A Meta-Physics of Sexual Difference: The Quantum Gravity Matrix and Embryogenesis of Our Universe


Grosz, Elizabeth


Hansen, Mark B.N.


Murtagh, Mitchell Damian










This dissertation makes a case that sexual difference, to date, has been a deeply misconceptualized philosophical concept. Too often reduced to only one expression of itself—the difference between the sexes—critiques of sexual difference as essentialist, heterosexist, transphobic, and race-blind are based on this limited definition of it as an identity category. Its scope, however, expands far beyond its anthropomorphic or human-centric expression and, I argue, it is only by opening up the concept as an ontology that we can begin to conceive new, nuanced, philosophically-grounded ways out of sexist, racist, transphobic, capitalistic and colonialist metaphysics whose roots run so deep that their foundational frameworks are often left unchallenged. This requires stretching sexual difference from an epistemological project that centers “the knower,” often “Woman,” to an ontological framework that constitutes the condition of possibility for epistemology itself. In other words, sexual difference is not reducible to the sex of the knowing subject but founds the logic that there are always at least two ways of knowing, thinking, and being that are irreducible to, or non-collapsible into each other. An ontology of sexual difference requires moving beyond the concept’s historical basis in feminist critiques of psychoanalysis, and even beyond feminist theory itself, where—in its current form—it remains trapped in a tired and boring binary debate between social constructivists and new materialists.

A Meta-Physics of Sexual Difference aims for a way out of this dualism within feminist theory by proposing sexual difference as the organizing, incorporeal principle of reality itself. Open-ended throughout—neo-finalist rather than teleological—this takes sexual difference further than it has ever been taken before—beyond its role as the engine of evolution proliferating life, even beyond inciting the emergence of life itself from non-living matter. Sexual difference, if it is to be a truly revolutionary metaphysics or first philosophy, must begin from the very beginning, with the origins of space-time For this reason, this project engages deeply and seriously with contemporary physics, and in the spirit of Irigaray, has both critical and creative components.

The first half critiques contemporary Western physics for its unconscious but undergirding phallocentrism—an unacknowledged commitment to a logic of replicating self-sameness, containment, and unification. This is most palpable in the practically unanimous desire to unify all the “self-contained” structures of physical reality—from the smallest subatomic particles to the large-scale cosmological universe itself—into a totalizing “theory of everything.” Doing this, however, would require solving for “quantum gravity,” the biggest challenge the field faces today. It implies overcoming the logical contradiction at the heart of physics—the incompatibility between two theories of nature—general relativity, which governs large and very massive structures, and quantum mechanics, which governs small and light structures. Our best current theory for gravity—Einstein’s general relativity—refers to the curvature of space-time on which quantum fields emerge, but it cannot, and has never been quantized itself. Ever-elusive and enigmatic, quantum gravity is a feminine symptom that seems to situate itself at the boundaries between the physical and the meta-physical, i.e., what is before the Big Bang, above the speed of light, below the Plank scale, and inside black holes. Posed at these thresholds, we may begin to think of quantum gravity as the interval itself.

It is precisely here, in the second half of the dissertation, that sexual difference stages its constructive intervention. As a logic of co-constitutive “twoness,” it emphasizes the relation from which two things emerge rather than trying to enclose two things into one container. Applying this to the “incompatibility” between general relativity and quantum mechanics, I propose embryogenesis, a philosophical concept borrowed from Raymond Ruyer, as a new “model” for physical reality that emerges only by beginning from this different logic or meta-physics for physics: sexual difference rather than phallocentrism. As the condition of possibility for physics, meta-physics itself is the maternal-feminine par excellence, opening physics and feminist theory to an ontological alliance via sexual difference. “Embryogenesis” could be conceived of as an alternative framework to the “theory of everything” for physicists to take up in the future, which may even change the way the problem of quantum gravity is conceptualized. In embryogenesis, quantum reality is not stuffed inside our gravitational universe as it is framed by the epistemological Copenhagen formulation that centers the observer. Inversely, this proposal relies on the only ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics that exists—Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds. Many-worlds theory makes the case that fundamental quantum reality is a Hilbert space in which our universe is represented by a quantum mechanical wave-function that decoheres—splits or branches or sexuates—each time the self-entanglement of the system as a whole evolves. Hilbert space is therefore the “quantum womb” within which our embryonic universe makes itself by evolving and expanding the local geometry of space-time. Quantum gravity, in this context, may be the interval between realms that nourishes this process of embryogenesis, perpetually self-differentiating the realms from each other, but also supplying their mutual growth and development, by crossing the threshold from the non-local, virtual, “in-formational,” or trans-spatial maternal matrix into our gravitational universe and converting itself into the mysterious “dark energy” that supplies the ongoing growth and development of its structuration.




Philosophy of science


Gender studies


Comparative literature










quantum gravity


sexual difference


A Meta-Physics of Sexual Difference: The Quantum Gravity Matrix and Embryogenesis of Our Universe