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What Is Life?: How Chemistry Becomes Biology

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Seventy years ago, Erwin Schrodinger posed a profound question: 'What is life, and how did it emerge from non-life?' This problem has puzzled biologists and physical scientists ever since.

Living things are hugely complex and have unique properties, such as self-maintenance and apparently purposeful behaviour which we do not see in inert matter. So how does chemistry give rise to biology? What could have led the first replicating molecules up such a path? Now, developments in the emerging field of 'systems chemistry' are unlocking the problem. Addy Pross shows how the different kind of stability that operates among replicating molecules results in a tendency for chemical systems to become more complex and acquire the properties of life. Strikingly, he demonstrates that Darwinian evolution is the biological expression of a deeper, well-defined chemical concept: the whole story from replicating molecules to complex life is one continuous process governed by an underlying physical principle. The gulf between biology and the physical sciences is finally becoming bridged.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published September 3, 2012

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Addy Pross

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Profile Image for Steve Van Slyke.
Author 1 book39 followers
January 16, 2015
This is one of those instances where I should probably qualify my remarks by mentioning that I am not a scientist and my formal education in biology and chemistry is limited to my studies in high school.

About one fourth of the way into this book I came close to abandoning it because the author seemed to be belaboring his points and I couldn't see clearly where he was headed. But I stuck with it and am glad to have done so because, even though I am not convinced he is correct, he does manage to present a plausible, general theory of how life began on earth, or for that matter how it begins anywhere in the universe.

Pross marks out his territory by dividing the search for life's origin into two camps with different approaches. There is the historical approach, which attempts to determine the how, the actual events that may have transpired on prebiotic Earth 4 billion years ago, such as the famous Miller-Urey experiments. Pross dismisses these as needle-in-haystack efforts that have little chance of stumbling upon the correct answer given that very little is known about prebiotic conditions which could have varied widely in time and place.

In contrast, the ahistorical approach, which Pross favors, attempts to answer the general question of why life would evolve from inanimate matter. From that point forward he begins to lay out his answer to the question. In doing so he covers familiar ground, for example the ongoing debate as to which came first metabolism or replication and the question of why chirality or 'handedness' exists in life's basic molecules.

I won't spoil it for you by giving his answer here, but I will say that for me there was no great 'Aha!' moment. I appreciated the case that he built but in the end it did not seem to shed any great new light on the problem. He himself said that Darwin almost came up with the same answer 130 years ago.

Although Pross dismisses the historical approach and its various camps—the ventists, the pondists, the RNA World, the Clay World, the Lipid World, etc., I found the assessment of the these efforts much more interesting as they were laid out in Robert Hazen's book Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins.
Profile Image for Shafat.
90 reviews94 followers
October 22, 2015
বৈজ্ঞানিক তথ্য-উপাত্তর ভিত্তিতে চার্লস রবার্ট ডারউইনের বিবর্তন তত্ত্বের অবস্থান আজ অনড়, দেশ ও সংস্কৃতিভেদে নানারূপে বিবর্তন তত্ত্বের অস্বীকৃতি থাকলেও জীববিজ্ঞানীমহলে বিবর্তনতত্ত্ব এখন সুপ্রতিষ্ঠিত। দেড়শ বছরে আধুনিক জীনবিজ্ঞানের হাত ধরে অনেকটা পথ পেরিয়ে ডারউইনের বিবর্তন তত্ত্ব এখন পুরোপুরি ব্যাখ্যা করতে পারে কিভাবে আদি প্রাণ থেকে তার শাখা প্রশাখা ছড়িয়ে ধীরে ধীরে সৃষ্টি হল প্রাণের অসংখ্য জটিলতর রূপভেদ। তবে একটা গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ব্যাপারে মনে খচখচ থেকেই যায়। কেন বা কিভাবে আদি প্রাণের সৃষ্টি হল, সে সম্পর্কে ডারউইন কোন মন্তব্য করতে রাজি হননি, তার সময়ের জন্যও এই প্রশ্নের উত্তর ছিল আরাধ্যর অতীত। ডারউইনের বিবর্তনতত্ত্ব তাই প্রাণের বিবর্তন নিয়ে আলোচনা করে, প্রাণের সৃষ্টি বা উৎপত্তি নিয়ে নয়।

প্রাণের সৃষ্টির দুটো দিক নিয়ে জীববিজ্ঞানে আলোচনা করা হয়, একটি হল ঐতিহাসিক(historic), আরেকটি হল ইতিহাস নিরপেক্ষ(ahistoric)।
১)ঐতিহাসিক দিকের আলোচনার বিষয়বস্তু হল, প্রাণ কোন সময়ে সৃষ্টি হয়েছিল, আদি প্রাণ সৃষ্টির সময় পৃথিবীর পরিবেশ কেমন ছিল, আদি প্রাণের ঠিক কি কি গাঠনিক উপাদান ছিল। সোজা কথায়,আদি প্রাণের ঠিকুজি নির্ণয়।

এ ব্যাপারে প্রথমবারের মতো বড়সড় অগ্রগতি আসে ১৯৫২ সালে শিকাগো বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে করা স্টানলি মিলার এবং হ্যারল্ড উইরির এক্সপেরিমেন্টে। প্রাণ সৃষ্টির সময়কালে আদি পৃথিবীতে যে পরিবেশ ছিল মনে অনুমান করা হয়, মিলার তাদের এক্সপেরিমেন্টে ল্যাবে কৃত্রিমভাবে সেরকম পরিবেশ সৃষ্টি করে বেশ কিছু জৈব যৌগ সৃষ্টি করতে সক্ষম হন। এর মাঝে ছিল প্রোটিন, যা জীবনের জন্য এক মহার্ঘ বায়োমলিকুল। সে সময়ে বিজ্ঞানীমহলে শোরগোল তুললেও মিলারের পরীক্ষা পরবর্তীতে প্রাণের ঐতিহাসিক কারণ সন্ধানে খুব বেশি সাহায্য করতে পারেনি। আদি পৃথিবীতে পরিবেশ ঠিক কিরকম ছিল, ঠিক কোন পরিবেশে কোথায় প্রাণের সৃষ্টি হয়েছে(সমুদ্রের তলদেশে নাকি শিলা-পলিমাটির আস্তরণের উপর), প্রাণের গাঠনিক উপাদান কি ছিল, এ সম্পর্কে জীববিজ্ঞানীদের মাঝে নানা-মাত্রায় মতভেদ এবং বিভিন্ন প্রস্তাবনা রয়েছে। এই সব প্রস্তাবনার অনেকগুলোই আদি প্রাণ সৃষ্টির সহায়ক হিসেবে বিবেচনার যোগ্য, তাই অন্য সব প্রস্তাবনা বাতিল করে নির্দিষ্ট করে কোন একটা বিশেষ তত্ত্বকে বেছে নেয়া যায়না। সবমিলিয়ে বলা যায়, সময়কাল সম্পর্কে মতৈক্য থাকলেও প্রাণের ঐতিহাসিক কারণের ব্যাপারে এখনও কোন মতৈক্য আসা যায়নি এবং সেটা এখনও যথেষ্ট ধোঁয়াশাময়। যেহেতু আমাদের কাছে সময় পরিভ্রমণের জন্য কোন টাইম মেশিন নেই, সম্ভাবনা আছে যে আমরা কোন নিশ্চিত হতে পারব না আদি প্রাণের ঠিকুজি সম্পর্কে।

