The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of Life

[Ebook] ↠ The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of Life Author Paul Davies – Johndore.co.uk
  • Hardcover
  • 272 pages
  • The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of Life
  • Paul Davies
  • 06 September 2019
  • 024130959X

About the Author: Paul Davies

Paul Charles William Davies AM is a British born physicist, writer and broadcaster, currently a professor at Arizona State University as well as the Director of BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science He has held previous academic appointments at the University of Cambridge, University of London, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Adelaide and Macquarie University His research interests are in the fields of cosmology, quantum field theory, and astrobiology He has proposed that a one way trip to Mars could be a viable option.In 2005, he took up the chair of the SETI Post Detection Science and Technology Taskgroup of the International Academy of Astronautics.


The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of LifeA Gripping New Drama In Science If You Want To Understand How The Concept Of Life Is Changing, Read This Professor Andrew Briggs, University Of OxfordWhen Darwin Set Out To Explain The Origin Of Species, He Made No Attempt To Answer The Deeper Question What Is Life For Generations, Scientists Have Struggled To Make Sense Of This Fundamental Question Life Really Does Look Like Magic Even A Humble Bacterium Accomplishes Things So Dazzling That No Human Engineer Can Match It And Yet, Huge Advances In Molecular Biology Over The Past Few Decades Have Served Only To Deepen The Mystery So Can Life Be Explained By Known Physics And Chemistry, Or Do We Need Something Fundamentally New In This Penetrating And Wide Ranging New Analysis, World Renowned Physicist And Science Communicator Paul Davies Searches For Answers In A Field So New And Fast Moving That It Lacks A Name, A Domain Where Computing, Chemistry, Quantum Physics And Nanotechnology Intersect At The Heart Of These Diverse Fields, Davies Explains, Is The Concept Of Information A Quantity With The Power To Unify Biology With Physics, Transform Technology And Medicine, And Even To Illuminate The Age Old Question Of Whether We Are Alone In The UniverseFrom Life S Murky Origins To The Microscopic Engines That Run The Cells Of Our Bodies, The Demon In The Machine Is A Breath Taking Journey Across The Landscape Of Physics, Biology, Logic And Computing Weaving Together Cancer And Consciousness, Two Headed Worms And Bird Navigation, Davies Reveals How Biological Organisms Garner And Process Information To Conjure Order Out Of Chaos, Opening A Window On The Secret Of Life Itself

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10 thoughts on “The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of Life

  1. Brian Clegg says:

    Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schr dinger s lecture series and book What is Life , which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine we ll come back to Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schr dinger s lecture series and book What is Life , which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine we ll come back to that demon in a moment is the relationship between life and information In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.This information and its processing gives life its emergent complexity, which is why, Davies suggests, Dawkins style reductionism to the gene level entirely misses the point What s , the biological setup provides a particularly sophisticated relationship between information and the physical aspects of the organism because the information can modify itself it s as if a computer program could redesign itself as it went along.The subtitle how hidden webs of information are solving the mystery of life probably over promises As Davies makes clear, we still have no idea how life came into being in the first place However, by bringing in this physical information aspect we at least can get a better grip on the workings of the molecular machines inside organisms and how biology can do so much with so little Here s where the demon in the title comes in This is Maxwell s demon, the hypothetical miniature being dreamed up by the great nineteenth century Scottish physicist.Maxwell s demon has the remarkable ability to tweak the second law of thermodynamics allowing, for example, heat to flow from a colder to a hotter body or, to put it another way, providing a mechanism for entropy the measure of disorder in a system to spontaneously decrease Entropy has a strong negative relationship with information and Davies shows how miniature biological systems act in a demon like fashion to effectively manage information.There s lots to like here, from the best explanation I ve seen of the relationship of information and entropy to fascinating coverage of how far we ve gone beyond the selfish gene This is not just about basic epigenetic processes operating outside of genes, switching them on and off and so on but how, for example, the electric field of a biological cell apparently has a role to play in sculpting the physical structure of an organism.My only real complaint is that in part of the chapter Enter the Demon dealing with information engines and most of the chapter The Logic of Life, describing the relationship between living organisms and computation, Davies fails to put across clearly just what is going on I read it, but didn t feel I gained as much information ironically as I needed from it There was also one very odd statistic We re told the information in a strand of DNA contains about 2 billion bitsthan the information contained in all the books in the Library of Congress There are about 32 million books in the Library of Congress, so that gives us on average 62.5 bits per book Unless those are very short books, some information has gone astray.Really interesting, then, from a transformed understanding of the importance of information in living organisms through to Davies speculation on whether biological systems need new physical laws to describe them But expect to come away feeling you need to read it again to be sure what it said

