Mitchell Damian Murtagh, Ph.D. (July 2021)

Duke University, Program in Literature



Areas of Expertise: 20th century continental philosophy, feminist and black feminist theory, feminist science studies, history & philosophy of science

Teaching Experience: I teach a wide range of classes in women's & gender studies and critical theory engage with anti-racist and trans-affirming feminist theory, and advanced seminars that mobilize these frameworks in relation to the history of Western philosophy and the philosophy of science


A Cosmology of Sexual Difference: The Quantum Matrix and Embryogenesis of Our Universe takes up, through an abstract concept of sexual difference, a major philosophical puzzle within contemporary cosmology related to the question of the origin of our universe (a question that may actually pertain to the fundamentals of quantum mechanics). It addresses a number of paradoxes that arise as effects of a dilemma in theoretical physics’s current paradigm, in which quantum mechanics and general relativity are incompatible theories. The problem is that these two theories cannot work in tandem even though each is backed by experimental data and observational evidence. Until we figure out a way to integrate them into a theory of everything, the nature of fundamental reality remains out of reach and so do the questions about how our universe might have emerged from it.

This dissertation postulates a thought experiment using sexual difference, a unique theory of relationality, as a model for restaging the nature of the relation between general relativity and quantum mechanics. Rather than opposing systems that must be integrated into a unified whole, sexual difference begins from an entirely different premise of irreducible twoness. One example of the relation of sexual difference is be found in the process of embryogenesis. In embryogenesis, a self-making (embryonic) structure emerges in relation to an underlying (maternal) milieu. The milieu is constitutive for the embryo, providing it with the nutritive conditions of possibility for its emergence without cannibalizing it, and inversely without the embryo completely milking the milieu out of existence. Using this logic, I make a case for repositioning the theories in relation to each other embryonically to see if and how this may affect the dilemma of their incompatibility. I argue that our spatio-temporal universe follows the laws of general relativity and as such is an emergent or secondary geometric structure derived from an even more primordial quantum matrix. This matrix can be described as a transspatial, incorporeal, or mathematical domain that subtends or informs the ongoing embryogenesis of our universe by a relation of sexual difference in which a perpetual contact between the two never yields one to the other but produces a continuous splitting, diverging, or branching off, forging the architecture of reality in the process.