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The Demon in the Machine Reviews

The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies

The Demon in the Machine

How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving the Mystery of Life

Paul Davies

3.71 out of 5

3 reviews

Category: Non-fiction
Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 31 Jan 2019
ISBN: 9780241309599

hen Darwin set out to explain the origin of species, he made no attempt to answer the deeper question: what is life? For generations, scientists have struggled to make sense of this fundamental question. Life really does look like magic: even a humble bacterium accomplishes things so dazzling that no human engineer can match it. And yet, huge advances in molecular biology over the past few decades have served only to deepen the mystery. So can life be explained by known physics and chemistry, or do we need something fundamentally new? In this penetrating and wide-ranging new analysis, world-renowned physicist and science communicator Paul Davies searches for answers in a field so new and fast-moving that it lacks a name, a domain where computing, chemistry, quantum physics and nanotechnology intersect.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
Steven Poole
18 Jan 2019

"The informational approach, in Davies’s elegant and lucid exposition, is extremely promising"

It is to the credit of the physicist Paul Davies, then, that in this brilliantly vivid little book he is careful to remind the reader that such uses of “information” should be bracketed with provisos, even as he shows what we can do with them. It seems irresistible to say, to begin with, that cells “signal” to one another chemically, or that flocking birds and shoaling fish are exchanging “information” with their neighbours about speed and direction. But things get a lot weirder when Davies applies to biology ideas from thermodynamics and the mathematical theory of information...The informational approach, in Davies’s elegant and lucid exposition, is extremely promising, but it remains highly speculative, as he himself laudably emphasises while offering his own final thoughts on consciousness (as “integrated information”), and the possibility that “laws of nature” themselves evolve through time. Perhaps, he adds, these laws might, in some way not yet understood, be inherently “bio-friendly”.


4 stars out of 5
15 Feb 2019

"a cracking read and certainly leaves your brain with a lot of new information to process"

Davies is a lucid writer and master storyteller and weaves together these threads... Although the concepts can get hard-going at times it is well worth the investment of concentration as there is much in here that is truly mind-blowing... Demon in the Machine begins to unravel slightly when it moots as yet undiscovered “state-dependent information” laws... Why postulate new laws of physics if the present ones haven’t been found to be lacking in explaining biological processes? Nonetheless, this is a cracking read and certainly leaves your brain with a lot of new information to process.

3 stars out of 5
17 Jan 2019

"The quest to understand life may have been missing an ingredient: the flow of ‘information’ through living organisms"

The biggest question posed by The Demon in the Machine is whether bringing information into the equation adds something really new to the laws of nature, beyond current physics and chemistry, which theorists have not yet appreciated. Might some sort of informational laws be at work in complex systems, which somehow favour the emergence and evolution of life? Whatever the answer, Davies has written an important and imaginative book. It is unlikely to change the course of science as much as Schrödinger’s What is Life? in the 1940s, but if it makes biologists more aware of the significance of information theory, it will at the least trigger some interesting new research.