Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe (EXCERPT)

October 22, 2014 11:47 PM

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Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe (EXCERPT)

One can only wonder how Albert Einstein might have wrestled with the still-open question of how inanimate atoms produce life. He freely acknowledged the limitations of human understanding, including his own, and in July 1945, he wrote, "We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of this world -- as far as we can grasp it. And that is all." Science alone can take us only so far in our efforts to grasp the world, but sometimes teaming it with the arts can carry us the rest of the way forward on that journey. As a musician, Einstein understood this, and perhaps his love of music offered him insights into how life arises from atoms in ways that are now described in terms of "emergence."

An emergent phenomenon arises from relatively simple components that somehow become more than the sum of their parts, as random scratches become letters if they are shaped in certain ways. Letters can be grouped into words with meanings that depend upon their sequences. The letters e, l, f, and i, f...

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