Mitchell Damian Murtagh — A Sexuate Cosmology: Physics, Meta-Physics, and the Negative

In this paper, using insights derived from Luce Irigaray’s philosophy of sexuate difference – notably her assertion that ‘La nature a un sexe toujours et partout’ (in Sexes and Genealogies, p. 108) – I criticize a major assumption made by some contemporary physicists about the structure of fundamental reality, that this reality  is unifiable, self-contained, and autogenic. Then, I offer an alternative cosmology, which re-figures the relation between the physical and the metaphysical, taking account of sexuation, and the negative that it entails, as a structuring given in the perception of reality.

The assumption made by contemporary physicists, I demonstrate, undergirds several scales of recent Western science’s cosmological models, which have evolved conceptually from Newton onwards — from our local solar system to the Milky Way galaxy, to the multi-galaxied universe beginning with the Big Bang, to speculations of a multiverse with multiple big bang universes, and so on. Regardless of its ‘size’, reality is always presumed to be One. This assumption was originally proposed as needing a mathematical formulation by Stephen Hawking, who referred to it as ‘The Theory of Everything’ (ToE). More specifically, the ‘Theory of Everything’ would seek a solution for combining quantum mechanics with classical mechanics – gravity and the gravitational field, otherwise known as the space-time matrix — in order to arrive at a total, or a totalizing equation. The obsession about quantum theory reaching a whole is evidenced by books including, but not limited to Stephen Hawking’s own The Grand Design, Steven Weinberg’s Dreams of a Final Theory, and Michio Kaku’s The God Equation: The Question for a Theory of Everything. In his introduction, Kaku describes ToE as “a single framework that would unite all the forces of the cosmos and choreograph everything from the motion of the expanding universe to the most minute dance of subatomic particles” (The God Equation, p.1).

Until now, however, gravity resists quantization, and therefore continues to oppose  unification. Unlike the other three fundamental forces, gravity is still conceived in classical — but not quantized—terms and it is best described by Einstein’s General Relativity, as a geometric theory regarding space-time. Although this theory remains non consistent with quantum field theory, it is believed that it could become consistent if “quantum gravity” were to be discovered. Quantum gravity, then, would reconcile with the other three fundamental forces of nature, which have been unified: the strong and weak nuclear forces, and electromagnetism. But, to date, no such observation has been made. And with Irigaray’s writings as In the Beginning, She Was in mind, we must consider the possibility that it never will be: ‘The world is transformed into pieces of a puzzle whose whole remains an enigma’ (p. 34) and ‘the words no longer adhere to the real, no longer transmit a living energy They are pieces detached from an artificially constructed whole, a kind of puzzle of the world that man has elaborated in order to become autonomous and dominate life. He plays at putting these pieces together in various ways… What is at stake, for man, is reconstituting a closed universe” (p. 31).

Borrowing from Irigaray’s insight here as the primary method of my analysis, I argue that the gravitational field, that is the one which constitutes the geometric structure of physical space-time, may not be unifiable with the other three quantum force-fields that rest on it. Gravity may operate, instead, as the matrix, or the medium of quantum mechanics within space-time. In other words, general relativity is not fundamentally incompatible with quantum mechanics, but is the condition of possibility for quantum field theory to be in the first place. It is the ground on which it becomes possible for all quantum fields to interact, to constitute complex structures, to govern their behaviours, and so forth. All that hinges on gravity being imagined otherwise — that is, quantum mechanics and general relativity may be metaphysically irreducible to each other, while being physically inseparable. 

One implication that we must consider from a sexuate counter-hypothesis to a Theory of Everything is the possibility that fundamental reality operates according to a logic different from unification — a logic of difference — and, more specifically and basically, of sexuate difference. This means addressing  acall to physicists to stop their never-ending quest for quantizing gravity, for discovering, or observinga ‘graviton,’, that is, gravity structured as a tiny, discrete subatomic particle, oscillating within its own quantum field, which they imagine to be ‘the missing puzzle piece’ that would ‘close up’ the theoretical gap, finally allowing physics to arrive at a fully sealed and knowable whole. Irigaray shows us in her text ‘Is the Subject of Science Sexed?’ that quantum gravity could be understood as a meredesire of the physicist himself for an isomorphism between the ‘self-made’ masculine subject and his self-made universe, composed of self-made particles, of which he coincidentally finds himself to bethe rotating center. And that ‘what claims to be universal is the equivalent of a male idiolect, a masculine Imaginary, a sexed world—without neutrality’ (‘Is the Subject of Science Sexed?’, p. 71). If we discover a quantum theory of gravity, physicists hypothesize, the major enigmas about the boundaries of the physical universe would become known to us immediately. 

Hence, not only does my proposition, made possible thanks to the work of Luce Irigaray, provide justification for why quantum gravity has yet to be discovered, or observed — and, probably, it never will be. More interestingly, I think, sexuate difference can provide a way of reframing or re-conceiving quantum gravity entirely. Rather than a ‘gap’ that must be plugged in all the places physicists knock onenigmas, in order for those enigmas to be solved — that is, before the Big Bang, beyond the speed of light, inside black holes, and beneath the Planck scale -quantum gravity may be re-conceived as the boundary, the limit, but also an aporia between the physical and the meta-physical that lies beyond asan even more fundamental reality which exceeds, but subtends, our physical universe. In this shift, space no longer occupies the role of the maternal matrix where quantum particles are embryonic structures. Now, in this re-conception, space-time as the physical becomes an embryonic structure, in an ongoing relation to a more fundamental meta-physical reality which holds and shapes it, envelopes it, and continues to feed, or nourish it, in the intervals or aporias on the boundaries of the physical world that physicists locate as places where quantum gravity is likely to take place. Rather thansingular entities, these sites can be re-conceived as encounters, passages, which are half-open, half-closed, but necessary in order for our gravitational space-time universe to continue to develop andbecome more complex. 

In that way, my sexuate model of cosmology also lends itself to addressing the philosophical problem of ‘dark energy’ by reframing the previous cosmological model. That is, it may supply a way to rethink the cause of the accelerating expansion of the physical universe: where is energy  coming from which constitutes, and re-constitutes, the universe at every moment, if the universe is supposed to be self-enclosed? Could it be a maternal metaphysical feeding us quantum gravity that metabolizes as the fabric of space-time itself?