Those who left/are left behind: Schrödinger's refugee and the ethics of complementarity

K. M. Fierke, Nicola Mackay*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


“Those left behind” was a recurring emphasis of media depictions of the emotions surrounding the departure of those who left Afghanistan. The relationship between “those who left” and “those left behind,” which is characteristic of any context of forced displacement, relates to potentials, compelled by life and death questions. A decision to leave or stay is on the surface a binary choice, defined by the physical impossibility of doing both. The purpose of this paper is to explore how the ethical questions change when placed in a framework of quantum complementarity, by which phenomena, defined by what they are not, are also, in important respects, that which they are not, that is, the polar opposite. The first section develops Schrödinger's thought experiment and problematizes his focus on life and death as physical states of the cat, and the separateness of the observer, as a misrepresentation of the Copenhagen School arguments from which the thought experiment arose, and complementarity in particular. The second section examines the relationship between “those who left,” “those left behind,” and external observers in terms of a duality of matter and consciousness, which is complementary and mutually constituted. The third section examines the liminality that arises from a series of nested “boxes” and the various positions from which the forcefully displaced are observed within a holographic world. The final section then unpacks the ethical implications of quantum complementarity and ungrieved grief as they relate to forced displacement.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberksac045
JournalGlobal Studies Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2022


  • Schrodinger's Cat
  • Refugees
  • Grief
  • Complementarity
  • Ethics


Dive into the research topics of 'Those who left/are left behind: Schrödinger's refugee and the ethics of complementarity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this