- File Size: 10308 KB
- Print Length: 370 pages
- Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (July 28, 2015)
- Publication Date: July 28, 2015
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00RKO0KWM
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,648 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Print List Price:||$18.00|
Save $5.01 (28%)
Random House LLC
Price set by seller.
Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology Kindle Edition
|New from||Used from|
Explore your book, then jump right back to where you left off with Page Flip.
View high quality images that let you zoom in to take a closer look.
Enjoy features only possible in digital – start reading right away, carry your library with you, adjust the font, create shareable notes and highlights, and more.
Discover additional details about the events, people, and places in your book, with Wikipedia integration.
Ask Alexa to read your book with Audible integration or text-to-speech.
|Length: 370 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
|Page Flip: Enabled||
Switch back and forth between reading the Kindle book and listening to the Audible book with Whispersync for Voice. Add the Audible book for a reduced price of $7.49 when you buy the Kindle book.
- Due to its large file size, this book may take longer to download
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Customers who bought this item also bought
"The elemental provocation of the book lies in the authors' ability to make the complex conceivable... McFadden and Al-Khalili give sure footing to the anything-goes bafflement of quantum theory." —Kirkus Reviews
"McFadden and Al-Khalili draw readers into a revolutionary new paradigm. . . An intellectually exhilarating visit to the baffling frontiers of science!" —Booklist [starred]
"The book elegantly opens up a new way of looking at nature." —The Independent; “Books of the Year”
"A really original science book about a new field of research ... Groundbreaking." —Financial Times, “Books of the Year”
"Coherence is just one of the complex phenomena that Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden set out to teach the reader. They succeed by using delightfully revealing analogies and similes, some borrowed from their prior work, that make slippery concepts sit still for study." —The Economist
"Hugely ambitious ... the skill of the writing provides the uplift to keep us aloft as we fly through the strange and spectacular terra incognita of genuinely new science." —The Times (UK)
"Physicist Jim Al-Khalili and molecular biologist Johnjoe McFadden explore this extraordinary realm with cogency and wit." —Nature Magazine
"This thrilling book is an overview of a field that barely exists ... Al-Khalili has a genius for illustrating complex ideas via imaginative sidetracks." —The Sunday Telegraph
“The great virtue of this book is its thesis – it sets out a clear and enthusiastic argument for the importance of quantum biology.” —New Scientist
"Life on the Edge gives the clearest account I've ever read of the possible ways in which the very small events of the quantum world can affect the world of middle-sized living creatures like us. With great vividness and clarity it shows how our world is tinged, even saturated, with the weirdness of the quantum." —Philip Pullman
"This illuminating account of an important new field is a wonderfully educative read." —A C Grayling
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The winter frost has arrived early this year in Europe and there is a penetrating chill in the evening air. Buried deep within a young robin's mind, a once vague sense of purpose and resolve grows stronger.
The bird has spent the past few weeks devouring far more than her normal intake of insects, spiders, worms and berries and is now almost double the weight that she was when her brood flew the nest back in August. This extra bulk is mostly fat reserves, which she will require as fuel for the arduous journey upon which she is about to embark.
This will be her first migration away from the spruce forest in central Sweden where she has lived for the duration of her short life and where she reared her young chicks just a few months ago. Luckily for her, the previous winter was not too harsh, for a year ago she was not yet fully grown and therefore not strong enough to undertake such a long journey. But now, with her parental responsibilities discharged until next spring, she has only herself to think about, and she is ready to escape the coming winter by heading south to seek a warmer climate.
It is a couple of hours after sunset. Rather than settle for the night, she hops in the gathering gloom to the tip of a branch near the base of the huge tree that she has made her home since the spring. She gives herself a quick shake, much like a marathon runner loosening up her muscles before a race. Her orange breast glistens in the moonlight. The painstaking effort and care she invested in building her nest--just a few feet away, partially hidden against the moss-covered bark of the tree trunk--is now a dim memory.
She is not the only bird preparing to depart, for other robins--both male and female--have also decided that this is the right night to begin their long migration south. In the trees all around her she hears loud, shrill singing that drowns out the usual sounds of other nocturnal woodland creatures. It is as though the birds feel compelled to announce their departure, sending out a message to the other forest inhabitants that they should think twice before contemplating invading the birds' territory and empty nests while they are gone. For these robins most certainly plan to be back in the spring.
With a quick tilt of her head this way and that to make sure the coast is clear, she takes off into the evening sky. The nights have been lengthening with winter's advance and she will have a good ten hours or so of flying ahead of her before she can rest again.
She sets off on a course bearing of 195° (15° to the west of due south). Over the coming days she will carry on flying in, more or less, this same direction, covering two hundred miles on a good day. She has no idea what to expect along the journey, nor any sense of how long it will take. The terrain around her spruce wood is a familiar one, but after a few miles she is flying over an alien moonlit landscape of lakes, valleys and towns.
