From ancient times, it was obvious to people the world over that life played by different rules. Flowers and frogs could do things that rocks and babbling brooks could never do. Great scientists through Newton and Faraday saw no conflict between their spiritual lives and the laws of nature that they were describing. Then, in the 19th Century, Western science began to reveal the physical and chemical basis for life. The possibility emerged that living things were powered by complicated chemistry, but that they played by the same rules as non-living matter.
Somehow, this possibility became a presumption and then a dogma. Anyone who believed that life was governed by different laws was branded a superstitious enemy of science. Worse, the laws that governed life were presumed to be physics that humans have presently mastered and understood.
Implicitly, the entire mainstream of the scientific community dismissed the possibility that 4 billions years of evolution might have taught the living cell something about physics that contemporary human science has yet to discover.
Present day chemistry and physics is all built on the laws of quantum mechanics. Is it possible that the living cell knows some quantum tricks that humans have yet to discover? Not only possible, it has been verified. The conservative view, already validated, is that (at least) two common processes—photosynthesis and animal navigation—are made possible by quantum superpositions within single molecules. A more expansive view of quantum biology is that life is made possible by quantum tricks that allow micron-sized systems to explore many possibilities simultaneously, and enable single molecules to flip switches for entire cells. These are considered radical ideas, outside the mainstream of science, but perhaps they provide a fertile hypothesis for exploring many mysteries of biology.
More speculative yet is the idea that the contentious “observer problem” of quantum mechanics is essentially related to free will, awareness and the sense of self. Since the beginning, the laws of quantum mechanics have included a rule outside of the mathematics of probability functions. The state of a system changes suddenly when a measurement is made. The probability instantly becomes a certainly. But what is a measurement? Is it a physical process? If it can be described by the rules of quantum mechanics, then it is, itself, part of the probability function, and cannot suddenly change the function. Quantum mechanics as formulated by Schroedinger and Max Born requires an observer outside of quantum physics to make the measurement. My hypothesis is that inside every living cell resides an observer, and it is the presence of an internal observer that defines life.