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The New Science of Life
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A scientist argues persuasively that both life and consciousness are quantum phenomena.

McFadden (Biology/Univ. of Surrey) has set himself daunting tasks—to account both for the genesis of life and for consciousness and volition. Throughout, he employs the rhetorical device of an alien spacecraft visiting Earth to determine if life exists and, if so, how it functions. Like any good essayist, the author first dismantles the theories of others before erecting his own, so thinkers from Aristotle to Stephen Jay Gould feel the tip of his crowbar seeking purchase beneath their work. Yet he also finds in his predecessors both the materials and the tools he requires to proceed. He fashions a number of stunning metaphors and analogies that illuminate some of the darkest corners of his theory. There is a dazzling mathematical conception of how to breed a monkey that could type Hamlet. He takes us aboard a miniature submarine (as in Fantastic Voyage) and leads us inside an E. coli bacterium to observe the cell operating by quantum principles. He reveals that “Nothing remotely approaching a self-replicating molecule has yet been produced” in any of the “primordial soup” experiments designed to approximate the conditions when life presumably first arose. He argues that quantum theory, however, can explain the development of such a molecule, the remote ancestor of DNA. McFadden succeeds most admirably in his explanations of the paradoxes inherent in the quantum world—a world characterized by uncertainty, apparent randomness, multiple universes, and an absence of causality. But he shows how the concepts of biological evolution and natural selection make even greater sense when their operations are explained at this deep quantum level. He ends with an impressive discussion of consciousness, employing the metaphor of a miner in 1897 standing at the foot of the Chilkoot Pass and considering an advance into the Yukon to look for gold.

Challenging but invariably eloquent and elegant answers to the most fundamental questions of all: What is life? What is mind? (12 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-05041-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001


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