Al-Khalili, Jim and Johnjoe McFadden, “Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology”, Broadway Books, 2016. In the world of science, quantum biology is a toddler. Quantum mechanics itself only began a hundred plus years ago and quickly began reinterpreting the way that physicists look at the world. Today most branches of science are transforming themselves aligning themselves with this new reality of physics. This maybe impacting none of the sciences more than it is biology and the life sciences. What was once limited to the quantum world of elementary particles much smaller than we can see even with technology’s assistance, today we are finding quantum actions behind even the most simple processes up to and including the energy and origins of life. Mass and energy lie at the heart of everything and life is a very particular case of highly complex ordering of that mass and energy, intricately linked in coherent relationships, borne out of seemingly random, chaotic, actions at a subatomic level. In these systems/organisms life has evolved effective patterns that ‘feed’ on themselves, self-regulating, self-maintaining, able to reproduce with great ‘fidelity’ to one’s parent organisms, energy dissipating structures, dynamic, balanced between stasis or death and a runaway consumption of one’s self,, a conflagration. Patterns built on more basic patterns, conformed into very particular resonant structures which are additive and transformative, never perfect, evolving towards greater complexity and capacity, structures that ‘live’ in relationship to one another in a supportive manner, dynamic, time limited and ‘stable’ in a self-reinforcing sense…existing in different states, simultaneously. Follow Al-Khalili and McFadden down part of a ‘proven’ path. Ball, Philip, “Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does”, University of Chicago Press, 2016. This is a gorgeous book. It is the author’s intent to elicit the wonder and awe in his readers in this presentation of the beauty and patterns of the natural world. Ball has three other titles in which he pursues the topics of shape, flow and branching in nature, examining each in terms of the science and mathematics acting through them. This volume is more introductory and a vehicle to hook the reader and draw them in refuting any possibility that such beauty is merely random. There is a set of guiding rules which go to defining a world of possibility and probability. Pattern, Ball argues, is not narrowly deterministic, a hard repeat, nor is it the result of ‘intelligent design’, the god behind all things. Ball presents a world of recognizable pattern. Like nature in general, organisms are the product of a universe and its ‘recipes’ which permit an infinite variety of alternatives, instantly recognizable and accessible to us as pattern seeking beings. Details and a more exhaustive explanation are within Ball’s other volumes. Ball, Philip, “Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics is Different”, University of Chicago Press, 2018. “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” Since Niels Bohr said this many years ago, quantum mechanics has only been getting more ‘shocking’. We now realize that it’s not really telling us that “weird” things happen out of sight, on the tiniest level, in the atomic world: rather, everything is quantum. But if quantum mechanics is correct, what seems obvious and right in our everyday world is built on foundations that don’t seem obvious or right at all—or even possible. An exhilarating tour of the contemporary quantum landscape, Beyond Weird is a book about what quantum physics really means—and what it doesn’t. Science writer Philip Ball offers an up-to-date, accessible account of the quest to come to grips with the most fundamental theories of physical reality, and to explain how its counterintuitive principles underpin the world we experience. Over the past decade it has become clear that quantum physics is less a theory about particles and waves, uncertainty and fuzziness, than a theory about information and knowledge—about what can be known, and how we can know it. Discoveries and experiments over the past few decades have called into question the meanings and limits of space and time, cause and effect, and, ultimately, of knowledge itself. The quantum world Ball shows us isn’t a different world. It is our world, and if anything deserves to be called “weird,” it’s us. Citro, Massimo, “The Basic Code of the Universe: The Science of the Invisible in Physics, Medicine, and Spirituality”, Park Street Press, 2011. Citro is a medical doctor, with broad interests. I found his explanations of many quantum behaviors more accessible than those given by many physicists, perhaps due to my own background in horticulture and the life sciences. His book is more accessible to the laymen and does not demand extensive scientific research to explain phenomenon on the human body, though it would help. He relies on experimentation and observation and is less restricted when conventional theory falls short of an adequate explanation. He considers the efficacy of homeopathic therapies and looks into the ‘memory’ of water to ‘hold information’ that the body can read much as it might an electromagnetic signal I found this book to be very helpful and informative. Citro is still much attuned to a world of wonder and awe, a world that conventional theory tends to chase out, leaving as off limits ‘holes’ in our understanding. Darwin, Charles, “On the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition”, ed. David Quamman, Stirling Signature, 2011. This is on my list. It is Charles Darwin’s great book, as he wrote it, except festooned in this volume with lively filigree–historical prints, old photographs, graphic figures, cartoons from the time, portraits of Darwin and his colleagues, extracts from his letters and his Beagle journal, assorted other bells and whistles. Editor Quammna writes, “my conviction that On the Origin of Species is, like Shakespeare and Mozart and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a fundamental pillar of human culture, to which every literate person should be directly exposed. You can page through article after article about evolution, you can watch programs on the Discovery Channel until your eyelids melt, but you don’t really know what Charles Darwin thought about evolution until you’ve read what he wrote. If illustrations and other editorial sugaring help bring people to the text itself, I thought, so be it. England, Jeremy. Jeremy England is right in the middle of all of this constructing mathematical models of organic, living, dissipative systems at MIT. He has published several technical papers on the topic, while others have written them up in more understandable lay terms. Keep your eye on him and look for the work of others as well on complexity and dissipative systems and structures. See England, for a lay article describing his work. Gleick, James, “Chaos: Making A New Science”, Penguin,1987. I read this shortly after it came out. It is very accessible. It was an early and concise look into the new science of ‘chaos theory’ whereby science began to study order and the formation of pattern where previously all seemed erratic, chaotic and without pattern. Our modern understanding is that order arises naturally out of ‘chaos’, or at least what we commonly perceive as chaos. Greene, Brian, “The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory”, Vintage, 2000. This is the widely acclaimed book upon which the PBS series is based. It is an excellent introduction to quantum theory and its applications in astronomy and cosmology, the story of the universe. Quantum physics operates everywhere in everything and is essential to understanding chemistry and the dynamic world within which life exists. It is at this most basic level at which the energies that drive all things are derived. Greene, Brian, “Until the End of Time: Mind. Matter and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe”, Alfred Knopf, 2020. One can always delve deeper into a topic and explore its branches beyond where one ever thought they’d go. Ho, Mae-Wan, “The Living Rainbow H2O”, World Scientific Press, 2012. This work focuses on the physics and chemistry of water and its possible roles in organisms. This was my first ‘dive’ into the reformed ‘science’ of water. From this I went on to Pollack’s work. Ho, Mae-Wan, “The Rainbow and the Worm”, 3rd ed., World Scientific Press, 2008. I read Ho’s first edition of this title in the ’90’s, my introduction to quantum biology…there was nothing else quite like it in the mid ’90’s. This is the 3rd expanded edition which spends much time looking into the role of water and first introduced me to Prigogine’s work. Kauffman, Stuart, “At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity”, Oxford University Press, 1995. Kauffman is widely recognized for his work on self-organization and complexity building. He and others have done important work on the modeling of natural and human systems, including technology, and how they share a process of evolution. Evolutionary processes are probabilistic not deterministic. Their models give us a predictive power and suggest that nature is evolving toward an undetermined state, not a particular outcome. This is supported by nature’s adaptive power, evolving in response to changing conditions. Kimmerer, Robin Wall, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants”, Milkweed Editions 2015. Author, Kimmerer, is a native American and professor of ecology at SUNY with a PhD in plant ecology. This may seem an odd inclusion, but in Kimmerer’s discussion of gratitude, of inclusion and connection, of the pathway we share with all of life, I see something we as a society have long denied to the detriment of all things, including ourselves. Were we to have followed this more inclusive and gracious view of the world and its organisms, we would not have made many of our mistakes and would be open to the ideas I discuss in these posts. It is not because of some native-American lack of intellectual sophistication that they can look at the world as they do, it is our own philosophical rejection of a shared journey that has separated us from life, that does us and the world damage. Many native people’s traditionally erected no barriers between themselves