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What Is Life? Mind and Matter

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,685 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger’s What is Life? is one of the great science classics of the twentieth century. A distinguished physicist’s exploration of the question which lies at the heart of biology, it was written for the layman, but proved one of the spurs to the birth of molecular biology and the subsequent discovery of the structure of DNA. The philosopher Karl Pop ...more
Hardcover, 186 pages
Published December 2nd 1967 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1944)
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Dec 22, 2009 DJ rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any physicist interested in biology
Shelves: physics
I love reading explanations of biology from physicists; what once were magic and collections of 'just-so' stories become explanations of how and why processes occur the way they do. This book was single-handedly responsible for convincing dozens of physicists to chase issues biological and given I already had the bug, I figured it would be interesting to see what sparked it in so many others.

Here's the conversation that runs through my brain when I think about this book:

The Children: Grandpa Sch
Rajat Ubhaykar
A naive physicist honestly ponders upon the mysteries of life, he just happens to be Erwin Schrodinger. However a word of warning, this book may be disconcerting to the truly naive physicist. Schrodinger admits the inability of physics to comprehend the living organism, the need for extra-physical laws to explain life as it is.

However, he lays a groundwork based on existing physical laws to come to terms with life and going along his train of thought also happens to predict the existence of DNA
A well thought out paper by a brilliant physicist.

Would have given it five stars, but it happened to be remedial for me, but it may be more informative to you, so check it out!

It's sort of eerie to hear Schrodinger contemplate with fascination and wonder something so obvious today as the nature of the DNA molecule.
He gets a lot of stuff right, considering he's going on very limited evidence.
Sometimes he plays devil's advocate in too convincing a way, a befuddling habit.
His conclusion, mainly reg
Bob Nichols
Schrodinger wrote “What is Life?” in 1944, just a few years before Watson and Crick's discovery of DNA's structure. Schrodinger, a physicist writing about the fundamental juncture between life and non-life, flirts with a quantum theory of biology where mutations behave in “jump-like” fashion. Moving through evolutionary time as whole units leads, he believes, to life's stability in the face of ever-present forces of entropy. At its core, because of this stability, life is an effective counter-fo ...more
WHAT IS LIFE?: The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell. (1944, this ed. 2000). Erwin Schroedinger. ****.
This edition was a reprint from The Folio Society, with an introduction by Roger Penrose. Schroedinger (1887-1961) was a Viennese physicist and mathematician who was an early pioneer in the development of quantum mechanics. I remember my graduate course in Quantum Mechanics in 1962, and still shiver when I think of the Schroedinger Equation and all of the hand calculations involved in its use.
Jason Yang
I've been meaning to pick up "What is Life?" for a few years now, but it wasn't until a chance conversation with a brilliant scientist in Israel that I pulled the trigger. Having now finished this work, I can really appreciate how Shrodinger influenced famous molecular biologists from the 20th century.

The first comment I must offer is that this is probably my favorite book from all the ones I've read these past 12 months. That said, this book isn't for everybody.

In this collection of writings, S
Erwin Schrodinger was an Austrian physicist, biologist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Darwinist, author, and professor (this list merely scratches the surface).

In this book, Schrodinger tackles the mystery of organic life. He discusses the application of universal physical laws on the organism, but points out that life has a way of working with its own rules as well.

His explanation and application of the laws of thermodynamics and statistical order are accessible to the layperson. Hi
Jim Razinha
"We must therefore not be discouraged by the difficulty of interpreting life by the ordinary laws of physics." Such an understatement. And what an intellect!

