Now for Something Completely Different: Quantum Biology


This interesting article by Martha Henriques on the possibility that quantum physics might play a role in the ways in which living organisms interact with their environment is of the scientific genre wherein everybody seems surprised at something that shouldn’t be surprising at all.

Whether one believes that reality was designed in a matter of days by a purposeful God, with humanity as its focus, or that a some fundamental physical rules set in motion a universal evolution of which living organisms are the most developed (and known) part, there’s no surprise, here.  If God implemented quantum physics, one would expect it to serve the rest of his creation.  If life developed through a long process of evolution, one might reasonably expect organisms that could take advantage of quantum interactions to have an evolutionary advantage.

The one saving grace is that these truly bizarre quantum behaviours don’t seem to have much of an impact on the macroscopic world as we know it, where “classical” physics rules the roost. …

Now that reassuring wisdom is starting to fall apart. Quantum processes may occur not quite so far from our ordinary world as we once thought. Quite the opposite: they might be at work behind some very familiar processes, from the photosynthesis that powers plants – and ultimately feeds us all – to the familiar sight of birds on their seasonal migrations. Quantum physics might even play a role in our sense of smell.

In fact, quantum effects could be something that nature has recruited into its battery of tools to make life work better, and to make our bodies into smoother machines. It’s even possible that we can do more with help from the strange quantum world than we could without it.

To the extent that scientists (as distinct from those who just write about science) really do find these things surprising rather than just exciting and intriguing as a matter of new discovery, it may be an indication that they’re approaching physics with a faulty framework — what I’d actually say is most accurately described as a faulty metaphor.  From my perspective, the basic missing piece is an allowance for a spiritual dimension, by which I mean a plane in which intentionality and perspective exist apart from the materials on which they act, but pursuing that suggestion would bring me to depths beyond my intentions for this post when I set it in motion.