and the rest of the world while modern western society has and continuously places itself in an unsupportable, superior, position. As science continues to evolve its understanding of nature and life, it is tending to resonate more with these more inclusive indigenous beliefs, while because of our own, unsupported as they are, we are pushing back, against nature, with increasing energy, even violence. We still cling to a world view that sees ‘man’ as superior, the pinnacle of life and evolution. Lane, Nick, “The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution and the Origins of Complex Life”, W.W. Norton, 2014. This book examines life from an energy perspective, looking closely at the energy producing mitochondria and how organisms could have possibly evolved from earlier forms. All organisms require energy to grow, sustain and reproduce themselves. It considers many of the questions of how life may have begun and progressively developed from simpler to more complex forms. He attempts to lay out a ‘path’ through known organisms to illustrate it, while noting the ‘holes’, the still inexplicable gaps in the story. This book examines the problem from the organism’s perspective, not from the broader physical capacities of nature. It notes particular problem areas in the early evolution of the cell, what preceded DNA, how was life able to reproduce itself with fidelity to its parent’s form prior to this. It worries over those many instances in which evolution seemed to take a leap, the classic ‘chicken or egg’ questions. Laszlo, Ervin, “Science and the Akashic Field”, Inner Traditions, 2004. Laszlo, once a concert pianist, has become over his life, a giant in the field of systems theory, a master of merging fields of science, themselves created by much more narrowly focused experts. This has been an emerging trend over the last four and five decades as the need for a wholistic understanding arose after a couple centuries of specialization. Always controversial, Laszlo is never afraid to tackle big ideas and with others has begun to reconcile physics, with philosophy and spirituality. Akashic fields are an ancient concept that is beginning to find a home in the esoteric world of quantum field theories. For me, Laszlo’s work meshes well with that of Sheldrake and Ho. I also find it, in concept to be consistent with Kauffman and Schrodinger, while most of the others listed here could still have their work nested comfortably under the umbrella of his larger idea. Greene and Ball will almost surely bridle at the suggestion. There are many competing quantum theories whose popularity and acceptance wax and wane. Many physicists argue, understandably for their own or that which most strongly supports their own work. Lefever, Rene, “The rehabilitation of irreversible processes and dissipative structures’ 50th anniversary”, Albert Goldbeter, “Dissipative structures in biological systems: bistability, oscillations, spatial patterns and waves”; The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, vol. 376, issue 2124, 2018. This issue is themed and titled, ‘Dissipative structures in matter out of equilibrium: from chemistry, photonics and biology (part 1)’ The first piece is introductory and reviews the life work of Ilya Prigogine. This entire collection of nine scientific articles published in the Royal Society’s journal discuss ‘dissipative structures’ both physical and biological. The seven I haven’t noted here require more familiarity with the science and jargon, are very technical and math heavy. I’ve read the two listed here from the volume. Margulis, Lynn, “Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution”, University of California Press, 1997. Margulis, has always been controversial, maybe due more to her personality than her ideas, not to mention being an outspoken woman in a very man’s world. She is credited with the idea of endosymbiosis in the evolution of the modern eukaryotic cell, which is the basic building block of all higher organisms. According to Margulis, and supported by many others today, eukaryotic cells, through endosymbiosis, evolved through a series of symbiotic partnerships involving several different kinds of simpler, bacterial or prokaryotic cells. The smaller partners invaded larger host cells and eventually evolved into three different kinds of organelles: mitochondria, the energy producing organelles found in relatively large numbers in every eukaryote cell; chloroplasts, responsible for photosynthesis within plant cells; and flagella, the structures, along with cilia which provide the motile force of animal cells. The last of these are less accepted. Mitochondria, to this day, still retain some of their original DNA within themselves (See Nick Lane’s book above.) These organelles did not evolve from the simpler cell’s DNA, but instead resulted from particular ‘infections’, a processes now grouped with others as a form of ‘horizontal gene transfer’ a transfer of genetic material between two individuals of different species, a non-sexual process. This is a central element in our understanding of the evolution of cellular life. Pollack, Gerald, “Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life”, Ebner