“Life on The Edge” by Jim Al-Khalili & Johnjoe McFadden – Your Window to the Often-Strange yet Wonderful Realm of Quantum Biology

Our DNA consists of a strain of molecules forming nucleic-acids, which ultimately leads to the hypothesis that quantum mechanical actions may be involved in their creation and replication process.

I’ve read several popular science books, including the ones written by Jim Al-Khalili, namely “Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed” (2004) and “Quantum Mechanics (A Ladybird Expert Book” (2017). Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read “Quantum Evolution” (2000) by Johnjoe McFadden.

Having some professional experiences in the quantum domain makes my expectation on the topic offered is really high because it seems familiar yet foreign to me. Quantum Mechanics and Biology.  Who knows how the marriage between the two will look like? It turns out to be very alluring, but also in a way, it’s tantalizing.

The book started with the Robin’s “magnetic compass”, the cryptochrome, followed by the frog’s metamorphosis from the tadpole form, and also photosynthesis. Gradually the book brought me to have a closer look into our olfactory sense and also our genes. The book closed with more mind provoking ideas, such as how the life on Earth began and the hypothesis around consciousness. Obviously, all of the presented contents were bounded by their connections with quantum mechanics. There were still many components that I have not mentioned here, but needless to say, everything was extremely enlightening. I hugely appreciate that the authors had tried very carefully to address some provoking contents (like consciousness and the evolution) by not proposing that quantum mechanics is the sole answer to all of those questions. The authors presented some logical connections and arguments, but still, keep the room for discussions open.

The field of Quantum Biology probably offers the answer on how life on Earth started.

As you can imagine, the book is indeed very rich in content. However, I must say that trying to put everything in one book is probably a good thing, but ultimately it has some risks. Sure it’s a good thing that people can learn everything in one place in just one go, but if the book has not been treated carefully, it can turn into tangled webs (or entangled!). In this case, what I have experienced is the authors consistently referred back and forth to the different chapters in the book when discussing a topic, makes me wonder if the current storyline is coherent enough for this book. Well, obviously it is unavoidable when we write a book that we need to refer back to the previous chapter or saying something like “we will discuss this more in the upcoming Chapter X”. Unfortunately, I just found them so many times that it makes me keep flipping the pages back and forth.

There was also a huge discrepancy on the way how the authors treating the quantum mechanics part and the biology part. Probably, I have some bias perspective here, since I have some background in quantum information. I strongly argue that the authors try to gloss over things in quantum mechanics part, while in the biology part, it contains enough or sometimes too many details. The treatment is just unbalanced. However, it’s pretty understandable, since the book was written by more than one author.

Having said all that, I was pretty satisfied with the book. This is definitely a very good addition to my book-shelf and I suggest to everyone from both world, Quantum Physics and Biology, to consider reading this. It’s a currently emerging topic, which is extremely exciting, also it makes me realize that quantum physics is closer and more real than I could ever imagine before. The rating is 4 out of 5.

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