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CEFISES Seminar: Daniel J. Nicholson, “Schrödinger’s What is Life? Revisited”
June 10@14:00-16:00 CEST
Series: Life and Cognition
Abstract: Erwin Schrödinger’s What is Life? is one of the most celebrated scientific works of the twentieth century. However, like most classics, it is far more often cited than read. Efforts to seriously engage with Schrödinger’s arguments are rare. In this talk I explore how well his ideas have stood the test of time. I argue that Schrödinger’s emphasis on the rigidity and specificity of the hereditary material (which stemmed from his attempt to explain biological order from physical principles) profoundly influenced how molecular biology conceptualized macromolecules, resulting in a deterministic, engineering view of the cell that is still popular today—even if it is an increasingly contested one. Drawing on archival materials, I uncover what motivated Schrödinger to write What is Life? and I suggest that his biological proposals are best understood in the context of his longstanding philosophical disputes with his fellow physicists regarding the proper interpretation and extension of quantum mechanics.