  2. Peter Tillman says:

    I ll at least take a look at this one when the library gets a copy The author is a cosmologist, and Nature s reviewer compares Davies effort to Erwin Schrodinger s classic What is Life 1943 Davies claims that life s defining characteristics are better understood in terms of information This is not as absurd as it may seem reviewer is a biologist This strikes me as a reasonable argument by Davies Energy is abstract, yet we have little I ll at least take a look at this one when the library gets a copy The author is a cosmologist, and Nature s reviewer compares Davies effort to Erwin Schrodinger s classic What is Life 1943 Davies claims that life s defining characteristics are better understood in terms of information This is not as absurd as it may seem reviewer is a biologist This strikes me as a reasonable argument by Davies Energy is abstract, yet we have little trouble accepting it as a causal factor Indeed, energy and information are closely related through entropyAs well as having eclectic interests, Davies is iconoclastic and opinionated Although certainly no believer in a vital force distinct from physics or chemistry, he has little time for reductionism, believing that life cannot be fully explained in terms of lower level laws such as the second law of thermodynamics , even in principle In a final nod to Schr dinger who believed that a proper understanding of life might reveal other laws of physics hitherto unknown Davies closes by arguing that biology might yet contain deep lessons for physics This is highly speculative and, in my biologist s view, probably wrong The reviewer continues, But this is not a criticism On the contrary, if onlyof us were wrong in such thought provoking ways, we mightreadily uncover the truth

  3. Dan Sumption says:

    This book brings together the latest findings in physics and biology in an attempt to answer the question what is life with a small side order of what is consciousness Information Theory and Computational Theory offer a tantalising insight into what separates the living from the non living and, through the use of Maxwell Demons , allows living organisms to defy the second law of thermodynamics, maintaing their complex state despite the tendency of all matter to devolve into entropy.This This book brings together the latest findings in physics and biology in an attempt to answer the question what is life with a small side order of what is consciousness Information Theory and Computational Theory offer a tantalising insight into what separates the living from the non living and, through the use of Maxwell Demons , allows living organisms to defy the second law of thermodynamics, maintaing their complex state despite the tendency of all matter to devolve into entropy.This was an utterly fascinating, mind blowing read, and one which really made me appreciate the incredible complexity and wonder of life, even at the cellular level Davies makes great efforts to make some of the extremely counter intuitive science digestible, although at times especially towards the end of the book I found myself way out of my depth The theories put forward here have huge implications, not only for our understanding of biology, but potentially also for nanotechnology and energy conservation

  4. Muhammad Abdullah says:

    Paul Davis made an amazing combination of physics, chemistry, biology and information theory in this book which gave readers a lot of information This book explains the mesmerizing effects of quantum mechanics in a wonderful way at the atomic levels and the birds navigation which sounds like really interesting The most part of the book tells us about biology and life.

