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What Is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches

4.12  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,432 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
Nobel laureate Erwin Schrodinger's What is Life? is one of the great science classics of the twentieth century. It was written for the layman, but proved to be one of the spurs to the birth of molecular biology and the subsequent discovery of DNA. What is Life? appears here together with Mind and Matter, his essay investigating a relationship which has eluded and puzzled p ...more
Paperback, 184 pages
Published March 26th 2012 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1944)
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I am convinced that theoretical physicists are the true mystics of our age. Being, on the whole, smart people, they have developed some useful tricks to reduce the occupational hazards of their calling; the most dangerous of these hazards is the ever-present possibility of being killed by an angry mob who object to having their normal view of the world unexpectedly turned upside-down. Mystics have always been in the habit of evading their pursuers by using language which is difficult for the uni ...more
Dec 22, 2009 DJ rated it really liked it  ·  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
Nov 06, 2012 Rajat Ubhaykar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chris Feldman
Aug 01, 2009 Chris Feldman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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."

Jul 25, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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.
Nick Black
Mar 23, 2008 Nick Black rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pound-for-pound, quite possibly the most exciting book (outside of math/CS textbooks) I've ever read. Every home should have a copy.
Philipda Luangprasert
Oct 02, 2014 Philipda Luangprasert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
-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.
Atlas Can
Dec 13, 2014 Atlas Can rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful book, a rare example of a scientist who's also a brilliant thinker. Ideas are lucid and explained even though he is dealing with paradoxes concerning both science and philosophy. Easily best scientific discourse on philosophy.
Foreword, by Roger Penrose

--What is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell
--Mind and Matter
--Autobiographical Sketches
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
I read this almost 10 years ago and it was time to reread and think on it some more.

This book consists of both What is Life and Mind and Matter. In What is Life, Schrödinger attempts to provide a new understanding of living organisms by using thermodynamics as a backdrop. Life seems so organized. If it were subject to the second law of thermodynamics, we would expect that molecules would decay to lower energy states. They do not. In fact they remain at higher energy states through the lifespan
Feb 20, 2014 Rama rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jason Yang
May 23, 2013 Jason Yang rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 07, 2012 Jonathan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
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
Zahra N.
Jun 24, 2016 Zahra N. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
شرودينگر ساينتيست اين بار كمى هم نقش فيلسوف به خودش مى گيره.
اون توى اين كتابِ [كه در واقع يك سخنرانى ست.] جذّاب و قابل فهم براى همه سعى كرده تفاوت هاى موجود زنده و غير زنده رو از نظر فيزيكى توضيح بده و اين كارش الهام بخش تحقيقات و اكتشافات بزرگى در حوزه ى زيست شناسى شده.
در پايان كتاب هم برآيند فلسفىِ توضيحات شُ به صورت مختصر شرح مى ده.

+ترجمه ى كتاب به هيچ وجه توصيه نمى شه. :-"
++ توصيه مى شه به افرادى كه دبيرستانُ تموم كردن.
Feb 20, 2015 Ibis3 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-standby
I'm reviewing this having read only the first section, What is Life? I'm putting the rest on stand-by and may not get to it any time soon since what I have is a library copy.

It wasn't quite what I expected, but I learned a bit about how quantum mechanics is actually at the base of what makes life possible (and not in a ridiculous Deepak Chopra way either). I can see why the field of molecular biology would be so fascinating to those who would come after, using Schrodinger's "aperiodic crystal" a
Aug 05, 2016 Amith rated it it was amazing
It is one of those books that acts as a bridge between biology, physics and chemistry, explained for a layman. Even then, I found some portions of the book a little difficult to comprehend. I think it is more to do with the sentence construction used in the book and not actually because of the complexity of the ideas conveyed. Complex ideas are explained in very simple manner, by using great analogies in various cases.

In all, it is a great book which, I believe, should be made available to high
Jim Razinha
Nov 02, 2012 Jim Razinha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Mitch Allen
Mar 31, 2013 Mitch Allen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 24, 2014 Philipp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology, philosophy
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
Evaldas Svirplys
May 09, 2016 Evaldas Svirplys rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'And what in fluctuating appearance hovers,
Ye shall fix with lasting thoughts.'-J.W.Goethe
Jan 08, 2016 Shane rated it liked it
I had to re-read a fair amount because I wasn't always sure that I was understanding what I was reading. I was inspired to read it by a book I read in 2013 titled What Is Life?: How Chemistry Becomes Biology by Addy Pross. Pross addressed the same question as Schrödinger in light of developments and discoveries since 1944. I found Pross easier to read but Schrödinger's book is fascinating. My favorite part by far was in the Mind and Matter section, chapter 6 The Mystery of the Sensual Qualities. ...more
Mar 25, 2016 Jake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To roughly paraphrase Schrödinger, 'Life is a 4D pattern that imbibes negative entropy to retain order'. The first half of this book is an exploration of life through the lens of the different fields of physics. Starting off with Classical Mechanics Schrödinger is intensely pessimistic toward's the possible newtonian explanation for life. As he moves up through the eras, he doesn't become any more optimistic it must be said. When he gets to quantum mechanics, the statistical model of QM does a m ...more
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
Jan 11, 2011 Mangoo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Sep 03, 2014 Michael Kenning rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
Mar 15, 2013 Necho rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 09, 2012 Iain rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 16, 2011 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 12, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...
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Goodreads Librari...: Combine Schrodinger books 2 12 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
  • The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origin of Language
  • The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution
  • On Growth and Form
  • One, Two, Three...Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science
  • Cybernetics: or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine
  • The Mathematical Theory of Communication
  • The Character of Physical Law
  • The Principles of Quantum Mechanics
  • Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order
  • The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?
  • Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature
  • Disturbing the Universe
  • The Insect Societies
  • What Mad Pursuit
  • Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe

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“The scientist only imposes two things, namely truth and sincerity, imposes them upon himself and upon other scientists.” 44 likes
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