২) প্রাণ সৃষ্টির ইতিহাস নিরপেক্ষ কারণের আলোচ্য বিষয় হল, ঠিক কেন এবং কি কারণে প্রাণের সৃষ্টি হল। একটা বলকে ছেড়ে দিলে যেমন সেটা অভিকর্ষের নিয়ম মেনে নিচের দিকে পড়ে, প্রাণ সৃষ্টির বেলায় তেমনভাবে জৈব রসায়নের কোন বিশেষ নিয়ম কাজ করছে কি না। এ নিয়েও বিজ্ঞানীমহলে মতভেদ রয়েছে। নোবেলবিজয়ী ফ্রেঞ্চ জীববিজ্ঞানী Jacques Monod তার সত্তুরের দশকে প্রকাশিত ‘Chance and necessity’ বইতে বলার চেষ্টা করেছিলেন , প্রাণের উৎপত্তির পেছনে পদার্থবিজ্ঞান বা রসায়নের কোন নিয়ম কাজ করছে না, মহাবিশ্ব তার গর্ভে 'প্রাণ নিয়ে গর্ভবতী' ছিল না। কসমসে প্রাণের আবির্ভাব কেবলই ‘কাকতালীয়’একটা ঘটনা। এরকম ঘটনা আরেকবার ঘটার সম্ভাবনা খুবই কম। আরেক নোবেল বিজয়ী প্রাণরয়ায়নবিদ Christian de Duve অবশ্য তার সাথে দ্বিমত পোষণ করে বলেছেন, পদার্থবিজ্ঞান এবং রয়ায়নের নিয়ম অনুসারেই প্রাণের উৎপত্তি অবশ্যভাম্বী ছিল। মহাবিশ্ব অবশ্যই তার গর্ভে প্রাণ নিয়ে গর্ভবতী ছিল, নাহলে আমরা এখানে থাকতাম না।

এই বইয়ে অবশ্য দ্বিতীয় মতবাদকেই সমর্থন করা হয়েছে। ডারউইনের বিবর্তন তত্ত্বে নিষ্প্রাণ যৌগ থেকে আদি প্রাণের সৃষ্টি এবং তারপর প্রাণের বিবর্তনকে দুটো আলাদা প্রক্রিয়া হিসেবে সাধারণত চিন্তা করা হয়। লেখক এই বইয়ে বলার চেষ্টা করেছেন, আদতে এই দুটো কোন আলাদা প্রক্রিয়া নয়, একটি নিরবছিন্ন প্রক্রিয়ার অংশ। প্রাণের সৃষ্টির পেছনে একটি ইতিহাস নিরপেক্ষ কারণ রয়েছে, যেমন ইতিহাসের সব সময়েই আপেল নিচে পড়ার কারণ ছিল অভিকর্ষ। রয়ায়নের নিয়মে উপযুক্ত পরিবেশে অবধারিতভাবেই প্রাণের সৃষ্টি অনিবার্য। লেখক দেখানোর চেষ্টা করেছেন, ডারউইনের বিবর্তন তত্ত্বকে আরও সাধারণভাবে ‘Chemical theory of matter’ এর ভেতরে অন্তর্ভুক্ত করা যেতে পারে। আমরা যা যা দেখে ‘প্রাণ’ বলি, সেই প্রাণের সরলতম বৈশিষ্ট্যগুলো(রেপ্লিকেশন, মিউটেশন, কমপ্লেক্সিফিকেশন, সিলেকশন, ইভোলিউশন) কিছু প্রাণহীন অজৈব যৌগের মধ্যেও দেখা যায়। এই যৌগগুলো রয়ায়নের সাধারণ নিয়মের বাইরেও কিছু স্বতন্ত্র নিয়ম অনুসরণ করে, নিষ্প্রাণ হলেও এরা প্রাণকে অনেকটা ‘মিমিক’ করে। এই বিশেষ যৌগগুলো নিয়ে গবেষণার জন্য ‘সিস্টেম কেমিস্ট্রি’ রয়ায়নের একটি অপেক্ষাকৃত নবীন শাখা গড়ে উঠেছে। লেখক বলার চেষ্টা করেছেন, জীববিজ্ঞানকে আরও বড় পরিসরে সিস্টেম কেমিস্ট্রির অংশ হিসেবে চিন্তা করা যেতে পারে। এককথায়, লেখক জীববিজ্ঞান এবং রয়ায়নের মধ্যবর্তী দূরত্বকে মিলিয়ে দিতে চেয়েছেন।

আমরা প্রাণকে এখন পর্যন্ত কতটুকু বুঝি, আদতে আমাদের কৃত্রিম প্রাণ সৃষ্টির সম্ভাবনা এবং প্রতিকূলতা, এই বিষয়গুলো নিয়েও কিছুমাত্রায় আলোচনা করা হয়েছে।( ২০১০ সালের ক্রেইগ ভেন্টরের উদ্ভাবনকে আসলে টেকনিকালি ‘কৃত্রিম জীবন’ বলা ভুল হবে, ভেন্টর শুধুমাত্র জিনোম সিন্থেসিস করেছিলেন, পুরো কোষ নয়।) যারা প্রাণ সম্পর্কে জীববিজ্ঞানের আধুনিক ধারণাগুলো জানতে আগ্রহী, বইটা তাদ��র অনেক নতুন খোরাক দেবে।
Profile Image for Gary  Beauregard Bottomley.
957 reviews568 followers
February 20, 2016
The author offers nothing towards answering the title "What is Life" and offers nothing but the most simplistic presentation for addressing the subtitle "How Chemistry Becomes Biology".

When he does address the title, he forces the presentation into his preferred world view of teleonomy (just a fancy way of saying animate objects are teleological and inanimate objects are not, whatever).

He's going to equate maximum efficiency with DKS (dynamic kinetic systems) and explain that life arises from that process.

I did get irritated at the author. He makes the statement along the lines "to understand the what of life, one first needs to know the how it came about, and then take the particular to the general and then make the universal principals before proceeding". I fault that formulation in order for understanding and explaining of nature. (It's a very Kantian formulation of science, and I saw it just as an excuse for the author to not address the title of the book).

The author really added nothing new whatsoever to my understanding of what is life and where did it come from. There was nothing new or novel in this book. Books like this one are why I slowed down reading science books. They need to teach me something new, something I did not already know, and be so good that I want to re-listen to them again for their novel presentations and the new insights they showed me. This book did none of those things.

