What is Life?

Even as stock markets plunged, and corporate kingdoms were made and unmade, it was heartening to read about the grander scale of Life. When I read Paul Nurse’s essays, after a day in which we spent our days more than usually examining choices, news, reactions etc, I must say it makes all the difference in perspective.

For instance, when one lives in the pulsating center of changing corporate fortunes, one cannot but help muse over the seemingly innocuous line by Paul Nurse:

“Over the long term, the most successful species will be those that can maintain the right balance between constancy and change.”

Paul Nurse – What is Life?

There is a certain philosophical musing to it all.

When one is fighting a cold in the head, it does help to think of Louis Pasteur looking at all the different chemical reactions in the microorganisms he was studying and saying:

Chemical reactions are an expression of the life of the cell.’

Louis Pasteur

It would be better if the expression happened without the head cold. But there it was – the cold was proving the expression of life. 

Or reading about Vitalism – the one thing that has fascinated philosophers for ages. For Vitalism comes down to one thing: What is Life? 

“Living organisms stand out because they are things of action; they behave with purpose, reacting to their surroundings and reproducing themselves.”

Paul Nurse

In 5 essays, Paul Nurse’s book on Life is a light read. It is just the sort of book that is easy for a non biologist to understand. It was also a good book to accompany the rather heavy going The Emperor of all Maladies – by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

A week-end spent reading till mid-day in bed can’t be a bad one can it? It would have been nicer to read about lighter subjects but such as it was, I was determined to finish reading a book that had been with me for weeks now. And if it took falling ill to tide one over a book like that, so be it.

 Starting with the times of the earliest recorded instance of Cancer, the book walks through humanity’s struggle and Science’s understanding of the disease.

I am clamoring for a light read after this one though.

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