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A phenomenon (Greek: φαινόμενον, phainómenon, from the verb φαίνειν, phainein, to show, shine, appear, to be manifest or manifest itself, plural phenomena) [1] is "an observable fact or event" [2]

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE



The term came into its modern philosophical usage through Immanuel Kant, who contrasted it with the noumenon. In contrast to a phenomenon, a noumenon cannot be directly observed. Kant was heavily influenced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in this part of his philosophy, in which phenomenon and noumenon serve as interrelated technical terms. Far predating this, the ancient Greek Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus also used phenomenon and noumenon as interrelated technical terms.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.

In metaphysics, the noumenon is a posited object or event that exists independently of human sense and/or perception. The term noumenon is generally used when contrasted with, or in relation to, the term phenomenon, which refers to anything that can be apprehended by or is an object of the senses. Modern philosophy has generally been skeptical of the possibility of knowledge independent of the senses, and Immanuel Kant gave this point of view its canonical expression: that the noumenal world may exist, but it is completely unknowable through human sensation. In Kantian philosophy, the unknowable noumenon is often linked to the unknowable "thing-in-itself", although how to characterize the nature of the relationship is a question yet open to some controversy.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz German mathematician and philosopher

Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz was a prominent German polymath and one of the most important logicians, mathematicians and natural philosophers of the Enlightenment. As a representative of the seventeenth-century tradition of rationalism, Leibniz's most notable accomplishment was conceiving the ideas of differential and integral calculus, independently of Isaac Newton's contemporaneous developments. Mathematical works have consistently favored Leibniz's notation as the conventional expression of calculus. It was only in the 20th century that Leibniz's law of continuity and transcendental law of homogeneity found mathematical implementation. He became one of the most prolific inventors in the field of mechanical calculators. While working on adding automatic multiplication and division to Pascal's calculator, he was the first to describe a pinwheel calculator in 1685 and invented the Leibniz wheel, used in the arithmometer, the first mass-produced mechanical calculator. He also refined the binary number system, which is the foundation of all digital computers.

Cloud chamber phenomena. Scientists use phenomena to refine some hypotheses and sometimes to disprove a theory. See also animated version. Cloud chamber bionerd.jpg
Cloud chamber phenomena. Scientists use phenomena to refine some hypotheses and sometimes to disprove a theory. See also animated version.

Philosophical usage

In modern philosophical use, the term phenomena has come to mean 'what is experienced is the basis of reality'. In Immanuel Kant's inaugural dissertation, On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (1770), Kant theorizes that the human mind is restricted to the logical world and thus can only interpret and understand occurrences according to their physical appearances. He wrote that humans could infer only as much as their senses allowed, but not experience the actual object itself. [3] Thus, the term phenomenon refers to any incident deserving of inquiry and investigation, especially events that are particularly unusual or of distinctive importance. [1]

Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown. Philosophical questions about the nature of reality or existence or being are considered under the rubric of ontology, which is a major branch of metaphysics in the Western philosophical tradition. Ontological questions also feature in diverse branches of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophical logic. These include questions about whether only physical objects are real, whether reality is fundamentally immaterial, whether hypothetical unobservable entities posited by scientific theories exist, whether God exists, whether numbers and other abstract objects exist, and whether possible worlds exist.


The combustion of a match is an observable occurrence, or event, and therefore a phenomenon. Streichholz.jpg
The combustion of a match is an observable occurrence, or event, and therefore a phenomenon.
A comparison between a candle flame on Earth (left) and in a microgravity environment, such as that found on the International Space Station (right).
The same burning phenomenon is observed, but different flame shape and colouring phenomena are also observed. Space Fire.jpg
A comparison between a candle flame on Earth (left) and in a microgravity environment, such as that found on the International Space Station (right).
The same burning phenomenon is observed, but different flame shape and colouring phenomena are also observed.