I wasted my time with this book. I would recommend Hazen's Great Course Lecture, "Origins of Life", Wagner's "Arrival of the Fittest" which considers the topology of the possible maximum efficiency paths which "What is Life" tries to explain from time to time but not adequately, and I would recommend, Rutherford's "Creations: How Science is Reinventing Life Itself", a book which is not too simple and not too complex but explains the things presented in this book as they should have been (and regretfully which seems to have been completely ignored by the reading (and listening) public).
Profile Image for Jiajun.
3 reviews2 followers
November 13, 2018
I read this book a year ago in the summer of my high school senior year, when I still wanted to major in neuroscience. It was like an unexpected treasure I found in the library. Now everything has changed but the book stayed amazing. It's scientific, but pretty easy to understand. Most importantly, the content is about the origin of life, the mysterious, unsolved matter which always interests me so much. The book offers an amazing insight about it. For the first time I thought I got more information than "oh we still know nothing about where life came from", and that is absolutely outrageous! Honestly I was so amazed by life and human brain, and that was why I wanted to study neuroscience; even now I have switched my major to math. Maybe it's because I thought life was so complicated that it's more for me to be amazed. It's like art. Besides, I love math more than I thought in high school.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,006 followers
June 11, 2017
I’m rather underwhelmed by this book. Though it is praised as “uncover[ing] the chemical roots of Darwinian theory, thereby opening a novel route connecting biology to chemistry and physics” (and by a Nobel prize winner, no less!), I think this route is far from novel. It’s always been obvious to me that biology is chemistry in living cells, that all the rules of chemistry derive from properties described by physics, and indeed that physics is based on mathematics and mathematics on logic. This just doesn’t seem revelatory to me — it’s apparent from the first time you understand that enzymes are simply manufactured catalysts and that RNA can replicate itself. And I understood that when I was doing my AS Level in biology, if not before, so that was 2007. This wasn’t published until 2012! So I can’t have unconsciously absorbed the conclusions of this book via somewhere else.

As a survey of exactly how the subjects link up, it works relatively well. The writing is clear and the logic works, and if you didn’t connect the dots for yourself, it allows you to do so. It’s perhaps a little more specific than my 2007 understanding, referencing RNA experiments I hadn’t heard of, but the basic theory has always been apparent to me. I don’t understand how it is considered controversial or groundbreaking.

Perhaps this is more surprising to scientists who have been stuck within their own segregated area, though. As an outsider whose contact with science was limited to New Scientist and popular science books from 2007 to 2014, perhaps my simpler view of things helped me to connect the dots, where an actual biologist just couldn’t accept that biology is simply chemistry when it seems so much more complex. It seems odd to me, but it’s all I can think of. And it’s not as though I’m a chemistry or physics superfan — I’m happy to stay on the level of biology!

Originally reviewed for The Bibliophibian.
Profile Image for György.
121 reviews6 followers
May 17, 2015
The Story about the cloud where from dead things living things are made! - if I'd have to put it in brief, or much better: Story about things that tamper, interfere with the II. Law!
(It's unlikely that some reader lacking basics of thermodynamics will jump on this book, but here is to test yourself: which law is going to kill us? The I or the II Law? If you have answer you may proceed, if no, I'd first take some lectures about these two laws!

Adam and Eve vs. the Serpent! Since that dramatic moment when expelled from paradise, as per Genesis, when Eve opened our Pandora’s box (sounds funny, but I like to hammer on arousal with an oxymoron) our animal soul, our peace, our carefree happy-go-lucky way of life, our symmetry, our equilibrium was lost forever. We don't know who or what that Serpent was, but I'm rather seeing it/her/him as the moment, the strikingly most dramatic moment in entire human history when we ceased to exist as simple thoughtless, unconscious mammals, apes, animals, instead we became mindful, conscious self-aware living beings with potential to ask the most stressing two questions: who we are? What’s the purpose of our existence? We are like awakened from a long dream into this unknown dichotomous reality without any knowledge and memories, sentenced to search for origins, meaning and purpose. We are tormented for millennia with these unanswered questions originated from our self- awareness, and these are the scariest horror questions that have power to drive humans insane! We are restless to solve the secrets of biogenesis.
What Mr. Pross’s book is all about?
I like to see the place where all the magic happens, where from the death molecules life molecules are formed, as a hazy magical cloud. Enrico Fermi would certainly say pointing into the middle: "Here be Dragons!" …and he would be right! We still struggle with this cloud. Mr. Pross book leads us right into the middle of that magic, into that cloud full of Dragons. Just to mention, there is another famous book with the title: "What is Life?". This one is written by Erwin Schrödinger. Schrödinger’s What is life is something amazing though some calling it booklet, little book - I can assure you that book is a brain killer! One must be relaxed and fit to encounter it properly! This ingenious physicist, the inventor of the famous quantum cat (Schrödinger’s Cat) made trial in defining what life is! The interesting fact is that we don’t have definition that would be acceptable to define life in its entire complexity and essence! Schrödinger’s is perhaps the best to fit claiming that life is something that resists entropy! Well, really close enough! The perfect starting point for the book I’m preparing this review: the stone-dead things that come alive and acting on way to violate the eternal tendency of the nature toward disorder, toward entropy! The only thing in the Universe, at least known for us, that tempers with the II law! It's like to be normal that stones rolls up on hill until reach the top without any influence..just by self!
Mr. Pross leads us into the cloud of life creation with staggering precision. He will introduce the reader to some unusual aspects of observing the world of nonliving and living things and along that the relations and interactions between on most basic level. We'll find ourselves wondering over the cycles of transformations of non-living things into living and back! The author will show us the basic principles of our existence; he will introduce the teleonomic character of living our life. If this is unknown for the reader, she will be astonished with powerful imaging skills of Mr. Pross to present us the dichotomy of our reality, our interactions with seemingly two worlds that we have to learn to manage in order to make through. We’ll see that teleonomy is not just a privilege of humans and animal world, but living life by agenda is typical for all things that exhibit attributes of life! And that is the turning point back into the hazy cloud of creation, where from dead matter life is emerging somehow...someway!! And here we've arrived to the troublesome question: How?! how did a system capable of evolving come about in the first place? Darwinian theory is a biological theory and therefore deals with biological systems, whereas the origin of life problem is a chemical problem, and chemical problems are best solved with chemical (and physical) theories. Darwin himself explicitly avoided the origin of life question, recognizing that within the existing state of knowledge the question was premature. So the question of how the first microscopic complexity came into being remains problematic and highly contentious! Did a cellular precursor to that exquisitely complex miniature factory that is the living cell come together purely by chance, by the various bits and pieces randomly linking up in precisely the right manner?! We don't know, that's still mystery!
Mr. Pross says: "But, to draw on an analogy popularized by Fred Hoyle, the well-known astronomer, the likelihood of such an event would be similar to that of a whirlwind blowing through a junkyard and assembling a Boeing 747. Life’s organized complexity is strange, very strange. And how it came about is even stranger. "
For me, this part was the real journey, the greatest excitement, where all 3 crucial players, the physics, the chemistry and, the biology are together and a living, conscious human being built up from all those dead substances of the nature is trying to bridge them to explain the way of own existence, to explain the life! We are going to see the II law in action, we’ll having the bare basic chemistry on disposal to comprehend the principles that make possible to have chemistry at all, but all under the aegis of governing physics. The author will place us in the middle of that strange cloud where from inputs of multiply of dead molecules, somehow, someway a living self-replicated molecule will appear; the cloud where from dead matter a living being will emerge!
From time to time I've found that setting exaggerated number of examples is slightly time consuming, however, his motivation to make the content comprehendible for the broadest audience is finally something very acceptable and valuable. After cleared up this with myself I was able to accept author’s way of unfolding the content. Clear, expository style! Scientific document reduced to level of broad audience. I'd certainly recommend for my kids some around high school years! Facts and knowledge this book hides in content are crucial for understanding the world we are living in. One of the best way to first time face with the term of death, and with life as well.
I’m wishing to all readers exciting journey into the cloud of creation, and would like to say thank you to Mr. Pross! Great job, Sir!
Addy Pross took his B.Sc (Hons) and Ph.D degrees at the University of Sydney where he graduated in 1970. After postdoctoral work in London and Jerusalem he joined the Chemistry Department at Ben-Gurion University in 1973, where he is currently Professor of Chemistry. After working in the area of physical and theoretical organic chemistry for some 28 years he switched his field of interest to the chemistry-biology interface, and in particular to investigating the chemical roots of Darwinism and the Origin of Life question. He has served on the editorial boards of chemical and life science journals, on the managing board of research centers and research granting committees, served as Chairman of the Chemistry Department at BGU, as an industrial consultant to international chemical and pharmaceutical companies, has been a plenary/invited speaker to some 60 conferences and universities worldwide, and is the author of a book on chemical reactivity and over 100 research publications.
Profile Image for Ricardo Moreno Mauro.
408 reviews21 followers
February 22, 2022
Lo lei en muy poco tiempo. Este autor da una buena perspectiva del esquivo concepto de la definición de vida.

