Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Life on the Edge: Quantum Biology

How did life begin, and how likely is it elsewhere? Scientists JohnJoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili explore this topic, among others, in LIFE ON THE EDGE, (the “edge” being the cutting edge of science, where the truth is not known for certain, but theories are being debated.) Able to intrigue both geeks and laymen alike because it is written from the point of view of both, this audiobook rewards effort at understanding with cogent lessons on the chemistry (and, surprisingly, the physics) of life. There are surprises along the way, too. Most importantly, there is no agenda here to support a theory, and the authors are clear in proposing their own theory that they are still in the early stages of this new science of quantum biology. No one can yet prove in the laboratory how life came to be, or reproduce it from the elements present on the early Earth. (The odds of creating a self-replicating cell from scratch are astronomical.) But what if, the authors ask, early RNA produced DNA using methods other than blind chance repetition? What if there were quantum forces at work in selection of materials? Then life may have arisen to explode across the planet within the admittedly “narrow" time frame of several billion years. Densely packed with data taken from experiments, the authors weave the story of how science works, how it knows what it does, and where the arrows are pointing. It makes no effort to dismiss religious beliefs, and points out that quantum mechanics has been used in the past by pseudo-scientists to validate strange things (take the book “The Secret” for example, whose author knew next to nothing about quantum mechanics or tunneling in writing it.) Here it is very different, in that the authors do not claim to have all the answers, but instead show where their research is leading. Strange for sure, but quantum mechanics is strange---and yet has been proven to be true and reproducible as a law of physics. Read with interest and an appropriate engagement of curiosity by Pete Cross, the audiobook also covers other areas of biology and machine intelligence, including the mystery of consciousness and the quantum nature of the human brain itself. Recommended to anyone who really wants to know what science does on these subjects. AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH.   
Also new.

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