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“What is Life? Mind And Matter” by Erwin Schrödinger

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The Character of Life

Watson and Crick, in their respective accounts of the discovery of the structure of DNA, both cited “What is Life” as their source of inspiration. It’s amazing how a physicist’s insights triggered a breakthrough in molecular biology.

Schrödinger, based on the principles of quantum mechanics and thermodynamics and very limited experimental data, deduced with amazing accuracy the size and character of the genetic material, later known to be DNA. He treated molecules as discrete quantum states (“a definite configuration of all the corpuscles”) and mutations as quantum jump between the discrete states (using a model proposed by Max Delbrück).

He also deliberated on the contrast between the law of physics which states that objects tend to reach maximum entropy and the law of life where there is increasing order, the opposite of entropy. This he believed to be the character of life, i.e., the mechanism that produces “order from order”.

In “Mind and Matter”, Schrödinger’s endeavored to construct a worldview in accord with his knowledge as a physicist. His reasoning is not quite easy to follow as it is in “What is Life”, however. The main points of interest are: 1. Behavior of the individuals, interacting with the environment, influences selection and the path of evolution. 2. The artificial barrier between mind and matter hinders western scientific thoughts . 3.  Space and time are the dimensions that reality projects on. There probably are other forms of appearance in which space and time play no role.

Quotes:

“Consciousness is the tutor who supervises the education of the living substance, but leaves his pupil alone to deal with all those tasks for which he is already sufficiently trained”.

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