Lo recomiendo
Profile Image for Maria.
242 reviews23 followers
November 8, 2021
كتاب بسيط وبه كم جميل من المعارف الاكاديمية، فرحت لاسترجاع ما اعرفه... وبالنسبة لي كان بسيط المحتوى لأن لم يزدني بشيء
Profile Image for Abi Ghifari.
101 reviews6 followers
January 19, 2020
At least once in our lifetime, we must be wondering why we live, what is our purpose in life, and why does life even begin in the first place? While there are no definitive answers to those questions, science can at least provide a glimpse of thoughts to answer what life is and how does the life begin. Addy Pross, a professor of organic chemistry at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, explores the answers to ‘what is life?’ that science has provided so far, which also becomes the title of this book. With an homage to a text with the same title by the famed quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger, Pross focuses on answering the question on the chemistry point of view, which he explained as a “bridge between physics and biology”.

The author begins the book by explaining the striking differences between living and non-living things despite the atoms that made them are the same. As nature tends to push the system towards chaos and disorder, not towards order, how can living things, which represent order and function, be formed from the same dead atoms and molecules as in the non-living? This book attempts to explain life from the view that biology composed of chemical molecules that obey physical laws. Pross highlights some of the ground-breaking chemical experiments that were trying to answer the origin of life, especially around the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis which readers may find it interesting. For example, Sol Spiegelman and Gerald Joyce separate experiments on molecular replication suggest that a string of RNA (ribonucleic acid, a molecule similar to DNA that regulates gene expression) may replicate itself in a test tube without the need of a complex system. Replicating RNAs may compete, mutate, adapt, and evolve, thus demonstrating Darwin’s evolutionary theory on a molecular level.

Nevertheless, there are still many questions left unanswered. For instance, even if RNA is indeed the precursor of life, how does RNA form DNA and proteins, to establish the living system as we know today. There are also no suggestions on how RNA was formed in the first place. Also, how all those biological molecules form a compartment, which we later know as a cell, that is capable of maintaining dynamic stability as opposed to its disordered environment is left unexplained. Some descriptions to answer these questions may improve the book and appeal to more readers. A chapter in this book also extensively explains the philosophical views of life, particularly teleonomy and Aristotelian philosophy, which the reviewer found irrelevant in answering how chemistry becomes biology as the author proposed in the title. Some parts are also repetitive and contain excessive prose which may be illegible for general readers.

What is life? is a suitable book for the lay audience and high school/university students who are interested in learning scientific evidence that attempt to elucidate the answers. However, some explanations require a basic understanding of scientific terminology and concepts. This book is a decent effort in enlightening the dark path of life’s origin to the broader society by integrating scientific concepts and evidence in physics, chemistry, and biology with some illustrations that clarify the text. Even though the book does not provide a clear answer, it is a good start for the readers who are eager to explore further the origin of life from a scientific perspective.
Profile Image for Jerry Pogan.
995 reviews26 followers
June 10, 2020
I absolutely love reading stuff like this but, honestly, it completely overwhelms me. There is just an overload of information that I am unable to fully digest, but here's my take on what I think I learned. First, the title asks What is Life? but really what the book is saying is that we don't have an answer to that question yet and then explains why. So how did inanimate matter become alive? It is fairly certain that life began with self-replicating chemistry and progressed as mutations occurred during this process. Science is able to trace this process back through a continuous chain to what appears to be the original replicator but are unable to go beyond this. That is because replication needs biology to occur. So, whatever that event was, it appears that it must be extremely rare and probably almost impossible because if it weren't we should be able to trace life back to more than just one original source. However, I do see a paradox in this because of the fact that life appeared very quickly on Earth after it formed so it appears that life must actually form very easily. An explanation that occured to me is that the first life forms have been eating any newer ones as they appear but that explaination is completely based on my ignorance.
745 reviews8 followers
January 3, 2016
My friend Manoj recently said, “In 5 billion years, an atom learned to talk.”

This observation begs the question: How did the atom learn to talk? How did non-life become life?

Pross sets out to answer this question and in so doing addresses many obstacles, the largest of which is Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics. If you’re unfamiliar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it states that "In any cyclic process, the entropy will either increase or remain the same." It is often expressed simply that ordered things tend towards chaotic over time and its inverse: Things that are chaotic will not tend towards order.

Take your kitchen for example. Perhaps it is currently ordered: Every glass in the cupboard, every plate in its place. Over time, this ordered state (low entropy) will give way to more chaotic state (high entropy), where the plates have moved, cups shifted—and that’s even if your kids don’t move them around. Another way to think about the state of entropy in your kitchen is this: There are only a few ways that it can be set up in an orderly way, while there are an infinite number of ways it can be in a chaotic state. Thus, there is a really small chance of a low entropy ordered state.

And yet life is like the clean kitchen: Ordered and arrived at from an earth of 5 billion years ago that was a bundle of happy chaotic atoms. What would motivate, drive, or otherwise suddenly bring order to these atoms, in defiance of the second law of thermodynamics, which is immutable in other contexts?

Pross’s theory is that life is a natural consequence of the second law of thermodynamics. Remember that the second law of thermodynamics allows for low entropy ordered states, however improbable they may be. And what’s more, some of these low entropy ordered states may be highly persistent.

