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Quantum Evolution: How Physics' Weirdest Theory Explains Life's Biggest Mystery (Norton Paperback) Paperback – May 17, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The hairiest heresy of evolutionary biology, the one most likely to get scientists figuratively burned at the stake, is the notion that any force more selective than blind chance could drive mutation. Such "directed evolution" smacks too much of a retreat into creationism for most science-minded readers to be comfortable with, but there's no a priori reason to reject the idea. Molecular biologist Johnjoe McFadden risks the Inquisition by suggesting just such a possibility in Quantum Evolution: The New Science of Life. Directed at a general but somewhat sophisticated readership, the book covers the basics of both standard evolutionary theory and quantum-level physics, then synthesizes them in an interesting theory of made-to-order mutation that explains enough to warrant attention and is, importantly, testable.

McFadden's writing is clear and sharp, and it shows a high regard for the reader's intelligence and patience for complex ideas. This is no airplane book--except for those already well-versed in the latest in both evolutionary theory and subatomic physics. The rewards of reading are great, and the author bows just enough to established theory that he might meet the fate of his intellectual predecessors. The ideas underlying Quantum Evolution may be right or wrong, but they challenge received wisdom without plunging into dogmatism--and that's good science. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

McFadden's attempt to pinpoint what makes life "alive" begins with a long, slow, multidisciplinary explanation of life's fundamental processes and ends with a fantastic quest through the strangest branch of science: quantum mechanics. Traversing all the great thinkers who laid the foundations of biology, genetics, physics, chemistry and mechanics, the first half is written for those with very little or no knowledge of science. The transitions between even widely disparate topics are flawless and build a coherent picture of the complexity of even the simplest organisms. Once quantum mechanics truly becomes the focus (approximately halfway through), McFadden's talent for description hits perfect pitch. Layers of understanding about the unfathomable peculiarities of fundamental particles lead to amazing possibilities. McFadden voices a new theory that is gaining popularity: that quantum mechanical forces may have sparked life in the primordial soup, may create the difference between alive and inanimate objects and may even play a role in consciousness. Illus. not seen by PW. (Feb.)Forecast: Operating at two levels, this title may be a hard sell. The scientifically literate will want to skip the first half, with its elaborate explanations of the basics, and those little-versed in science may be overwhelmed by the book's main argument. Enthusiastic readers may be found, however, among those once immersed in science but who have been away from it for a long time; they will be able to use the beginning as a refresher course and will then be prepared for the main thesis. But reaching them in particular will be a challenge for booksellers.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Norton Paperback
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (May 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393323102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393323108
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Johnjoe McFadden was born in Donegal, Ireland but brought up in the UK. He obtained his PhD at Imperial College London and went on to work on human genetic diseases and then infectious diseases, at the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK. For more than a decade, Professor McFadden has specialised in examining the genetics of microbes such as the agents of tuberculosis and meningitis. He has published more than 100 articles in scientific journals on subjects as wide-ranging as bacterial genetics, tuberculosis, idiopathic diseases and computer modelling of evolution and has edited a book on the genetics of mycobacteria. He has lectured extensively in the UK, Europe, the USA and Japan and his work has been featured in radio, television and national newspaper articles. His present post is Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey. He lives in London and is married with a young son.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Daryl Anderson VINE VOICE on July 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You've probably noticed that there is a growing flood of books that purport to explore the interface between the spooky scientific world of quantum physics and a range of other aspects of existence? You've probably also come to realize that these vary widely in emphasis (consciousness, healing, the paranormal... now evolution), and you've probably worried that they vary in quality as well - you're right.
Johnjoe McFadden's "Quantum Evolution" is, thus far, the best of the lot that I have discovered. It is engaging, extremely readable, consistently scientific and broadly important in its explorations.
If you are mostly interested in the healing or paranormal or so-called "new age" linkages to quantum phenomena, look elsewhere. The strength of this book is that it maintains a stance on the scientific side of the matter even as the science steps into the looking glass of quantum reality.
