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am 19. Dezember 2003
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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am 20. Januar 2000
...and almost succeeds in uniting the dissimilar worlds of Biochemistry/cellular mechanics with the subatomic and atomic worlds. Undoubtedly if this book (series of essays/thoughts/lectures) had been written twenty years later, it would be quite different, but as is, it makes some startlingly accurate predictions about the nature of heredity in biological systems. This book is NOT 'quantum mechanics explains life', it is however, the masterwork of one of quantum theories brightest stars, relating the abstract world of subatomic particles to, well, DNA, before anyone knew what it did. Alas, for poor Schrodinger, probabalistic interpretation is much less useful at such a macroscopic level, and the mathematics behind even 'good approximations' of VERY SMALL macromolecules are nearly infinitely more complex than those for, say helium, which cannot be solved exactly (too many variables) itself. But he knew that already, and shows it here. But regardless of any 'after-the-fact' criticism, Schrodinger built something palpable and incredible out of scaling and deduction from the quantum level up. The fact that he struck so close to the mark speaks volumes for the man and for quantum theory in general. Biology is rather more difficult to quantify with wave equations than an alpha particle...not that Schrodinger attempts such an undertaking here, but the point should be understood as pertaining to his background, at least. At any rate, this book is probably not the most pedestrian work one could find on the subject, nor the easiest read. It is however, some awfully foresighted ideas about nature, and is heartily recomended reading for anyone with an in-depth knowledge of biology and chemistry (quantum chemistry/physics would be a good *background* course here), and should be required reading for any molecular biology/biochemistry regimen. This book deserves five stars, and if it wasn't for that article in the late fifties that used quantum tunneling theory to dispute the fact that DNA could be the genetic material of the cell, (not authored by Schrodinger, but using an extension of his ideas, as in most quantum computation) it would have gotten them. Barring that, this is, to my knowledge, the best book about life ever written by a physicist, and contains philosophical insight befitting the greatest sages and philosophers. Or Dr. Schrodinger.
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am 15. September 1999
Step by step detailed analysis of the origin of life that covers everything from physics to biology to quantum mechanics. In depth, intricate, full of twists and turns writing so typical to the Eastern European authors of the time. Having an extensive back ground in physics and chemistry I found myself re-reading paragraphs just to comprehend the underlying assumptions. The theoretical concepts were not complicated, but to appreciate Schrodingers writing required an extensive background in philosophy, not in physics or chemistry. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to read his original writing!
am 23. April 1997
What Is Life?
This book is the compilation of a series of lectures by a Nobel Luareate in quantum physics and attempts to reconcile the biological requirements of living cells to the probabalistic nature of the atom as defined by quantum mechanics. These lectures were originally give in the 1940's and 50's prior to the discovery of DNA, RNA, gene mapping, and other techniques taken for granted by today's biologists.
The basic tenant of quantum physics is that all atomic structure can be described only by the mathematics of probability. The exact orbit of an electron or its velocity cannot be determined. One can only state the probability of the location or velocity. Protons and neutrons are thought to change back and forth into one another in a random fashion. The very process of physical measurement introduces errors which preclude accurate measurements. This is modern physics - random events governed by probabilities.
Compare this to the biology of living cells. Genetics reproduce specific inherited characteristic for generations. Why does the random atomic behavior not interrupt or change genetic traits? How does humanity think logically using randomly behaving atoms and hence molecules and compounds?
This little book attempts and succeeds in theoretically reconciling these two worlds. The author predicts the structure of DNA. He anticipates current studies in how small numbers of randomly acting atoms are constrained to be deterministic. In the latter lectures, he enters the world of metaphysics to discuss "Mind and Matter, Determinism and Free Will, Ethics, and Science and Religion."
This book is less than 300 pages long, but encylopic in scope. Be warned that it must be savored to be understood. It cannot be speed read nor can it be read only once to be understood.
Finally, two much later in time companion books are "The Quantum Self" and "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" expand the concepts presented by this book. Both are available from Amazon.
Joseph I. Schwartz,
April 23, 1997
am 16. Januar 2015
Ich habe mir das Buch auf Empfehlung unseres Professors gekauft, um einen ersten Einblick in die Problematiken der Systembiologie zu bekommen. Aber es geht vor allem auch darum, wie schwer es ist, die Physik mit der Biologie zu verbinden.
Ist aufjedenfall ein muss für jeden, der sich mehr mit Biologie, Biophysik oder Mathematische Biologie beschäftigen will.