Pross discusses the example of certain chemical replicating systems. RNA, for example, a nonliving complex chemical compound with an incredible property: It can create copies of itself. What’s more, in creating these copies, which it does at an alarming rate, it also creates RNA variants of itself. Some of those RNA variants are better at replicating than the original, and thus cause the original RNA copies to disappear over time, leaving the RNA variants as the stable form of RNA.

What does RNA, this nonliving chemical do? Replicate, vary, compete, and stabilize. This chemical compound evolves.

Evolution into something highly replicable and stable is thus a natural manifestation of chemistry. And from this it is Pross’s theory that one of the natural steps in chemistry is that nonliving chemicals can form replicable and stable chemicals that we call life.
Profile Image for Mark.
6 reviews2 followers
May 13, 2015
If things did start as a tepid soup of various chemicals, what took place that led to non-living matter becoming alive, and ultimately to me typing ineffectual reviews on Goodreads? Pross' answer, while ultimately chemical, bridges the gap between chemistry and biology by exploring the development of chemical, replicative systems.

While it takes a while to get into its stride, by the last third of the book I was hooked. The initial slow pace is partly because Pross takes a safe route and assumes an absolute minimum for background knowledge, even going so far as to describe the ins and outs of the scientific method. At times this helps to understand the limits of his following discussion on the origins of life, but mostly I found it a little patronising.

When we get to the key part of the book we are made to understand the strengths and pit-falls of both the replicator-first and system-first models for the chemical origin of life, before exploring the new argument of the book in the shape of chemical systems.

By the end of the book, as Pross expands the replication systems wider and wider, I felt very small and zen.

Maybe the highlight for me was Pross' statement that while replication is a key aspect of life, "to not replicate does not make you less alive, just a dead-end in a replicative system".

Cheers, Pross. Good to know.
Profile Image for Baraa Qudah.
177 reviews37 followers
April 18, 2017
very nice book

how could life arise from the matter ? how could they drives against the laws of stability ( the thermodynamic stability )

it explains very important concepts like DKS - dynamic kinetics stability - , homochirality ,replicators & systems chemistry , historical and ahistorical clues , and alot of points .

and it illustrate that biological evolution is a continuation to the chemical evolution .

and it a draw a lines of where we are now at understanding of life , what we could know at future , and what really we never would know .

there is no scientific technical details in this text , it focus on explaining the concepts & the processes in general , and i liked the repetition style of the ideas the author used .

it's a book of the type that will change yr way of seeing stuffs .

Profile Image for Armin Hashemi.
90 reviews
September 14, 2017
ترجمه روانی ندارد. از واژگان فارسی نامانوس استفاده کرده و بسیار لیترال ترجمه شده است. فعل ها در آخر جمله نیامده و دقیقا مانند جمله بندی انگلیسی ترجمه شده که خواندن را مشکل می کند. نام کتاب از حیات چیست شرودینگر گرفته شده که در واقع ادامه آن کتاب محسوب می شود.
Profile Image for Jason Downey.
70 reviews
August 12, 2015
A high school me who read this book may have gone on to become a biologist. Fascinating information, really well written, really accessible.
Profile Image for Sandeep Guguloth.
67 reviews3 followers
July 6, 2021
The discussions on the questions about the origin and meaning of life often tend to devolve into nothing more than arguments about the semantics of the topics. In my experience, this has especially been true when these topics come up for discussion with creationists. More often than not, people tend to assume that they know what they're talking about when they use words like entropy and consciousness. The problem is that it is easy to misinterpret such words, and so people who come across the terms in a YouTube video or a popular science article, end up being misinformed about their meanings, and then wrongly extrapolate their misunderstandings upon to topics such as the origin of life, eventually being left with faulty —and often completely meaningless— conclusions. This fast-spreading phenomenon is indeed quite unfortunate. I mostly blame the current state of science journalism for it, especially the so-called pop-sci part of it. It sometimes feels like the skill of popularizing science itself has become somewhat diluted these days, despite an explosion of science-popularizing avenues that have come up in recent years. I find it increasingly difficult to find contemporary popular science books that have the clarity of conveyance and the right amount of the human touch that the likes of Richard Feynman and Oliver Sacks have delivered in their works. I'm not expecting every popular science book to be of that standard, but simply lamenting the dismal trend that genre has taken over the past several years, which is a clear departure from the older books.

Well, luckily for me, this wasn't such a new pop-sci book and clearly reads different from most of them. The arguments are all cogent and well-put, the simplifications and analogies are not inane, and indeed the author points to the limitations of such analogies when they're inadequate in some way or the other. So, whether you agree or disagree with the hypotheses presented, it's just good literature and you'll most likely have a good reading experience from this book.

As Darwin himself pointed out in Origin of Species, the concept of natural selection cannot explain everything going back to the first primitive organism, often called LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor), and how it had eventually led up to the formation of other organisms. Hypotheses such as lateral evolution (DNA-sharing between different simple species), clumping together of single-celled organisms and symbiotic relationships between various life-forms and near-life-like-forms have been put forward over the last century and have been tested, rather unsuccessfully so far. This lack of success has led many to completely deny the validity of those hypotheses, and severely hesitant to even discuss them, going so far as to call those who don't believe, that natural selection goes back all the way to the beginning, as heretics. A famous example of one such heretic is eminent mathematician physicist Freeman Dyson, who has also written a book —a more academic one— on the origins of life. Unfortunately these disagreements among scientists have given people such as the creationists, and total-deniers of natural selection, a loophole (more like what they think is a loophole) to argue that this unexplained phenomenon must be of supernatural origin. The same kind of faulty logic is also sometimes applied to the question of entropy (why is there any life existing at all, if we live in a universe with the second law of thermodynamics?). This is why it is important to know concepts such as DKS (Dynamic Kinetic Stability), and the role external factors such as the availability of energy plays in the origin of life.

