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What Is Life?: with "Mind and Matter" and "Autobiographical Sketches" [Paperback]

Erwin Schrödinger , Roger Penrose
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)


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What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Canto Classics) What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Canto Classics) 4.5 out of 5 stars (52)
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Book Description

January 31, 1992 0521427088 978-0521427081
Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger's What is Life? is one of the great science classics of the twentieth century. A distinguished physicist's exploration of the question which lies at the heart of biology, it was written for the layman, but proved one of the spurs to the birth of molecular biology and the subsequent discovery of the structure of DNA. The philosopher Karl Popper hailed it as a 'beautiful and important book' by 'a great man to whom I owe a personal debt for many exciting discussions'. It appears here together with Mind and Matter, his essay investigating a relationship which has eluded and puzzled philosophers since the earliest times. Schrodinger asks what place consciousness occupies in the evolution of life, and what part the state of development of the human mind plays in moral questions. Brought together with these two classics are Schrödinger's autobiographical sketches, published and translated here for the first time. They offer a fascinating fragmentary account of his life as a background to his scientific writings, making this volume a valuable additon to the shelves of scientist and layman alike.


Editorial Reviews

Review

"One of the great science classics of the 20th century.... This is the book that provided the inspiration that gave birth to molecular biology and the discovery of DNA." Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology

"...delightful...Schrödinger writes in a naturally relaxed and pleasant tone that leads us through the difficulties of his subject...It is well worth the trouble. For the serious student of origin-of-life theories, it is the obvious place to start." The Boston Book Review

Book Description

Includes an exploration of "the question" which lies at the heart of biology (What is Life?), an investigation of a relationship which still puzzles philosophers (Mind and Matter), and autobiographical sketches, published and translated for the first time.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (January 31, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521427088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521427081
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.2 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
80 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not leading edge, but a highly readable classic. August 25, 2002
Format:Paperback
It is not surprising that a genius would have interesting things to say. Physicist Erwin Schrodinger was an affable genius whose comments about life, molecular biology, mind, qualia, and a number of topics are interesting and relevant even today.
This edition of 'What is Life?' by Cambridge University Press also contains Schrodinger's essay entitled 'Mind and Matter,' along with some autobiographical notes. What is Life? is a well paced 1944 version of molecular genetics that is still valid today. Crick and Watson didn't discover the structure of DNA til 1953, so Schrodinger didn't know of replisomes and error correcting polymerase III, but this essay shows how well developed molecular biology was by this time. Crick and Watson were certainly in the right place at the right time by clearing up a minor bottleneck in the broader science of molecular genetics. Mainly what Schrodinger, the formulator of the quantum mechanical wave equation of atoms, wants to accomplish is to reconcile quantum effects with biology. What is Life? makes an excellent synthesis of quantum physics and biology. Where modern scientists like physicist Roger Penrose and chemist Graham Cairns-Smith fail at this correlation Schrodinger is eminently successful. Although this essay is somewhat dated it is stimulating and rewarding to read.
The second essay entitled 'Mind and Matter' written in 1956 is very similar to modern efforts in describing abstract neuro and cognitive science. It tackles many of the same topics as moderns Daniel Dennett, Gerald Edelman, and Antonio Damasio do. Schrodinger artfully blends the idealism of Schopenhauer with his own personal physicist's point of view and crafts a perfectly enjoyable, reflective discussion on the concept of mind. I actually enjoyed Mind and Matter more than What is Life?
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
What Is Life?
Erwin Schrodinger

This book is the compilation of a series of lectures by a Nobel Luareate in quantum physics and attempts to reconcile the biological requirements of living cells to the probabalistic nature of the atom as defined by quantum mechanics. These lectures were originally give in the 1940's and 50's prior to the discovery of DNA, RNA, gene mapping, and other techniques taken for granted by today's biologists.