  5. Nick Traynor says:

    It was heartening to learn that there are new approaches to understanding the processes of life in general, and consciousness in particular, and Paul Davies has a particular gift of insight and understanding into how the universe is put together I was most interested in his ideas of fertile areas for research that can elucidate the mechanisms by which consciousness is generated, and Davies s thesis is that informational systems are both fundamental to the universe and explainable by as yet unde It was heartening to learn that there are new approaches to understanding the processes of life in general, and consciousness in particular, and Paul Davies has a particular gift of insight and understanding into how the universe is put together I was most interested in his ideas of fertile areas for research that can elucidate the mechanisms by which consciousness is generated, and Davies s thesis is that informational systems are both fundamental to the universe and explainable by as yet undefined laws or at least emergent patterns of self organization He began by discussing the genome and the mechanisms of the cell, and in doing so cogently made his point that information processing is inherent in biology and that it represents a different level of operation from physical laws The most exciting part for me was when he applied these principles to the brain and suggested ideas that the brain is an open system, that the hardware and software of the system are self referential, and that there may be top down processing involved that could rescue the realism of consciousness and free will.The discussion at times was fairly technical, and I felt the book could have been longer to allow Davies to demonstrate his talent at scientific explanationfully I also thought that the example of using Tononi s phi as a measure of consciousness was a bit random, given the in my opinion, rightful criticism his theory attracts I get his point though, that the details are less important than the principles he was suggesting, and that s where the excitement lies because the challenge of understanding the universe is really only just beginning

  6. Brad Dunn says:

    I didn t know what this book was about when I bought it an algorithm recommended it and I like both Demons and Machines so why not, am I right The book is wonderful and I learned so much from it about the overlap between biology, quantum mechanics and information theory Before you tune out, let this sink in for a bit, because this is what the book is about.The building blocks of life aren t chemicals, its information He essentially thinks information data might be a whole other thing, I didn t know what this book was about when I bought it an algorithm recommended it and I like both Demons and Machines so why not, am I right The book is wonderful and I learned so much from it about the overlap between biology, quantum mechanics and information theory Before you tune out, let this sink in for a bit, because this is what the book is about.The building blocks of life aren t chemicals, its information He essentially thinks information data might be a whole other thing, and it could even, by and of itself, power machines Which sounds bat shit crazy until he starts drawing diagrams of machines which actually turn something from a state of total order, to bits, just with a little thermal heat I know most of this makes no sense to people reading this but this is kind of what I m getting at It feels like there is stuff in this book most people should know about but the author may either be totally wrong or it s the kind of idea that is too strange to get any air time Or, maybe the book has a PR problem As luck would have it I stumbled across it all the same and loved it from cover to cover.There is all kinds of crazy shit in here You should read the book if you like science, or knowing how life started It ll make you think Important note About 15% of this book is pretty technical, and you ll glaze over parts but still, totally worth it

  7. Mike says:

    Demonic mind games is what you ll get from the chapter enter the demon I literally could not tell the difference between his incoherent rambling where words concepts are artfully replaced such as entropy becoming information in turn becoming work , with the intent being that information is something other than the physical material systems they re associated with I guess the hope was that most people just go along with the narrative because the ever so smart physicist is treating it likes Demonic mind games is what you ll get from the chapter enter the demon I literally could not tell the difference between his incoherent rambling where words concepts are artfully replaced such as entropy becoming information in turn becoming work , with the intent being that information is something other than the physical material systems they re associated with I guess the hope was that most people just go along with the narrative because the ever so smart physicist is treating it likes it a sensible analysis but not I I never lost sight of the fact that he was dissociating abstracting information from the physical correlates it associates with from the same sort of obfuscatory nonsense of the post modernists.In any case, I ve lost all respect I had for Paul Davies with that useless chapter

