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What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches [Paperback]

Erwin Schrodinger , Roger Penrose
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 26 2012 1107604664 978-1107604667 Reprint
Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger's What is Life? is one of the great science classics of the twentieth century. It was written for the layman, but proved to be one of the spurs to the birth of molecular biology and the subsequent discovery of DNA. What is Life? appears here together with Mind and Matter, his essay investigating a relationship which has eluded and puzzled philosophers since the earliest times. Brought together with these two classics are Schrödinger's autobiographical sketches, which offer a fascinating account of his life as a background to his scientific writings.

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"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.

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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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic March 7 2004
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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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Not leading edge, but a highly readable classic. Aug. 25 2002
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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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Afterwards your definition of what "life" is will have changed forever.
Published 18 days ago by Georg
5.0 out of 5 stars You ARE not just a PRETTY SITE
Your SYSTEM and PRODUCTS are a splendid experience . Your KINDLE IS A MASTERPIECE , I ordered the LATEST ADITION, CAN HARDLY WAIT TO GET IT ...

keep it up!!!!!!
Published 12 months ago by Stephen Gyabronka
5.0 out of 5 stars What is Life ?
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.
Published 19 months ago by champinn
5.0 out of 5 stars "Negative Entropy"
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... Read more
Published on March 25 2003 by Brandon E. Wolfe
5.0 out of 5 stars Something to really look forward to, enjoy.
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... Read more
Published on April 11 2002 by Frank Bierbrauer
5.0 out of 5 stars An article in the magazine of Life
Schrodinger states early in the book that the book does not attempts to explain life, but rather touches a very small part of the explanation - he endorses the hypothesis that... Read more
Published on March 17 2002 by Alok Govil
5.0 out of 5 stars Good, not opinionated, balanced.
Dr. Schrodinger has put together a book of dna (life) for absolutely anyone interested. Origins is the keel of the write but there is something here I would like to describe as the... Read more
Published on Jan. 16 2002 by Sheila Halvie
5.0 out of 5 stars The transition from Physics to Biology
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. Read more
Published on Sept. 27 2001 by Chris McKinstry
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good try by Schroedinger
This book shows how a real genius works and thinks, not just Physics but all dimensions of the science. Read more
Published on May 11 2001 by Muzaffer Muctehitzade
4.0 out of 5 stars Small Book, Big Thoughts
This book sketches a connection between quantom theory and biology. It attempts to show how the quantum nature of things can result in a DNA molecule. Read more
Published on April 11 2001 by Mitch
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