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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic, March 7 2004
By 
Eric Baum (Berkeley, CA, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (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? argues that mind must be explainable by computer science, that the fundamental issues are computational, and that there is again a wedge point: the question of how the workings of a computer, which are always purely syntactical, can correspond to meaning and understanding. The situation is parallel to the one that faced Schrodinger with respect to life in two respects: first, mind is the outcome of evolution, which has built thought processes that seem inconsistent with our standard science, and second, scientific research has advanced to the point where, if we focus on the wedge point, significant understanding is obtainable. What is Thought? brings to bear on the problem of mind core ideas from computational learning theory, complexity theory, and evolutionary computing, as well as molecular and evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and other areas. The result is a principled and concrete explanation, consistent with the vast array of available data, of how meaning, understanding, language, consciousness, and all the various aspects of mind arise from execution of an evolved computer program.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What is Life ?, March 4 2013
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars It's all there, before the elucidation of DNA via x-rays, Nov. 20 2003
This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (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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5.0 out of 5 stars "Negative Entropy", March 25 2003
By 
Brandon E. Wolfe (Arizona, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Not leading edge, but a highly readable classic., Aug. 25 2002
By 
Earl Dennis (San Francisco, California United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (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? as it showed the intellectual range of Schrodinger better. His discussion of what he calls objectivation, or how the subjective and objective dynamics of the scientific observer influence one another was great.
Lastly, a brief selection of Schrodinger's writing about his own life rounds out this brief, thoughtful collection of essays by a world class scientist. This relaxing little book still exhibits the ability to invoke serious thought about the nature of life and the implications of consciousness.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Something to really look forward to, enjoy., April 11 2002
By 
Frank Bierbrauer (Cardiff, Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Paperback)
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 excerpt of his own autobiography, notes rather than life in detail.
The first of these considers the possibility of science, as it stands at Schrodinger's time, answering the question of the title. Naturally such a question can now be asked since the universe has gradually become a mechanical one with life a great mystery since mechanical descriptions cannot describe life as we experience it. This was not always the case, certainly not before the 15th Century or so when the mystery had to do with the mechanical rather than the living aspects of the world.
So Schrodinger is able to ask this, the most fundamental of all the major questions in his and our time. Throughout the first essay he attempts to answer this not directly but rather through what science can tell us about the process that a living creature must undergo as part of its life cycle ie how is the being able to reproduce itself, where does this information reside etc. He discusses inheritance and the Darwinian explanation available in his time, which of course did not yet know of the DNA molecule. It appears at first that this is no more than a standard approach to these questions and lacks any new insights but this is a mistaken assumption and an in depth reading leaves no doubt that Schrodinger thinks science does not and cannot describe life truly using its current approach. I leave the potential reader to discover this for him/herself.
The second of these essays is far more metaphysical in character although schrodinger, a hardnosed scientist, does not waffle or procrastinate, he looks at things without sentimentality or any of the fantasies now current in the more "out there" new age mysticism. Schrodinger leaves no doubt that science again is not able to really discover what the mind is or how perception truly arises from any form of mechanism.
In the last of his essays he talks about his own life and a wonderful adventure it is. Schrodinger rather than being the epitome of the rational scientist lacking in feeling, as the commonly held assumption tells, writes with great joy and style.
Something to really look forward to, enjoy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An article in the magazine of Life, March 17 2002
By 
Alok Govil (CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Paperback)
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 Mendel's genes (not attributed to DNA at that time) have the order and stability (in spite of being microscopic enough to be directly affected by uncertainity principle) because each gene is ONE molecule.
The book is easily readable in just a few hours, and whole book brings out only a few ideas. Treat the book more like a magazine article in the magazine of Life.
As an example of the ideas spoken about in the book, Schrodinger asks, "Why are atoms so small?". He then reasons that the question is same as "Why are humans made of so many atoms". And then hints at the answer - Maybe just as making computers requires a certain number of components, humans could not be made out of smaller number of atoms!
It is said that the book inspired a lot of research. It inspired mee too.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good, not opinionated, balanced., Jan. 17 2002
This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Paperback)
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 lifeforce of our atoms when we reached a point in our evolution that allowed us to manipulate at the first stages of awareness. Almost like our genes have a sense to evolve quicker than actual environmental influences have real effect on the species in question. The book is short but covers a great deal more than that. I do recommend buying it if you are at all interested in origins and advancement.
Another good book I strongly recommend that is worth it, which speaks of how the Dna actually found it's way to the first living organism and also speaks of this type of molecular force is SB 1 or God by Karl Mark Maddox, supports evolution.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The transition from Physics to Biology, Sept. 27 2001
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This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Paperback)
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. In it, Schrodinger perdicts the structure of DNA years before Watson and Crick built their model: "...the chromosome fibre - may be called an aperiodic crystal."
This book is where physics and biology first met. It really is one of the great classics of the twentieth century. It will never go out of print.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Good try by Schroedinger, May 11 2001
By 
Muzaffer Muctehitzade "hacibey" (Boston, Ma USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Paperback)
This book shows how a real genius works and thinks, not just Physics but all dimensions of the science. In this book, although Schroedinger claims that he is not an expert in this field of Science he is certainly playing humble. He starts with the question, Why human beings have to be so big relative to Atoms, continues with Statistical concepts of Quantum Theory and than comes to the conclusion that the Genes really does not obey to statistical rules and therefore the life is stable and mutations are rare. In the second half of the book he goes into Philosophy and covers Mind and Matter. In the beginning he states that "The world is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories" I found this very interesting. Schroedinger provides very nice interpretation of entropy Concept and Statistical formulas.
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What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches
What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches by Erwin Schrödinger (Paperback - Jan. 31 1992)
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