A book by Erwin Schrödinger, published in 1945.

The sub-title of this little book is The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell and that is a pretty good (if a bit dry) indication of what the book is about. Schrödinger applies his knowledge in particle level physics on the macroscopic phenomenon of life. How come the seemingly unpredictable behaviour of the individual atoms can give rise to such very well ordered systems as living organisms?

Schrödinger argues that this is a statistical phenomenon; it emerges through huge numbers of tiny particles acting according to strict physical laws, even if the destiny of each one of these particles is basically impossible to predict. Yet there are controlling mechanisms that consist of so few atoms that their function must depend on their exact structures. This leads him through thermodynamics to the concept of "life" as something that consumes negative entropy.

One interesting point is the way the author deduces s lot of things about DNA at a time before there was actual evidence for this, by applying physical reasoning. Another is the final chapter where Schrödinger goes on to do some open-minded philosophising around the concept of consciousness and self.

(Some editing done, following advice from the writeup below. Infact the whole writeup by me was very sloppy. Bad me.)

For seven chapters consisting of some 80 pages Schrödinger ambles his way through a fairly prosaic consideration of biology from a physicist’s point of view, only to drop this bomb in his epilogue:

So let us see whether we cannot draw the correct, non-contradictory conclusion from the following two premises:
(i) My body functions as pure mechanism according to the Laws of Nature.
(ii) Yet I know, but incontrovertible direct experience, that I am directing its motions, of which I foresee the effects, that may be fateful and all-important, in which case I feel and take full responsibility for them.

The only possible inference from these two facts is, I think, that I – I in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say, every conscious mind that has ever said or felt 'I' - am the person, if any, who controls the 'motion of the atoms' according to the Laws of Nature.

Heady stuff, even, I dare say, from the man who brought you his eponymous cat, locked in its box waiting forever for its wave-function to collapse so that it might simply live or die. But wait... there’s more...

. . . Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular. Even in the pathological cases of split consciousness or double personality the two persons alternate, they are never manifest simultaneously. In a dream we do perform several characters at the same time, but not indiscriminately: we are one of them; in him we act and speak directly, while we often eagerly await the answer or response of another person, unaware of the fact that it is we who control his movements and his speech just as much as our own.

How does the idea of plurality. . . arise at all? Consciousness finds itself intimately connected with, and dependent on, the physical state of a limited region of matter, the body. . . . Now, there is a great plurality of similar bodies. Hence the pluralization of consciousness or minds seems a very suggestive hypothesis. Probably all simple, ingenuous people, as well as the great majority of Western philosophers, have accepted it.

It leads almost immediately to the invention of souls, as many as there are bodies, and to the question whether they are mortal as the body is or whether they are immortal and capable of existing by themselves. The former alternative is distasteful, while the latter frankly forgets, ignores or disowns the facts upon which the plurality hypothesis rests. . . .

The only possible alternative is simply to keep to the immediate experience that consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one thing and that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian MAJA); the same illusion is produced in a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt. Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys.

. . . Yet each of us has the indisputable impression that the sum total of his own experience and memory forms a unit, quite distinct from that of any other person. He refers to it as 'I'. What is this 'I'?

If you analyze it closely you will, I think, find that it is just a little bit more than a collection of single data (experiences and memories), namely the canvas upon which they are collected. And you will, on close introspection, find that what you really mean by 'I'’ is that ground–stuff upon which they are collected. You may come to a distant country, lose sight of all your friends, may all but forget them; you may acquire new friends, you share life with them as intensely as you never did with your old ones. Less and less important will become the fact that, while living your new life, you still recollect the old one. 'The youth that was I', you may come to speak of him in the third person, indeed the protagonist of the novel you are reading is probably nearer to your heart, certainly more intensely alive and better known to you. Yet there has been no intermediate break, no death. And even if a skilled hypnotist succeeded in blotting out entirely all your earlier reminisces, you would not find that he had killed you. In no case is there a loss of personal existence to deplore.

Nor will there ever be.

There’s not much more I can say that would further illuminate the above. It has the powerful concision of an elegant mathematical argument, and one would expect no less from Erwin Schrödinger, though one is mightily surprised he ventured into this territory at all. To me, it shows a bravery that most modern day scientists and mathematicians lack; an eagerness to apply his mind’s rigor to questions that may indeed prove unanswerable through reason, though none the less fascinating or important for that. Schrödinger here seems to shrug his shoulders, roll up his sleeves and say, “Why the hell shouldn’t I take a stab at the ultimate question of existence?” I wish more great minds had done the same, though, I suppose if I take Schrödinger’s argument at face value, it really doesn’t matter, since if one mind takes the dare, we all have.

Note: Marluth makes a couple of mistakes in the preceding w/u:

(1) In opposition to what seems to be asserted, Schrödinger observed with some wonder that because the position of each individual atom is so important to the shape, and therefore purpose, of large biochemical molecules (or aperiodic crystals, as he referred to them), quantum fluctuations thus have effects (i.e. mutations) on living tissue much more deeply significant than what could possibly result from the same fluctuations in similarly sized quantities of homogenous inorganic solids (“periodic crystals”).

(2) The notion that “...the author deduces the existance [sic] of genes at a time before there was actual evidence for this...” is obviously absurd, since genes as we know them had been deduced by Gregor Mendel in 1866, though his work was not rediscovered until 1900. Schrödinger even mentions this very fact in Chapter 3.

