Author(s): Werner R. Loewenstein
No one can escape a sense of wonder when reflecting on the workings of the mind. We see, we hear, we feel, we are aware of the world around us--all this by virtue of the mind. But what is the mind? What do we mean when we say we are "aware" of something? In Physics in Mind, eminent biophysicist Werner R. Loewenstein seeks answers to these perplexing questions 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 guides us on an exhilarating journey along the sensory data stream of the brain--the stream that nurses our cognitions--and we see how the vast amounts of information coming in from the world outside get processed by the web, how its neurons gradually extract meaning from this hodgepodge, and how they arrive at a coherent picture of the world. The roots of the mystery of mind, Loewenstein argues, reach deep into our distant past, to a time in evolution when subatomic information was all there was to process.
And so he takes us to the ground floor of the brain, where the strange rules of quantum logic hold sway. There we meet the prime movers of the sensory-information stream, a remarkable breed of biomolecules capable of ultrafast computing. Here he unravels the secret of how they manage to wrench information from the strange, but virtually inexhaustible, quantum world. At once playful and deeply learned, Physics in Mind offers an illuminating new theory of how our minds work.
Jane Smiley, "Harper's"
"[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."
"Booklist", starred review
"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."
Seth Lloyd, Professor of Quantum-Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of "Programming the Universe"
"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."
Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel"
"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."
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.