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What Is Life? with Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  6,149 ratings  ·  437 reviews
What Is Life? is a 1944 non-fiction science book written for the lay reader by physicist Erwin Schrödinger. The book was based on a course of public lectures delivered by Schrödinger in February 1943 at Trinity College, Dublin. Schrödinger's lecture focused on one important question: "how can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a li ...more
Paperback, 184 pages
Published January 31st 1992 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1944)
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Gerardo Avelar Except for a few (for example, he said that genetic material probably was a protein, but only because that was other scientist thought at the time), o…moreExcept for a few (for example, he said that genetic material probably was a protein, but only because that was other scientist thought at the time), overall they didn't "change", because he kept most of his essay right into the known facts of genetics; however, probably a better question would be "how accurate were his explanations or thoughts about the "physics of life"?" (independently of the double helix and further discoveries on genetics), question which I don't know how to answer properly since I'm not an expert.(less)

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Start your review of What Is Life? with Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches
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
Nov 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Orhan Pelinkovic
Many people give themselves the task to comprehend the present knowledge available in a particular field of their interest. This is not easy, but it seems like, Schrodinger, was capable of achieving this task, but not only this, he also created new knowledge in his field of profession of physics and introduced the wave function of a quantum mechanical system. His brilliance doesn't stop there, he foresees and describes what is yet to be discovered in other fields of study, genetics in particular ...more
Riku Sayuj
In 1943, a scientist, at one remove from the world of biology, gave a series of lectures in Dublin - called provocatively ‘What Is Life?’.

Erwin Schrödinger, had shared the Nobel prize in physics in 1933 for laying the foundations of wave mechanics. In his Dublin lectures, Schrödinger addressed what puzzled many students — why biology was treated as a subject completely separate from physics and chemistry: frogs, fruit-flies and cells on one side, atoms and molecules, electricity and magnetism, o
Infinite Jen
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Have you ever found yourself, in a fit of intense THC induced synesthesia, being unable to pry the taste of yellow from your tongue with a wire brush? What, you don't like banana runts? JOIN THE REST OF THE FUCKING NORMIES! No. Let me start again. Have you ever wondered what characteristics a thing must exhibit before it can be considered living? Then I’m about to persuade you to read this book by way of a tenuously connected piece of post apocalyptic fiction pertinent to our times, in which a p ...more
Riku Sayuj
Can Physics account fully for the mysteries of Biology? This is what Schrödinger wants to know. He ends up writing something half-mystical, half-radical and fully-confusing, as Manny says in another review to this book. Now the beauty of any sufficiently confusing book by a good/great scientist is that it is capable of triggering inspiration many times over.

These lectures which are mostly musings on a nascent new branch of science (genetics) in the light of another nascent new branch of science
Rajat Ubhaykar
Mar 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Chris Feldman
Jul 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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."

Nick Black
Mar 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Pound-for-pound, quite possibly the most exciting book (outside of math/CS textbooks) I've ever read. Every home should have a copy. ...more
Rama Rao
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Anastasia Tuple
Apr 01, 2018 rated it liked it
The first part was perfect for Physicists, Chemists, Engineers, etc; the second one was perfect for literature- and philosophy-lovers. So, all must be satisfied!
Alex Zakharov
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Schrodinger is a Trump of biology – “What is Life” has famously polarized scientific community, and Schrodinger’s 1944 thoughts on what will eventually become molecular biology are considered to be both prescient in direction and wrong in details. For example, Watson and Crick openly credit their intellectual debt to Schrodinger’s insights, whereas Max Perutz quips that “what was true in his book was not original, and most of what was original was known not to be true”.

Well, let me tell you one
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
E. G.
Foreword, by Roger Penrose

--What is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell
--Mind and Matter
--Autobiographical Sketches
Nati S
Do you know what it means to Understand?

It comes from an Old English word: understandan. The word consists of two parts: under and standan, which means to stand.

If you understand an object of thought, you stand above it i.e. you can see it through and inside out. You can manipulate its contents effortlessly and playfully.

After reading this, I can say that this man, Schrödinger, appears to truly understand the scientific take on Life.

Here is one of my favourite quotes form the book:

So we are fac
Oct 23, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Scientifically very out of date, often unclear and self-condradictory. Frequently descends into religio-metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. The autobiographical part completely superficial.
Adeyemi Ajao
Aug 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wish I had 6 stars to give here...and to think that Schödinger is famous for "his cat"! It is the first part of this book that has gotten most recognition over the years. Certainly, a framework for the rules of heredity, mutation and evolution that ultimately inspired Franklin, Watson and Crick to discover the double helix, deserves a lot of credit on its own. Moreover, Schödinger's intuition of statistical physics rules being unable to describe the processes of the chemistry & biology within ...more
First Hope
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A very short book, based on a series of his lectures on explaining the behaviour of living organisms, more specifically, the behaviour of their cells and the nervous systems using the discovered, or to-be-discovered laws of physics. There are two two chapters on Vedanata and the lessons Schrödinger learned from the Upanishads. Keeping aside the two chapters the rest of the chapters too in a way reflect his understanding of Vedanta.
Philipda Luangprasert
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
Regarding energy, this book has negative entropy therefore adding order to human knowledge. It also provoked a profitable and permanent mutation on science. This Schrodinger guy was witty and every sentence in this text has a purpose; it was a great pleasure read such lucid reflection.
Krish Sanghvi
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books which can give new ideas to anyone. No wonder Watson and crick discovered [plagiarised] the structure of DNA shortly after reading this book (causality? Maybe). A physicist explaining biology is what this book is about. The central premise of this book is the question "can physics and chemistry account for all that happens in biology". At first sight, one may say yes, because well, it has to! But then schrodinger come in and tells us how our answer is flawed and points ...more
May 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 06, 2012 rated it liked it
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
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Definitely dated but obviously on the right path, this book combines biology, physics, and chemistry to try an answer the question of how if it's so small our genetic molecules defy natural law and act in a uniform manor. So step by step the the reader is hand held with all the complicated maths tucked away and only brought out when absolutely necessary to avoid that awfulness until at the end one is left with an interesting proposition: what kind of weird law defying miracle are made of?
Jul 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
It is rare and great when someone ventures beyond his/her field and actually says something meaningful – as Schrodinger did here. The first half is directly preparing and anticipating the discovery of DNA. His approach is along the understanding of very small, yet stable, molecules in terms of quantum, entropy, and statistical physics. With the DNA discovery, this first half of the book is less relevant today. The second part of the book is far more interesting and mainly stays under the influen ...more
Piyush Yadav
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Epochs in the physicist's world and eternalness of mathematical truth, combined with the general person's innate curiosity towards life, meeting at intersections of evolutionary biology and philosophy,
It offers a quite honest, unique and refreshing perspective to the physicist's understanding of life, especially, while leading to the debate on consciousness and mind, where the battle supposedly has to include the wisdom traditions of east or mysticism, or more specifically the unified theory in
Niccolò Ceresa
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: divulgazione
a totally recommended book: a clear and precise mind that describe in a very effective way the connections between physic (both quantum and mechanic) and biology.

The fact that this book was written before the discovery of DNA is not a big deal: all the major concepts remain unchanged.
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Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger, sometimes written as Erwin Schrodinger or Erwin Schroedinger, was a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist who developed a number of fundamental results in the field of quantum theory, which formed the basis of wave mechanics: he formulated the wave equation (stationary and time-dependent Schrödinger equation) and revealed the identity of his development o ...more

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