Anonymous Text preview of this essay: This page of the essay has words. Download the full version above. The two main scientific types of entropy, thermodynamic and that of information theory, are deeply explored by Pynchon in his early short story Entropy. Encountering difficulties with the mechanics of entropy, there is a chance for us, the readers, to prevent heat-death, or in other words information death.
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Introduction Thomas Pynchon achieves an unusual synthesis of art and science, and develops the unique character of his ambitious, "post-modern" works with a renaissance conception of continuous knowledge. Engineering principals animate his fiction in literal explorations, and then escalate into larger thematic matter. Entropy Entropy is a quantity that, in its two contexts, characterizes not only all form and life in the universe, but all signal, language, information and written material ever produced anywhere.
There are two fields which define this concept: Thermodynamics is the science of the relations between heat and other forms of energy. It deals with the changes that occur in a system if the energy distribution is unbalanced, therefore it "can be regarded as governing the direction of all physical changes taking place in the universe.
With time, the energy within a system will inevitably tend to become distributed in the most probable pattern, which consists of all the individual particles of the system engaging in random, disordered motion" OED. Thermodynamic entropy is the measure of this disorganization in a system. Furthermore, this "most probable pattern" is actually a state of equal energy among particles, as collisions cause bodies to exchange heat.
A closed system inevitably proceeds toward uniformity of energy. Information Theory is the mathematical theory of communication that is used to find out the speed and quantity of information transmission. It uses statistical concepts of probability to compute the extra information redundancy necessary to counteract the distortion and losses that may occur during transmission from one information source to another. Entropy within this theory is the "measure of the rate of transfer of information in [that] message" OED.
Callisto, a prophet of impending doom, dictates aloud the tale of his own discovery of the entropic end of culture: "Nevertheless," continued Callisto, "he found in entropy or the measure of disorganization for a closed system an adequate metaphor to apply to a certain phenomena in his own world. Callisto looks at this stagnation and foresees a similar destiny for ideas.
In COL 49, Pynchon explicitly revisits entropy and adds a manifestation of its greatest theoretical challenger. The first consequence of this law in question is the classical assertion that devices which create inequalities of temperature require the input of energy "Demons, Engines and the Second Law. The ramifications of a defiance of this governing rule would be a limitless supply of power made available through work-free temperature separation and compression of air.
This would end the scarcity of harnessable energy, realize perpetual motion, and fundamentally change the nature of our existence. The speed of any given molecule is random, but all of the molecules in a system are distributed by velocity such that the average speed of the molecules is proportional to the square root of the measurable temperature of the system.
He the being has been historically referred to with the masculine pronoun thus allows higher energy molecules to pass into Room B, and lower energy ones to pass into Room A, through nimble operation of his door as shown in the above illustrations from ibid. Demon Music Richard Einhorn pictured below , a prominent New York composer and producer, pays homage to the Demon in a four movement piece completed in This aural interpretation, written for five-string electric violin, captures the frenzy of sorting with wild percussive sounds and rhythms.
AIFF sound file. Performance by Mary Rowell. Copyright c , by Richard Einhorn. All Rights Reserved. Biography of Richard Einhorn Defying Entropy Another consequence of the second law of thermodynamics, is that the entropy, or disorder, of the universe must increase for a reaction or event to occur thus over time the universe proceeds toward the most probable state--hypothetically a "heat-death" of complete uniformity as mentioned by Pynchon in "Entropy".
The Language of Nature. San Francisco: W. Freeman and Company, So you would be violating the second law of thermodynamics, getting something for nothing, causing perpetual motion" Oedipa must visit John Nefastis, inventor of the Machine that Koteks describes, to light this issue further.
And in reaction there have also been numerous attempts to prove this possibility of violation through improved models of Demon-machines. One of the explicit problems of the set-up comes in finding a Demon and convincing him of his job. Then there is the difficulty inherent in observing individual molecules presented by quantum mechanics. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal explains that both the position and velocity of a molecule cannot be simultaneously known, because the act of observing itself disturbs the object in question.