and Sons, 2001. This is an earlier presentation of Pollack’s theories and studies of the water molecule within organisms and gels. Pollack, a professor of bioengineering, at the University of Washington, takes a close look at the assumptions mainstream science has carried along its way and the ‘problems’ this has created to our understanding. These problems he has taken as jumping off points looking for more coherent and explanative answers. This is a fascinating read as both of his books provide the reader with a much deeper understanding of water and its role in the world around us. It’s an eye opener. Pollack, Gerald, “The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor”, Ebner and Sons, 2013. This is essential to anyone following the life sciences. Pollack operates a lab at the University of Washington dedicated to the science of water and its essential role in all living organisms. Water has long been taken as neutral, a mere ‘blank’ carrier. Pollack goes into depth here and offers many insights into its ‘behavior’ when in relationship with proteins, its capacity for flow and charge and what this means for an organism, offering insights into topics such as the inexplicable movement of water and nutrients, in both directions, simultaneously, in a plant’s phloem tissue, on demand as needed, and a tree’s capacity to draw water 1, 2, 3 hundred feet and higher into its upper canopy. He argues convincingly, and with experimental support, that water, under the proper conditions, such as those when in relationship with proteins and gels, shifts into a fourth phase, changing its structure and acquiring unique capacities which go to active support of organisms.There are strong tie ins here with Mae Wan Ho’s work as well as Ilya Prigogine’s. Prigogine, Ilya. “The Rehabilitation of Irreversible Processes and Dissipative Structures’ 50th anniversary”, an article on the work of Prigogine upon whose ideas upon which much of this is built. This is an overview of the man’s work which necessarily gets fairly technical without getting into the math. “The End of Certainty”, First Free Press, 1997, is one of his more accessible books. It would be best to read some of the other authors here to have some kind of base knowledge of quantum, linear and the physics of unstable systems, but at some point you’ll have to just dive in. Nicolis, G. and Ilya Prigogine, “Exploring Complexity: An Introduction”, 1989. If you’re patient and want to dig into Prigogine more, read this, a book he coauthored with Gregoire Nicolis. Don’t let the esoteric equations presented scare you, they can be skimmed over, spend your time on the discussion and important points that explain them. I think Nicolis, a professor of theoretical physical chemistry and physics, helped contribute to this book’s capacity to explain the topic to the non-scientist. The book does invest much of itself in explaining many of the more essential chemistry and physics concepts necessary to understand the processes contributing to the development of complexity as well as the processes occurring continuously within living organisms, far out of equilibrium, dissipative structures. Take your time and read some of the other books here first. Quamman, David, “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin”, W.W. Norton, 2006. This is an insightful essay on who this man Darwin was. It is also an interesting look into the times of the man that would redefine so much of science today, giving us some foundation for questioning those who have since used some of Darwin’s ideas for their own purposes. Quamman, David, “The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life”, Simon and Schuster, 2018. Quamman presents the idea that evolution is not ‘linear’, that it does not always follow the commonly used bifurcating and branching structure of a ‘tree’, new species always forming from ‘old’, that there can be a sharing of genetic material that connects these lines in places, that we should think of it as a more web like structure, that there can be a sharing of genetic material across these lines, that new species aren’t always a ‘simple’ branching from what came before. He also spends much space looking into the function ribosomes and ribosomal DNA, which are responsible for the production of every cell’s DNA. Here he gets into the competing theories and personalities of some of the researchers themselves illustrating the complexity and beauty of the any living organism. Rovelli, Carlo, “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics”, Riverhead Books, 2016. If you are relatively unfamiliar with the ideas included within quantum mechanics, physics, this is an excellent place to begin. It is a good, concise, review for those whose grasp of the topic is ‘unsure’, which is going to be most of us. Rovelli’s little book does exactly what its title promises. When first published in Italy, Rovelli, who is a theoretical physicist, his specialty being loop quantum gravity, which blends theories of gravity with quantum mechanics, this book was a top seller. Check out this New York Times review and then pick this up from the library. There are many introductory