Somewhere near the Mediterranean she will arrive at her destination; although she is not heading for any specific location, when she does arrive at a favorable spot she will stop, memorizing the local landmarks so that she can return there in the coming years. If she has the strength, she may even fly all the way across to the North African coast. But this is her first migration, and her only priority now is to escape the biting cold of the approaching Nordic winter.
She seems oblivious to the surrounding robins that are all flying in roughly the same direction, some of which will have made the journey many times before. Her night vision is superb, but she is not looking for any landmarks--as we might were we making such a journey--nor is she tracking the pattern of the stars in the clear night sky by consulting her internal celestial map, as many other nocturnal migrating birds do. Instead, she has a rather remarkable skill and several million years of evolution to thank for her capacity to make what will become an annual autumn migration, a trip of some two thousand miles.
Migration is, of course, commonplace in the animal kingdom. Every winter, for instance, salmon spawn in the rivers and lakes of northern Europe, leaving young fry that, after hatching, follow the course of their river out to sea and into the North Atlantic, where they grow and mature; three years later, these young salmon return to breed in the same rivers and lakes where they spawned. New World monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles southward across the entire United States in the autumn. They, or their descendants (as they will breed en route), then return north to the same trees in which they pupated in the spring. Green turtles that hatch on the shores of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic swim across thousands of miles of ocean before returning, every three years, to breed on the exact same eggshell-littered beach from which they emerged. The list goes on: many species of birds, whales, caribou, spiny lobsters, frogs, salamanders and even bees are all capable of undertaking journeys that would challenge the greatest human explorers.
How animals manage to find their way around the globe has been a mystery for centuries. We now know that they employ a variety of methods: some use solar navigation during the day and celestial navigation at night; some memorize landmarks; others can even smell their way around the planet. But the most mysterious navigational sense of all is the one possessed by the European robin: the ability to detect the direction and strength of the earth's magnetic field, known as magnetoreception. And while we now know of a number of other creatures that possess this ability, it is the way the European robin (Erithacus rubecula) finds her way across the globe that is of greatest interest to our story.
The mechanism that enables our robin to know how far to fly, and in which direction, is encoded in the DNA she inherited from her parents. This ability is a sophisticated and unusual one--a sixth sense that she uses to plot her course. For, like many other birds, and indeed insects and marine creatures, she has the ability to sense the earth's weak magnetic field and to draw directional information from it by way of an inbuilt navigational sense, which in her case requires a novel type of chemical compass.
Magnetoreception is an enigma. The problem is that the earth's magnetic field is very weak--between 30 and 70 microtesla at the surface: sufficient to deflect a finely balanced and almost frictionless compass needle, but only about a hundredth the force of a typical fridge magnet. This presents a puzzle: for the earth's magnetic field to be detected by an animal it must somehow influence a chemical reaction somewhere in the animal's body--this is, after all, how all living creatures, ourselves included, sense any external signal. But the amount of energy supplied by the interaction of the earth's magnetic field with the molecules within living cells is less than a billionth of the energy needed to break or make a chemical bond. How, then, can that magnetic field be perceptible to the robin?
Mysteries, however small, are fascinating because there's always the possibility that their solution may lead to a fundamental shift in our understanding of the world. Copernicus's ponderings in the sixteenth century on a relatively minor problem concerning the geometry of the Ptolemaic geocentric model of the solar system, for instance, led him to shift the center of gravity of the entire universe away from humankind. Darwin's obsession with the geographical distribution of animal species and the mystery of why isolated island species of finches and mockingbirds tend to be so specialized led him to propose his theory of evolution. And German physicist Max Planck's solution to the mystery of blackbody radiation, concerning the way warm objects emit heat, led him to suggest that energy came in discrete lumps called "quanta," leading to the birth of quantum theory in the year 1900. So, could the solution to the mystery of how birds find their way around the globe lead to a revolution in biology? The answer, bizarre as it may seem, is: yes.
But mysteries such as this are also a haunt of pseudoscientists and mystics; as the Oxford chemist Peter Atkins stated in 1976, "the study of magnetic field effects on chemical reactions has long been a romping ground for charlatans."1 Indeed, all manner of exotic explanations, from telepathy and ancient ley lines (invisible pathways connecting various archaeological or geographical sites that are supposedly endowed with spiritual energy) to the concept of "morphic resonance" invented by the controversial parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake, have at some point been proposed as mechanisms used by migratory birds to guide them along their routes. Atkins's reservations in the 1970s were thus understandable, reflecting a skepticism prevalent among most scientists working at that time toward any suggestion that animals might be able to sense the earth's magnetic field. There just did not seem to be any molecular mechanism that would allow an animal to do so--at least, none within the realms of conventional biochemistry.
