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Quantum Evolution: The New Science of Life

4.4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393050417
ISBN-10: 0393050416
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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

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393050416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393050417
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #930,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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JohnJoe McFadden, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey, England identifies four major problems with Darwinian evolutionary theory. The first, and most well-known, is the gaps in the fossil record. These are often explained as simply an incomplete fossil record, however, as McFadden states: "... recent exhaustive studies of well-preserved species, such as marine snails, tend to support the view that, generally, evolution seems to hop and jump, rather than crawl." McFadden points out that some paleontologists such as Stephen Gould and Niles Eldridge have come up with a more compatible hypothesis called "punctuated equilibrium" which coincides more closely with the fossil record, however, many prominent evolutionary biologists including Richard Dawkins sees little in the way of a mechanism to account for these large jumps in the evolutionary tree.

The second problem is the lack of precursors for the approximately one thousand protein families. McFadden states: "New protein families must have arisen from existing proteins by some kind of mutational process but how their sequence traversed this vast empty sequence space devoid of Darwinian intermediates is a mystery."

The third problem is the irreducibility of metabolic pathways. McFadden gives the example of AMP (adenosine monophosphate) which is a precursor of ATP. Thirteen different enzymes are needed to synthesize AMP, yet there exist no evidence of advantageous precursors of this biochemical in other organisms. How these sequences happened within the present Darwinian theory of gradualism is difficult to explain.

Finally, there is the problem of directionality of random mutations. Mutations happen blindly with no regard as to whether the mutation will be harmful or beneficial.
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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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