Customer Reviews


52 Reviews
5 star:
 (35)
4 star:
 (12)
3 star:
 (3)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


80 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not leading edge, but a highly readable classic.
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...
Published on August 25, 2002 by Earl Dennis

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A look into the mind of an extraordinary physicist
Erwin Schrodinger was one of the great modern physicists who has tried to understand how physics does and does not tell us all about how biological processes function. He does so without too much mathematical description but at the same time, he does show how a great physicist thinks.
Published 11 months ago by Jerome L. Shapiro


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

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
By 
Earl Dennis (San Francisco, California United States) - See all my reviews
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? as it showed the intellectual range of Schrodinger better. His discussion of what he calls objectivation, or how the subjective and objective dynamics of the scientific observer influence one another was great.
Lastly, a brief selection of Schrodinger's writing about his own life rounds out this brief, thoughtful collection of essays by a world class scientist. This relaxing little book still exhibits the ability to invoke serious thought about the nature of life and the implications of consciousness.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book connects the hard sciences to the life sciences., April 23, 1997
By A Customer
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. Be warned that it must be savored to be understood. It cannot be speed read nor can it be read only once to be understood.

Finally, two much later in time companion books are "The Quantum Self" and "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" expand the concepts presented by this book. Both are available from Amazon.

Joseph I. Schwartz,
April 23, 1997
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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
...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. It is however, some awfully foresighted ideas about nature, and is heartily recomended reading for anyone with an in-depth knowledge of biology and chemistry (quantum chemistry/physics would be a good *background* course here), and should be required reading for any molecular biology/biochemistry regimen. This book deserves five stars, and if it wasn't for that article in the late fifties that used quantum tunneling theory to dispute the fact that DNA could be the genetic material of the cell, (not authored by Schrodinger, but using an extension of his ideas, as in most quantum computation) it would have gotten them. Barring that, this is, to my knowledge, the best book about life ever written by a physicist, and contains philosophical insight befitting the greatest sages and philosophers. Or Dr. Schrodinger.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something to really look forward to, enjoy., April 11, 2002
By 
Frank Bierbrauer (Cardiff, Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This book is actually three essays in one book. The first is the essay of the title, the second a more metaphysical description called "Mind and Matter" and the last an excerpt of his own autobiography, notes rather than life in detail.
The first of these considers the possibility of science, as it stands at Schrodinger's time, answering the question of the title. Naturally such a question can now be asked since the universe has gradually become a mechanical one with life a great mystery since mechanical descriptions cannot describe life as we experience it. This was not always the case, certainly not before the 15th Century or so when the mystery had to do with the mechanical rather than the living aspects of the world.
So Schrodinger is able to ask this, the most fundamental of all the major questions in his and our time. Throughout the first essay he attempts to answer this not directly but rather through what science can tell us about the process that a living creature must undergo as part of its life cycle ie how is the being able to reproduce itself, where does this information reside etc. He discusses inheritance and the Darwinian explanation available in his time, which of course did not yet know of the DNA molecule. It appears at first that this is no more than a standard approach to these questions and lacks any new insights but this is a mistaken assumption and an in depth reading leaves no doubt that Schrodinger thinks science does not and cannot describe life truly using its current approach. I leave the potential reader to discover this for him/herself.
The second of these essays is far more metaphysical in character although schrodinger, a hardnosed scientist, does not waffle or procrastinate, he looks at things without sentimentality or any of the fantasies now current in the more "out there" new age mysticism. Schrodinger leaves no doubt that science again is not able to really discover what the mind is or how perception truly arises from any form of mechanism.
In the last of his essays he talks about his own life and a wonderful adventure it is. Schrodinger rather than being the epitome of the rational scientist lacking in feeling, as the commonly held assumption tells, writes with great joy and style.
Something to really look forward to, enjoy.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Reading for the Intelligent Reader, February 3, 2001
By 
Diego Banducci (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
Schroedinger, one of the great physicists of the 20th Century, applied the knowledge he gained in his own discipline to analyze human life. Based upon lectures that he gave in the 1940s, this brief book contains Schroedinger's fascinating speculations on the nature of life, several of which have proven prophetic (including the discovery of DNA). The reader comes away with the joy of having shared in the workings of a great mind.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the book is that it can be readily understood by persons relatively untrained in science or mathematics.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still worth reading today, August 12, 2012
The modern study of life begins with a somewhat surprising figure, Erwin Schrödinger. He was born in 1887, and educated in Vienna. He is best known for his development of his wave equation, which has become the foundation of quantum mechanics, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933. His importance to biologists and for the definition of life comes from his book What is Life?, which is based on a series of lectures given open to the general public in Dublin.

His book was enormously influential in convincing physicists such as Max Delbrück that biology offered questions that physicists could find interesting. In it he tried to answer three main questions:

1. How can organisms maintain their organization in the face of a continuous production of entropy as a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics?

2. What is the nature of the hereditary material?

3. Can biology be fully understood (even in principle) in terms of the known laws of physics?

He answered the thermodynamic question with the statement that "what an organism feeds on is negative entropy". This may seem an unnecessarily poetic way of expressing an idea that is well understood by scientists today: that the inevitable production of entropy by an organism is compensated for by the ingestion of low-entropy food and excretion of higher-entropy waste. However, this was not well understood at all at the time he was writing, and his statement undoubtedly cleared away some confusion.