The book doesn't deliberately set out to answer the four big questions about life, viz., What is life? Why does life exist in our universe? How did life originate on Earth? How does one synthesize life in a laboratory? Instead, it explains the complexities involved in answering these questions, taking time to show the readers —while being mindful of each chapter's length— the history and philosophy of the research that tried to answer them. In doing so, it provides the readers a set if tools to understand ponder about the four questions, and even comes close to answering two of them. If you're interested in any of these questions, regardless of your academic background, this book is a must-read.
Profile Image for J TC.
131 reviews7 followers
February 8, 2021
Addy Pross - What is Life?
Addy Pross in his book “What if Life” makes an approach to essence of life’s origin. Answering to the question “What is life?”, we must understand how life could developed, how inorganic matter, matter that only responds to physics laws, namely the second law of thermodynamics (TD), and without denning it, how could it be possible to became teleonomic. As physicians like Eugene Wigner, Niels Bohr and Erwin Schrödinger had put it, “life is a nonsense because systems tend to simpler state while in biology systems manage to become more complex states. If we answer to this question “What is life?” and the where and the how shouldn’t be relevant (no matter what we would like to know how life starts on earth 4 billions ago, it would be at least archeological impossible to know, we may only guess, but understand the mechanisms his a task that we could accomplished).
Almost certainly we will never find those evidences of their pre-biotic era, a chemistry that allowed the development of life. Long had passed and certainly evidence is lost. But the chemistry of 4 billion years ago should be the same nowadays, and the sequences of replication, mutation, complexification, selection and evolution are still valid nowadays.
The basic idea all book long assumes that biology is chemistry. A special chemistry, a chemistry of systems. According to the author, in the primitive world molecules start to associate by that moment according to the classical chemistry one where stability where achieved at the lower level of energy. When that association gathered molecules of nucleotides of RNA, that chemical reaction became auto replicative, i.e., one molecule of RNA is capable without spending energy (in line with the 2th law of TD, and in opposition to DNA which needs an enzyme to copy) act as an template for itself and thereby originate another RNA molecule (Spiegelman; Walter Gilbert in 1986 tested this hypothesis in laboratory). These reactions tend to be with small molecules because smaller ones had evolution advantage since they could first compete for the substrate available. Since these molecules could auto-replicate more quickly and efficiently, this allowed the system to become more diverse with more diversity and complexity (experiments of Gerald Joyce). When systems become more complex a Darwinian mechanism starts to operate and molecules that could use other resources available would gain an evolutionary advantage since this one could be sustainable in his niche.
With that complexification several types of molecules auto-replicative and auto-catalytic metabolic cycles purely selected on Darwin selection mechanisms (Gerald Joyce experiments) gives the foundations to nowadays diversity, although it takes 4 billion years to reach.
Complexity in biology, unlike in inorganic materials is not arbitrary (it is extremely specific). If a rock loses a peace, it still is a rock. In a living being little alterations could be sufficient to deny the living condition. Life is chemistry, chemistry of replicating molecules and auto-catalytic systems, all in a network of life that has his replicative process as an the whole (Individuality is not a characteristic of life. It is an option) in its Dynamic Kinetic Stability (DKS).
With DKS the system is allowed to become more complex, more diverse and more stable in a state far from his stability and accomplishing the second law of TD. It passe from a stable chemical state, to another one also stable but far from his initial equilibrium.
These original molecules even if related with a particular chemistry are not life in itself. To become life they must be in control of their metabolic processes and must use the available energy of the surroundings. For that these auto-replicative networks must acquire photosynthesis or a similar to the Krebs cycle.
This book of Addy Pross thereby comes by two fundamental ideas. The first is that life origin is based in a chemistry of networks of replicative molecules always in compliance with the 2ª law of TD, with a DKS in which equilibrium is obtained in the turnover between the new and the old. Is this dynamic state that allows complexification and that’s why systems with great turnover (insects for instance) are more stable when compared with ones with a lower turnover (pandas for instance). The second idea of the book implies the existence of a system of complexification obtained through an chemical and biological Darwin selection of the fitness
Thereby life’s origin doesn’t need a programmed (Fred Hoyle), neither an extraterrestrial origin (panspermia of Svante Arrenius). It was only needed replicant RNA molecules and catalytic metabolic cycles, and energy gain mechanisms (photosynthesis and Krebs cycle). These where enough to the development of a teleonomic (with an agenda of his ones) and homeostatic equilibrium far from his starting point. As Carl Woese had put it, “organisms are resilient patterns in a turbulent flux of energy”.
So, and according to Addy Pross, the characteristics of life are: having an agenda of his one (teleonomic); is based in networks of auto-replicative molecules (RNA) and auto-catalytic metabolic processes; auto-replicative processes allows errors, mutation, evolution and survival of the fitness; accordance with the 2 law of TD, but in a state far from the initial equilibrium; state allowed by DKS with a constant renewal of his components. Everything that is not sustainable in this DKS is eliminated; predominance of achiral stats with predominance of molecules -L or -D (this asymmetry allows a greater stability to de the DKS - Kenso Soai experiments); respect for the second law of TD; evolution is replication, mutation, complexification, selection and evolution.
According Mond´s paradox, life is intriguing since a system that respects the second law of TD could not have teleonomic options. The answer to this paradox is based in the auto-replicative characteristics. But time was needed and 4 billion of years were needed for an atom to look upon the stars and learn how to speak.
Profile Image for Cybermilitia.
106 reviews23 followers
August 6, 2019
Dinamik Kinetik Kararlılık, otokatalitik reaksiyonlar gibi kimya ile biyoloji arasında evrim kuramı üzerinde yükselen bir bakış açısı olarak kitap güzel. Ama kavramlar birbirlerine girmiş durumda. Ve yazar bunun farkında değil ne yazık ki. Entropi ile bilgi arasında kurduğu zıtlık, kozmolojidekinin tam tersidir mesela. Enerji toplama ve kopyalamanın aynı anda olmasının yaşamı başlattığı düşüncesi inanılmaz sıradan. Metabolizmanın başlangıcını evrime dayandırması çok soyut kalıyor. Konu üzerinde sanki düşünmemiş gibi. Evrimin ereğinin DKK'yı arttırmak olması fikri yanlış. Ama yazar bunu göremiyor. Anlattığı 6-7 kavram daha sonra kullanılabilir. Ama ne yazık ki bu kadar bir kitap. :(
Profile Image for Donna Herrick.
544 reviews6 followers
December 2, 2020
If the theory of evolution leaves you with questions about how did we get life to begin with, then this book has an answer. Networks of self-replicating chemicals.

When I first started reading this book I was wondering if I had stumbled upon a screed about Intelligent Design. But that was merely the author spelling out the issues that we still face in understanding life, the universe and everything. In the end he posits a plausible theory of how self-replicating molecules can overcome the tendency of matter towards chaos.
2 reviews
May 14, 2020
Lise ve üniversite eğitiminde sayısal alandaysanız kitaptaki bilgiler sizin için wow etkisi yaratmayacaktır. Ancak tabii ki değişik bir bakış açısı kazanma şansı elde edebilirsiniz.
Profile Image for B.C. Chase.
Author 11 books31 followers
February 26, 2017
A thorough, honest, and engaging exploration of an extremely difficult question.
142 reviews6 followers
February 18, 2022
In 1944 Erwin Schrodinger published a little book with the title, ‘What is Life?’ Though, obviously not the first to pose this question, it is purported to have provided at least part of the inspiration to those, such as Watson and Crick, who would later go some way to answering it.

Addy Pross, though using the same title, adds the sub-title, ‘How Chemistry Becomes Biology’ and this is quite odd as he spends most of this very slim book attempting to persuade the reader of exactly the opposite; i.e. that biology is simply a sub set of chemistry, or at least its natural extension. His justification for this curious and, I imagine irritating – at least to biologists, strangely naïve claim is his depiction of the transformation from non-living to living matter as a two stage process the first of which, the abiological phase, which is governed, principally, according to the established laws of chemistry, results from the autocatalytic replication of organic molecules such as RNA resulting in replicating networks or primitive forms of embryonic proto-life. The second, biological, phase is governed by the ‘rules’ of evolution as elucidated by Darwin leading to an increase in organic complexity and the biodiversity we see today.