In scientific usage, a phenomenon is any event that is observable, including the use of instrumentation to observe, record, or compile data. Especially in physics, the study of a phenomenon may be described as measurements related to matter, energy, or time, such as Isaac Newton's observations of the moon's orbit and of gravity, or Galileo Galilei's observations of the motion of a pendulum. [4]

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its motion and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

Measurement Process of assigning numbers to objects or events

Measurement is the assignment of a number to a characteristic of an object or event, which can be compared with other objects or events. The scope and application of measurement are dependent on the context and discipline. In the natural sciences and engineering, measurements do not apply to nominal properties of objects or events, which is consistent with the guidelines of the International vocabulary of metrology published by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. However, in other fields such as statistics as well as the social and behavioral sciences, measurements can have multiple levels, which would include nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio scales.

Matter substance that has rest mass and volume, or several other definitions

In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particles, and in everyday as well as scientific usage, "matter" generally includes atoms and anything made up of them, and any particles that act as if they have both rest mass and volume. However it does not include massless particles such as photons, or other energy phenomena or waves such as light or sound. Matter exists in various states. These include classical everyday phases such as solid, liquid, and gas – for example water exists as ice, liquid water, and gaseous steam – but other states are possible, including plasma, Bose–Einstein condensates, fermionic condensates, and quark–gluon plasma.

In natural sciences, a phenomenon is an observable happening or event. Often, this term is used without considering the causes of a particular event. Example of a physical phenomenon is an observable phenomenon of the lunar orbit or the phenomenon of oscillations of a pendulum. [5]

A mechanical phenomenon is a physical phenomenon associated with the equilibrium or motion of objects. [6] Some examples are Newton's cradle, engines, and double pendulums.

In chemistry, and in physics, a dynamic equilibrium exists once a reversible reaction occurs. The ratio of reactants/products changes, but substances move between the chemicals at an equal rate, meaning there is no net change. Reactants and products are formed at such a rate that the concentration of neither changes. It is a particular example of a system in a steady state. In thermodynamics, a closed system is in thermodynamic equilibrium when reactions occur at such rates that the composition of the mixture does not change with time. Reactions do in fact occur, sometimes vigorously, but to such an extent that changes in composition cannot be observed. Equilibrium constants can be expressed in terms of the rate constants for elementary reactions.

Newtons cradle a device that demonstrates conservation of momentum and energy via a series of swinging spheres

Newton's cradle is a device that demonstrates conservation of momentum and energy using a series of swinging spheres. When one sphere at the end is lifted and released, it strikes the stationary spheres, transmitting a force through the stationary spheres that pushes the last sphere upward. The last sphere swings back and strikes the still nearly stationary spheres, repeating the effect in the opposite direction. The device is named after 17th-century English scientist Sir Isaac Newton. It is also known as Newton's Balls or Executive Ball Clicker.

Engine machine designed to produce mechanical energy from another form of energy

An engine or motor is a machine designed to convert one form of energy into mechanical energy. Heat engines, like the internal combustion engine, burn a fuel to create heat which is then used to do work. Electric motors convert electrical energy into mechanical motion, pneumatic motors use compressed air, and clockwork motors in wind-up toys use elastic energy. In biological systems, molecular motors, like myosins in muscles, use chemical energy to create forces and eventually motion.

Social phenomenon

Group phenomena concern the behavior of a particular group of individual entities, usually organisms and most especially people. The behavior of individuals often changes in a group setting in various ways, and a group may have its own behaviors not possible for an individual because of the herd mentality.

Social phenomena apply especially to organisms and people in that subjective states are implicit in the term. Attitudes and events particular to a group may have effects beyond the group, and either be adapted by the larger society, or seen as aberrant, being punished or shunned.

In popular usage, a phenomenon often refers to an extraordinary event. The term is most commonly used to refer to occurrences that at first defy explanation or baffle the observer. According to the Dictionary of Visual Discourse, "In ordinary language 'phenomenon/phenomena' refer to any occurrence worthy of note and investigation, typically an untoward or unusual event, person or fact that is of special significance or otherwise notable." [1]

See also

Related Research Articles

Event may refer to:

Reductionism Philosophical view explaining systems in terms of smaller parts

Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena.

An epiphenomenon is a secondary phenomenon that occurs alongside or in parallel to a primary phenomenon. The word has two senses: one that connotes known causation and one that connotes absence of causation or reservation of judgment about it.

