Q&R: What Are Your Thoughts on the Schroedinger’s Rapist Article?

QUESTION: What Are Your Thoughts on the Schroedinger’s Rapist Article?

 ANSWERS: Rory Miller, Teja Van Wicklin, Garry Smith




We live in a world of unknowns. There is no way to tell, at a glance, who is a serial killer and who isn’t.  Who is a rapist and who isn’t.  For some reason, the Schrodinger’s Rapist article gets people’s panties in a bunch.  But we all deal with exactly the same problem, just at lower stakes.

None of you, when meeting a new coworker for the first time, will know if he or she will be a friend, or a backstabbing ladder climber.  None of you will know if your best friend’s fiancé will seamlessly become a part of the old gang or systematically destroy all of his or her relationships.

Consciously or not, we all have protocols we use to decide if and how much to trust.  Mostly, they are subconscious.  And we have ways of assessing our risks.  Phaedra Starling made hers conscious and made hers public.  She’s gotten a lot of praise and a lot of shit for that—like I said, it gets panties in a bunch.  But the naysayers are merely blind to the fact that they do it, too.

If I wanted to do a critique of her statistics, I could.  I’d love to point out why less-then-perfect tests combined with rare conditions create slews of false positives for every true positive… but only because I like playing with statistics.  And that would be actively missing her point.

Her analogy was never about truth, never about men or women or even rape.  It was not even about managing risk, because it is damn near impossible to manage unknown quantities of risk.  It was about managing her comfort level with real risk.

And we all do it.  And I suspect, do it in many ways to the same degree as she.




My mother once told me that we can only see out of our own window. I was five or six and turned to look out the window. Years later she said it again in passing to friends over coffee and it planted a seed that’s been growing ever since.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey recounts an anecdote to illustrate his concept of how paradigm shifts change our perceptions. He creates a picture of a subway car with several disruptive kids he somehow connects to a hunched, oblivious figure close by, presumably the father. He observes this for as long as he has the stomach, and then, at his wits end, says to the assumed Dad, something to the effect of, “I don’t suppose you can control your kids!”

The man looks up from reading the floor and stutters – I’m paraphrasing again, “Oh, sorry. I don’t exactly know what to do at the moment. We just left the hospital. Their mother died….”

Covey goes on to explain how his conviction that this man routinely let his kids run roughshod over him and everyone in their vicinity turned immediately 180 degrees, to an urge to help the man in any way he could.
I recently an article by an anonymous author called Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a Guy’s Guide to Approaching Strange Women Without Being Maced.
It is an article with a duel purpose. Firstly, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as suggested by the title, it proposes to assist men in braving the minefield of approaching new women, presumably with the best intentions.

The article discusses the things that go through a woman’s mind when a man she doesn’t know approaches her. The article is intuitive and clearly written from experience as a woman. And it resonates with many, as the over 1,200 comments attest.

Some people, mostly men, have gotten tangled up and blue over certain details of this article. But the details, in this case, far being the devil some details are, are just part of the author’s personality traits, and debating them is a distraction from the real point, which is, that we can all only see out of our own window.

Women and men are different. A shocking statement, I know. But as different as we are in some things, we are very much the same in others. We both have trouble seeing through one another’s windows.

Women fail to understand the enormous pleasure men glean from watching football or fixing something or wrestling with each other. Men fail to understand why women are so obsessed with how they look or why some women are rude or apprehensive when approached by a man she doesn’t know.

Women call men assholes. Men call women bitches. And none of us are the wiser for it.

A momentary foray into another person’s world will definitely take you out of your comfort zone, but you may also learn a thing or two about yourself.

What else does the article say? You’ll have to go read it to find out.




When I first read the blog by Pheandra Starling entitled ‘Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced’, my first thoughts were so who is this Shroedinger person. There is the mention in the title then they disappear, this tickled my curiosity, that and the not that exciting nature of the original blog, in that there was nothing here that was new so why the fuss

I set out to find out, was s/he a criminologist, psychiatrist, psychologist? Well turns out it is a man and he was interested in quantum physics amongst other things, but not one search linked Schroedinger with rapist or even rape. I decided to work out the link and could find no obvious one despite the lack of powers of the internet. So good old fashioned research work and a few hours later and the thoughts began to coagulate and a picture appeared in my head. Shroedinger’s rapist was not actually anybody but literally anybody, it was an allegoryon the part of Pheandra, a literary device where ideas or events, in this case an experiment are used to symbolise an idea or concept.

Let me come at this backwards because that is how I unwound what to me was a puzzle.

In “Schrödinger’s Kitten” , George Alec Effinger’s best known story, and winner of the Nebula, Hugo, Theodore Sturgeon, and Japanese Seiun Awards, the story centres around a young woman, Jehan Fatima Ashûfi, visions of a myriad of possible quantum futures, all focused around her likely encounter with a would-be rapist. The book explores alternative futures based on the taking of certain actions, the central one being should she is raped as a girl, rejected by her family and dies destitute and alone, to one where she kills her would be rapist and , failing to pay his family a blood price, is sentenced to death or another possible future in which she becomes a world famous physicist and prevents the Nazis developing nuclear weapons in WWII.

