Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology - Johnjoe McFadden, Jim Al-Khalili I have a problem with most of the new science books that I've been reading lately. They really aren't saying anything new and when they do they seem to enter into woo woo land. The authors demonstrate nicely how certain biological processes such as the internal magnetic compass of a certain kind of Robin, the photosynthesis in plants, the universal energy currency of life: ATP, the enzyme process, and how the sense of smell can all be thought best in terms of quantum mechanics.

Those examples make up the first half of the book. My problem with the book is the second half. All objective knowledge can be broken down into the subatomic quantum mechanical level, but that doesn't mean they should be. The authors go off the rails and enter the land of woo with ascribing the origins of life, the genetic code in general and mutations in particular, and our consciousness as best understood by quantum mechanical processes. As much as the next person, I love the mysteries of the quantum world, but I don't want to reduce the process understudy down to that level unless it is absolutely necessary. I really get tired at how many authors (including these) refer to the problem of consciousness as the "hard problem". There have been many strides lately on understanding consciousness, but mixing it with the woo woo of physics the way a Depak Chopra would is never the right approach.

It is a pity. This book had a lot going for it in the beginning, because the authors as biologist really know how to explain the physics. The authors tell the listener in very clear terms what Feynman meant by "all the mysteries of physics are contained within the double slit experiment". (Everyone who reads books like this one should take the time and trouble and look up the Feynman Lectures on the Character of Physical Law on Youtube, seven of the happiest hours I ever spent). This book explains the double split experiment, the particle/wave duality, the measurement problem, and more specifically for the book, quantum tunneling, entanglement, coherence, and superposition. Also, the authors really knew how to explain the steps in the scientific process a biologist needs in order to reach coherent, consistent, and non-contradictory conclusions.

I'm still looking for new popular science books that teach me things I don't already know and which don't enter into the land of woo.