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Physics in Mind: A Quantum View of the Brain 0th Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0465029846
ISBN-10: 0465029841
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Was Leibniz wrong? The German philosopher once declared that science would never explain the human mind. His assertion hangs in the balance when Loewenstein illuminates the enigma of thought. Defying the usual disciplinary boundaries, Loewenstein deploys a Darwinian physics (replacing the daunting mathematics with clear bioneurological narrative, laced with sprightly humor) to explain how the cosmic volley of information arrows loosed by the Big Bang set the course for evolution. Readers will marvel at the electrochemical cunning of the chlorophylls and carotenes, cellular proteins and ion-selective membranes, that convert quantum signals carried by photons and electrons into life codes governing all multicellular organisms, all while satisfying the inflexible demands of thermodynamics. Astonishment swells again as readers contemplate the time structure of macromolecules, shaping the brain’s neuron trellis into a parallel quantum biocomputer. That biocomputer has given one peculiar species a mind’s-eye capacity for surveying the world as a whole and for anticipating future events in that world. It may disappoint some readers that, having come so far in explaining mental functions, Loewenstein finally balks before “the mystery of mysteries”—consciousness itself. Somewhere the shade of Leibniz breathes a sigh of relief. But Loewenstein will be back. And readers will be eager to join him. --Bryce Christensen


Physics World's 2013 Book of the Year
“In the hands of a less scrupulous author, a book such as Physics in Mind could easily have strayed into the world of ‘quantum woo’, in which the weird effects of quantum mechanics are conveniently trotted out as the explanation for every problem, with scant regard to evidence. But Loewenstein, despite his enthusiasm for applying physics principles to biological topics, is careful to avoid such traps.... Loewenstein’s prose is both distinctive and enticing, and his beautifully clear explanations of more ‘traditional’ physics topics such as quantum computing and the cosmological arrow of time are among the best we have seen.”

Physics World
“This book is a fantastic journey for any reader, but especially for a physicist. In Loewenstein’s account, life is a delicate dance between the bits of information and quantized chunks of energy that drive all biological processes. Accordingly, he takes us on an intellectual rollercoaster ride.... Loewenstein is an engaging writer, one who spices his prose with elaborate wordplay, assonance, internal rhymes, puns, metaphors and quotations. All those verbal high jinks go to good use, put into the noble service of communicating hard stuff in a comprehensible fashion.... This is a ripping good read. Each chapter brings novel insights into the fundamental workings of life. Those who buy their ticket and take the ride will emerge breathless, but enlightened.”

Metapsychology Online Reviews
Physics in Mind makes a bold...argument. It offers a unification of physics and biology on a higher, more sophisticated level than one usually finds. It even offers a plausible glimpse of that storied grail: brain as quantum computer.... [A] significant contribution to outlining the bigger picture.”

Trends in Cognitive Science
“Loewenstein takes readers on a delightful journey through one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time: the quest to understand how physics can explain brain function and consciousness. With precise, engaging, and often provocative prose, Loewenstein dares to delve into fundamental questions at the intersection of physics, biology, neuroscience, and philosophy.… Every page explodes with enthusiasm, metaphors, and food for thought. It is not common to find science books that are accurate, without oversimplifications, and yet read like pieces of fiction that cannot be put down.... [A] masterpiece of scientific outreach and discourse. This must-read book will promote vigorous scientific discussion in many circles.”

Psychology Today
“To perceive and understand the world around us, we need to process vast amounts of information. While the brain dedicates dense networks of neurons to the task, biophysicist Loewenstein explains that the heavy lifting is done by a complex array of microscopic particles making calculations at the quantum level.... Ultimately, survival depends on how well an organism can spot patterns and distinguish signal from noise—a test of computational power. It’s an indication, Loewenstein notes, that to understand the mysteries of consciousness, we may have to think small.”

Jane Smiley, Harper’s
“[An] absorbing account…. [Loewenstein’s] book is vital and wide-ranging, exploring everything from the structure of time to the phenomenon of gut feelings, the color of white and the reach of our senses, and why we’ve adapted to notice the anomaly rather than the norm.”

Booklist, starred review
“Defying the usual disciplinary boundaries, Loewenstein deploys a Darwinian physics (replacing the daunting mathematics with clear bioneurological narrative, laced with sprightly humor) to explain how the cosmic volley of information arrows loosed by the Big Bang set the course for evolution.”