Furthermore, he suggests the very same evolutionary rules that underpin the existence and survival of all living things also governed the ‘persistence’ of these early organic molecules, which were ‘selected for’ according to their ‘fitness’ as replicators with fitness being determined largely by their relative dynamic kinetic stabilities (DKS): basically, those that could replicate the quickest and thus were more kinetically stable persisted longer, replicated more often and, as a result of mutations, gave rise to chemical diversity and increasingly more complex molecules the interactions of which produced the kind of ‘emergent properties’ postulated as being, at east potentially, characteristic of primitive forms of proto-life. In order to convince the reader of the plausibility of his hypothesis he provides, early on, a brief explanation of the philosophical basis of the ‘scientific method’; i.e. induction, and then proceeds, in a kind of ‘sleight of hand’ way, to outline his argument on the basis of this underlying assumed ‘inductive’ authority.

The book does revisit interesting questions and posits some potentially intriguing ways in which these might be answered. However, in no way, does it get anywhere near answering the basic question posed by its title and it would have benefitted hugely if its author had been a little more ‘up-front’ about this.

Finally, those readers who do not have, at least, some acquaintance with science and its often abstruse terminology, might find the book, though short in length, a little heavy going.
Profile Image for Aravindakshan Narasimhan.
74 reviews45 followers
July 3, 2017
Learned a lot. Coming from non scientific background, the book gave me introduction to many scientific phenomenon and schools.

Teleonomy, chirality, life's non equilibrium state in opposition to second law of thermodynamics, holism vs reductionism.

The author makes the book and concepts as readable and understandable as possible.

When explaining the difference between linear vs exponential he comes up with a famous legend- which I first read in a Indian context, here presented as a Chinese one (which is immaterial in any case) .

"If that
sounds too mathematical, let’s explain the difference by recounting
the classical legend of the Chinese emperor who was saved in battle
by a peasant farmer. When the emperor asked the farmer how he
could reward him, the farmer took out a standard chess board and
asked that he be rewarded with a quantity of rice, and that the
required quantity be established by a simple formula—placing a
single grain of rice on the first square, two grains on the second
square,four on the third,and soon, right through to the 64th square.
The request sounded absurdly modest and the emperor was sur-
prised that the peasant would be happy with such a small reward.
After all,how much rice could be needed?Half a sack,a wholesack?
But the truth is that the amount of rice needed to comply with the
peasant’s request is spectacularly large. Mathematically the total
number of grains of rice placed on the board would be 264– 1. That
works out at close to 21019 grains—that's a lot of rice;more than
could be found in the emperor’s cellars, as well as in all the world’s
Chinese restaurants, and, in fact, more than exists anywhere on the
entire planet. That quantity of rice, if it existed, would cover the
entire earth’s surface to a depth of several centimetres"

All this
while explaining the difference between catalysis and autocatalysis progression difference (earlier following linear, while latter following exponential)

But the last half of the book, when the author equates Darwin's evolution in 'his' system chemistry terms I felt he was extending it a bit too much, as well as I found it bit complex in places.

So, on the whole my 4 stars would be because of some other reasons than the main purpose, the book sets out to take.
Profile Image for Chris Branch.
559 reviews16 followers
May 30, 2013
If I'd read this book hoping to learn the actual sequence of events that led to the origin of life on Earth, I would have been disappointed. Luckily, I realize that if that kind of discovery had been made, I would have probably read about it already on a science blog somewhere. The Wikipedia article on abiogenesis, including all the various hypotheses that have been proposed, is long enough to almost qualify as a short book itself - so it's clear that there is no standard, generally agreed upon historical model.

So I was curious to see what exactly this book would add to the discussion, and in that, I was not disappointed. Pross spends a surprisingly large portion of this fairly short volume presenting and then more or less dismissing what I would have considered promising lines of research into the origin of life. But all this pessimism was really just a setup for his refreshingly simple and perhaps unexpected conclusion, that abiogenesis is (okay, I suppose this is technically a SPOILER) really just evolution - natural selection applied originally to molecules (chemistry) before it applied to organisms (biology). Yes, this is science that shades a bit into philosophy, but it's philosophy that's backed up with solid concepts, just the specifics are unknown.

It might have been nice if, after he'd shot down both the "replication first" and the "metabolism first" ideas, he'd come back to it later and proposed a concrete way that both might have come about together, since that would seem to have been the only option left! But that wasn't his purpose here; instead, he wanted to suggest that we can stop thinking of abiogenesis as something that required an as yet unknown process in order to occur; rather, it's just an extension of the survival of the fittest (most stable, in this case) from the world of biology down to the lower level world of chemistry. Pross does a fine job accomplishing this purpose, and no advanced scientific knowledge is required, so I can certainly recommend this concise book to anyone interested in the subject.
Profile Image for Mohammad Al Refaei.
127 reviews17 followers
November 16, 2018
ما هي الحياة؟ كيف نشأت؟ كيف تحولت التفاعلات الكيميائية إلى بيولوجية؟
أعتقد أنني هنا وضعت بعضاً من أصعب الأسئلة في علم الأحياء، إن لم يكن في كل فروع العلم على حدٍ سواء، وهي ليست صعبةً فقط بل وجوهرية وذات مكانة عميقة لدى الجميع.

إن محاولة الإجابة على هذه الأسئلةٍ تحدٍ أخذه على عاتقه مؤلف هذا الكتاب، وبالتحديد السؤالين الأول والثالث، ما هي الحياة وكيف تحولت الكيمياء إلى بيولوجيا.
في الواقع، مهمة الكاتب صعبة دون شك، فنحن كما يقول في كتابه، لا نعرف ما هي الحياة ولا كيف نشأت ولا متى أو أين على الأرض، لكنه يكرس نفسه ليجيب على الآلية لا على المواد، أي يحاول أن يعرف كيف تخطت التفاعلات الكيميائية العتبة الكيميائية إلى البيولوجيا ولا يهتم مثلاً بتحديد الفترة التي نشأت فيها الحياة ولا بماهية الظروف التي نشأت منها-وإن كان بحكم الضرورة يعرّج عليها أحياناً-.
ما أعجبني في الكتاب هو تو��ضع الكاتب العلمي، أي أنه يعترف بأننا لا نعرف، وفعلاً فنحن كما يقول ساجان، طفل بلل قدميه بمياه المحيط (والمحيط هنا هو العلم-أي أننا لا نعرف إلا أقل القليل-) فأشار الكاتب في متن كتابه إلى العقبات المعرفية والتقنية التي تعترض سبيل فهمنا لمعنى الحياة وتشكلها.

يُحسب للكتاب وجود رؤية متسقة فيه تتمحور كما يكتشف القارئ عن أهمية الثباتية الحركية الديناميكية والتضاعف والوساطة الذاتية للتفاعلات -وكلها مفاهيم يشرحها بشكل جيد وبتقديم أمثلة-وآمل أنني وفِقتُ في ترجمة المصطلحات العلمية في العبارة الماضية.

