In the "List of Common Misconceptions" page, one of the misconceptions listed is ''Death's string quartet scenes take place in the actual timeline". I would like to contest this-a theory I have is that the string quartet scenes do take place in the actual timeline, it's just that the characters we see there aren't Rei, Asuka, Shinji and Kaworu, but rather different people with different names who simply look like, sound like and potentially have some bare characteristic similarities with the four pilots of NGE. For one thing Anno gives a very concrete time and place to this scene which wouldn't make sense if it was simply intended as a surrealistic endeavor and there is no link made whatsoever between them and Shinji/Rei/Asuka/Kaworu unlike other times in Death when there are links made between the same character at different times and whatnot by clearly referring to those characters as "she" and "he". We don't ever get a clear look at anyone's face either which only reinforces the idea. We don't see Not-Rei's eyes and eyebrows and and while her skin looks pale-ish at first sight, then looking at the frame where we get see her most clearly closely reveals that some light is actually illuminating her face and is the likeliest reason for it appearing so white.
Take a look:
There's clearly light there and if you still have qualms, check out this:
This is the clearest look we get at Not-Shinji's face and when you look at it, you can see a part of his face being roughly the same white as Not-Rei's and it is even more clearly illuminated by light. Not-Rei might still have pale skin, but juxtaposing those two images it's just as possible she doesn't and I'd argue that's what's going on. We don't even get to see Not-Kaworu's face or skin.
So besides from the fact that effort appears to be made to both fit the string quartet scenes into the NGE timeline and to prove those are not the actual characters we know, I'm guessing that Anno intended for them to be real people in the real NGE timeline, not some surrealistic linking device or an AU event. Why? Well, it's still a linking device per se, showing us the events leading up to Instrumentality, but why give us these new characters remains a good question. But I think my point stands.
I think that we should delete "string quartet scenes real" and replace it with "string quartet scenes show Shinji/Rei/Asuka/Kaworu''', since that would be a misconception still.
FreakyFilmFan4ever probably discussed it a lot more clearly and concisely than I did here: thread/16342/NGE-and-EoE-Different-Endings-or-Different-Canons/40/#p736430