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What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Canto Classics) Paperback – March 26, 2012


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What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Canto Classics) + Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science + Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (Dover Books on Physics)
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Product Details

  • Series: Canto Classics
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (March 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107604664
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107604667
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger's What is Life? is one of the great science classics of the twentieth century. 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'.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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To me, this is the real point of the book and where the great mystery begins.
Carl Gunther
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.
Brandon E. Wolfe
A must read for anyone interested in science and a great suggestion for parents who want to inspire young minds.
Luca Columbu

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Earl Dennis on 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 on April 23, 1997
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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48 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 20, 2000
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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