What Is Life? Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: What Is Life? compresses a series of lectures given by the notorious physicist Erwin Schrödinger, and is a compelling research on how science, especially biology, chemistry and physics account for the ongoing process that the human body undertakes to simply exist and live.

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Favorite quote from the author:

Life is a miraculous thing. Throughout history, many scientists, religious leaders, and essentially all humans have tried to come up with logical reasoning to explain it. Fast forward to the current days, people are still debating its origins and evolution in time, yet we’ve discovered a few key aspects about it that can help us conduct the research forward. 

However, once in a while, a genius like Erwin Schröedinger comes up with something remarkable and sheds some light on some of humanity’s biggest questions. His comprehensive lectures on how our mind, matter, and consciousness are interconnected are now summed up under What is Life? which offers valuable insights on the scientific side of life. 

Here are my three favorite lessons from the book:

  1. Atoms behave in a disorderly way until they bond and form special connections.
  2. The human species evolved by making infrequent leaps forward and mutating itself.
  3. Consciousness is the most elevated mechanism humans have, and it functions in a remarkable way. 

Although these lessons don’t make much sense now, as we dive deeper into them they’ll become more clear and reveal quite interesting insights. Here we go!

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Lesson 1: Atoms define our world, and they function in a remarkable way

Everybody’s heard about atoms. But what are they, really? Essentially, they’re the tiniest part of any surrounding thing you can get your eyes on, and the way they function isn’t anything short of outstanding. Just think about it: everything you are, you touch or see, is made of atoms. They don’t have much relevance if you take them one by one, but together they form our world

Although they don’t really follow an orderly way of functioning, nor any physical laws alone, once they get together in little clusters or molecules, they change their behaviour according to statistical law. In other words, they start following rules and change their orientation as a group. Their group defines what form they’ll take and what is their purpose.

To influence the overall behavior of organisms and follow a specific direction as an average, atoms must form huge groups. Still, tiny groups can have a significant influence. The most relevant example is a group of just a few million atoms forming a gene, which in turn is a part of a chromosome. 

Genes play a role of utmost importance in your life, as they determine your development from the stage of a fertilized egg to maturity. Moreover, genes provide the blueprint and design of your entire being, along with practical implementation. This whole process happens at a microscopic level, but it affects your entire life – that’s how remarkable and important atoms are!

Lesson 2: Our evolution in time is based on quantum jumps that mutate the body in a positive way

Charles Darwin promoted a large misconception about evolution. He stated that organisms develop in time by smooth, small changes that occur in a continuous and accidental way. Unfortunately, this theory proved to be wrong. In fact, evolution takes place in a much different way.

Discontinuous changes, also called mutations, are responsible for the evolution of organisms. So how does it all happen? Consider the scientific premise that small systems can only possess a certain amount of energy. To grow their energy levels and thus evolve into a better version, the system must take a huge leap forward or a “quantum” leap.

In this process, there’s no intermediary changes, nor a continuous and undergoing development, as Darwin concluded. Instead, these changes occur almost accidentally, and very rarely. What’s fascinating about this process is its close resemblance with the quantum theory, which states that atoms attach to each other to form molecules and they form specific configurations. 

To break their pattern and form new configurations, they must be brought to a new temperature, and even so, it can take up to thousands of years for a molecule to do such a jump, just like in the process of human evolution. As such, the time scale between the quantum theory of molecules and human evolution is the same. Our genes take those infrequent quantum jumps as frequently as molecules do to change their configurations. How fascinating!

Lesson 3: Consciousness is a remarkable trait of humans and it functions separately from sensations

Consciousness is a trait only humans possess among all living organisms. It separates us from animals and it elevates our organisms significantly. This outstanding mental mechanism helps us survive by producing responses to a large variety of situations and behaviours to match them, according to Schroedinger. 

Of course, involuntary processes like breathing, blinking, or routine processes like brushing your teeth are not the responsibility of your active side of the brain. As such, a behavior is considered conscious only if an external force acts upon you and makes you change that behavior. Seems complicated? Let’s make it easier! Think about walking on the street. You don’t actively think about how to do it, but if suddenly an obstacle pops up, you’re looking for ways to avoid it. That’s active thinking! 

Understanding consciousness brings us one step closer to understanding evolution. Humans evolved because they were interacting with each other and their environments, thus training their minds and elevating their consciousness. Nowadays, the things we learn from an early age weren’t even heard of even tens of years back. To advance as a species, humanity’s consciousness must always evolve.

The What Is Life? Review

What is Life? explores the idea of life from a scientific point of view and presents an easy-to-follow perspective on human evolution. By merging years of research with some aspects from Darwin’s theory, quantum physics, and his famous lectures, Erwin Schroedinger manages to conduct thorough research on this intriguing subject. Reading this book will widen your perspective on life overall, how the brain works, why atoms are spectacular in the way they function, quantum theory, and many other fascinating aspects.

Who would I recommend the What Is Life? summary to?

The 30-year-old scientist who is fascinated by quantum physics, the 35-year-old person who is curious about the world and has a passion for science, or the 65-year-old retired person who wants to learn about the fascinating aspects of life from a scientific point of view and has the time for it.

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