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20161119 Life on the Edge (Quantum Biology)

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that live is not based exclusively at chemistry level, but that it rather based at lower level of elementary particles so laws of quantum mechanics had to be used if we to understand its nature and key difference between living and non living objects.

DETAILS:

  1. Introduction

This starts with an example of a robin. The bird is flying for thousands miles using highly developed orientation mechanism based on magnetic fields. The mystery is how exactly this mechanism works and it brings in an idea of insufficiency of chemical processes for explanation. The real explanation comes from quantum mechanics via process of fast triplet reaction that kind of connects electron level to chemical reactions level. This example is only one of many that demonstrate continuity of nature from one level as described by specific human modeling to another. Basically the point is that it is humans who have different models for different levels of understanding of nature so mechanics for big objects is analyzed separately from chemistry at molecular level, which in tern is analyzed separately from quantum mechanics at particles level, but live is a complex phenomenon that crosses multiple levels and therefore could be understood only via new modeling combining chemistry, biology and quantum mechanics.

  1. What is life?

While nobody really knows beyond typical answer that “we know it when we see it”, this chapter reviews some previous ideas like life force, which it rejects and tries to define it as a process qualitatively different from normal chaotic processes described by chemistry and molecular statistics. While at high level we have quite solid model of genetic replication and selection, we have a big whole below that because so far we cannot replicate process of creation of new cell from non-live materials, even if we can easily differentiate between living cell and dead cell. In short we can build new forms of live by manipulating genes in existing living materials, but we cannot recreate living material itself and this is the area where quantum biology is aiming.

  1. The engines of life

This is somewhat technical chapter about enzymes as engines of live, which are catalysts for all processes more or less explained by transition state theory (TST) and insufficiency of chemical explanation of live. The inference from this is the necessity to go to lower, quantum levels for explanation of a living cell processes by using quantum tunneling.

  1. The Quantum beat

This is highly simplified explanation of what actually is quantum mechanics in relation to particles / waves movement within living cells. Basically this is used to explain how captured photon’s energy is transferred into living biomass at microscopic level.

  1. Finding Nemo’s home

This is a bit different approach: using process of smelling, when minuscule amount of chemicals serves to transfer and decode information about environment, to demonstrate that understanding is not possible without involvement of quantum mechanics.

  1. The butterfly, the fruit fly and the quantum robin

This is return to author’s initial question of robin’s magnetic orientation with explanation based on quantum entanglement and spin.

  1. Quantum genes

This chapter reviews genetic transfer of information using just 4 keys: Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine, but then moves to reviewing quantum explanations for bond between them.

  1. Mind

It starts with the story of the Chauvet cave where some very ancient art was found representing one of the oldest samples of human consciousness. Author discusses kind of physiology of conversion of idea into human action and then moves on to neural networks and quantum computers where bit represented by qubit, which have more states and could therefore contain more information than a bit.

  1. How life began

This is an interesting approach to the process of the beginning of live. The point here is that there was probably a long, now completely disappeared, molecular scaffolds of primitive replicators that are a lot simpler than the most primitive living thing currently existing. Author believes that understanding of random creation of such super primitive replicators could come from quantum mechanics analysis.

  1. Quantum biology: life on the edge of a storm

The final chapter is about the place of quantum mechanics in general human modeling of environment and its explanatory and predictable power as it is related to live. Author provides somewhat unusual points on live vs. death as live being grounded at the quantum level and death meaning disconnection of living object from this level. It is nicely illustrated in these couple of pictures the first representing live and the second death:

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Another point here is that with future understanding of live at quantum level it will be possible to create live from the scratch, directly from non-live materials.

Epilogue: quantum life

The final point is that even if quantum mechanics level may not be as deeply linked with biology as presented in this book and many biological processes are fully explainable at higher, molecular level; the application of quantum mechanics to biology will still produce new and unexpected knowledge.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It seems to me that ideas presented in this book are mainly valid, just because division of nature into different levels analysis: mechanics, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics is nothing more than need to handle complexity of nature at the level accessible for human understanding, which is quite limited by evolutionary achieved level of complexity comprehension. The next step would probably be development much more powerful Artificial intelligence that would be to able analyze complexity of nature as whole, synthesize complex models of high predictability power and then dumb it down to the level of human understanding.

 


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