It should also be noted that What is Life? was originally presented as a series of lectures under the auspices of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at Trinity College, Dublin, in February 1943.

reborn into a world of fruitsellers,
the homeless purpleland* here regains its color---
the old man on the corner looked up into the sun;
wiping sweat from his brow, he exhaled the baked air.

"Hello sir, I'd like to buy an orange."

the old man on the corner looked down to a boy;
wiping a tear from his cheek, he inhaled the dried dust.

"Haven't been oranges in these parts for years, boy."

(you can skip this part and miss nothing)
* purpleLand is a location you cannot leave.
* But why would you want to? (WELCOME TO PURPLE LAND , TRAVELLER)
* Follow the helpful signs to reach destination.
* Why are you here? Go to the Science Lab Right Now.
* purpleLand is full of helpful citizens. (Hello. Hello.)
* Okay, bye. Talk to the doctor.
* It is a good land, yes. (Hello. Hello.)
* Initiate a visit to the spinning underground bank.
* The undue process undoes unbelievers.
* Again, welcome to purpleLand.
* I am getting a message. (Hello. Hello.)
* A land of greetings awaits you!
*  OH I AM
* Did you stupid and annoying?
* I am taking notes on what you say,
* and writing them to purpleLand.
* I suppose everyone is entitled
* to their own opinionion op oninon
* onion. Ants all over the plants.
* These stairs look sturdy!
* I can not believe you dumb idiot;
* pack your bags and tomorrow again hello
* yes, this is the correct location.
* To make my day with cakes,
* replay tomorrow's water addiction tower
* and
* -------------become
* a noodle. Noodles are appropriate for any
* occasion.
* The books have destroyed your pathetic civilization again.
* In purpleLand, no one can hear you being purple.
* Hello. The citizens are very tired to-day
* because of all the holidays to-morrow.
* ( The doctor is in, for a time. )
* I don't think so. Imagine the world after yesterday
* ( Hello. Hello. Welcome to purpleLand. )
* Follow the sheepherd, repair the fence, climb the stair,
* dance benear the stars and climb the ladder toward the vacuum god.

snow cuddles the ground
mimicking its curves
wet, heavy, still falling---
snowball fights are time machines
sending me back on a mission

This is no place for the tiny sparks we once called our own,
blown to the horizon of the night-time ocean,
to rekindle among the dune-brushes.
There is a great distance, I am saying,
between the points of fire in the distance
and our crackling warmth here glowing,
reflecting red from our faces.
In this black night there is no distance
but that of a handspan and an earsreach.

i'll get the rope
no no no no no no no no no
tilted head

inching finger

reach between seat cushions

laughing in handcuffs (which i remember however
i forget what) "three bones" (means but)
when you are all gone---
when even the plants have abandoned me---
I will be the last one to sigh;
I will wash everything away. (The final mind ...

Have I approached capacity
for new ideas? Am I done?

dreams serve us well, bringing us back
to the fears and wishes of our buried ancients
and waking, we take on the weight again,
a thousand pushing uphill toward the empty sky
a single self falling in primal loss of the i*-sense
and rapidly comprehending the hugeness of the Earth
one eye the sun and the other
the invisible black heart of the void
over an infinite array of teeth**

* why does i of all pronouns deserve the majuscule?
* are we that insidiously self-centered?
* ( hello. welcome to purple land. )
** There is a creature with many eyes and many teeth.
** There is only one mouth and only some of its eyes are undamaged.
** It knows where you are dying. It is with you afterward.

the jungle is thick and littered with metal fragments and
jagged corners forcibly removed from the boxes they once defined.
the chill of the evening works its way slowly into your bones.

gray spheres stretching to infinity

electric arcs in time with their undulation

foreverworlds unreachable by any single traveller

We live in a world of things* one person could not create on their own.
* Look around you, traveller.

cast onto leather / rain tomorrow / dripping full of paint,
grey from time spent abandoned / in this cold old house

I have forgotten what it is to be still.

To breathe*
and be free.

* A waking dream---on the beach with paper kites for wings,
* i feel my body lifting into the cool night

CUT OFF YOUR HAIR, gathered up gray and bubbling
to bring down to these dusty shores the taste of clean sky
from-rumbling-across cold air behind the hills and darkness
( which, at the corners, still seems daylit )
through the pipes to your dirty house
and out the showerhead
onto your skull.

Jesus, how you could anyone survive
a thousand years on the backs of paper elephants?

At what cost?
green silk worm
silent wind chime
cool breath at night
warns of a rolling storm
in the dark a million tiny lives
tucked away for the morning to find
an oil so thin it cannot be felt
and so thick it cannot be lit
sweeping across the earth each night
a horizon of dreams
somewhere like you,
where the garden is wild
and words are the slamming of doors

Vine like a house plant suffocated,
you must reach the Sun to survive.

faces were names before language
( which still we lose, occasionally )
and what of it, this great pillar of the modern brain?
is there not a rotten core, oozing putrescence,
that we yet embrace? Haven't we long forgotten
the true nature of everything?

blue skies and stormy weather
, to come back on a summer evening
with a cool slice of orange

and a faint and pleasant memory from many years past---

OKAY BYE---where have i read these words before?
it all seems so familiar.
the sky covers us like a blanket.
they are waiting for us to return to them,
beneath and away, where they are not and have not been for quite some time now.
books can never be reread, dearest, have you ever flown with a bird?
my feathers are grey. i am shaking like bones and devouring you from above.
which is to say,

A rush.

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