What Is Life?

poster for Pari Center's Longing for Wholeness

This is an excerpt from one of the presentations featured in the Pari Center’s event Longing for Wholeness, in Pari from August 27 to September 3, 2024.

This question, in the perspective I will adopt in this talk, was raised by Erwin Schrödinger in a remarkable series of lectures given in Dublin in 1943. It focuses on indeterminacy, a fundamental property of quantum physics, and asks whether such a property may have something to do with what we recognize as freedom in a living system. This talk will argue for a positive answer to the question. It will propose that freedom is a defining characteristic of life and that it manifests in different ways on different scales: what appears as quantum indeterminacy on a microscopic scale appears as freedom on the macroscopic scale. Quantum indeterminacy is freedom writ small, life is quantum indeterminacy writ large. There is nothing in life that is not already present in matter and vice versa all matter is alive. So this proposal is a sort of pantheism rooted in the world view of quantum physics. 

Shantena Augusto Sabbadini is a physicist, philosopher and a scholar of Chinese classics. As a physicist he worked at the University of Milan on the foundations of quantum physics and at the University of California on the first identification of a black hole. In the 1990s he has been scientific advisor of the Eranos Foundation, an East-West research center founded by C.G. Jung and Olga Froebe-Kapteyn in 1933. From 2017 to 2021 he was the Director of the Pari Center. He is the author of Pilgrimages to Emptiness. Rethinking Reality through Quantum PhysicsTao Te Ching: a guide to the interpretation of the foundational book of Taoism and The Original I Ching or Book of Changes: The Eranos I Ching Project.