The basic tenant of quantum physics is that all atomic structure can be described only by the mathematics of probability. The exact orbit of an electron or its velocity cannot be determined. One can only state the probability of the location or velocity. Protons and neutrons are thought to change back and forth into one another in a random fashion. The very process of physical measurement introduces errors which preclude accurate measurements. This is modern physics - random events governed by probabilities.

Compare this to the biology of living cells. Genetics reproduce specific inherited characteristic for generations. Why does the random atomic behavior not interrupt or change genetic traits? How does humanity think logically using randomly behaving atoms and hence molecules and compounds?

This little book attempts and succeeds in theoretically reconciling these two worlds. The author predicts the structure of DNA. He anticipates current studies in how small numbers of randomly acting atoms are constrained to be deterministic. In the latter lectures, he enters the world of metaphysics to discuss "Mind and Matter, Determinism and Free Will, Ethics, and Science and Religion."

This book is less than 300 pages long, but encylopic in scope.
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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scaled up quantum theory that tries... January 20, 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
...and almost succeeds in uniting the dissimilar worlds of Biochemistry/cellular mechanics with the subatomic and atomic worlds. Undoubtedly if this book (series of essays/thoughts/lectures) had been written twenty years later, it would be quite different, but as is, it makes some startlingly accurate predictions about the nature of heredity in biological systems. This book is NOT 'quantum mechanics explains life', it is however, the masterwork of one of quantum theories brightest stars, relating the abstract world of subatomic particles to, well, DNA, before anyone knew what it did. Alas, for poor Schrodinger, probabalistic interpretation is much less useful at such a macroscopic level, and the mathematics behind even 'good approximations' of VERY SMALL macromolecules are nearly infinitely more complex than those for, say helium, which cannot be solved exactly (too many variables) itself. But he knew that already, and shows it here. But regardless of any 'after-the-fact' criticism, Schrodinger built something palpable and incredible out of scaling and deduction from the quantum level up. The fact that he struck so close to the mark speaks volumes for the man and for quantum theory in general. Biology is rather more difficult to quantify with wave equations than an alpha particle...not that Schrodinger attempts such an undertaking here, but the point should be understood as pertaining to his background, at least. At any rate, this book is probably not the most pedestrian work one could find on the subject, nor the easiest read. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A NOBEL-PRIZE WINNING PHYSICIST SUGGESTS, "I AM GOD"
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger (1887-1961) was a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist who is most noted for his contributions to quantum theory. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Steven H. Propp
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Great physicist Erwin Schrodinger's book clearly shows how physical and chemical phenomena form the foundation of life. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Miral Dizdar
5.0 out of 5 stars Chemistry, physics, math and life!
Schrodinger is one of the great minds of the 20th century. It is beautiful to see how he connects chemistry, law of physics and mathematics and explains what is life. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Rajalakshmi Gope
5.0 out of 5 stars Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more
Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more.

One of the very best by Trinidadian-German physicist!
Love the chick on the cover.
Published 3 months ago by M. van Rossum
5.0 out of 5 stars Into the mind of a giant
I had already savoured a bit of Schrodinger’s writing as I came to this book after first reading Ken Wilber’s “Quantum Questions” and Samuel Guo’s “Quantum Memoirs”. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Venkat Ramanan
5.0 out of 5 stars Life's Mysterious Structure
"What is Life?" has been acclaimed by some to be one of the most important books written on biology. Most focus on Schrodinger's discussion of the importance of DNA. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Carl Gunther
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book
I am somewhat abashed that I did not become aware of this sooner. I am a Ph.D. biochemist (from the 1970's) and obviously have not read enough general reading in areas I am... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Nebraska reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent
Two classic Schrodinger papers, one small paperback. An absolute must read for all intelligent humans. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Johnny
5.0 out of 5 stars The first steps towards understanding the function of DNA.
I was not aware of this book's existence - it is superb ! It must have been an important stimulant in the discovery of the function of DNA. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Ron Maddison
4.0 out of 5 stars glad to have found it, happy to have read it
I had just finished Lawrence M. Krauss biography of Feynman: Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science. Read more
Published 8 months ago by dgd
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