone.
    • This actually still happens, though now with "This auction is for a Xbox 360 box" note . Ebay also changed its rules such that such disclaimers are supposed to be much more noticeable.
  • A Real Life theory that the universe as we know it is a three-dimensional hologram of an n-dimensional universe composed of nothing but information. We are the shadow cast by the true shape of the universe. Referenced heavily in Warren Ellis's Planetary.
    • More concretely, the Holographic Principle in string theory states that all the information in universe is located in its boundary — a region with fewer dimensions than the universe at large, quite contrary to everyday 2-dimensional shadows which are cast by 3-dimensional objects.
    • In a similar vein, it's been said that the entire universe can be reduced to a set of quantum fluctuations in the same way a computer's graphical interface can be stripped down to binary.
  • Various philosophers and religious scholars have debated this point throughout the ages. Plato's Allegory of the Cave and the principle of Maya in Hinduism both stress this point for instance.
  • Zeno's Paradox is a related concept (also featured extensively in Gödel, Escher, Bach). Since you can continually halve the distance between two objects, and since there are an infinite number of points in between, it is impossible to traverse the distance. (Before you can go there, you must go halfway there. Before you can go halfway there, you must go a quarter of the way there. Before you can go a quarter of the way there...) According to records, the philosopher Diogenes responded by standing, and silently walking out of the room.
    • Integral calculus provides the real answer to Zeno's Paradox: Though there are an infinite number of points, each point is infinitesimally small. Integration shows how an infinite sum of infinitesimal amounts converges on a finite sum. Without calculus, a lot of physics would be downright impossible. (Not to mention computing, because integration is how digital devices can approximate the non-digital world.)
    • Modern descriptions often depict Zenon as a crackpot philosopher who believed everything was just an illusion, but if one goes to the source (a secondary source, since we only know of him from Aristotle's refutation of his work) then a perfectly valid interpretation is that he was merely trying to point out that contemporary theories about the nature of space had logical flaws (much like Russell's paradox did for naive set theory). Concretely, Zenon gives four paradoxes, of which two are aimed at a discrete model of space and two are aimed at a continuous model. (It was probably because the Pythagoreans believed in discrete space that the discovery of irrational numbers was so shocking to them, although Zenon's argument is not about that.)
  • Later, Berkeley argued that matter does not exist. The ultimate conclusion of his argument is that we are all basically being dreamed by God. According to Boswell, Samuel Johnson's response to this was to kick a rock and say, "I refute it thus."
  • A man in Florida parked his car illegally and was mailed a picture of his illegally parked car from the police who said he had to pay a $45 fine. The man responded by mailing the police a picture of $45. The police's response? Mailing him a picture of handcuffs.
  • "This page has been intentionally left blank." LIARS!
    • "Leaving posters on this wall is illegal". Yeah, right.
  • Urban Legend tells of a philosophy professor who, for the final exam, placed a chair at the front of the room and challenged the students to prove it did not exist. One student scored 100% simply by writing "What chair?"
  • There exists a photo taken by Kunaver and Mohar, showing the famous Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek sitting behind a golden frame, called Slavoj Zizek does not exist. This one actually alludes to Zizek's own theory of frame and appearance.
  • The Stadtschloss (city palace) of Potsdam, which was heavily damaged in World War 2 and subsequently demolished on the orders of the government of the GDR, was rebuilt after German Reunification as the new home of the Landtag (state parliament) of Brandenburg; it was inaugurated in 2014. On the outside it is an authentic recreation of the old building, while on the inside it is a 21st century building full of office rooms and the austere plenary session hall. To highlight this, they added an inscription in golden letters (reminiscent in form of those used by Magritte) on one of the outside walls: Ceci n'est pas un château ("this is not a palace").



Ret GoneThis Index Does Not ExistUn-Person
The Walrus Was PaulArt TropesTrue Art
Transformation RayNarrative DevicesTreasure Map
Thought Aversion FailureAbsurdity AscendantTrue Art Is Incomprehensible
Translation: YesSelf-Demonstrating ArticleTrigger Phrase
Thought Bubble SpeechImageSource/Comic StripsBloom County

alternative title(s): Ceci Nest Pas Une Pipe
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