What Is Life? with Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches | Erwin Schrödinger

Summary of: What Is Life? with Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches
By: Erwin Schrödinger


Take a dive into the world of Erwin Schrödinger’s ‘What Is Life? with Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches’, a compelling exploration of the complexity of life, identity, and consciousness. Through this book summary, you’ll be introduced to Schrödinger’s thought-provoking ideas on why atoms are so small and how life forms are able to defy entropy through their intricate systems. Gain insights into the nature of consciousness, the role it plays in our evolution, and how it may hold the key to advancing our species. Embrace the challenging questions and profound ideas offered in this summary as we delve into the fundamental mysteries of life!

Why Are Atoms So Small?

In his lecture, Schrödinger asked why atoms are so small compared to living organisms. The answer lies in the behavior of individual atoms, which is disorderly and unpredictable, and only start to behave according to statistical laws when grouped in large numbers. For organisms to function properly, their parts must behave in an orderly way and obey strict physical laws. If all the atoms inside an organism were constantly responding to every force at once, the organism would cease to function. Thus, for an organism to benefit from the statistical laws that govern large groups of atoms, its body must be comparatively large.

The Power of Small

Living organisms are composed of atoms that prevent erratic behavior, ensuring stable behavior. But small groups of atoms, too small to follow exact statistical laws, dictate the development and function of organisms. The ontogeny of an organism, from fertilized egg to maturity, is determined by a small part of the nucleus called the chromosome which contains genes that determine the organism’s properties. The chromosome structure provides instructions and works towards the development of the organism. Small structures have a significant impact on the overall behavior of living organisms.

Quantum Theory and the Sudden Leaps in Evolution

Genes are remarkably stable over time, but the small number of atoms they are made of tend to be disorderly. Evolution occurs through discontinuous changes called mutations, which are less like Darwin’s smooth, small changes and more like the sudden leaps of quantum theory. Atoms bond together to form molecules, and a molecule could change its configuration on the same timescale at which evolution occurs. A gene is like a huge molecule that can only change through large and infrequent jumps.

Life and Order

In his lectures, Schrödinger describes the concept of negative entropy, or order, that is vital to life. While classical physics would call order from order impossible, living organisms violate the principle of entropy by avoiding disorder and generating order. Life operates according to the dynamic principle, where order is obtained from order. Living organisms are built from particular solids called aperiodic crystals that are like cogs in an organic machine and allow them to avoid entropy. Schrödinger calls these crystals the finest masterpiece ever achieved along the lines of the Lord’s quantum mechanics. Schrödinger’s ideas played an important role in the discovery of DNA, as Francis Crick, influenced by these ideas, worked out the helical structure of DNA with James Watson and won the Nobel Prize.

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