books written for the layman out there, find one, or two, with which you connect. It is essential that you have a basic understanding of this topic, that the world we live in and the world of modern physics are the same. Theirs is not a separate world that exists only in a particle accelerator or the distant reaches of the universe. It is our perception that the world is fixed, that it is solid and that we each know and perceive it in the same way, that is erroneous. Much like our social and political worlds, the volatile, even ‘chaotic’, nature of matter and the universe, lies beyond our abilities to directly perceive it and the world that we ‘know’ is a blending of the underlying processes that actually make it up. If you are familiar with the term ‘maya’ in Buddhism, this gets you somewhat closer. Maya refers to the world we might commonly agree upon, the veil or mirage, we generally accept as real, a world in which perception and a kind of social agreement, tends to bias us toward as humans, a somewhat necessary agreement, that we generally accept to live in this world, so that we can share, communicate with one another, and survive. Behind this is a deeper, more complex reality, that one must grasp if one is to truly understand. Hopefully, this isn’t too confusing and not being a Buddhist or a quantum physicist, I haven’t offended too many, nor messed up the message too much. Schrodinger, Erwin, “What is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell”, 1944. Yes, the same man responsible for the paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat. No discussion of this topic can be complete without a reference to this book which is based on a series of public lectures he gave in 1943 wartime Dublin, Ireland. From genetics to quantum biology, this is the man and book that really started it, well before there were names for these things. Schrodinger preceded Watson and Crick who are credited with the discovery of DNA. He describes organisms that possess a structure he termed ‘Aperiodic Crystals’, structures that would exist at a molecular level, a structure that could faithfully be duplicated while also directing the development of the individual organism. Such a structure would be necessary to provide a species with the ability for individuals to remain true to their parents and lineage. Schrodinger, and later Prigogine, are two of the most cited physicists in this new approach to the study of life. Sheldrake, Rupert, “Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation”, 4th ed., Park Street Press, 2009. This may seem a little off topic, and Sheldrake’s ideas are not accepted by mainstream science, but I find them fascinating. He writes of ‘resonance’, of individuals in complex, harmonious relationships with established patterns. He finds the science and ideas of geneticists inadequate, capable of perhaps duplicating the intricate pieces of an organism, but seriously short of explaining an organism as a whole, its coherence as an individual as well as its intricate functioning. Sheldrake poses serious questions, questions of whether DNA alone can be the lone orchestrator of an organism, arguing strongly for other ‘epigenetic’, beyond genetics, contributors to the form and function of organisms. He suggests that there is a universal ‘memory’, that pattern, once produced, is added to a ‘library’ of possibilities. Many of his peers dismiss his theory out of hand, leaving only questions. Van Whye, John, “Dispelling the Darkness: Voyage in the Malay Archipelago and the Discovery of Evolution by Wallace and Darwin”, World Scientific 2013. I found this to be a very informative and readable book on Wallace’s life work, particularly on his years in the Malay. It focuses on those 8 years of his life, the hardships he endured, his insights and discoveries. It also sheds light on his relationship with the older and more renowned Darwin. Others have focused on Wallace’s inferior historical position and its unfairness, I found this to be a fair look at the man’s contributions. By any analysis the man’s dedication and brilliance can’t be denied. He revered Darwin who in many ways was an inspiration for him. In letters to him, Wallace offered his ideas on evolution before Darwin published or even formally presented his work to the Royal Society. Wallace’s ideas were much less well formed at that time as he had much less time to consider them. Wallace’s letters, along with Darwin’s friends, spurred Darwin on to formally present them, something he did simultaneously with Wallace’s paper at a meeting of the Linnean Society. This telling of their ‘story’, goes to the idea that scientific thought and knowledge, unfolds in time almost as if society is ripening, readying itself for the next break through, the same or very similar insights coming to the fore simultaneously exhibited through the works and writings of different people. Wallace, Alfred Russel, “The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-utan, and the Bird of Paradise; a Narrative of Travel with Studies of Man and Nature”, MacMillan/Harper Brothers, 1869. This is also on my list, the man’s experiences in his own words. Van Whye’s book above is a