The actual book is an attempt to introduce the reader into the theory of the thought experiment as developed by the Austrian Scientist Edwin Shroedinger in 1935, a thought experiment considers a hypothesis or theory for the purpose of thinking through its consequences, principally focused on questioning the then perceived wisdom in the emerging field of quantum physics, and yes my eyes are misting over too but bare with me, there is a reason for all the science.

The Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment states that a quantum state can’t be determined, and in fact can be thought of being in every possible quantum state, until it is observed, the cat is in a box, it is unobservable, an experiment takes place and the cat either lives or dies. Whilst the box is sealed it cannot be seen by the observer so the cat, being either alive or dead could be in either state and only by observing the cat will the true state be known.

Just as this applied to Scroedinger’s cat, Phaedra Starling uses the analogy to analyse the state of men who in an unobserved state must be assumed to be both a rapist and not a rapist as well as a potential rapist. Hence here invention of the Shroedingers Rapist tag. However, her own blog shows that, as in the experiment with the cat, it is observation that is key. I would agree that every man, of whom any person can only know but a tiny percentage of all men, are potential rapists as they have the physical capacity to rape, a penis. The flaw being that having a penis is not the cause of rape.

I quite liked the blog in so far as it encouraged women to observe and make decisions about the men they know based on their behaviours and attitudes, there is some good advice in there too. Unfortunately it is clouded by the hyperfocus on one aspect of possible states and this causes me problems with the attempt to use a scientific analogy as a basis for dealing with women’s fear of rape. My problem with the premise of the blog is this, it leans heavily on the unobserved state but almost all the observations lean towards the unknown man being a rapist, at least a potential rapist and therefore falls into the arena of fear management rather than even a pseudo scientific discourse.

In Shroedinger’s Kitten our heroine Jehan considers several possible futures but all are affected by how she deals with the fear of being raped and dealing with this appears to be the key to unlocking any of the potential futures she has seen in visions. Pheadra in her blog is hyperfixated to the threat of rape that this colours her observations of men individually and as a group. She then extends her hyperfixated anxieties about rape to all other women.

How we can cut to the original article under discussion the now much talked about and written about blog by Phaedra Starling, ‘Miss lonely Hearts’, describes her grave fear of being raped, her personal rationale for that fear, the measures she feels obligated to take to prevent being raped, and the reasons why men should change their behaviors to accommodate the fears she, and by extension all other women have.

So some simplistic observations of my own, the statistics used are unsubstantiated and always open to interpretation, they are then extrapolated out to support Pheadra’s main point, all men are potential rapists and a frighteningly high percentage of them are actual rapists. The definition of sexual assault and the numbers of rapes become entwined and once you do this the rapists are clearly everywhere, all around you. I agree this is a possible state but the degree to which it is true will vary and be affected by many social and economic variables. Most of which impossible to visibly observe and verify and are indeed fear induced and the cause, dare I say it of mild paranoia, just an opinion. On the surface it is a light hearted, kind hearted form of advice to the good guy, it acknowledges that the reader is highly unlikely to be an actual rapist and this too is problematic in that that cannot be known and that those who are inclined to consider rape a potential ends to a means, and any actual rapist will disregard it if they ever bothered to read it anyway.

Once we dig below the surface the perspective of the observer colours the observation to such an extent that any neutrality is skewed, I hope Miss Lonely Heart does meet a man she can trust and who loves her and treats her as the most precious thing in his world if that is what she wants. In order for that to happen the wall of fear and distrust will need to begin to be taken apart a piece at a time. Whilst I agree we should all manage risk, and no men do not fear rape as I am sure some/many women do, we should do so rationally and not be influenced by whatever bogeyman we each personally fear. The allegory of Shoedinger Cat is an interesting device that actually backfires as the power and importance of neutral observation are not followed through in the analysis. All men, indeed the vast majority of men do not rape, most women go about their daily lives without primarily worrying that they will be raped, fact, daily life is too busy and complex to allow that fear to take over their lives. Is the blog thought provoking, well yes, but is it good advice, well you judge that yourself.

On an endnote, I loved the name Pheandra Starling, how unusual. What a coincidence that Pheandra in Greek mythology sent a letter to Theseus falsely accusing his son Hyppoltus of raping her. Theseus believed her and cursed Hippolytus  and a result, Hippolytus’ horses were frightened by a sea monster and dragged their rider to his death. The Starling surname too made me think of Clarice Starling, young innocent looking FBI trainee who battled monsters, all men,  in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, but maybe that is my imagination going over the top.

How unusual a coincidence, but what is in a name. Well, possibly nothing but I suspect the influence of Shroedinger’s Rapist was more the kittens rather than the cat, the novel rather than the experiment and that the obsessive fear of being raped goes deeper than we think. The final point is that the author undermines her own allegory by showing many times how observable signs help women decide whether behaviour, appearance or traits indicate the risk of the man observed raping them, and that is a good thing, this would not be possible in Shroedinger’s example until the box is opened and by then it is too late. That is why I think it was the obsession with rape in the novel by the tormented Jehan that influenced the formation of the analysis in the more than receptive Pheandra, or whoever wrote the blog, who has tried to dress subjectivity in a cloak of objectivity, feelings as facts and intuition as deduction and turned science into anti-science. Like the emperors new clothes, if you look closely there is actually nothing there,


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