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What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches Paperback – Jan 31 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (Jan. 31 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521427088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521427081
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 13.1 x 19.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 240 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #281,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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First Sentence
This little book arose from a course of public lectures, delivered by a theoretical physicist to an audience of about four hundred which did not substancially dwindle, though warned at the outset that the subject-matter was a difficult one and that the lectures could not be termed popular, even though the physicist's most deraded weapon, mathematical deduction, would hardly be utilized. Read the first page
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eric Baum on March 7 2004
Format: Paperback
What is Life? is an absolute classic. Schrodinger felt that life must be explainable by physics and chemistry, yet seemed to violate the normal behavior of entropy-- and he understood further that this was a remarkable wedge point to explore. He figured out the explanation: life is the result of evolution of genetic information, which selects for complex processes that by ordinary considerations would be very unlikely. He predicted that there must be a molecule capable of carrying the genetic information (incorrectly thinking it would be a protein.) His beautifully-written book was influential and timely. Within 4 years, Von Neumann elucidated the mechanisms involved in self-reproducing automata (illustrating his abstract discussion with a picture looking remarkably like DNA to the eyes of readers today); and within a decade, Watson and Crick grasped the structure of DNA. You should not read Schrodinger's book today as one of your first sources to understand life-- there has been remarkable progress in the 50 years since Watson and Crick-- but you should read it to gain appreciation for how science can be advanced when the time is ready and a wedge point, an apparent conflict between fundamental ideas, is analyzed.
The volume also includes another lecture by Schrodinger, Mind and Matter, which is historically interesting in another way. In Schrodinger's day, the state of understanding had not advanced to the point where it was possible to make as useful conjectures about the structure of mind as of life, and he accordingly felt "[mind] may well be beyond human understanding."
Readers interested in Schrodinger's book will also enjoy What is Thought?, published 2004. What is Thought?
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By champinn on March 4 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a top notch book written by one the pioneers of the Quantum Theory. And this is an absolutely remarkable book by Erwin Schrodinger.
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Format: Paperback
This beautiful little book was based on a sequence of popular lectures given in Dublin during WWII, and in turn on an earlier paper given in Vienna. In the book Schrödinger coins the idea of a genetic code carried by linear molecules with his phrase 'code-script'. He asks how, in the absence of validity of a large n limit required by statistical physics for the validity of any macroscopic biological laws, can the chromsome molecules that carry the code-script yield stable genetic rules. Then, he gives the answer: chemical bonding as predicted by quantum theory ala Heitler-London (Schrödinger identifies quantum jumps in the chrosomes as the origin of mutations, which are also discrete). He refers to the chromosome fibers as linear 'aperiodic crystals' (to emphase their stability in the face of thermal fluctuations) and encourages physicists to study them: he boldly asserts that both the instructions and mechanism for generating organisms via molecular replication are contained in the chromosome molecules (and there is where the "complexity" lies). This book encouraged physicists to study problems of complexity long before the term complexity had become the catchword that it is today. Indeed, our first ideas of 'complexity' were developed parallel in the same era by Turing and von Neumann.
Schrödinger is buried in Alpbach (Tirol), where he lectured and enjoyed the Alps frequently after WWII in a school organized by one of two brothers who, according to a very well-informed source, formed nearly the only Resistance in Austria during the war. On his grave is a pretty little plaque bearing the Schrödinger equation.
This review refers to the 1969 edition of 'What is Life'.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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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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