great jumping off point, but you should really read this to grasp what this man did at a time and place that no one had before. Check out Quamman’s comments on Wallace’s book. (And, yes, Russel, is spelled with a single ‘l’.) Willis, Kathy and Jennifer McElwain, “The Evolution of Plants”, Oxford University Press, 2014. This is a very good college level introduction to plant evolution, very accessible. Much of what has been written elsewhere about evolution concerns itself primarily with that of animals. The way evolution has played out in the plant world is different. Plants come first and animal life is forever dependent upon it. Cyanobacteria, with their capacity for photosynthesis, and much later plants, were largely responsible for providing gaseous oxygen to our atmosphere, shifting the development of life from primarily anerobic conditions to aerobic…oxygen was once ‘toxic’ to the organisms that populated the Earth life changing composition of our atmosphere. Beginning also with this Great Oxygenation Event, nearly half of the minerals now on Earth began to form, dependent as they are on the presence of oxygen and water. Over the course of the several major extinction events, plants were much less effected, than were animals with their much more rapid metabolisms of animals. Animals were thus far more susceptible to changes that plants would survive. Simply put, animals are more fragile than plants and are less capable of maintaining themselves over periods which are not supportive of them…they suffocate, dehydrate and starve over periods which established plants and their seeds endure. The cold periods of our Ice Age cycles, with the slow, inexorable advance of the polar ice sheets with Earth’s dropping average temperatures toward the equator, ‘drove’ plants, toward the equator over the course of generations, mixing them with those able to stay in place, on an oddly expanding land mass as ocean levels dropped. As the cold increased and ice sheets extended, plant species were often reduced to relatively small pockets. In those cases where species faced the barrier of east-west mountain ranges, their seed unable to leap the barrier or be assisted in doing so by animal species, plants die out. Then several thousand years later, the ice sheet began to shrink as Earth’s average temperature began to slowly rise, allowing plant ‘survivors’ to begin their ‘return’, sometimes stranding populations, in isolated refugia atop mountains and ridges, the lowlands warming beyond their capacity to survive. Over these repeated cycles many survivors altered their genetics and forms evolving into new species. This book describes the introduction and development of new plant structures, those of stems and leaves, how they shifted reproductively from spores to seeds, from single celled plants to two dimensional colonies which clung tightly to rocks, the first ‘tree-like’ plants which evolved well before the first true trees with woody stems and separate leaf tissues. Many of these ancient structures still exist in scattered species, each with DNA far different than their progenitors possessed, their ‘patterns’ repeating in more modern species. This is a straight forward presentation of evolution across Earth’s timeline. It doesn’t attempt to explain all of the how’s and why’s. It lays out an evolving timeline for plant life spending considerable space defining the environmental conditions and major changes throughout the process, as well as the more widely accepted explanations for the evolving conditions during the Earth’s larger geological periods. This book provides a very good framework on which the reader can begin his/her own explorations beyond. Wohlleben, Peter, “The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World”, trans. Jane Billinghurst. Foreword by Tim Flannery. Greystone Books, 2016. I reference this book toward the end of part 3 of this series. Wohlleben, a German forester, has been attacked by many professional foresters and scientist for his book. I think it is an important book for the general audience to read…we can’t just restrict ourselves to the generally accepted ‘gospels’, where does that leave us? stuck in the same patterns, the good, the simply habitual and the destructive. Wohlleben’s book is immediately accessible because of his approach, drawing comparisons with human behavior, attempting to restore and build relationships between us and the green world which our society and science have driven into the corners. Wohlleben is a skilled and insightful observer and yes, plants are not people, but his book goes far in raising public interest in the intricacy and complexity of the functions of, and relationships between, plants. We do share our corresponding flow of energies within and between us. Organisms are all self-catalyzing and self-regulating. To do this all organisms unicellular, plants as well as ourselves must possess an internal coherence, an awareness, if you will of their immediate state in order to make the constant adjustments required of any organism. For this I’ll grant Wohlleben latitude in his approach. His audience is after all the lay public, not his professional and scientific peers.