Heisenberg and virgins

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle

This week I was reading Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love on pubtrans and rehousing the last couple feet of the Scientists Collection (meaning that, so far as generalizations are possible in a collection of this nature, the conchologists largely gave way to physicists). Though Heisenberg is not, in fact, represented in the collection, my thoughts nonetheless turned to him. I have a soft spot in my heart for the uncertainty principle, not merely because it is a neat example of the convergence of physics and philosophy, but because it puts me in mind of a Russian science fiction anthology I read when I was a kid…and thanks to its title,* the uncertainty principle became one of the first aspects of theoretical physics I encountered.

Tertullian

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian (Wikimedia)

Heisenberg came to mind during Bloch’s discussion of the construction of virginity, particularly when he quoted early Church Fathers, e.g. Tertullian:

For that other, as soon as he has felt concupisence after your beauty, and has mentally already committed (the deed) which his concupiscence pointed to, perishes.

For a virgin ceases to be a virgin from the time it becomes possible for her not to be one.

Discerning parallels between theologians and physicists is hardly an original thought, but I have found it a rather sticky one during the past few days. I suppose the freelance project, involving the rhetoric of humanists, is pinging adjacent neurons as well. The gaze—whether it be directed at a woman by a lecher or an electron by a research scientist—matters. Objectivity is an utter illusion.


* The title story itself is a fairly standard time travel piece, owing more to the Grandfather Paradox and Butterfly Effect than Heisenberg.

And rather less crazy-making than the natural emotional reaction to quotes from Tertullian et al., e.g. “Argh…stupid stupid…hate people…argh!” It’s nice to cultivate distance, despite the fact that in many ways, now that I have a daughter I am much more sensitive to misogyny in contemporary society.

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