A Wild World of Words: Epiphenomena

A new weekly installation on the blog, in which I share a word for the week. 


This week’s word is epiphenomena.

Epiphenomena, the plural form of the word epiphenomenon, are secondary phenomena that appear in addition to separate phenomena. A mouthful, right? So for example,  your ideas and emotions are epiphenomena of the physical activity of your brain. Your brain is primarily focused on bodily function ( a phenomena), but also holds the capacity for your memory (a secondary phenomena). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was first used in 1706 in the sixth edition of Phillips’s New World of Words.

I saw this word for the first time today in one of my favorite newsletters, and really like the deeper meaning. Going back to the example in the previous paragraph, your ideas/emotions and physical capability of your brain are two very separate processes. But in one way, they have to coexist and interact with each other. An example I can think of is that stress can have a physical effect on the body, and that we hold it in our muscles. The epiphenomena becomes a tangled web of phenomena that has to exist, because otherwise, the separate phenomena wouldn’t be the way that they are. I might be off-base, but we wouldn’t really know the effects of stress if we didn’t see its manifestation. It seems like the word is mostly used in the worlds of medicine and psychology, but I think it still holds a weight outside of these settings.

Plus, I like saying it. E-pi-phe-nom-e-na.

Share your word-of-the-week with me in the comments.



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