The Demon might deflect a molecule each time he looked at it. This makes sense, because if objects in a vessel had different surface intensities, energy would flow have to between them as it does not to equalize these inequalities. The Demon would need something akin to a flashlight to observe molecules. One design in particular which overcomes the necessity of having an animate Demon or expending energy in detecting molecules, is based on the Szilard Engine in which a single molecule moves pistons to capture its energy, conceived by Leo Szilard in pictured below in an image from the Box of Demons page.
This invention is further improved by Charles H. Bennett not to observe a molecule at all, but to gain information on which of two spaces it occupies by the pressure it creates in that space ibid. Thus a fully mechanical engine design exists which appears to have the capacity to violate the second law independently of the above mentioned complaints.
All that is needed is a single binary record Room A or B: 0 or 1 which can also be blank between readings. Pynchon takes up this motif of polarized sorting in many instances in COL The muted post horn image appears for Oedipa so many times in one outing that, "Later, possibly she would have trouble sorting the night into real and dreamed" Pynchon describes, "the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or threatening" Homo sapiens are characterized both by a two hemisphere brain and a fundamental tendency to group information according to binary oppositions.
Throughout history, people have sorted according to basic dichotomies: good vs. Oedipa becomes overwhelmed by the series of binary code which defines her search for meaning: For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth.
Ones and zeroes. Either Oedipa in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real Tristero. She cannot process all of the possibilities adequately, and consequently is deeply lost. The most fundamental analysis of information is the division between signal and noise. Like Oedipa in her bizarre encounters, the reader must determine which pieces of text are significant to his or her interpretation of the novel and its mysteries and may thus feel a good deal of sympathy for Oed.
Human memory is finite, so some information must be discarded in the sorting of the novel. The ultimate problem of the final Bennett design as described above touches on the relatively new field of information theory. A Demon could not have an infinite memory, so records must eventually be forgotten or somehow deleted. The breakdown of any post-demon storage mechanism like a single binary computer switch , comes in the liability of information: specifically the liability of each previous record of whether the molecule was in Room A or B.
Erasing this record, is a thermodynamically irreversible process which increases the entropy of the hardware or switch used to keep record. This physical step generates entropy in the form of heat which cancels out the loss of entropy achieved in the first place. These engines cannot fundamentally violate the second law.
Pynchon explains the agreement of the Demon style engines with the laws of thermodynamics in COL "As the Demon sat and sorted his molecules into hot and cold, the system was said to lose entropy. But somehow the loss was offset by the information the Demon gained about what molecules were where"
In the bootleg edition, Pynchon went even further. Meatball Mulligan restores order and momentum to his lease-breaking party, which had reached its third day and was running down. However, this popular sense that entropy and force are opposites, that entropy suggests something negative and passive, while force is positive or active, is technically not correct. As Pynchon notes in his Slow Learner introduction, the idea of entropy was first developed by the 19th century physicist Rudolf Clausius, who built on earlier ideas of the French engineer Sadi Carnot. Carnot and Clausius were both trying to understand how heat energy is transformed into useful work, such as when steam drives a piston in an engine. Clausius defined entropy as a measure of the capacity of heat energy to be usefully transformed into work.
"ENTROPY" by Thomas Pynchon
Introduction Thomas Pynchon achieves an unusual synthesis of art and science, and develops the unique character of his ambitious, "post-modern" works with a renaissance conception of continuous knowledge. Engineering principals animate his fiction in literal explorations, and then escalate into larger thematic matter. Entropy Entropy is a quantity that, in its two contexts, characterizes not only all form and life in the universe, but all signal, language, information and written material ever produced anywhere. There are two fields which define this concept: Thermodynamics is the science of the relations between heat and other forms of energy. It deals with the changes that occur in a system if the energy distribution is unbalanced, therefore it "can be regarded as governing the direction of all physical changes taking place in the universe.
Thomas Pynchon, Entropy
Entropy is a quantity, or a measurement, of the heat in a system that is no longer available for mechanical work. It is a concept within the second law of thermodynamics, a law which states that everything moves from order to disorder while entropy inevitably increases. Pynchon places two opposing worldviews within the context of entropy to illustrate that they are both subject to the laws of nature, and thus, equally meaningless. He hosts several types: intellects, naval officers, a distraught neighbor, and a silent jazz band, each of whom function as synecdoches to represent dissimilar, yet comparable, belief systems. With chaotic and endless buzzing, the tone is one of high energy and disorder.