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Quantum Evolution: How Physics’ Weirdest Theory Explains Life’s Biggest Mystery

Quantum Evolution: How Physics’ Weirdest Theory Explains Life’s Biggest Mystery 



  • Johnjoe McFadden


  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393323102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393323108
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces


Book Description

Johnjoe McFadden "enters new and provocative territory in his marriage of physics and biology" (Science News). His simple but staggering theory of quantum evolution shows how quantum mechanics gives living organisms the ability to initiate specific actions, including new mutations. As Paul Davies exclaims, "if these ideas are right, they will transform our understanding of the relationship between physics and biology" and may radically revise the notion of random evolution and the debate over consciousness and free will.

Book Info

A highly enjoyable read with clear explanations of molecular biology and quantum physics. McFadden enters new and provocative territory in his marriage of physics and biology. Softcover.

About the Author

Johnjoe McFadden is a Reader in Molecular Microbiology at the University of Surrey, England.  



The best of an interesting but unpredictable genre, July 12, 2001

You’ve probably noticed that there is a growing flood of books that purport to explore the interface between the spooky scientific world of quantum physics and a range of other aspects of existence? You’ve probably also come to realize that these vary widely in emphasis (consciousness, healing, the paranormal… now evolution), and you’ve probably worried that they vary in quality as well – you’re right.

Johnjoe McFadden’s "Quantum Evolution" is, thus far, the best of the lot that I have discovered. It is engaging, extremely readable, consistently scientific and broadly important in its explorations.

If you are mostly interested in the healing or paranormal or so-called "new age" linkages to quantum phenomena, look elsewhere. The strength of this book is that it maintains a stance on the scientific side of the matter even as the science steps into the looking glass of quantum reality.

Many in the sciences don’t seem to know what to do with the quantum world. The physicists seem to wobble in their ability to create rich models at any level above that of the quantum phenomena themselves – perhaps because theirs can be a sparse world… the vast emptiness beyond the quark. They are often only comfortable "wrapping" the ultimately incomprehensible realities of the quantum world in merely mathematical or semantic models.

McFadden, on the other hand, comes to this effort as a life scientist. As a molecular biologist he has moved from internationally recognized work on Tuberculosis to explorations at the bacterial level to studies of the molecular activities of the cell. Now, he has moved to the realization that the strange, spooky realm of quantum particle-waves, of wave-function collapse and multiple-world models is a logical next step. Singularly important life processes do not function merely at the molecular level of the chemists. Their core elements are actions and movements of individual particles, of single protons and electrons, and hence only understandable through quantum models – however strange the reality they demand.

This book is clearly intended for the thoughtful layperson. It succeeds admirably in its task of educating the reader in a broad base of realms of scientific knowledge. Chapters are divided into smaller 1-3 page "chunks" that isolate pieces of larger concepts in such a way as to allow you to skip or skim a section if you consider yourself comfortable with the science at hand. This approach will also help you build a really solid working knowledge of, for instance, the molecular biology of life, of cellular respiration, by digesting pieces at a time. If you take your time you can learn a lot and step into the strange quantum science with a much more confident grip on the scientific substrate of the argument.

By taking on evolution, which most scientists consider central to understanding life, McFadden manages to build a broader, but always scientific, exploration, that takes quantum realities as its launch point. Early in the book the author demonstrates his wonder at the role of life, itself, in the universe, and states his abiding respect for the role of natural selection and evolution in the development of life. He nevertheless candidly and even-handedly explores some of the more recent scientific critiques of the central Darwinian model – of so-called "punctuated evolution" for example.

Once he has established a strong, scientific tone for the discussion he opens the door to one typically less-scientific alternative to evolution by natural selection. This is the notion of directed adaptation. Species might not only change, over time, through the interaction of random mutation and changing environment – the Darwinian model. Instead, individual organisms might, somehow, adapt and change as individuals and pass on those changes to succeeding generations. This "Lamarckian" paradigm had been considered discredited by steady accumulation of scientific data. But the kinks in the data have also accumulated and range from the broadly geological (gaps and leaps in the fossil record) to the minutely molecular (multi-sequence molecular processes of life which cannot be decomposed into selectable smaller sequences).

Having educated you in a broad range of life science, guided you through the mirrored funhouse of quantum reality, and finally built scientific bridges to the bio-molecular from the quantum, here is where McFadden has led you: to answer the questions at the core of evolutionary theory, itself at the core of life. How he manages that final piece is fascinating, sometimes unsettling, and yours to discover. There is no way that quantum explanations of anything can be wholly grasped, no way to entirely resist the urge to simply reject them as meaningful underpinnings of reality. Nevertheless, I think McFadden accomplishes this latter synthesis extremely well, suggesting answers to a fascinating range of questions along the way.