I was emotionally torn when I recently came across an article entitled “Schrodinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced“. Part of me is always excited about references to Schrodinger’s cat in the cultural zeitgeist, while the other part of me was mortified by the arguments laid forward by the writer of the article. Before I address the ridiculous article, I just want to summarize Schrodinger’s thought experiment about his cat.
Basically, Schrodinger’s cat is about the argument that any reality is modified by observation of that system. Under Schrodinger’s thought experiment, if you put a cat in a steel room with a radioactive substance that decays, the decay activates a geiger counter which will cause a discharge of hydrocyanic gas that, in turn, kills the cat. However, you only leave the cat in the room for an hour, where there is an equal probability that the decay occurs. Therefore, if there is decay the cat dies, and if there is no decay the cat survives. Fun fact: Schrodinger was the original Jigsaw.
By Schrodinger’s estimation, unless you opened the door on the steel room, you would have no idea whether the cat was alive or dead. And, probabilistically, the cat exists in a “blurred” state of existence. In essence, the opening of the door skews the reality from this blurred state of existence to the binary resolution of “alive” or “dead”. This is a really cool example of how our observations affect our perception of reality.
Admittedly, this is a very simplistic explanation of Schrodinger’s cat problem from a guy who really only understands it at a casual level. That being said, let’s move on to the concept of Schrodinger’s Rapist, a term coined by Phaedra Starling, a pen name for a person who is a:
romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs. She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.
If you read the article, it’s a really misanthropic screed about how all men are potential rapists, or Schrodinger’s Rapists, because, as Ms. Starling states:
You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me.
First of all, I really don’t think that male sexual behavior falls under the laws of quantum dynamics. I believe that behavior can be more easily described by Newtonian explanations, and the most parsimonious explanation is likely the correct one.
Nevertheless, an interesting point is raised. When a woman looks at a man she doesn’t know, she has no idea whether he is a rapist or not. Therefore a man can’t approach a woman to try to convince her that he’s not a rapist without simultaneously convincing her that he is a rapist. A curious dilemma, as the only truly convincing non-rapist is a man who never talks to or has sex with women.
This is where Ms. Starling’s “Schrodinger’s cat” analogy falls apart. Under Ms. Starling’s impression of Schrodinger’s cat, she would keep opening the door to the chamber until the decay occurred and the cat was killed. Schrodinger at least was not a murderer. In the same vain, it’s unfair to say that a man is a rapist until he sexually assaults you. Perhaps men are rapists until you realize they’re not. I don’t see where we progress as a society if all women only see men as potential rapists. If I can make two take-away points from all of this discomfort, it is: 1. Don’t rape. and 2. Don’t misappropriate quantum mechanics.