The Science Behind the Fiction
Throughout Russ’s “The Female Man,” four of the main characters of the novel are presented as somehow existing in separate but related universes. The means of navigating between worlds is equated to time travel. The worlds are also suggested to be causally connected and temporally structured as separate branching outcomes, which can be linked back to a singular origin point on a timeline. Although the specific scientific theory behind the phenomenon allowing characters to transverse universal barriers is not explained, certain details intimate that the author may have based this idea on existing theories of quantum physics, that had to be relatively revolutionary and less known at the time the author was publishing her work. Nonetheless it resembles a universe that serious and well respected physicists proposed in the early 1950s, and is still used by cosmologists for practical purposes. Russ however goes where most physicists refuse to, by exploring the philosophical conundrum of acknowledging such a reality.
“Sometimes you bend down to tie your shoe, and then you either tie your shoe or you don’t; you either straighten up instantly of maybe you don’t. Every choice begets at least two worlds of possibility, that is, one in which you do and one in which you don’t; or very likely many more,… to carry this line of argument further, there must be an infinite number of possible universes.”
In 1957 the physicist Hugh Everett proposes his “Many Worlds Interpretation” of quantum mechanics. This theory was developed as an alternative to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which produced the observer problem. The observer problem or “measurement problem” basically left physicists with an information gap between understanding how the interaction of a conscious observer can collapse the wave function of objects whose existence can only be calculated as a probability until the collapse occurs.
This problem came about due to development of the Schrodinger equation and subsequent testing of this equation such as the double slit experiment. The Schrodinger equation describes how particles at the quantum level exist without a definite observable position or energy/velocity in space, but instead can only be said to have “probable” location and velocity, describes as their “wave function.”
The Famous Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment often describes the result of translating the mathematical reality into a tangible scenario.
Because of the strange and far reaching implications for consciousness and the state of reality, Everett suggested instead that there is no collapse, and that every possible outcome described in an object’s wave function actually is a reality, but that only one of those realities is consciously observed. For all practical purposes the theory was somewhat satisfactory, but because it relied on the fact that only a single Eigen function of the wave function could be observed, with the others branching off but unobservable, it is untestable by definition and was heavily criticized. One would be limited to the branch they observe as reality.
So in the novel when Russ’s characters describe a “universe of possibility” it very much resonates with the language described by theoretical physicists of the late 1950’s onward of how our universe may actually be structured. For example the character Jael explains, “If we admit among the universes of probability any in which the laws of physical reality are different from our own, we will have an infinite number of universes… Our universe is quantized; therefor the differences between possible universes (although very small) must be similarly quantized, and the number of such universe must be possible to distinguish the very smallest differences–say, that of one quantum of light–for otherwise we could not find our way to the same universe time after time, nor could we return to our own.” I interpret this to mean that the author was not limited by classical time travel scenarios, but rather implied an even greater expansion into the possibilities of the latest discoveries of quantum mechanics. Or at the very least, Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation could possibly be used to make Russ’s story more plausible.
 Russ Joanna, “The Female Man” (Boston: Bantam Books, 1975), 6, 160
 Russ Joanna, “The Female Man” (Boston: Bantam Books, 1975), 6
 Vaidman, Lev, “Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2016/entries/qm-manyworlds/>.
 Rosenblum, Bruce and Kuttner, Fred, “Quantum Enigma” 2nd ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 87-99
 Rosenblum, Bruce and Kuttner, Fred, “Quantum Enigma” 2nd ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 73-84
 Minute Physics, Schrödinger’s, Cat, Video, 1:47, 26 Sep 2011, https://youtu.be/IOYyCHGWJq4
 Minute Physics, Parallel Universes: Many Worlds, Video, 2:54, 18 Apr 2013, https://youtu.be/KNwKPfOKipk
 Russ Joanna, “The Female Man” (Boston: Bantam Books, 1975), 160