Synopses & Reviews
No one can escape a sense of awe when reflecting on the workings of the mind: we see, we hear, we are aware of the world around us. But what is the mind?
In Physics in Mind, eminent biophysicist Werner R. Loewenstein seeks and answer in the mechanisms of physics. Bringing information theory — the idea that all information can be quantified and encoded in bits — to bear on recent advances in the neurosciences, Loewenstein reveals inside the brain a web of immense computational power capable of rendering a coherent representation of the world outside. He posits that quantum mechanics could be fundamental to our mind's ability to almost instantaneously process staggering amounts of information. Wide-ranging and brimming with insight, Physics in Mind will revolutionize our understanding of how the mind works.
"Loewenstein (The Touchstone of Life), emeritus professor of biophysics at Columbia University, describes his premise clearly and concisely: 'consciousness has a physics explanation.' Unfortunately, his elucidation of this point gets lost in arcane details, complex writing, and metaphors run amok. The book's first half explores the limits of information transfer in biological systems, while the second half discusses computational processes at the traditional and quantum levels. The link between brain function and evolution is, at best, opaque, and the author's incessant use of the term 'demons' to refer to catalyzing macromolecules (in honor of the nomenclature proffered by James Maxwell in 1871 to describe hypothetical beings who were able to create 'order from chaos') makes it hard to take him seriously. Credibility is further strained by the regular anthropomorphization of evolution; indeed, Loewenstein refers to the process as a female with very specific desires. Writing about the Pacinian corpuscle, a sense organ, he writes: 'So we can see it now that tuning gives away Evolution's game. It was... biologically meaningful mechanical information... that she was after when she engineered that stupendous little capsule.' Loewenstein's attempt to blend serious data with the accessible tropes of pop science is an unwieldy mess. 65 b&w illus. Agent: Jim Levine, Levine Greenberg." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
To perceive and understand the world around us, we need to process vast amounts of information. While the brain dedicates dense networks of neurons to the task, biophysicist Loewenstein explains that the heavy lifting is done by a complex array of microscopic particles making calculations at the quantum level....Ultimately, survival depends on how well an organism can spot patterns and distinguish signal from noise — a test of computational power. It's an indication, Loewenstein notes, that to understand the mysteries of consciousness, we may have to think small.” Psychology Today
[An] absorbing account....[Loewenstein's] book is vital and wide-ranging, exploring everything from the structure of time to the phenomenon of gut feelings, the color of white and the reach of our senses, and why we've adapted to notice the anomaly rather than the norm.” Harpers
Defying the usual disciplinary boundaries, Loewenstein deploys a Darwinian physics (replacing the daunting mathematics with clear bioneurological narrative, laced with sprightly humor) to explain how the cosmic volley of information arrows loosed by the Big Bang set the course for evolution.” Booklist, starred review
Werner Loewenstein's Physics in Mind is a passionate exploration of how biological systems process information. Starting from how molecules transform information and energy at the most microscopic level, where quantum mechanics plays a central role, Loewenstein provides clear and elegant explanations of the mechanisms of sight and smell, of senses and neural signals, culminating with the phenomenon of consciousness itself. Erudite, witty, and highly accessible, Physics in Mind proves once and for all that the unquantized life is not worth living.” Seth Lloyd, Professor of Quantum-Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of Programming the Universe
The more we think about it, the more challenging it becomes to answer the apparently simple question: how do we think? Here, eminent scientist Werner Loewenstein has assembled recent insights from biology and physics to give us his richly textured new view of this great challenge.” Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA, and Pulitzer Prizewinning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
No one can escape a sense of awe when reflecting on the workings of the mind: we see, we hear, we feel, we are aware of the world around us. But what is the mind? What do we mean when we say we are "aware" of something? What is this peculiar state in our heads, at once utterly familiar and bewilderingly mysterious, that we call awareness or consciousness?
In Physics in Mind, eminent biophysicist Werner R. Loewenstein argues that to answer these questions, we must first understand the physical mechanisms that underlie the workings of the mind. And so begins an exhilarating journey along the sensory data stream of the brain, which shows how our most complex organ processes the vast amounts of information coming in through our senses to create a coherent, meaningful picture of the world. Bringing information theory to bear on recent advances in the neurosciences, Loewenstein reveals a web of immense computational power inside the brain. He introduces the revolutionary idea that quantum mechanics could be fundamental to how our minds almost instantaneously deal with staggering amounts of information, as in the case of the information streaming through our eyes.
Combining cutting-edge research in neuroscience and physics, Loewenstein presents an ambitious hypothesis about the parallel processing of sensory information that is the heart, hub, and pivot of the cognitive brain. Wide-ranging and brimming with insight, Physics in Mind breaks new ground in our understanding of how the mind works.
About the Author
Werner R. Loewenstein is an emeritus professor of biophysics at Columbia University and former director of its Cell Physics Laboratory. Renowned for his discoveries in biological information transfer and cell communication, Loewenstein has lectured to general audiences in more than twenty-five different countries, and his work has been featured in the New York Times. He has contributed articles to Scientific American, and his most recent book was The Touchstone of Life. Loewenstein lives in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.