Seth Lloyd, Professor of Quantum-Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of Programming the Universe
“Werner Loewenstein’s Physics in Mind is a passionate exploration of how biological systems process information. Starting from how molecules transform information and energy at the most microscopic level, where quantum mechanics plays a central role, Loewenstein provides clear and elegant explanations of the mechanisms of sight and smell, of senses and neural signals, culminating with the phenomenon of consciousness itself. Erudite, witty, and highly accessible, Physics in Mind proves once and for all that the unquantized life is not worth living.”

Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
“The more we think about it, the more challenging it becomes to answer the apparently simple question: how do we think? Here, eminent scientist Werner Loewenstein has assembled recent insights from biology and physics to give us his richly textured new view of this great challenge.”

See all Editorial Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465029841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465029846
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #919,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Let's Compare Options Preptorial TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Once in a while I get tired of publishers promoting books for "wider" audiences by, well, fooling the shopper! Right up front, Loewenstein admits that this book is really about sensory biology and physics, and "at the time of writing" there were some new revelations in quantum computing vs. parallel processing.

This book is categorically NOT revelatory about "mind." The author spends many wonderful and valuable pages discussing DEEP issues about vision (a high percentage of the brain is about vision), and the book is a must read if you're at all interested in the intesection of physics, biology and "below ion potential" spiking-- what goes on atomically. Of course VERY LITTLE is known about this right now, and the author is intellectually honest in admitting a lot of what he explains is speculative when it gets to superposition issues.

Another shot at the publisher-- promotions also say there is very little math here, and even the author states that he only has a few brief formulas at the end which we can skip. Then, he goes on to fill the book with breathtaking and valuable, but VERY DIFFICULT math concepts, explained in prose! After all, the foundation math in almost all of QM relies on Hermitian linear operators acting in Hilbert space on state vectors or wave functions. Even at the most basic level, these require robust linear algebra. Judge the "quantum" part of what you hear about this book accordingly!

Very little of this book really is about consciousness. The author has even stated that he started out to write that kind of book but found that physics works much better when explaining sensory mechanics. That's a subtle way of being humble and admitting we know VERY little about quantum computing at subatomic, room temperature coordinates.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David Goodale on March 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the book; this fellow knows a heck of a lot about cell biology and physics, and he communicates well. Contemplation of the microstructure of living beings brings about a feeling of awe, almost of fear, at the wizardly complexity that underlies what we think of as the humdrum operations of our bodies and minds.
I have a few reservations about the book. I should make clear that I'm not a scientist or mathematician, though I know enough to get in trouble. My main sticking point is something that I know about quantum computing, something that Mr. Loewenstein doesn't mention, which seems like a strange omission since quantum computing is in a way the theme of the book.
He says that the main problem with quantum computing is decoherence brought about by interaction with the surrounding environment. There is another problem, namely a very serious limitation on what quantum computing can do and what it can't.
As an example let us say that a quantum computer solves the decoherence problem and maintains its quantum coherence long enough to finish a problem, such as factoring a large number to see if it is prime. If the computer tried all possible divisors, then at the end of its calculation it would contain the results of a zillion trial divisions, all superposed in memory. Most of them would have failed; only a few (or perhaps none) of the trials would have found valid divisors.
So the computer "knows" the answer, but the big problem is to find out what the computer knows. If we examine the computer's memory, its coherence vanishes and we see only one result from the many different possibilities - a random result, almost certainly one of the failures.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Stephen E. Robbins on September 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book [Physics in Mind] declares that it will, (1) "...hold implicitly forth the expectation that consciousness has a physics explanation," and indeed, Loewenstein attempts to deliver on this, taking us through an interesting and well explicated catalogue of incredible physical-chemical ("information processing") devices existing in the body and neural structure, with finally several sections on quantum computing, culminating in the hypothesis that the brain is employing quantum computing operations, and then we come, near the end, to this, (2) "Perhaps just as important as what the hypothesis is, is what it is not. It is not a hypothesis of consciousness... and it bears on consciousness only insofar as those operations are the prologmena to this mystery of mysteries."

So we wonder what have we actually been reading? These two sentences are the bread slices which brace the rather confused ingredients of the sandwich. In the middle of the sandwich we have been treated to a discussion of Turing Machines, computation, and virtual reality generating programs, with the absolute assertion made that the brain is using computing processes (standard, not quantum, apparently) to generate virtual reality images. So let's see, before me is the kitchen, its table, its chairs, my wife canning tomatoes, the steam rising from the pot, and all this - my experience, yes, experience - is a virtual image generated by the brain....but, but, but... this not consciousness???
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