  8. Mats Winther says:

    A book for hyper intellectualsDavies used to write books for laymen, but this time he gets very technical It is an advanced and well written book on state of the art science But to me, it was a disappointment, because I m moderately interested in technicalities Most of the book is like this In response to the arrival of a signal from the body of the neuron, the gates open and allow sodium ions to flow from the outside to the inside, thereby reversing the voltage Next, a different set of ion A book for hyper intellectualsDavies used to write books for laymen, but this time he gets very technical It is an advanced and well written book on state of the art science But to me, it was a disappointment, because I m moderately interested in technicalities Most of the book is like this In response to the arrival of a signal from the body of the neuron, the gates open and allow sodium ions to flow from the outside to the inside, thereby reversing the voltage Next, a different set of ion channels open to allow potassium ions to flow the other way from the inside to the outside restoring the original voltage The polarity reversal typically lasts for only a few thousandths of a second This transient disturbance triggers the same process in an adjacent section of the axon s membrane, and that in turn sets off the next section, and so on The signal thus ripples down the axon towards another neuron pp 196 97.Davies recounts the history of science, including developments in mathematics, quantum physics, information theory, brain research, etc But the average hyper intellectual would already know most of the science history The book is utterly demanding, and the average person would experience it as tedious The author s central concept is this LIFE MATTER INFORMATIONComparatively, the medieval version is like this LIFE MATTER SPIRITHere, spirit is what God breathed into Adam s nostrils On this view, we are connected to a divine transcendental mind through a kind of umbilical cord of spirit Our conscious awareness has an otherworldly origin This actually provides an explanation of sorts As I see it, Davies s equation does not It could provide an explanation for life going on in the dark , without conscious awareness But since life goes on in the light , it has not sufficient explanatory power It does not help to say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that consciousness is an emergent property

  9. Deane Barker says:

    This is not a book for the casual reader A lot of this went over my head, but I managed to maintain a loose grip on it until the end.Essentially, the author is arguing for the inclusion of information science along with physics, chemistry, and biology as the disciplines that deal with the origins of the universes The author says that the universe is, at some level, based on information DNA is information, for example, and that drives biology And what do we make of consciousness Is that some This is not a book for the casual reader A lot of this went over my head, but I managed to maintain a loose grip on it until the end.Essentially, the author is arguing for the inclusion of information science along with physics, chemistry, and biology as the disciplines that deal with the origins of the universes The author says that the universe is, at some level, based on information DNA is information, for example, and that drives biology And what do we make of consciousness Is that somehow based on information as well The book goes super deep into this, and if you have no background in science I don t , then some of it will be tough.Weirdly, the book reminds me of two religious works The Language of God by Francis Collins and In the Beginning Was Information by Werner Gitt Both of those books argue that the information present in the deepest recesses of physical science represent God at some level

  10. Dan Graser says:

    This is a difficult book to rate as at times I felt like I was experiencing an interesting incipit to a completely new way of thinking about life, other times, I felt bombarded with unnecessary detail and a hopeless abandonment of the great promise of the book s subtitle.First of all, I greatly enjoyed the extended description of Maxwell s demon as this is a concept I have been very vague on for a while, this book really does nail down the concept quite clearly Also, this will likely be the bes This is a difficult book to rate as at times I felt like I was experiencing an interesting incipit to a completely new way of thinking about life, other times, I felt bombarded with unnecessary detail and a hopeless abandonment of the great promise of the book s subtitle.First of all, I greatly enjoyed the extended description of Maxwell s demon as this is a concept I have been very vague on for a while, this book really does nail down the concept quite clearly Also, this will likely be the best work to bring you up to date on certain areas of epigenetics that are not quite mainstream knowledge yet Davies method of analyzing life and its origins is a convincing one, whereby pure physical analysis amounts to understanding a computer as if it had no software, and the proper solution is the incorporation of the organism s and its component parts use of information This is information not purely in the coded sense in the organism s DNA but rather how various networks within the organism use and update its information This is most potent in the discussion as to how certain organisms can update fundamental elements space worms of their anatomy and anatomical information in an almost Lamarckian fashion, without straying into superficial anecdoting While serving as a fine synopsis of epigenetics and the incorporation of information into the discussion of the analysis of life, the work spends a great deal of time on the demon in the machine and very little on the solving of the mystery of life Uneven reading that doesn t deliver on great promise but still packed with great information no pun intended