Quantum Aspects of Life

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Quantum Aspects of Life

Postby Roger Stanyard » Sat Aug 30, 2008 11:07 am

A friend of mine who is a biologist has recomended a new book, Quantum Aspects of Life, which she tells me is due to be published at the end of this month (August). Given that the end of August is tomorrow, I assume that it has npw been published. It's an edited selection of papers.

Quantum life sciences are a controversial area of enquiry covering a wide range of sectors such a the mechanics of evolution, how the brain works, photosynthesis and so on. It's an area where I have very limited (by any standards) knowledge and the book is aimed at graduate students so I suspect it is no easy read for the layman.

Intruigingly, I've seen a suggestion that quantum mechanics may account for the lack/paucity of transitionals in the fossil record - a point perhaps worth bearing in mind when dealing with creationists.

Alas the book is somewhat expensive (£53) so I won't be buying it!

However, here are some details: http://www.icpress.co.uk/physics/p581.html

If anyone would like to put in their pennyworth about quantum life sciences, please feel free. My friend takes the view that quantum life sciences are the next big thing in biology.
Last edited by Roger Stanyard on Sat Aug 30, 2008 2:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby tubataxidriver » Sat Aug 30, 2008 1:36 pm

Assuming that all of biology can really be predicted from molecular biology, and that molecular biology is really just chemistry, and if most of chemistry can be predicted by quantum chemistry (a branch nearer to physics), this is a no-brainer. However, since physicists still have trouble calculating the behaviour of more than three particles at the same time, to calculate the behaviour of a biological system from quantum principles would need a pretty large computer running for a very long time.

However, there are some areas where quantum mechanical principles (without the calculation) can be applied directly to aspects of biological systems. These include any areas where there is interaction with photons, such as vision and photosynthesis. Also, of particular interest in the evolutionary debate, is the bonding of DNA. The bonds that hold the two chains together are hydrogen bonds across between the nucleotide bases, rather than full covalent bonds. This allows the molecule to split easily, for replication. This would only work in aqueous solution. Applying quantum principles, the energy levels of these bonds can be predicted, which can give an idea about the dynamics of the molecule. Depending on the system energy, the molecule will exist in various energy states, at random (or rather, with a probability distribution). During a replication process these random states give rise to the possibility of mutation.

Although complex, one might assert that "if quantum mechanics exists and works, then this is an explanation as to why mutations happen". Also, "because quantum mechanics has a predictable element of randomness, any replication process will result in some mutations".
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Postby Roger Stanyard » Sat Aug 30, 2008 2:34 pm

tubataxidriver wrote:Assuming that all of biology can really be predicted from molecular biology, and that molecular biology is really just chemistry, and if most of chemistry can be predicted by quantum chemistry (a branch nearer to physics), this is a no-brainer. However, since physicists still have trouble calculating the behaviour of more than three particles at the same time, to calculate the behaviour of a biological system from quantum principles would need a pretty large computer running for a very long time.


I'm probably gonna get shot down from a great heigh as I am well out of my depth. However, from memory the QM argument on transitionals is roughly that QM might be used to show that the process of mutation is not really random in that QM will tend to relatively strongly favour beneficial mutations rather than produce just random mutations that can statistically be predicted between beneficial and non-beneficial.. Consequentially evolution takes place much less gradually than thought and accounts for the lack of intermediate species. I'm not sure if what is being said suggests that speciation is in big jumps from one species to a distinctly different species. Nor am I aware of examples being given. However, I do remember that the whole idea was described as speculation.

The other area of interest to Quantum Life Science is, of course conciousness. IIRC Penrose did quite a lot on this. As far as I am aware , the subject matter has not (yet) gone very far. I'll have a long chat wih my biology friend next time I see her.
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Postby psiloiordinary » Sat Aug 30, 2008 7:07 pm

Well, having recently finished full house (punctuated equillibrium) and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (forced good moves) then the pattern of p.e. that we see doesn't need a helping hand from QUANTUM.

When QUANTUM is mentioned by anyone other than physicists then my sceptical spider sense starts tingling.

I would be very interested if your friend can point me in the direction of any non-technical summaries or reviews.

I think we could almost do with a book section or at the very least some more book threads.

What do you think?
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Postby Roger Stanyard » Sun Aug 31, 2008 11:08 am

psiloiordinary wrote:Well, having recently finished full house (punctuated equillibrium) and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (forced good moves) then the pattern of p.e. that we see doesn't need a helping hand from QUANTUM.

When QUANTUM is mentioned by anyone other than physicists then my sceptical spider sense starts tingling.

I would be very interested if your friend can point me in the direction of any non-technical summaries or reviews.

I think we could almost do with a book section or at the very least some more book threads.

What do you think?


I have been trying to get her to post something in this forum. I'll ask again next time I see her (it would be nice if I could get her to review the book - she has ordered it). I does seem to me from my digging around that the whole matter is somewhat on the fringes of science even in the areas it covers.
I'm well out of my depth on the matter, though.
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