A book by Johnjoe McFadden that attempts to reconcile the quantum mechanical behaviour of particles with the classical, deterministic behaviour of organisms. The problem, as he presents it, is that natural systems are hierarchically organised over a scale that covers both worlds.

This takes some explaining, especially since it's the rare reader who's familiar with both quantum physics and evolutionary biology. Unfortunately, since both subjects are less than fully worked out; attempting to explain the difficulties of one with the other seems a little tricky. Thankfully, he doesn't try to supplant Darwinian evolution(unlike Woundweavr's scientists). In a nutshell ("I'm in a nutshell! I'm in some kind of giant nut!...") the argument runs thus:

  • A molecule exists in the quantum realm in a superposition of states.
  • Measurement by the molecule's environment fixes the state of the molecule.
  • Events vital to the molecular system's existence tend to be measurements.
The upshot? The nebulous world of the quantum is shaped by measurement - which so happens to be identical to life. Mutations that are beneficial to the organism are more likely to occur since they tend to result in coupling with the classical world, and decoherence.

This might sound like a liberal sprinkling of buzzwords to 'explain' difficult topics in biology. Surprisingly, the case is quite convincingly argued - enough to make you pause for thought. The main problem is his use of the traditional straw man of tiny probabilities for protein evolution. The usual huge exponentials and vast numbers are trotted out to be shot down. If there was a valid explanation, this would be a better criticism. However, it doesn't seem as much of a problem as is often made out.

An extremely rapid evolutionary change in a single genetic lineage, thought to result from a sudden and radical change in the species' environment.

From the BioTech Dictionary at http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/. For further information see the BioTech homenode.

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