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A phenomenon (from Greek φαινόμενoν, pl. φαινόμενα - phenomena) is any observable occurrence.[1] In popular usage, a phenomenon often refers to an extraordinary event. In scientific usage, a phenomenon is any event that is observable, however commonplace it might be, even if it requires the use of instrumentation to observe it. For example, in physics, a phenomenon may be a feature of matter, energy, or spacetime, 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.[2]

Use in gemologyEdit

In gemology a phenomenon is an unusual optical effect that is displayed by a gem. Play-of-color, labradorescence, iridescence, adularescence, chatoyancy, asterism, aventurescence, lustre and color change are all phenomena of this type.

Use in philosophyEdit

In philosophy, the use of the word phenomenon differs from other uses in that it refers to perceived events. Phenomena may be perceived through a person's senses or with their mind.

The term came into its modern philosophical usage through Immanuel Kant, who contrasted it with noumenon (for which he used the term "Ding an sich", or "thing-in-itself") or Absolute. Kant was heavily influenced by Leibniz in this part of his philosophy. Phenomenon and noumenon serve as interrelated technical terms in Kant's philosophy. Noumena, in contrast to phenomena, are not directly accessible to observation.
Nowadays, "phenomena" are often, but not always, understood as 'appearances'. These are themselves sometimes understood as involving qualia.


  1. New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.)
  2. Jeremy Bernstein, A Theory for Everything, Copernicus, An imprint of Springer-Verlag, New York, 1996, hardback, ISBN 0-387-94700-0

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