by Vivek
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Review: What Is Life?

Life from the eyes of a physicist!

If a man never contradicts himself, the reason must be that he virtually never says anything at all.

Erwin Schrödinger

Written by Erwin Schrödinger, an eminent physicist and Nobel Prize winner, the book What is Life? (get here) is an attempt to understand the aspects of life as manifested by living organisms. As philosophical it may sound, the author instead endeavors to understand the organization and behavior of life – from individual cells to higher organism, from the point of a physicist. The book is appealing even to lay readers and builds on important conceptual constructs of physics without delving too much into mathematical formulations.

But, why do we bother so much about it since apparently we already know a lot about DNA, cells and their organization? The true answer is, we don’t know enough.

Try answering the following:

How can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?

Why must our bodies be so large compared with the atom? … Must be that so? Is there an intrinsic reason for it?

As trivial as these may appear, Schrödinger discusses the underlying ideas (and potential answers) with such grace and lucidity. The subject treatment bestows an entirely new perspective in your mind and leaves you with a tingling sensation and curiosity to seek for answers.

This book also helps us to reconcile the efforts of scientists who have made contributions in answering such naive (if we think) questions back then, to the amplitude of knowledge and understanding we have gathered today.