Table of Contents

Table of contents

Introduction: What Is Life?

Chapter 1: The Life Force

Is there a special life force contained in a plant or animal but missing in a rock? As we journey through history, we find that the proponents of special “life forces” and the proponents of life as a mechanism have been fighting over these questions for centuries. Are we now closer to a resolution?

Chapter 2: Chance and Necessity

We believe in the special status of life, because we cannot imagine that “purpose”, which is the hallmark of life, could have emerged from the randomness of the world around us. But is randomness really such a bad thing? Do we not need randomness to provide novelty and adaption?

Chapter 3: The Entropy of a Late-Night Robber

Physicists have tamed randomness in their studies of the random motions of atoms and molecules. While we are constantly surrounded by microscopic chaos, we see order and structure around us. How is this possible? To explain this conundrum, physicists have developed powerful theories – statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, two of the most beautiful and far-reaching theories ever devised.

Chapter 4: On a Very Small Scale

The story of nanoscience. What is so special about the nanoscale, and why should we look to this scale to explain how life works?

Chapter 5: Maxwell’s Demon and Feynman’s Ratchet

The molecular machines in our cells seem to tame the atomic chaos which rules the nanoscale. But how can they do this without violating the ironclad laws of thermodynamics?

Chapter 6: The Mystery of Life

The mystery revealed. How “mere” molecules turn chaos into order and “purpose”.

Chapter 7: Twist and Route

A journey to the hustle and bustle of our cells: Tiny cities of molecular worker bees – walking, twisting, cutting, splicing, and routing nanobots of nature.

Chapter 8: The Watch and the Ribosome

What does our understanding of our molecular machinery mean for our view of life? How did these marvelous machines emerge? How an understanding of molecular machines provides a powerful argument for evolution.

Chapter 9: Making a Living

How can we understand life in all its complexity?

Epilogue: Life, the Universe, and Everything

Democritus was right: Everything is the fruit of chance and necessity.