Schrödinger's book made the New Scientist's top 25 most influential popular science books, (some of which I've already read but I intend to read all 25 in the next year or so) and I was amazed at his understanding of a field so different from quantum physics. But then, he argues that things are really not so different. I think this book, sho
This book, which examines the physical basis of life, forms a part of the same mid-twentieth century information revolution as Claude Shannon's information theory, Norbert Wiener's cybernetics and John von Neumann's automata theory. It first asks, why atoms are so small compared to a human, or alternatively, why humans are so large compared to an atom, and answers that in a much smaller being quantum randomness and atomic discreteness (the analog of shot noise in electronics) would destroy life- ...more
Erwin Schrödinger: The man and his vision

This is another great work of Erwin Schrodinger which gives an insight into the biology of life from a physicist's perspective that inspired scientists like; Francis Crick who discovered the structure of DNA, J.B.S. Haldane, and Roger Penrose. It is clear from this work and other books of Schrodinger that he was one of the few physicists who deeply thought of the inner most secrets of life. This book is divided into two parts: What's Life (7 chapters) and
Mitch Allen
Astonishing that so many of the physicists responsible for the foundational theories behind quantum physics turned to writing philosophical texts. Well, not so astonishing in that the implications of quantum theory destroy contemporary Western cultural, philosophical and spiritual assumptions, so they seem compelled to help us understand where things are headed. A short and highly readable text, with some fascinating insights.
What I expected:

Source, CC-BY-NC 2.5

What I got:

"What is Life?" is a surprisingly humble take on the problems biology had in the 1940s. Schrödinger tries to summarize how physics and chemistry can help solve biology's problems, like how information is actually inherited. He often comes so close to the actual truth that you want to shout at the book while reading it - I wonder what he would have done with Rosalind Franklin's X-Ray diffraction images of DNA....

In other times he's a bit lost, like
Philipda Luangprasert
-Many concrete physical ideas of life in 1930s
-Good for seeing how limited but still useful physics theories are at that time.
-His language is a bit difficult to read.
-Some discovery during the last century have appended details beyond this old book.
Chris Feldman
This along with Heisenberg's "Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science" and "Philosophical Problems of Quantum Physics" are what you want to read instead of "The Tao Of Physics" and "Dancing Wu Li Masters."

Thomas A Wiebe
The physical sublety of life.I recently re-read portions Erwin Schrödinger's amazing little book What is Life, which was a post-war stimulus for a number of physicists to switch from physics to biology and look hard for a physical understanding of living organisms. Some of the people who gave birth to molecular biology claim to have been stimulated to move into the field by this book, such as Watson, Crick, Perutz, and Wilkins, Cavendish scientists all. The book was intended as at most a heurist ...more
Alexander Arsov
Erwin Schrödinger

What is Life?*
Mind and Matter**
Autobiographical Sketches***

Cambridge University Press, Paperback, 2010.

8vo. [viii]+184 pp. Canto reprint. Foreword by Roger Penrose, 1992 [p. viii]. Preface by the author, September 1944 [pp. 1-2]. Contains also Mind and Matter [pp. 93-164] and Autobiographical Sketches [pp. 165-184].

What is Life? first published, 1944.
Mind and Matter first published, 1958.
First published combined, 1967.
First Canto edition with Autobiographical Sketches and Forewo
"What is life?" e' un testo che ha ispirato molti importanti scienziati del secolo scorso. E' una incursione del Nobel per la fisica Schroedinger (quello della celeberrima equazione alla base della meccanica quantistica) nel campo della biologia. E che incursione, visto che nelle sue argomentazioni, che risalgono al 1944, prefigura in buona parte le caratteristiche di quel "cristallo aperiodico" alla base di quel processo termodinamicamente scandaloso che e' la vita, ovvero il DNA. E questo e' i ...more
Michael Kenning
One thing that I did not realise about this book is that it actually contains three different books: What is Life?, Mind and Matter, and Autobiographical sketches. The first book, What is Life?, gives the reader a very basic understanding of genetics. It is precisely the hereditary substance and the nature of mutation in the genetic substance that encouraged the discovery of the double helix in DNA. It is a most essential read; and despite the fact that it was written by a physicist, it portrays ...more
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I kept seeing this in the bibliographies of other science books, and finally got curious enough to buy it. It's an odd little collection of three little monographs.