In philosophy of science and in epistemology, Instrumentalism is a methodological view that ideas are useful instruments, and that the worth of an idea is based on how effective it is in explaining and predicting phenomena. Instrumentalism is a pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey that thought is an instrument for solving practical problems, and that truth is not fixed but changes as problems change. Instrumentalism is the view that scientific theories are useful tools for predicting phenomena instead of true or approximately true descriptions.

Phenomenalism is the view that physical objects cannot justifiably be said to exist in themselves, but only as perceptual phenomena or sensory stimuli situated in time and in space. In particular, some forms of phenomenalism reduce talk about physical objects in the external world to talk about bundles of sense-data.

Gottfried Leibniz's theory of pre-established harmony is a philosophical theory about causation under which every "substance" affects only itself, but all the substances in the world nevertheless seem to causally interact with each other because they have been programmed by God in advance to "harmonize" with each other. Leibniz's term for these substances was "monads" which he described in a popular work as "windowless".

Transcendental idealism epistemology, proposed by Kant, in which space and time are merely formal features of how we perceive objects, not things in themselves that exist independently of us

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to us—implying a fundamentally subject-based component, rather than being an activity that directly comprehends the things as they are in themselves. The doctrine is most commonly presented as the idea that time and space are just human perceptions; they are not necessarily real concepts, just a medium through which humans internalize the universe.

A conceptual system is a system that is composed of non-physical objects, i.e. ideas or concepts. In this context a system is taken to mean "an interrelated, interworking set of objects".

Implicate order and explicate order are ontological concepts for quantum theory coined by theoretical physicist David Bohm during the early 1980s. They are used to describe two different frameworks for understanding the same phenomenon or aspect of reality. In particular, the concepts were developed in order to explain the bizarre behavior of subatomic particles which quantum physics struggles to explain.

In philosophy, transcendence conveys the basic ground concept from the word's literal meaning, of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages. It includes philosophies, systems, and approaches that describe the fundamental structures of being, not as an ontology, but as the framework of emergence and validation of knowledge of being. "Transcendental" is a word derived from the scholastic, designating the extra-categorical attributes of beings.

Naturalism may refer to:

The problem of mental causation is a conceptual issue in the philosophy of mind. That problem, in short, is how to account for the common-sense idea that intentional thoughts or intentional mental states are causes of intentional actions. The problem divides into several distinct sub-problems, including the problem of causal exclusion, the problem of anomalism, and the problem of externalism. However, the sub-problem which has attracted most attention in the philosophical literature is arguably the exclusion problem.

Indeterminacy, in philosophy, can refer both to common scientific and mathematical concepts of uncertainty and their implications and to another kind of indeterminacy deriving from the nature of definition or meaning. It is related to deconstructionism and to Nietzsche's criticism of the Kantian noumenon.

Bracketing is a term in the philosophical movement of phenomenology describing an act of suspending judgment about the natural world to instead focus on analysis of experience.

A glossary of terms relating to systems theory.

Branches of science field or discipline of science

The branches of science, also referred to as sciences, "scientific fields", or "scientific disciplines," are commonly divided into three major groups:

In semiotics, linguistics, sociology and anthropology, context refers to those objects or entities which surround a focal event, in these disciplines typically a communicative event, of some kind. Context is "a frame that surrounds the event and provides resources for its appropriate interpretation". It is thus a relative concept, only definable with respect to some focal event within a frame, not independently of that frame.

Critique of Cynical Reason is a book by the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, published in 1983 in two volumes under the German title Kritik der zynischen Vernunft. It discusses philosophical Cynicism and popular cynicism as a societal phenomenon in European history.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to natural science:


  1. 1 2 3 "Phenomenon/Phenomena". Dictionary of Visual Discourse: A Dialectical Lexicon of Terms. 2011.
  2. "Phenomenon". The Columbia Encyclopedia. 2008.
  3. Wikisource:Kant's Inaugural Dissertation of 1770
  4. Jeremy Bernstein, A Theory for Everything, Copernicus, An imprint of Springer-Verlag, New York, 1996, hardback, ISBN   0-387-94700-0
  5. Bernstein, Jeremy (1996). A Theory for Everything, Copernicus, An imprint of Springer». New York.
  6. "Mechanical phenomenon". Retrieved 23 May 2011.