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A phenomenon (plural: phenomena) is an observable event, especially something special (literally something that can be seen from the Greek word phainomenon = observable).
Kant's use of phenomenon
Phenomenon has a specialized meaning in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant who contrasted the term 'Phenomenon' with 'Noumenon'. Phenomena constitute the world as we experience it, as opposed to the world as it exists independently of our experiences (thing-in-themselves, 'das ding an sich'). Humans cannot, according to Kant, know things-in-themselves, only things as we experience them. Thus philosophy should concern itself with understanding the process of experience itself.
The concept of 'Phenomena' led to a tradition of philosophy known as Phenomenology. Leading figures in this tradition include Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger and Derrida.
Kant's account of phenomena has also been understood as influential in the development of psychodynamic models of Psychology, and of theories concerning the ways in which the brain, mind and external world interact.
Phenomenon in the general sense
In general, apart from its specialized use as a term in philosophy, phenomenon stands for any observable event. Phenomena make up the raw data of science. Phenomena are often exploited by technology.
It is possible to list the phenomena which are relevant to almost any field of endeavor, for example, in the case of optics and light one can list observable phenomena under the topic optical phenomenon.
The possibilities are many, for example:
Some observable events are commonplace, some require delicate manipulation of expensive and sensitive equipment. Some are significant experiments which led to groundbreaking discoveries.
There is a class of phenomena which lie outside generally accepted knowledge which knowledgeable scientists tend to discount. They are collected and discussed under the topic anomalous phenomenon
- "no phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon" Niels Bohr.
- "Scientific theory is a contrived foothold in the chaos of living phenomena." - Wilhelm Reich
- "To study the phenomenon of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all." Sir William Osler
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04