Quantum science is as hard a science as can be created. Understanding it requires in-depth mathematical frameworks with pronouns in their names, like a projective Hilbert space or Von Neumann algebra. Understanding quantum physics requires years of study and some of the most advanced technology on the planet — but unlike other aspects of hard science, the nature of quantum physics invites itself to fascinating intersections with the seemingly least-likely worlds.
It’s something that Amrou al-Kadhi, knows all about. A writer, filmmaker, and drag queen also known as Glamrou, they recently went viral in an appearance on a podcast hosted by England’s Channel 4, explaining the relationship between quantum physics and gender.
Promoting their new book Life as a Unicorn, al-Kadhi dedicates a chapter to quantum physics, which brought the topic up as a discussion point.
“With Newtonian physics, I think of heteronormative physics, where it’s basically like, what are the fixed universal principles of that govern the world? If I do A, will B happen? What are the formulas that’ll tell us anywhere in the universe what will happen if I input this?
Quantum physics is equally a real sect of physics that basically looks at subatomic particles. So the very smallest things in the universe, not the macro things, and they basically contradict everything Newtonian physics tells us,” al-Kadhi explains in the clip.
al-Kadhi is right, of course. One of the great puzzles of quantum physics is that it throws the rules of classical physics out the window. A person’s wallet cannot exist in two separate places at the same time, yet that’s exactly what can happen to subatomic particles according to quantum physics.
"As a queer person, you are always sort of questioning and searching for answers."
Their clips ties the contradictions of quantum physics together with concepts of gender identity. Perhaps figures like Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg don’t exactly come across as breaking the boundaries of identity in the same way that they did with science. But al-Kadhi’s metaphor, which has been praised by physicists, offers a powerful truth: while the rules of subatomic particles may be different, they comprise everything in life. So their rebellious spirit exists within everything, even if it’s not seen.
Given how gender diversity has been described by scholars as “invisible,” the comparison becomes easy to see.
“If subatomic particles defy constructs all the time, why should we believe in fixed constructs of gender or any kind of reality?,” al-Kadhi asks in the clip.
Speaking to Inverse from London, al-Kadhi says they “can’t believe how viral that’s gotten!”
They first learned about quantum physics in an interdisciplinary setting. Studying the history of art at Cambridge, al-Kadhi’s program put an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, mixing physics with philosophy. al-Kadhi became fascinated by the connections between art and science, how philosophy can influence paintings.
But every undergraduate has passing fascinations that wane throughout the years. What made quantum physics stick, to the point where it became a metaphor for gender identity?
“As a queer person, you are always sort of questioning and searching for answers….if you are radically queer in the sense that you are constantly interrogating everything that you’re taught, and to distrust it and to think of alternatives. It’s just part of my mindset.
A lot of people kind of can be violent towards queer people for being sort of unnatural or sort of against the laws of nature or that kind of stuff. And you know you're made to feel very much, kind of, defunct...So I found it when I kind of started reading about quantum physics like I found it to be comforting.”
Inverse’s discussion with al-Kadhi went in a number of ways, including art and philosophy. In order to capture the fullness of that fascinating discussion, we’re splitting the interview up into a few different stories. We’ll take some of the interdisciplinary aspects and explore their relationship to quantum physics. Because if quantum physics can explain gender identity, it can explain everything.