What is Life - Mind and Matter

A review of What is Life - Mind and Matter by Rob Mason

Life is built on Chemistry - Vital Processes of Life are Chemical Reactions: Antoine Lavoisier

One point that Schrödinger makes in What is Life? is about the absence of the human personality: "It is difficult for us to take stock of the fact that the localization of the personality, of the conscious mind, inside the body is only symbolic, just an aid for practical use. Let us, with all the knowledge we have about it, follow such a 'tender look' inside the body.  We do hit there on a supremely interesting bustle or, if you like, machinery. We find millions of cells of very specialized build in an arrangement that is unsurveyably intricate but quite obviously serves a very far-reaching and highly consumate mutual communication and collaboration: a ceasless hammering of regular electro-chemical pulses which, however change rapidly in their configuration, being conducted from nerve cell to nerve cell, tens of thousands of contacts being opened and blocked within every split second, chemical transformations being induced and maybe other changes as yet undiscovered. All this we meet and, as the science of physiology advances, we may trust that we shall come to know more and more about it. But now let us assume that in a particular case you eventually observe several efferent bundles of pulsating currents, which issue from the brain and through long cellular protusions (motor nerve fibres), are conducted to certain muscles of the arm which, as a consequence, tends a hesitating, trembling hand to bid farewell - for a long, heart-rending separation: at the same time you may find that some other pulsating bundles produce a certain glandular secretion so as to veil the poor sad eye with tears. But nowhere along this way from the eye through the central organ to the arm muscles and the tear glands - nowhere, you may be sure, however far physiology advances, will you meet the personality, will you ever meet the dire pain, the bewildered worry within this soul, though their reality is to you so certain as though you suffered them yourself - as in actual fact you do!

Now our skulls are not empty. But what we find there, in spite of the keen interest it arouses, is truly nothing when held against the life and emotions of the soul.

To become aware of this may in the first moment, upset one.  To me it seems on deeper thought, rather a consolation. If you have to face the body of a deceased friend whom you sorely miss, is it not soothing to realize tht this body was never really the seat of his personality but only symbolically 'for practical reference." Erwin Schrödinger

'Man is the measure of all things' Protagoras

On page 7, Schrödinger asks the question: Why are atoms so small? He then explains the answer as being more about the atom's relative size to our ourselves.  He comments that: the diameter of atoms are in the range of 0.0000000001 (one ten-billionth of a metre) (Angstrom) and that this size can be related to the size of our bodies. He then states that a possible reason for the miniscule size of the atom is because we are then unable to see or feel or hear the single atom. Our senses cannot detect the activity of one single atom and Schrödinger then makes the point that if we were so sensitive that a single or even a few atoms could make a perceptable impressionon on our senses we would be unable of developing the kind of orderly thought which after passing through a long sequence of earlier stages, ultimately results in forming, among many other ideas, the idea of an atom.

Even though we select this one point, the following considerations would essentially apply also to the functioning of organs other than the brain and the sensorial system.  The one and only thing of paramount interest to us in ourselves is that we feel and think and perceive. To the physiological process which is responsible for thought and sense all the others play only an auxiliary part, at least from the human point of view.'https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-cTlKVsvvM

Schrodinger is also known for his term ‘code-script’ by which he meant ‘the entire pattern of an individual’s future development capable of being transmitted from parent to offspring as part of their inheritance (hereditary, passed down genetically via DNA), things you get from your parents, and their parents like unique physical features.
Ten years after Schrödinger's brilliant insight, Watson and Crick's article on the structure of DNA provided news that our genes were actually the bearers of that information carrying it in a tiny, complex code inside every cell of our bodies.  DNA contains the biological instructions, referred to as genome needed for an organism to develop, survive and reproduce. To carry out these functions, DNA sequences must be converted into messages that can be used to produce proteins, which are the complex molecules that do most of the work in our bodies.


On Determinism and Free Will

In the Epilogue to What is Life? Schrödinger explains that in his opinion we are pure mechanisms in spite of the feeling that our actions are not deterministic. The reason he provides for reaching this conclusion is by citing two contradictory premises,

  1. My body functions as a pure mechanism according to the Laws of Nature
  2. Yet I know by direct experience that I am directing its motions

Schrödinger then argues that the 'I' that we believe to be the origin of our actions is little more than a collection of single data (experiences and memories), namely the canvas upon which they are collected in other words the "I" as some form of entity is a fabrication. He further comments that in his opinion quantum indeterminacy plays no biologically relevant role that contradicts the theory of determinism.