It is worth noting that Schrödinger's point is not well understood, even today, by adherents of creationism, who often claim that the second law of thermodynamics makes evolution impossible, because (according to them) increasing the information content of a system is impossible. The point, however, is that a continuous production of entropy is characteristic of a closed system, but the earth is an open system, because it continuously receives radiation from the sun, and organisms are also open systems, for the reasons explained by Schrödinger. In any case, if the creationist argument had any merit it would apply as much to life as to evolution, but we know that life is possible.

Schrödinger suggested that the hereditary material must be a sort of "aperiodic crystal", that is to say a substance that had a high degree of cyclic regularity, as in a crystal, coupled with non-repetitive elements whose structures did not interfere with the general regularity, but whose irregularity allowed them to ask as what he called a "codescript". After the tremendous increase in knowledge of molecular genetics that has occurred in the half-century that followed his lectures we can recognize this as a description of DNA, which has a structure that appears completely regular when viewed from a distance, but completely irregular when viewed with enough resolution for the individual bases to be identified.

As for the third question, modern biologists are not much interested in life or its definition, but if pressed most would probably consider that these first two of Schrödinger's three points cover the whole story. Thermodynamic analysis of organisms as open systems explains their energy management and information storage in DNA explains heredity, and that is all there is to it. However, neither of these explains how organisms maintain their organization, virtually indefinitely, without external help, in the face of frequent and sometimes large changes in their environments. This idea was the least well understood when Schrödinger was writing, and remains the least well understood (and the most controversial) today. Later critics, such as Linus Pauling and Max Perutz, who considered that Schrödinger had contributed nothing of value to the understanding of life, appear to have missed this point, treating matters that were obvious to them as obvious to Schrödinger's audience in Dublin and to the readers of his book.

Provided one remembers the target audience for the book -- not distinguished scientists like Delbrück, Pauling or Perutz, but intelligent and educated non-scientists -- it remains well worth reading today. It is not an easy read, but it is not impossibly difficult either. It is a very short book, of less than 100 pages, and is reprinted in this edition with Mind and Matter and with Autobiographical Sketches. This last is interesting, but very "sanitized", making very little reference to his wife and none at all to the many other women who played major roles in his life. To learn about Schrödinger's remarkable personal life you need to turn to Walter Moore's masterly biography (A Life of Erwin Schrödinger (Canto original series)).
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Negative Entropy", March 25, 2003
Strange that the only thing biologists see in this book is Schroedinger's vague prediction of DNA. I honestly can't find this anywhere in the book, and believe it's the result of people simply attaching Schroedinger's name to the title without reading it.
Even stranger is that biologists are unable to see how powerful and simple Schroedinger's call for a fundamentally new type of statistical mechanics is. Current stat mech predicts the diffusion of order; yet the overwhelming observation of biology is that systems of fantastic order arise of their own, all the time. Therefore, a new branch of physics, mathematics, and biology will need to arise to predict systems of 'negative entropy'. And it is; Prigogne was the first to classify entropy producers, and the subject is growing.
*This* is the important, clear prediction of Schroedinger's classic book. He was so far ahead of his times, modern biology has yet to catch up.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exceptionally complicated, and brilliantly written, September 15, 1999
By A Customer
Step by step detailed analysis of the origin of life that covers everything from physics to biology to quantum mechanics. In depth, intricate, full of twists and turns writing so typical to the Eastern European authors of the time. Having an extensive back ground in physics and chemistry I found myself re-reading paragraphs just to comprehend the underlying assumptions. The theoretical concepts were not complicated, but to appreciate Schrodingers writing required an extensive background in philosophy, not in physics or chemistry. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to read his original writing!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good try by Schroedinger, May 11, 2001
This book shows how a real genius works and thinks, not just Physics but all dimensions of the science. In this book, although Schroedinger claims that he is not an expert in this field of Science he is certainly playing humble. He starts with the question, Why human beings have to be so big relative to Atoms, continues with Statistical concepts of Quantum Theory and than comes to the conclusion that the Genes really does not obey to statistical rules and therefore the life is stable and mutations are rare. In the second half of the book he goes into Philosophy and covers Mind and Matter. In the beginning he states that "The world is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories" I found this very interesting. Schroedinger provides very nice interpretation of entropy Concept and Statistical formulas.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The transition from Physics to Biology, September 27, 2001
By 
Of all the books on my bookshelf, this tiny book which can be read in just a few hours, is one of the most important. Not only to me, but to science. In it, Schrodinger perdicts the structure of DNA years before Watson and Crick built their model: "...the chromosome fibre - may be called an aperiodic crystal."
This book is where physics and biology first met. It really is one of the great classics of the twentieth century. It will never go out of print.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

What Is Life?: With Mind And Matter And Autobiographical Sketches
What Is Life?: With Mind And Matter And Autobiographical Sketches by Erwin Schrodinger (School & Library Binding - Jan. 1992)
Out of stock
Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.