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This page contains all of the posts and discussion on MemeStreams referencing the following web page: Working for the Revolution. You can find discussions on MemeStreams as you surf the web, even if you aren't a MemeStreams member, using the Threads Bookmarklet.

Working for the Revolution
by noteworthy at 1:19 pm EDT, Oct 6, 2007

Freeman Dyson reviews Gino Segrè's "Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics."

Dyson is lukewarm about the book, but you'll love his essay. (Publishers Weekly gives the book a starred review, calling it "as informative and accessible as it is appealing.")

It is one of the ironies of history that Max Delbrück chose to study the bacteriophage, which may be the only organism simple enough to be described without invoking complementarity. The life of the phage is pure replication without metabolism. ... When Crick and Watson discovered the double helix, they loudly claimed to have discovered the basic secret of life. The discovery came as a disappointment to Delbrück. It seemed to make complementarity unnecessary. Delbrück said it was as if the behavior of the hydrogen atom had been completely explained without requiring quantum mechanics. He recognized the importance of the discovery, but sadly concluded that it proved Bohr wrong. Life was, after all, simply and cheaply explained by looking in detail at a molecular model. Deep ideas of complementarity had no place in biology.

... In the middle years of the twentieth century, this was the verdict of the majority of scientists. The historic debate over complementarity between Bohr and Einstein was over. Bohr had won in physics. Einstein had won in biology.

Now, fifty years later, this opinion is widely held by physicists, less widely by biologists. I disagree with it profoundly. In my opinion, the double helix is much too simple to be the secret of life. If DNA had been the secret of life, we should have been able to cure cancer long ago. The double helix explains replication but it does not explain metabolism. Delbrück chose to study the phage because it embodies replication without metabolism, and Crick and Watson chose to study DNA for the same reason. Replication is clean while metabolism is messy. By excluding messiness, they excluded the essence of life. The genomes of human and other creatures have now been completely mapped and the processes of replication have been thoroughly explored, but the mysteries of metabolism still remain mysteries.

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