Angst and the Empty Set

Suppose you open your handbag one day expecting to find your wallet there, but don’t. Do you literally see the absence of your wallet in your handbag? If you do, it means something important: Absences have a positive presence in your perception that you can grasp, independently from all ordinary things.

Anna Farennikova, a philosopher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has argued exactly this position. The phenomenology of the experience of seeing something missing, she says, has “immediate, perceptual qualities” that encourage us to see absences as being as fundamental as presences. Even though our visual experiences of absences are triggered by frustrated expectations, it feels

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus5 min read
The Deepest Uncertainty: When a hypothesis is neither true nor false.
Georg Cantor died in 1918 in a sanatorium in Halle, Germany. A pre-eminent mathematician, he had laid the foundation for the theory of infinite numbers in the 1870s. At the time, his ideas received hostile opposition from prominent mathematicians in
Nautilus5 min read
The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years
One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel—a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it “The Classi
Nautilus5 min read
Dark Matter Gets a Reprieve in New Analysis
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. The galactic center shines too brightly, like the glow of a metropolis at night where maps show only a town. To mend their cosmic cartography, astrophysicists have spent years debati