The first part, What Is Life?, is the most important. It's pretty astonishing work—written before the discovery of the structure of DNA, it clearly anticipates most of the essential facets of that discovery. For me, it filled a gap in science history that I hadn't fully appreciated. It's artistic rather than rigorous in style, looking
I had been meaning to read this for a long time. The book is not nearly as exciting as it must have been in the 1940s, many of the ideas are reasonably familiar. And some of the interest one gets is watching Schrodinger grope around the concept of Gene's and digital, discrete information without the benefit of knowing about DNA and how it functions. But other than mistaking the source of gene's for a protein, he did not miss much and another 60 years of molecular biology would have added relativ ...more
A prophetic book which foresaw (or prompted) the rise of molecular biology as we see it today.
But I wish Schrödinger had expanded on the epilogue.
For all the review of science building up to the explanation of the title of the book,
the punchline was too brief.

… But then he points us to the works by Aldous Huxley for deeper contemplation of his worldview.
So I guess I'll go read Huxley's "The Perennial Philosophy" now ...
Nobody else is leaving any comments on this one, so I'm not going to either. Oh wait! I guess I could say that I've found some parallels in Aquinas' "Summa" to some of the things Schroedinger talks about regarding sensible apprehension by the intellect or soul, as well as the rationalist/empiricist arguments of Socrates/Plato vs Aristotle, and later resolved somewhat by Kant. Sorry, but I'm just coming up a little dry on this one. Maybe that says something about the book.
Lee Norton
"What is this ‘I’? / If you analyse it closely you will, I think, find that it is just a little bit more than a collection of single data (experiences and memories), namely the canvas upon which they are collected. And you will, on close introspection, find that what you really mean by ‘I’ is that ground-stuff upon which they are collected." (Epilogue)
Steve Haigh
Incredible to think this was written 9 years before Crick & Watson discovered the double helix. The predictions were of course spot on, and the reasoning still relevant 70 years after it was first written. Perhaps not the most accessible popular science book, but probably one of the oldest that is still relevant.
Usman W. Chohan
Nov 13, 2014 Usman W. Chohan is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Homo liber nulla de re minus quam de morte
cogitat; et ejus sapientia non mortis sed vitae
meditatio est. SPINOZA'S Ethics, Pt IV, Prop.
(There is nothing over which a free man ponders
less than death; his wisdom is, to meditate not on
death but on life.)
Gene Colwell
Erwin Schrodinger in "What is Life" and in "Mind and Matter" has packed a remarkable amount of information and opinion into these sections of his small book which includes connections among such diverse but related topics as the nature of life and consciousness, the laws of physics including the second law of thermodynamics, evolution of man and his intellect and the end result, and the Creator's involvement. He describes how living matter is unique in its ability to pass along genetic informati ...more
This is a great book that questions and discusses a blend of science and philosophy regarding topics I've always wondered, the ones which drew me into philosophy initially, namely – mind and matter, senses and reality, quantum effects and gene mutation, the self, and more. It seems a perfect fit for me and only a matter of time before it found me. Schrödinger fits a lot of material in under 200 pages and does it accessibly and with a pleasant attitude, one that feels amiable and would be nice to ...more
G Budai
Schrödinger’s apology:
“I can see no other escape from this dilemma (lest our true who aim be lost for ever) than that some of us should venture to embark on a synthesis of facts and theories, albeit with second-hand and incomplete knowledge of some of them -and at the risk of making fools of ourselves. So much for my apology.”

When physicists approach the topic of life, that's always fascinate me. When life tissue is explained through thermodynamics, atomic theory involving physical laws, well, t
Suraj Kumar
A really great approach to understand the basic principles that gave rise to such enormous complexity and diversity.
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Goodreads Librari...: Combine Schrodinger books 2 11 Jun 08, 2014 01:40AM  
  • Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science
  • Chance and Necessity
  • The Value of Science: Essential Writings of Henri Poincare
  • One, Two, Three...Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science
  • The Character of Physical Law
  • On Growth and Form
  • Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth
  • The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution
  • Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order
  • Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution
  • Complexity: A Guided Tour
  • The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe
  • Disturbing the Universe
  • Sociobiology: The New Synthesis
  • Wholeness and the Implicate Order
  • Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature
  • The Epigenetics Revolution
  • Cybernetics: or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine
Expanding Universe

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“The scientist only imposes two things, namely truth and sincerity, imposes them upon himself and upon other scientists.” 34 likes
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