Thursday, May 13, 2010

Plants and animals use quantum mechanics?

Quantum mechanics, which Einstein once referred to as "spooky action at a distance", is a set of laws that govern how tiny (atomic & sub-atomic) things interact with one another. The laws are very different from classical physics, and really quite surprising, but nevertheless appear to be true (there's been much experimental validation).

Using quantum mechanics, it's possible to build a quantum computer, and indeed many research labs and at least one startup, have built simple ones. Quantum computers can do some amazing things, such as factoring integers very quickly, something classical computers can only do very slowly as the number gets bigger (as best we know, so far).

Most recently, a simplistic quantum computer was used to compute a discrete fourier transform using a single iodine molecule. Someday quantum computers will be all over the place...

But, isn't it possible that plants and animals have evolved to take advantage of quantum mechanics? Indeed there is evidence that we have!

The process of photosynthesis looks to be based on quantum entanglement.

And, one leading theory about how animals can smell so well is based on quantum vibrations. Luca Turin, who created this theory, has a good quote in that article:

Most people would probably feel that if it can be done at all, evolution has managed to make use of it.

And this makes sense - evolution is relentless at trying to find good ways to create plants and animals. Since quantum mechanics is real, evolution should have tapped into it.

This is also the reason I would expect Lamarckian inheritance to in fact be true. Any animal that can alter the traits of its offspring based on experiences in its own lifetime would clearly have a big advantage, so, evolution really should have found a way.

In fact, it sort of did, in a non-biological manner: language. We can pass on all sorts of life lessons to our kids, through language, and we get to stand on the shoulders of past giants, as we take for granted the knowledge created by the generations before us, passed on through language.

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