لكنني مع ذلك وجدت منه إغراقاً في شرح المفاهيم، فلك أن تتصور أنه أدرج فقرةً مطولةً يحاول فيها فهم معنى الفهم!
ناهيك عن التكرار الذي اعترى بعض الجوانب –لكنه لم يكن مزعجاً، بل أفاد أحياناً في تثبيت الفكرة وشرحها-.

لكن الأهم من ذلك، أن الاستنتاجات التي وصل لها فيما يخص الآلية التي نشأت بها الحياة لم تكن مقنعة، وأتمنى أن أوضح أكثر من ذلك لكن المقام لا يتسع لهذا، وباختصار فإن الآلية التي تحدث عنها غير مدعمة إحصائياً على أقل تقدير إذ أن نسبة حدوثها متناهية في الصغر فضلاً عن اعتماده على عدد كبير من الافتراضات جعل من رؤيته توقع لما "يمكن" أن يكون قد حدث أكثر من كونه آلية لتشكل الحياة.

ختاماً، الكتاب جيد، ويطرح مفاهيم جديرة بالنظر وبالبحث والتعمق، لكن لا بد لي من قراءة المزيد لأعطي حكماً أفضل على الكتاب ولكي-وهو الأهم-أن أفهم ماهية الحياة ونشاتها.
Profile Image for Tomislav.
958 reviews68 followers
January 19, 2015
I read this because it was book of the month on Goodreads.com's Science and Inquiry group, for January 2015. I had some concerns in the prologue and first chapter, because the author was emphasizing the seemingly unnatural nature of life, going so far as to refer to "nature's design." Design suggesting to me a designer. Then discussing teleonomy, the apparent purposefulness of life. Then referring to evolution as Darwinism, citing and critiquing original words by Charles Darwin. All in all, the book seemed to be navigating towards intelligent design. But that is not the case, this book is very much about abiogenesis, the natural origin of life.

So what is life? Pross's definition is "a self-sustaining kinetically stable dynamic reaction network derived from the replication reaction," and much of the book is in defining and justifying that terminology. My background in chemistry and biology is much less than in other sciences, so a lot of this was new to me. I would be one of those people who said biological life emerges out of the complexity of its constituent chemistry - but that is really just hand waving. In fact, it seems that complexity is the result of kinetically stable replicative chemical systems, rather than a cause.

An accurate grounding in the second law of thermodynamics and in the principle of natural selection is needed. I studied this relatively small and dense text pretty closely, and all the reasoning seemed sound to me. But I am not really in a position to judge how conventional or innovative Pross's thinking might be to those engaged in the field. It extensively explores the conceptual gaps between chemistry and biology. Definitely a good springboard into deeper study.
Profile Image for مُصطفىٰ إبراهيم.
9 reviews3 followers
July 18, 2022
‘I spent the afternoon musing on Life. If you come to think of it, what a queer thing Life is! So unlike anything else, don’t you know, if you see what I mean.’
بين هذا النقل عن الكاتب البريطاني الساخر وودهاوس وهذا النقل عن هوكينج الفيزيائي النظري الساخر أيضا
‘a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet’
يقع كتاب مؤلفنا بروفيسور الكيمياء بجامعة بن جوريون بالأراضي المغصوبة. الكتاب الذي لا أجد مفرًا من تقسيمه إلى جزئين، جزء أول يردد فيه بعض الحقائق العلمية والمنهجية بطريقة مبسطة للغاية وجزء ثان عبارة عن أحلام يقظة وليس أكثر من هذا، وهذه مشكلة كتب البيولوجيا النظرية ومثيلاتها في باقي العلوم الطبيعية والتي تجعلها بلا أي وزن في الوسط الأكاديمية = أنها تحكي أحلام يقظة مؤلفيها، والفرق بينها وبين مجلات الخيال العلمي هو شدة هذا الخيال ليس إلا.
ولنركز على الجزء الثاني ( من الفصل السادس إلى نهاية الكتاب) أو الجزء الحالم. وفيه يدعي مؤلفنا أنه وجد مفتاح أحجية الحياة الذي بإيجاده تم الربط بين الكيمياء والبيولوجيا للدرجة التي جعلت مبادئ داروين النظرية تنطبق على المركبات الجامدة، وهو إدعاء لا يخلو من كوميديا.
اخترع مؤلفنا مبدأً نظريًا أطلق عليه الاتزان الديناميكي الحركي (DKS) (جميع الأوراق المنشورة عن هذا الاختراع تحمل اسمه واسم جامعة بن جوريون) وفسّر به كل شيء بداية من تجمع المواد الضرورية لبناء النيوكليوتيدة إلى بناء (RNA) ذاتي التناسخ مرورا بجعله قادرا على جمع الطاقة (وهذه جريمة لمن يفهم الأيض وتعقيده) وصولا إلى الخلية الأولى التي تطورت داروينيا وتعقدت حتى أصبحت بشرا يكتب في البيولوجيا النظرية ولم يتبق شيء لم يُفسر بهذا الـ(DKS) إلا بطولات ريال مدريد الأربع عشر ولكن لعله يفسرها به في الإصدار القادم.
ولعلي أكتب مراجعة مفصلة لا تخلو من نقد عن هذا الكتاب في مدونتي الشخصية.
Profile Image for Engin Noyan.
22 reviews6 followers
July 9, 2020
Yaşamın ne'liğini felsefeden ziyade kimya perspektifinden bilimsel inceleyen akıcı, güzel çevrilmiş kitapta renklendirdiğim kimi cümleler:

"Doğa, kaosu düzene tercih eder ve dolayısıyla düzensizlik doğal düzendir.

Yaşamın çeşitliliği üremenin çeşitlenmesiyle başlar.

Kuşun kararsız bir durumda olduğu aşikardır. Kanat çırpmayı bırakırsa yere düşer.

Yaşam, yaşam olmayandan nasıl çıktı?

Dünyada yaşamın ortaya çıkışı zorunlu muydu yoksa rastlantısal mı?

Yaşamı eşsiz bir fenomen kılan, yaşamın malzemesi değil organizasyonudur.

Nasıl olur da amaçsız bir evrenden amaçlı sistemler ortaya çıkar?

Karmaşıklaşma, ağ oluşumu; bunlar fiilen bir ve aynıdır. Bu açıdan bakıldığındaysa yaşam, bir şey olmaktan çok bir süreçtir.

Cinsellik ilgimizi çeker; zaten de öyle olması gerekir. Cinsellik bize cinsel bireyler olarak, üreme açısından tam olmadığımızı söyler. Biyolojik bağlamda konuştuğumuzda bireyselliğimiz aslında yoktur. (...) Ama insan aynı zamanda duygusal olarak da noksandır ve çeşitli psikokojik unsurlar onu yine bu ağa bağlar. Başkalarıyla birlikte olmaya takıntılı bir gereksinim duyarız."

Ahh keşke, keşke bilimsel veriler felsefi ekollerle taçlandırılabilse, tamamlanabilse. Yine de güçlü, teşekkürler metis.
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