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What Is Life? : The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell Paperback – 1974
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Schrodinger begins “What is Life” by trying to use Newtonian physics to explain chromosomes, life’s road maps. Such an attempt is effective to some extent as chromosomes comprise of millions of atoms (thus forming a single substantial entity) and the laws of classical physics are able to a large extent explain the behaviour of objects at such a macro level. However, it is now well-known that classical laws hit some restrictions when we try to describe events at an atomic level. Schrodinger feels that this is where quantum physics could be applied to explain how genetics works. He equates, for instance, genetic mutations to quantum jumps. Schrodinger contends furthermore that organisms use quantum mechanical effects to combat entropy by continually drawing “negative entropy” from their environment. This is another case where Schrodinger’s arguments here would turn out to be so prescient, as this book laid also the foundations of quantum biology.
While “What is Life” touches only incidentally upon such mystical questions as the limitations of science in explaining life and its purpose, “Mind and Matter” deals with such issues in much more depth. Schrodinger covers here a whole gamut of related questions such as the theory of evolution and its philosophical underpinnings, how consciousness and the mind arise, why we feel the need to believe and the place of God in a scientific world-view. Schrodinger argues that as science is circumscribed by the parameters of space-time, it is not adequate to explain the mind as the “mind is always now. There is really no before and after for mind.” You suspect that he would certainly not have subscribed to a functional theory of the mind.
but it's hard for a lay person to understand. It seems like they violate the rules of chance but I'm not sure. It almost seems like he isn't sure either. I will have to go back and read it again because often my mind and eyes just glaze over.
It's a hard read but worth it to get a physicists perspective on a deeply philosophical subject.
Schrodinger's cat in Wikipedia is a good read about his mind.
Published in 1944, nine years before the discovery of the structure of DNA, this book was written after a series of lectures given by Erwin Schrödinger. It is intended to the general reader, as it offers detailed explanation of the topics, however, it must be read carefully because of the complexity of the issues. Schrödinger answers the question of how can physics and chemistry explain the events that take place in living organisms. As a physicist's he is very humble, given that he is approaching a topic outside of his expertise area, however his insight is brilliant. He makes a theoretical prediction and based on sound arguments he proposes an "aperiodic crystal" that contains genetic information.
This reprint edition is completed with a nice preface by physicist Roger Penrose, but the highlight is the accompanying text Mind and Matter, also by Schrödinger. This offers a great finale, with a philosophical discourse dealing with consciousness, free will and determinism.
The book itself is a classic of biological writing, which makes Schrodinger's remarks at the beginning of the book all the more entertaining. I picked it up after learning that Watson, Crick, and many of the others involved in the hunt for DNA were initially inspired by this book. It is certainly dated, but the sense of scientific excitement is timeless. I was personally more engaged by some of the philosophical musings contained in the "Autobiographical Sketches," but thoroughly enjoyed the main book as well.
Highly recommended to anyone looking for a historical perspective on one of the great questions of 20th century biology, though a biology student who is aware of the context of the book might get more from it.