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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

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