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The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms Paperback – August 6, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-9812832603 ISBN-10: 9812832602 Edition: 3rd
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Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

"The layman may not understand half of this book, but he will understand more than he expects to or may feel he has any right to. The author, whether discussing 'quantum-entanglement', or 'energy-flow', 'dynamic order' or life as 'collective response to weak signals', has the gift of making the reader dream." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

"The book is recommended to all scientists who are interested in understanding life. It shows that life is more than a complex chemical reaction and, written by an author who understands life not only through the narrow tube of our ratio, that life is worth living with loving care. The book can be easily understood, because it is written in a way that the basic scientific terms are repeated step by step before they are used for discussing the essential questions. Fifty years after Schrodinger's "What is Life?", this book is a worthy instalment, since it intensifies the original matter of Schrodinger." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: World Scientific Publishing Company; 3 edition (August 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9812832602
  • ISBN-13: 978-9812832603
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #735,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By "parmavet" on September 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
First of all, Mae-Wan Ho is a woman. The rest of these posts describe the author using "him" and "he," which demonstrates an unfortunate gender stereotype about scientists.
Mae-Wan Ho examines the question, "What is life?" using insights from physics, biology, and chemistry. The author is a professor and research scientist who works outside of the maintream, to say the least. She is best known for her activism against genetic engineering. Her writings take a "holistic" perspective on science; she tries to acheive understanding of the big questions (life, free will, etc) by combining ideas from many different fields.
The book is not flaky or meta-physics. It won't tell you about life energies or world consciousness. It is also not a layman's introduction to any particular established field, as many science books are. Rather, it is a new look at "life," somewhat scientifically rigorous (she is a professional researcher) but presented so that it's accessible to non-scientists. She has a chapter describing how life operates far from the theormodynamic equilibrium, which was very interesting. On the other hand, the final chapter about optics is somewhat far-fetched in my opinion. The book's ideas are generally outside of the mainstream.
All in all, it is a refreshing change from the 10023675th book about superstrings and selfish genes, for those of you who like science books. It's a short book, and worth the few hours it takes to read it. I would highly recommend it as pleasure reading for amateur science fans, or as a book that actual scientists with some time on their hands can read for a new perspective. (I myself am getting my Ph.D. at a top engineering school.) I think it will not appeal to most conservative professional scientists, who tend to reserve their respect for researchers who are experts in a small and established field.
Finally, don't worry about the equations; you can skip them and get the general idea.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Murphy on July 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is not for the faint of heart. While I made it through A Brief History of Time, and The Elegant Universe with only a few major hiccups, The Rainbow and the Worm was tough going. I'm a physician, not a physicist, and my college level calculus is very rusty. Staring down pages of equations was not easy.
That being said, this book repeatedly caused me to gaze off into space, absorbed in a totally new way of looking at an old phenomenon. I can't look at living organisms the way that I did before, and I'm indebted to Mae-Wan for this. Scientists are zeroing in on life, and while they strip away myth and mystery, they are replacing them with levels of awe at the complexity and wonder of the living world around us. Despite Ho's failure as a writer that is able to popularize difficult concepts, she is good enough to repeatedly inspire "Ah hah!" in anyone that takes the time.
Finally, I find it interesting that the first two reviewers on referred to Mae-Wan as a male. It robs the book of a bit of its flavor to work all the way through it not realizing that such intense and creative thought is female in origin.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Rama Rao VINE VOICE on May 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is not for the faint hearted! It requires an undergraduate level of thermodynamics, and some working knowledge of biology, and laws of relativity and quantum physics. The author has done her best to write this book to a general reader about physics and biology of life; a monotonous and tedious job to describe in a book of 250 pages. She is influenced by the work of celebrated physicist Erwin Schrodinger and his passion for understanding life. The reader can see Schrodinger's influence throughout this book. Chapter 2 to 6 deals with Schrödinger's concept in explaining how a living cell exports entropy in order to maintain its own entropy at a low level or near zero there by circumventing the constraints of Second law of thermodynamics.

In the second half of the book the author explores various physical and chemical concepts to show how nature keeps cellular entropy production to a minimum. First, the author discusses how the energy transductions in living cells occur, and she determines that heat transfer is not the major form of energy transduction. The biomacromolecules are setup within the cell to near solid state or liquid crystalline like state such that it promotes synchronicity and coherence through electric, electromagnetic and electro mechanical interactions, which are primary source for energy. Coupled electron transfer reactions and other cyclic process that occur in a nested space - time organization within the cell helps minimize entropy since, for a coupled molecular process the entropy production is zero.

Intermolecular dipolar interactions among membrane bound proteins/enzymes, and nucleic acids which act as biological semiconductor devices; and quantum tunneling operate in many electron and proton transfer proteins.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Steve on April 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've been reading more on efforts to invoke quantum physics in explaining life, so on a recommendation I picked up this book.

I found this to be is an engaging and thought-provoking book, extremely dense with information and ideas running from accepted science through increasingly speculative extrapolations and concluding with some free-form philosophizing. This book was published in 1993, with the second edition I read coming in 1998.

The early sections of Ho's book discuss life in thermodynamic terms. I was broadly familiar with the idea that life utilizes energy flow to build and maintain high levels of structural organization far from equilibrium. In several steps, and citing work of other scientists, she builds a case that explaining life in detail strains the traditional thermodynamic picture (which assumes microscopic homogeneity). She says intricately organized living things utilize molecular systems which transfer energy without thermalization (zero entropy growth). Energy is stored and used at the electronic level, not the thermal level. But how can these micro-level energy exchanges operate across the macroscopic dimensions of the organism? Ho says stored energy can amplify weak signals across larger distances.

Throughout these early chapters, Ho uses the word "coherent" to describe the (non-thermal) energy storage and transfer within the organism (she says stored energy is by definition coherent energy). She will come back to this idea later in the book and explicitly argue that it must involve quantum coherence specifically.

The energy we're talking about is electromagnetic. We know electrons move quickly and in organized fashion through crystals and super-cooled materials (superconductors).
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