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An epiphany (from the ancient Greek "ἐπιφάνεια", epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) is the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something.

The term is used in either a philosophical or literal sense to signify that the claimant has "found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture," or has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper or numinous foundational frame of reference.

Epiphanies of sudden comprehension have also made possible leaps in technology and the sciences. Famous epiphanies include Archimedes' realisation of how to estimate the volume of a given mass, which inspired him to shout "Eureka!" ("I have found it!"). The biographies of many mathematicians and scientists include an epiphanic episode early in the career, the ramifications of which were worked out in detail over the following years. For example, Albert Einstein was struck as a young child by being given a compass, and realising that some unseen force in space was making it move. An example of a flash of holistic understanding in a prepared mind was Charles Darwin's "hunch" (about natural selection) during The Voyage of the Beagle.

History

The word's secular usage may owe some of its popularity to James Joyce, who expounded on its meaning in the fragment Stephen Hero and the novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). Referring to those times in his life when something became manifest, a deep realisation, he would then attempt to write this epiphanic realisation in a fragment. Joyce also used epiphany as a literary device within each short story of his collection Dubliners (1914) as his protagonists came to sudden recognitions that changed their view of themselves or their social condition and often sparking a reversal or change of heart.

For the philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas, epiphany or a manifestation of the divine is seen in another's face (see face-to-face).

To this day in traditional and pre-modern cultures, initiation rites and mystery religions have served as vehicles of epiphany, as well as the arts. The Greek dramatists and poets, would, in the ideal, induct the audience into states of catharsis or kenosis, respectively. In modern times an epiphany lies behind the title of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, a drug-influenced state, as Burroughs explained, “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is at the end of the fork.” Both the Dadaist Marcel Duchamp and the Pop Artist Andy Warhol would invert expectations by presenting commonplace objects or graphics as works of fine art, simply by presenting them in a way no one had thought to do before; the result was intended to induce an epiphany of "what art is" or is not.

Religious Epiphany

The Christian Epiphany refers to the Adoration of the Magi of the miraculous Incarnation of the infant Christ, and to the Feast of the Epiphany which commemorates it. In more general terms the phrase religious epiphany is used when a person realises their faith or when they are convinced that a event or happening was really caused by a deity or being of their faith

The Zen term kensho also describes this moment, referring to the feeling attendant on realising the answer to a koan.

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