Many in the sciences don't seem to know what to do with the quantum world. The physicists seem to wobble in their ability to create rich models at any level above that of the quantum phenomena themselves - perhaps because theirs can be a sparse world... the vast emptiness beyond the quark. They are often only comfortable "wrapping" the ultimately incomprehensible realities of the quantum world in merely mathematical or semantic models.
McFadden, on the other hand, comes to this effort as a life scientist. As a molecular biologist he has moved from internationally recognized work on Tuberculosis to explorations at the bacterial level to studies of the molecular activities of the cell. Now, he has moved to the realization that the strange, spooky realm of quantum particle-waves, of wave-function collapse and multiple-world models is a logical next step.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By From the Oregon Country on June 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
This very well-written and entertaining account, by a microbiologist from Great Britain, deals with the phenomenon of evolution, and of consciousness, and postulates that they are both ultimately quantum phenomena. At the border areas, so to speak, of the world of hard classical reality, the "real" world experienced in everyday life, and that of the indeterminate multiverse of the quantum world, in the interchange of information between these two levels of reality, is to be found the driving force behind evolution, and of mind. But this is not a metaphysical treatise: the author is a hard-nosed scientist, and the theory did not originate with him. Other accredited members of the scientific community have arrived at similar conclusions concerning the role of the subatomic world in the macroscopic universe. This spell-binding work goes into great detail revealing how the manipulation of particles in the quantum world could, indeed, propel evolution forward, and could explain the mysteries of mind, consciousness, and free-will. Highly recommended!
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on March 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I would not feel ready to fully accept the argument in this book, the appearance in the second half of the book of the issues of quantum mechanics was very astonishing indeed, raising issues whose time has come. One has the sudden feeling, "now maybe we are getting somewhere", as we examine new previously unknown pieces of the puzzle, those of the quantum realm having so far been left out of the running. Something is lacking in current thinking as mechanical processes are pressed into service where they inevitably fail to explain. Even the idea of 'self-organization',as the author points out, seems inadequate to the complexity of what is really happening. That leaves the unexplored and highly complex interaction of biochemistry with the realm of the atom as a possible source of new unexplained and unknown mechanisms. It was quite strange to be in the middle of a discussion of life genesis confronted by the perplexities of the Copenhagen interpretation and the maddening subtleties of Schrodinger's cat, now with the perspective of decoherence brought to bear on the issues of finding the 'quantum measurement' equivalent in the processes of life evolution. Although there is a way to go here, the new approach seems most promising indeed.There is also a discussion of this in relation to Cairns 'adaptive mutations', with its Lamarckian overtones. The books ends somewhat more speculatively applying all this to issues of consciousness. We are entering terra incognita. And it is useful, if nothing else, to relieve one thinking with this fresh perspectives of all the prior baloney and mantra chanting that is draped in front of the unsolved problems of evolution. Fascinating.
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40 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Enigma on January 5, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first 138 pages of this book are pretty darn good. McFadden shows how evolution, particularly Darwinian evolution can not have occurred as we hypothesize. He drops the ideology of naturalism and admits quite plainly that cells have order, DNA is information, and there was not enough time to even make a simple cell. I found myself cheering the author on; the intellectual honesty in the first half of the book is breathtaking. The writing and science is lucid, cogent and compelling to the points. But then the unthinkable happens in an otherwise fine book. McFadden leaves his trained discipline of molecular genetics and wanders into quantum mechanics. This is when the book takes a turn for the worse.
The major problems become evident, it states with the authors understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. He seems to have defined HUP correctly but his application is incorrect. He than carries on this incorrect application forward and creates a hypothesis based upon a fallacy. The interesting and somewhat paradoxical point is that the author could shed his ideology of naturalism in his field of science but had to reinsert his presuppositions into a field that he is not trained for. Therefore nullifying what could have been a fantastic breakthrough in evolutionary thought.
I hope others follow in his footsteps but decide to make the bold connections that are seemingly present while throwing of the constraints of ideology.
Overall the first part of the book is great in understanding that a paradigm shift must be made if the evolutionary hypothesis is to remain salient. If these shifts are not adopted we may see the Darwinian evolutionist go down in history as ideological frauds much like the flat-earthers. The second part of the book is lacking due to a misunderstanding of Quantum Mechanics and trying to force science to fit a philosophical ideology.
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