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Thanks and congratulations to Jim and Johnjoe!
The authors not only reviewed many studies about physics and biology, but also cited many other books and discussions on the topic of life. These cited materials also very helpful. I have since read several other books on the topic, and formed my own idea about what life is.
Top international reviews
Life on the Edge was coauthored by McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili at the end of 2014. In those 14 years, quantum biology has progressed from wild speculation to mainstream, due in part to the work of these authors, and it is interesting to compare the two books.
Compared with Quantum Consciousness, the chapter on Quantum Genetics has been both tightened up and made more tentative. The proposed mechanism for directed mutation, using the inverse Zeno effect, has been clarified and restricted. There is no longer any special appeal to the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. The authors have rowed back significantly from ideas that quantum mechanics is generally a major driver of mutation, which is a shame as it has the potential to explain some tricky bottlenecks in evolution.
Similarly, the chapter on Mind is much more believable. The authors start by discussing Roger Penrose's ideas, such as the ability of the mind to bypass the Goedel theorem by being a quantum computer. Fortunately they do not undermine their own credibility by taking these ideas too seriously, and in fact their analysis is a very clear critique of Penrose's. Their proposed role for quantum mechanics in ion channels seems very plausible.
I am not very persuaded by the proposed link between consciousness and electromagnetism. A human has a psychological and social need to be able to explain their own decisions, and this explanation is generally in terms of a sequential narrative. There is no necessity for this narrative to match what actually happens in the brain, except in its inputs and outputs. A brain is a black box to its owner almost as much as to others. Electromagnetism is a possible way for the mind to work in a synchronised way, but whether or not this happens is independent of the nature of consciousness. Moreover, it is not clear how this relates to quantum mechanics, except very indirectly. McFadden's earlier book Quantum Consciousness tries to make the connection, though in a hand-wavy and not very plausible way. I can see why he has dropped this idea, though I think he could have removed all the references to electromagnetic theories of consciousness from this book altogether. They belong in a different book.
The chapter on the beginnings of life is greatly clarified compared with similar ideas expressed in Quantum Evolution. The problem with any understanding of the beginnings of life is that there is a period of about 100 million years where somehow, somewhere on the Earth (or just maybe, in space) life began. Presumably this happened because a self-replicating molecule appeared, which mutated and evolved into a modern eukaryotic cell. Trying to identify the original molecule just by looking at modern cells is difficult or even impossible. Replicating the start of the process might take an ocean of water and 100 million years, which makes it a tricky experiment. Until either of these is done, we have no way of knowing what the first self-replicators were or even how complex they had to be. At least, McFadden and Al-Khalili show how the incredible search capabilities of quantum mechanics could help achieve the first step, of constructing the first self-replicating molecule.
The overall gist of the book is that life is a consequence of the boundary between quantum mechanics and classical physics, which seems to be key to many of the most important processes in biology, from photosynthesis to respiration and scent. It is hard to disagree with these conclusions. Time for biologists to learn some quantum mechanics.
Halfway through the book I am starting to find newer information and at least learning something new so its probably worth reading but so far a poor example of popular science writing. I would in fairness give his co-author the benefit of the doubt as the faults in the book coincide so neatly with the faults in Khalil's TV presentations, and in the few other books by this author I have read.
I think this is an important book and I wish I had the mathematical skill to delve further into this important and fascinating subject.
Don't be put off please. Read this and be amazed at the progress of understanding our theoretical and experimental scientists have made in just the last few years. Thankyou to the authors
The authors are very fair about pointing about these uncertainties and generally explain things well, although I have a few criticisms:
The introduction to QM could be better as it doesn't explain properly the concepts of decoherence, entanglement and measurement and how they are related to each other. Instead they start off with measurement as wave-function collapse, and then talk about decoherence as a kind of "measurement by the environment", which it sort of is, but this all needs a bit more explanation, which could still be done in plain English without maths. None of this affects their main arguments I don't think, but might be misleading.
Also potentially very misleading is that a reader who didn't know better might get the impression that they were claiming that life uses QM "magic" to violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. I certainly hope they aren't claiming that!
And finally the chapter on consciousness is pretty much pure apple-sauce, with no more reasoning behind it than the Principle of the Conservation of Spookiness.
But at the end of the day it's still a thoroughly interesting and scientific book which is highly recommended!
So here it goes - a flash of a new world, like Alessandro Volta have seen a few centuries ago. It's fascinating and I hope this is a kick for whole new thinking. Book full of thoughts and questions, not the answers. We have to wait, sadly. This is a world of our children.
Although it is far from perfect this book will provide interest and inspiration for many with an enquiringly mind.
It opens the door to some exciting new possibilities..